Mayor Wu’s State of the City Address

Mayor Wu delivered her first State of the City Address on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, at MGM Music Hall. The following is her speech:

Good evening, Boston! Tonight we’re at the beautiful new MGM Music Hall, and I want to thank the Red Sox and Fenway Music Company for hosting us, and for your commitment to our city.

I’m grateful to be joined by partners in public service: Council President Flynn and Boston City Councilors, Chair Robinson and the Boston School Committee, Mayor Janey, Ambassador Flynn and Mrs. Flynn, Governor Healey, Senate President Spilka, Attorney General Campbell, Treasurer Goldberg, State Representatives and Senators, US Attorney Rollins, county officials. Thank you so much for being with us. And to our interpreters, thank you for helping us reach all of our residents this evening, in seven languages.

A year ago this week, I was bundled up for my first snowstorm as mayor, riding shotgun with our Superintendent of Streets, Mike Brohel, as he drove the dark, icy roads before dawn, and worked with his team to salt, scrape, and win back the pavement from the snow. By the time we got to City Hall, Al Vilar was already hunkered down in the Traffic Management Center, lunch packed for a long storm, monitoring eight gigantic screens for anyone who might need help on the roads. As the rest of our city slept, Boston’s 311 and 911 call-takers answered phones throughout the night, to send services where needed, while emergency management crews, EMS, police, and fire stood ready.

Our city is carried by so many people whose faces most of us never see. Who aren’t on the news, or on stage accepting awards, but after a full day of serving our constituents, still find time to coach softball at Charlestown High Field or pack meals for new immigrant families in Mattapan Square.

That’s why, on your way in tonight, you saw the beautiful portraits of just a few of these civic heroes. To all our City Workers: Every accomplishment and constituent service delivered, every detail of the agenda we’re sharing here tonight—is only possible because of you. I’m so proud to work alongside you.

It’s been three years since we’ve been able to celebrate—and reflect on—the State of our City in person. And we’ve all felt the collective toll of these years and the continued impact on our hearts and minds, on local businesses and household budgets.

Boston has always been resilient.

But when resilience goes from a strength that we call on, to a constant state of being, it’s time to stop hardening ourselves against the world, and start changing the world we live in.

Real change comes from community, so I knew my first and most important job as mayor was to build the team Boston deserves. That team is here tonight. Our Cabinet is two-thirds people of color! We’re BPS parents, and graduates. We speak Spanish and Arabic, Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, and more. We speak honestly about Boston’s past, present, and future, because we’ve lived the challenges and shared the dreams of the families we now get to serve.

The young man who started as a lifeguard in our community centers, now oversees them as our Chief of Human Services: José Massó.

The school lunch lady’s daughter, who found her calling as a teacher, then launched a nationally recognized high school in Dorchester, is now our Boston Public Schools Superintendent: Mary Skipper.

The boy from Roxbury who wanted to serve and protect, who—against all odds, and over nearly three decades—rose through every level of leadership at the Boston Police Department, is now our Boston Police Commissioner: Michael Cox.

The girl who watched her refugee parents wash dishes at restaurants so their kids could lead a better life—now leads our efforts to ensure that all workers, no matter where they were born or what language they speak, have health, safety, and dignity on the job, as our new Chief of Worker Empowerment: Trinh Nguyen.

The toddler who took his very first steps in City Hall daycare, grew up to hold city leaders accountable for vast racial disparities in city contracting as President and CEO of the Black Economic Council of MA, and is now our Chief of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion: Segun Idowu.

Just like our communities, this team refuses to accept that things must be how they’ve always been. We’re taking on the hard, complicated issues our residents face, no matter how deeply entrenched or politically fraught.

When we took office with winter looming, and hundreds living in unsafe, unsanitary encampments—we didn’t look away: We built a new model for housing and services so tents could come down and people could heal. And through the Newmarket BID’s Back to Work program, folks who were once living at Mass & Cass are now part of the team working to keep the area clean and safe for everyone. Some of those leaders are here tonight. Mike, and Mike, Tim, Carlos, and Melissa: we are honored to be doing this important work together.

When Omicron spiked and pushed our hospitals to the brink, we didn’t turn away: taking decisive action for public health, because, no matter the backlash, Boston will never compromise on protecting our people. And I want to thank everyone at the Boston Public Health Commission, Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, and all of our public health and healthcare workers.

When we learned the MBTA would finally make major repairs to the Orange line—but with just two weeks’ notice—we didn’t back away: every City department stepped in to keep Boston moving and proved that a more connected, coordinated system is possible. Tonight, I’m renewing my call for the people of Boston to have a seat on the MBTA Board.

Under extraordinary circumstances, our team has refused to settle. Over the last year:

We made three bus lines entirely fare-free. Now, we’re accelerating over two dozen miles of new dedicated bus lanes, expanding our bike network, and organizing even more neighborhood Open Streets events.

We worked alongside residents in Egleston Square and business partners to secure a Community Peace Garden on Washington Street; and helped 40 artists in Uphams Corner go from facing eviction to owning their own building—the Humphreys Street Studio is here to stay. And, this year we’ll make Boston’s largest investment ever in artists and the arts.

We made the spaces and services of our City more accessible: opening a new, fully-accessible City Hall Plaza and senior center in Orient Heights, partnering with the City Council and our Disability Commission to require closed captioning on public TVs, connecting 19,000 seniors to services; and making our 311 app multilingual for the first time, in eleven languages. We reopened a newly renovated Roslindale Branch library…this year we will reopen the Faneuil Branch in Oak Square, and begin design in Fields Corner and the South End.

Our Office of Early Childhood made dozens of new Pre-K classrooms free for our littlest learners and launched a professional development program to help early educators teach in Boston, debt-free. We fought off a state takeover of Boston Public Schools, onboarded a new district leadership team, and just welcomed our first electric school buses at the Readville bus yard.

Our police officers took nearly 900 guns off our streets and worked with community to achieve the lowest level of Part One, violent and property crime in 15 years. I want to thank Commissioner Michael Cox for coming home to Boston, Superintendent-in-Chief Greg Long for your service over 18 months as Acting Commissioner, and all our officers for your hard work.

We are looking to end community violence with new strategies to address trauma and provide essential supports—from our Youth Safety Task Force, to an alternative crisis response program with EMS and behavioral health services. And, this April, we will launch a Fire Cadet Program thanks to the leadership of our new Fire Commissioner, Paul Burke.

We also graduated our first class of students from Boston’s PowerCorps program, training young people from our neighborhoods for great jobs in the green economy. Many of them are here tonight.

We’ve invested in longstanding Legacy Businesses and are helping new entrepreneurs fill vacant retail spaces to revitalize our neighborhood commercial districts. And we’re excited that Lego is building their North American headquarters in Boston this fall. We made progress on closing the supplier diversity gap, awarding contracts worth more than $100 million—from school lunches to snow removal—to businesses owned by women and people of color. Thanks to legislation passed by the City Council and approved by the state legislature last month, we’ll be able to do even more. And we did all this on top of filling 5,000 potholes, collecting more than 500 tons of curbside composting, and plowing through 53 inches of snow last year.

In so many other cities, none of this would have been possible. But Boston has never let anyone else define our possibilities.

It’s thanks to the people of Boston that I can stand here tonight and say—the state of the City is strong.

And we have the resources, the resolve, and the responsibility to make it even stronger. As we look to the year ahead, our administration is focused on building a green and growing city for everyone.

Doing so will require that we reckon with—and rebuild—the systems that got us here. When the “Boston Redevelopment Authority” was created nearly 70 years ago, its purpose was singular: to clear the way for new development, even if that meant displacing tens of thousands of working class, immigrant, and Black and brown residents.

Since 2016 it’s been called the Boston Planning and Development Agency, or “BPDA,” but the focus on building buildings rather than community has held back the talent of its staff and deepened disparities in our city.

Over the last decade, Boston saw the largest building boom in generations: cranes in the sky and jobs on the ground. But that growth wasn’t harnessed for the benefit of all our communities. Not planning for community stability meant that even as our population grew, many were squeezed out. Not planning for affordability, and transit, meant that housing prices soared, and traffic snarled. Not planning for sustainability meant that as new development reshaped our skyline, public infrastructure continued to age: subway tracks and school buildings, pools and community centers.

Now, stronger storms and hotter summers raise the stakes. The pandemic has thinned our usual Downtown crowd, and inflation has forced many workers to balance two or three jobs just to keep milk in the fridge or make rent. In this moment of need, we have an opportunity and an obligation to change how we plan for Boston’s future.

Under the leadership of our Chief of Planning, Arthur Jemison, we’re charting a new course for growth, with people as our compass. Tomorrow I’ll sign an executive order establishing a Planning Advisory Council to fully integrate long-range planning, and begin modernizing our zoning code. It will be led by Chief Jemison and consist of Cabinet chiefs in capital planning, transportation, climate, housing, and the arts.

Over this next year, we’ll shift planning efforts from the BPDA to a new City Planning and Design Department—to expand planning and urban design as a coordinated effort that guides our growth. Our vision is for Boston to sustainably reach our peak population of 800,000 residents with the housing and schools, parks and public transit to support that growth.

Next week we’ll file a home-rule petition to formally end the decades-old urban renewal mission of eradicating so-called “blight and urban decay,” and instead rededicate our resources toward Boston’s urgent needs today—resiliency, affordability, and equity. Together, these changes will, for the first time since the 1960s, restore planning as a central function of City government.

I’ve also charged our team with improving the uneven and unpredictable approval process that frustrates community members and developers. Next month, we’ll form a steering group of real estate and community leaders to recommend changes to our Article 80 development review process. We’ll simplify and accelerate timelines so that good projects get shovels in the ground faster. We’ll also transfer compliance and enforcement from the BPDA to the Office of Housing so our communities can be confident that we’re always getting the full benefit of development agreements.

Of course, we can’t grow sustainably unless our residents are secure in their homes. Our housing crisis displaces children and families, drives down enrollment in schools, hurts local businesses, increases homelessness, and strains our public health and safety systems.

So, our housing plan must be just as comprehensive. We’ll deploy every tool, every strategy, and every resource to create more housing that residents can actually afford. We will prioritize keeping residents in their homes, and closing the racial wealth gap by boosting home ownership.

Last year, our Office of Housing permitted 3,800 housing units—the most since 2018, including 1,300 affordable units—the most in a generation. And we’ll do even more by directing the bulk of our federal recovery dollars to housing. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sending the City Council a Home Rule Petition on rent stabilization to end rent gouging, and protect our families from eviction and displacement.

And we’re putting City land to work. We’ve analyzed every square foot of City-owned property and identified several parcels that could generate thousands of affordable housing units. We also have 150 vacant lots in our neighborhoods ready for housing. Local builders: work with us to design high-quality, affordable homes that enhance the surrounding neighborhood, and we’ll give you the land for free. And we’ll provide increased mortgage assistance so our residents can afford to buy these homes. We’ll accelerate zoning changes for predictability and equity in our growth. Our team will update zoning for squares and corridors across the City, and complete neighborhood planning processes to bring thousands of new homes and support the small businesses, retail, and jobs that make Boston a vibrant cultural hub.

Our neighborhoods must be climate resilient and community focused. This year we will launch a civic and green space master plan, and begin design for new community centers in Grove Hall and the North End.

And, we’ll help residents invest in retrofitting older homes, like triple deckers, to save money on utility bills and protect against flooding and heat. And we’ll walk the walk with municipal buildings, too.

Meeting our climate goals starts with ending our use of fossil fuels, so I’m signing an Executive Order requiring all new City construction and major renovations in our schools, municipal buildings, and public housing, to be entirely fossil-fuel free.

And because “green” and “affordable” go hand in hand, together with the Boston Housing Authority, by 2030, we will end the use of fossil fuel in the City’s public housing developments. This will mean unprecedented investments to modernize these buildings and meet Governor Healey’s ambitious goals for heat pump deployment—ensuring that the families with greatest need, benefit first—from healthier homes, and lower energy costs.

Together, we can build a Boston that’s more green than concrete. Where housing is a given, not a godsend, and mobility is the minimum, not a miracle. Where the things we build inspire—but don’t define—us; and where each generation shines brighter than the last.

Which brings me to the next generation. As mayor, and as a mom, fighting for the future that my two boys—and all our kids—deserve is what drives the urgency behind all that we do.

Like our approach to planning, Boston’s approach to education has been deeply shaped by our history. The story is one that many of us know well—and it deserves telling—but that’s for next year’s State of the City. Tonight, I want to share a few of the things we’re doing right now to strengthen our schools, support our teachers, and do right by our students.

I’ll start with the spaces where learning happens: we know what world-class school facilities feel like. Just around the corner from here, is the brand new Boston Arts Academy—it’s beautiful, energy efficient, meeting the needs and the possibility of our young people. But we haven’t been moving fast enough. The Josiah Quincy Upper School in Chinatown will be our next brand new, state-of-the-art high school, but the project was kicked off in 2012: three Mayors and six superintendents ago. Students in 1st grade when this project started will have graduated from high school by the time it’s finished.

We’re making changes to speed up not just individual schools, but our whole district. Our school design study will take a full year off the planning process for every new school in the City, and we’ll get more projects going at once than ever before.

Of course, our vision for our students goes beyond facilities: Superintendent Skipper and I won’t settle for anything less than academic excellence across all our schools, accessible to all our students. Under newly created leadership roles focused on academics and getting resources down to the school level, we’re investing in staff, professional development, and curriculum—for the equitable literacy foundation that empowers rigor and engagement across all subjects.

We’ll follow through on our landmark agreement with BPS teachers to co-design and transform how we serve students with disabilities by investing $50 million in inclusion so every student gets the education they deserve. And, because we know our students are people and family members first, we are investing in social workers and counselors at every school, with dedicated bilingual social workers trained to meet the needs of our multilingual students and families.

Last spring, to prepare our students for tomorrow’s opportunities, we announced new early college and innovation pathways at five high schools across BPS where young people get real work experience and take college level courses in fields like finance, health care, and biotech. Tonight, I am announcing that—in partnership with UMass Boston—we’ll build on that foundation by piloting a Year 13 program at Fenway High School. This will give our students an additional full year of college-level courses debt-free as they transition to college and accelerate toward a degree.

If we expect our young people to be the leaders our world needs, then it’s on all of us to take every step to ensure they have the skills and experience to meet this moment.

We recently celebrated the creation of our new Office of Youth Engagement and Advancement—that’s right, OYEA—with a group of students from the Blackstone School and they didn’t hold back. They asked about plans for after school programming and when the pool would reopen. And a third grader in a pink puffy coat wanted to know: “Como se siente ser alcaldesa? How does it feel to be mayor?” And I didn’t know what to say. “Ocupada,” I told her. “Busy.” Which is true. But it’s also so much more than that.

It can feel surreal and stressful, exhausting and empowering—it feels like the most important work in the world. But more than anything, it feels like a gift: To be able to get up every day and go to work for the city I love with people who love it, too. People unafraid to do things differently—willing to meet crises with creativity, and reach deep in the dirt to pull up the roots of the challenges that block our view of the sky. Boston is a city that will never stop reaching—up toward the progress we know to be possible, and out to the community whose work makes it lasting.

Thank you, and God bless the City—and people—of Boston.

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