Working From The Outside In
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
In the presidential election, there is an overarching question about all of the nitty gritty particulars asked about the candidates’ rhetoric and plans: How do I, as a contentious voter, view this country? This is the question we as citizens pose to ourselves—albeit subconsciously—everyday when we make choices about where we live, what we purchase, and how we go about our business. And while there are very few times (like casting a ballot) that Americans so explicitly alter the path of this self-definition of the country, it is worth considering how we may be fostering (or failing to do so) the culture around us. Because Boston has had the rare continuity of the same mayor for almost 20 years, Menino and his staff have been able to consider the culture they want to foster in the city.
Take, for example, Boston’s second annual participation in the global Fashion’s Night Out (FNO). It may seem like a frivolous event to many. With so many pressing issues around the globe, nation, and our own front doors, why should we applaud those who want to Google fabrics and sip free champagne in Newbury Street stores? Why would Menino take the time to endorse and publically encourage Bostonians to attend?
One reason is that the people who want to do these things are the same people who may be most effective in fighting the bigger battles.
Sound like a stretch? I wouldn’t say so. The target audience of FNO is the 20 and 30-somethings (particularly college graduates who have job stability and therefore money to spend) without the financial strain of children, mortgages, and retirement savings. Those are the people who can be wooed into spending—tricked into ignoring the pulsing crowd that, personally, overwhelms any inspiration I felt while observing the FNO events—at an extravaganza such as FNO.
These people are also the target group of Boston’s current renovations around the Seaport, where apartment buildings are going up, specifically designed to meet the needs and interests of unattached, young professionals: another plan that Menino helped design and about which he is very enthusiastic.
Complimenting the anticipated increase of youth in the city and decreased “brain drain” (the city’s term for the unfortunate reality that the majority of incredibly talented students who live here for four years vanish with their degrees), several groups have taken steps to updating the city’s nightlife, from bars staying open later, to increasing taxi service, to more special events at museums and theaters.
FNO, Seaport, and bars might still seem like frivolous methods by which a metropolis like Boston should attract the “best and the brightest” of the rising generation. Wouldn’t these cosmetic changes encourage lushes, fashionistas, or future Wall Street moneygrubbers rather than the contentious citizens we want to cultivate?
The answer is no. Boston is playing one of the smartest games around, altering the seams of the city in order to attract those who will fill it with substance. After all, the target group of all of the above changes is the same group that was inspired by the Rock the Vote campaign of 2008. It is an “if you build it, they will come” scenario, where Boston hopes the “it” is an energetic cultural scene and the “they” are the next generation of innovators.