Tuesday night, on the stage of Symphony Hall, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, delivered his second State of the City address. Walsh’s speech emphasized his plans for education, housing, income inequality, higher minimum wage, and public safety.
Walsh opened with a slew of statistics supporting his assertion that, “the City of Boston is as strong as it has ever been.” In 2015 more homes were built than in previous years, Boston’s first high school dedicated specifically for science and technology began construction, both violent and property crimes went down for the second year in a row, and unemployment and homicides both fell. Additionally, safety measures for firefighters were implemented, the city earned the title of the leading American city for energy efficiency, and it created America’s first Office of Recovery Services to fight substance abuse. Boston has even ended chronic veterans’ homelessness, Walsh said.
Walsh then excitedly welcomed General Electric to its new global headquarters in Boston.
“It’s not only another step forward for Boston on the world stage,” he said. “It’s a magnet for talent and investment that we’ll direct toward our shared goals: in opportunity, in community, in education.”
Hundreds of Boston Public High School students attended in response to Walsh’s invitation.
“We don’t need you to be perfect,” he said in his address to the students. “We need you to keep learning, and keep believing in your dreams. The rest is on us.”
Last year, Walsh appointed a new superintendent, hired 24 new principals, extended the school day for every student up to eighth grade, and took community input to help create a 10-year school building plan. For the third year in a row, Walsh is sending the City Council a budget plan that increases school funding. He is calling for fairer and more sustainable funding for both district schools and charter schools.
Walsh then focused on education funding, shining a spotlight on pre-kindergarten education.
“The Boston Public School’s pre-kindergarten program is proven to close the achievement gap,” he said. “The city has added seats in each of the last two years. Yet hundreds of children still sit on waiting lists.”
Despite a total increase of $90 million in school funding since he has entered office, Walsh expressed urgency and necessity for more. He calls on neighboring cities, legislators, and more to help the children without access to pre-kindergarten through the state budget process in the year to come.
Next, Walsh addressed the challenge of affordable housing. His administration plans to strengthen their inclusionary development policy to provide more affordable homes where they are most needed. This policy will lead to the increase of middle class housing around the city. In an effort to keep residents in their communities, Walsh introduced a new Office of Housing Stability.
With an increase in affordable housing and more stability for communities, Walsh also aims to increase the quality of life for Bostonians. Six acres of land will be converted into parks, Ramsay Park will be renovated, and Boston Creates, an initiative to support the arts in each neighborhood, will be completed. They will also invest $1 million in local artists.
“Workers and employers moving forward together,” Walsh said. “That’s our economic vision, and it’s a proven success. What we offered GE was less an incentive package, than a cultural advantage. Innovation. Education. And a community that works and grows together.”
His business initiatives will help employers add jobs and support workers through a Business Expansion Toolkit, assist entrepreneurs through a Small Business Center, and also empower women workers through the offering of 40 more Salary Negotiation Workshops. Digging deeper into the roots of income inequality, Walsh will build a new Apprenticeship Program that will offer on-the-job training as well as a two-year degree for low-income workers. A task force of workers and employers will be formed to more seriously consider and study the possibility of a $15-per-hour minimum wage for the city of Boston.
Besides education, inequalities in housing and income, and initiatives to better quality of life, Walsh is also ramping up public safety in response to the increase in non-fatal shootings last year.
Walsh also expressed concerns over the state of gun reform and a hope that the country will continue moving toward tighter controls.
“We are proving that when Boston comes together, when we truly act as one community, we can change our city, and change the world.” Walsh said, “We’ve been doing it for a long time.”
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