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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Olympics, Housing and Soccer

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Here's the latest installment of Bates By the Numbers, a weekly feature by Boston real estate agent David Bates that drills down into the Hub's housing market to uncover those trends and people you would not otherwise notice. Follow him on Twitter and check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh last week spent a few minutes with me discussing all things Boston.

Can you talk a little bit about your home neighborhood of Dorchester?
I grew up on Taft, where every house on the street was a three-decker. My mother and my brother still live in the house that I grew up in. I live in Savin Hill now. ... It's always been a very mixed neighborhood, a tight-knit community where everybody watches out for each other, where everyone helps each other out, shovels each other's sidewalks out, shovels each other's cars out. Everyone knows each other. Whether it's the summertime or the wintertime, when they are out together they talk. If anyone has an event, a cookout in the back yard or something like that, a lot of times neighbors will go to it.

Do you think growing up there helped prepare you to be the leader of the city?
It had a lot to do with it. When we talk about diversity in the city of Boston, I grew up in a neighborhood where there already was diversity. Being part of St. Margaret Church growing up also really helped structure me as a person.

What are some of the trends that are impacting Boston's future?
The amount of high-tech companies and startups that are coming here. More and more, people look to Boston as an opportunity. …. We're starting to see more young people stay here in Boston than in the past. As well, more people who aren't from Boston are staying in Boston, where that might not have been the case five, 10 years ago.

What's driving that?
I think the quality of life and the job opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities for employment here and the diversity of the business community is also helpful.

In September, you put together a task force to look at innovation hubs in the city. Can you talk about that need?
People always talk about Mass Challenge and different incubator space in the City of Boston and we launched the first neighborhood incubator space formally at the Bruce Bolling Building in Dudley. We took it one step further a couple of weeks ago when we announced a startup czar here in the City of Boston. There's a lot of energy and a lot of interest in this area, so I think it is important to get it into the neighborhoods.

What about your goal of creating 53,000 new units of housing in Boston by 2030?
There's a lot of opportunity for people to stay in this city, so we need to create housing opportunities. Officially, our population is about 640,000, but it's probably higher than that. So we're probably going to hit the 700,000 mark somewhere in and around 2030—and, if we continue to grow the way we are, maybe 2025—so it's very important for us as a city to look at housing. Obviously, things can change, the economy can turn, but I think the 700,000 figure is probably going to be reached before 2030.

Can you comment on the new Boston Foundation report that says the city is losing families to the suburbs because of housing costs and what you are doing about it?
We definitely are because there is not enough supply. We have 7,875 units under construction today. We have 11,000 in the pipeline that have been approved; and we have another 1,800 under review. The BRA's looking at putting out on the street 200-plus lots of land to build housing on. We also announced two growth zones in the city of Boston.

So we're looking at identifying places where we can build a good amount of housing. Not one-, two-, three-families at a time, but building 300, 400, 500 units of housing at different times. And we're starting to see more housing units being built. Right now, there's a 256-unit housing facility being built and moderate-income people are going to live in that. That's the type of housing we need to get in the city.

What's the challenge?
The challenge is really going to be to get land cost at a price that the developer can make a profit. We have to entice some of these developers to look at these developments; and we have to identify some city-owned properties and state-owned properties, as well, that we can reduce land cost and grow the housing investment in the city.

What do you say to people who say the Olympics shouldn't be used as a gauge for long-term planning?
I'm not using the Olympics as a gauge for long-term planning. I'm using the Olympics as an opportunity to promote the City of Boston. … Going for the Olympics allows us to market the city around the world in 110 different countries, and constantly be on the world news and the world stage for the next two years. While we're in that conversation, we'll see tremendous benefits, including an increase in tourism, increases in interests in our city by foreign investors.

Any exciting plans for City Hall Plaza?
Not yet. I don't think the [request for information is] done yet. I want City Hall Plaza to be a gathering place that people, when they go into Boston, can say 'Let's meet at the plaza at 10 o'clock.' I want to bring some life to the plaza because when we have events out there it really is exciting and people really do come and enjoy it. Someone said do something like a Rockefeller Center, put a hockey rink out there. I personally would like to put a soccer field out there. There's a whole bunch of ideas that we could do.

What is it going to take to get Boston to the next level?
I think we're headed there. We need to continue to keep strong industries and diversified industries in the city. That's important. I think solving this housing issue is going to be a big one. And we need a good strong school system, so that families can feel comfortable sending their kids to any school in our city.

Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I have to ask: Do you have any plan to fire the person you have in charge of Boston weather?
That person's gone!
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