Imagine running a city during a devastating public health crisis compounded by nationwide racial turmoil. Imagine having the responsibility of holding together an ecosystem where citizens are relying on you for essential services and to come up with solutions to urgent life-and-death problems. Throw in skyrocketing unemployment and an economic downturn for good measure. Now imagine doing that from home.
The scenario was posed by Sid Espinosa, director of philanthropy and civic engagement at Microsoft and the former mayor of Palo Alto, California. But it was lived by three mayors and one town manager in Massachusetts who participated in the final panel of a conference hosted by the Boston Area Research Initiative.
The theme of the discussion, led by Espinosa, was how to rebuild stronger communities after COVID-19, and the turmoil unleashed by the killing of George Floyd in May.
“Building back better doesn’t just happen,” said Daniel O’Brien, an assistant professor of urban affairs, public policy, criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern, who co-directs the Boston Area Research Initiative. “Innovation is not value-neutral. It has to be driven by the kind of society we in fact want. This is an opportunity and we shouldn’t miss it.”