What Makes Cities Attractive for Businesses and Residents?
Earlier this month, the City of Boston announced it had reached a major milestone in its Go Boston 2030 transportation plan, with more than half of its proposed transportation infrastructure improvement projects already underway. This achievement— the latest indicator of progress— is part of Mayor Walsh’s Imagine Boston 2030, the first comprehensive plan for Boston’s growth and development in over fifty years.
For newer residents in today’s Boston, it’s hard to envision the many strides made over the past half-century. Case in point: the informative Twitter account WGBH Archives, which shares the station’s old “b-roll” and captures the city’s sometimes-striking cultural shifts and changing landscape. This extensive video history provides a glimpse into our past and documents how far the city has come. And as Boston’s development boom shows no signs of stopping, contrasting the current skyline with antiquated images of Long Wharf, Kendall Square/East Cambridge, and even Newbury Street can be illuminating.
The story of Boston’s transformation is grounded in a local narrative. However, the services and amenities that make our city so attractive for businesses and residents alike also provide a blueprint for other metropolitan areas to consider. Here are several of the topline factors contributing to Boston’s development, and why cities across the country are on the rise:
Access to amenities – Modern cities offer the same conveniences as their suburban counterparts, putting residents in close proximity to services like grocery stores and medical care while streamlining other aspects of their daily lives. Instead of driving cars to various retail and restaurant/entertainment venues, residents benefit from a concentration of options, creating an ecosystem of walkable choices for consumers. And through public and private transit options, cities are able to boost business in the urban core, creating greater access to jobs, education and other opportunities.
Meanwhile, urban apartment buildings are competing for tenants with an increasingly flashy array of amenities, from enclosed dog parks and rooftop pools to resident-only restaurants. The result – which should be noted, has sometimes been criticized for its impact on local affordable housing –is producing all-in-one communities, often resembling a hybrid between a luxury hotel and a high end, all-inclusive dormitory.
Diverse population growth – Cities experiencing significant demographic growth are becoming more resilient, according to a recent Brookings Institution report. And a new study from the Boston Foundation confirms Boston’s changing demographics. Since 1990, the minority population of Greater Boston has increased by 254 percent. As recently seen in places like Houston, diversity has underscored the region’s resurgence. And for the first time in the Boston’s history, women and people of color will represent a majority on the City Council — with seven people of color and eight women winning seats on the 13-member council–clearly suggesting diversity’s positive impact is being felt in the city’s political and business sectors.
Dynamic/robust economy – For decades, the city’s many world-class colleges and universities, as well as its hospital systems and research centers, have underpinned the local economy. Boston will remain a pipeline for employers looking to harness the next generation of skilled workforce talent, making it one of the most important medical and higher education clusters in the world.
These institutions are also complemented by the proliferation of startups in tech hubs like Kendall Square and the Seaport District. Whether it’s the latest craft brewery or mobile application, entrepreneurship has carved niches in Boston’s many communities. In turn, many of these companies’ offerings—such as the grocery delivery app Peapod—are making urban life even more convenient. And so, more and more organizations are opting to locate their headquarters here, from footwear giant Reebok to energy innovator Veolia North America.
Over the past half-century, a generation of Americans flocked to the suburbs, where crime was low, schools were strong, and prime real estate available. The business community followed, seeking to lure workers to their suburban plants and office parks. However, a remarkable shift is underway as American cities like Boston are now attracting huge swaths of people at an unprecedented rate. And while improvements continue to be implemented, Greater Boston remains one of the great modern urban success stories. Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a crop of recent college graduates looking to live in a vibrant area, this city possesses many of the positives demanded of modern urban centers. While WGBH Archives’ tweets spotlight where the city has been, the ongoing development boom and many attractive features, will show us all where it’s going.