UEP Colloquium: Inclusive and Equitable Economic Development and Community-Driven Planning

This week UEP, along with Tisch College, hosted John Barros for the Fall semester’s final colloquium. A Tufts UEP-MPP alum, Barros currently serves as Chief of Economic Development under new mayor Marty Walsh. He was interviewed by a panel of current MPP students as well as some UEP faculty on current work being done at Boston City Hall to address equitable development issues.

Barros began getting involved in development issues at an early age, and was put on the board for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative before he was eighteen years old. Later on, Barros began working with Mayor Menino on the city’s school committee. As he stated, this fit in nicely with DSNI’s mission to view the neighborhood as a campus in order to improve school performance. Following this position and Menino’s decision not to run for reelection, Barros ran for mayor himself in 2013. Barros ran his campaign on a more inclusive economic development plan, something sorely needed for many of Boston’s residents.

Barros was eventually defeated in the campaign. New mayor Marty Walsh decided to create a new position for Barros in his cabinet, however. Goals for the position include treating the neighborhood as the unit of change, focusing on individual assets along with business development, and a new office of family empowerment. Barros also seeks to address the skills gap between Boston’s growing industry and the populations of Boston neighborhoods experiencing 20-30% unemployment.

The most important issue stressed was the need for organized development plans at the grassroots level. Government policy can provide a framework and support, but ideas and momentum must come from the community. The city does not have extra money, Barros stressed, for applicants without a solid business plan. Part of this, admittedly, is due to the difficulty of transitioning from the “Menino budget,” but there are opportunities available for solid action plans.

Barros also spoke about programs directed toward racial justice, such My Brother’s Keeper, bridging the gap between men of color and their potential achievements. The alarming statistics surrounding this issue have been discussed in a previous post about UEP Professor James Jennings on this blog. Barros also spoke about Boston’s plans to invest in worker cooperatives in the greater Boston area.

Finally, Barros suggested that students from UEP get involved in practica and paid internships through the city. We look forward to seeing more of what John Barros can do in his new position!

Weekly colloquia will continue in the Spring semester, but we at the UEP Blog will keep you updated on other talks and meetings around campus. Stay tuned!