Boston Is One of the Most Influential Cities in the U.S., According to Mayors

The survey was conducted by BU's Initiative on Cities.
presti pier boston skyline 1

Photo by Greg DuBois

Who do mayors look to for inspiration on how to serve their own constituents? Why, their fellow mayors of course.* And according to the results of a survey conducted by BU’s Initiative on Cities, Boston is one of the most influential cities in the country.

The study, titled “Mayoral Policy Making: Results from the 21st Century Mayors Leadership Survey” by Katherine Levine Einstein and David M. Glick, both assistant political science professors at BU, interviewed about 70 mayors of cities of various sizes and affluence, ranging from populations of more than 1 million to those with as few as 50,000 residents.

The survey asked mayors questions about their top challenges, priorities, and even, “As mayor, what one thing would you like to learn more about?” to which more than 30 percent responded “financial management (e.g. budgeting).”

The study also breaks down overall responses by mayors’ political party identifications, city size, and other attributes.


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One area of particular interest is which cities mayors look to for policy ideas. The question:

Which three cities (either domestic or foreign) do you most often look to for policy and/or management ideas?

Overall, the top two responses—practically tied—were New York and Boston, both listed by nearly 30 percent of responders. When broken down, NYC was ranked higher for large cities, while Boston ranked higher for small cities.

However, don’t let this go to your head. As mentioned in a footnote on page 28:

While our sample demographics suggest little reason for concerns over sampling bias, these questions are one place in which it could show up. In particular, we cannot discount the possibility that the number of “Boston” responses is inflated. Some mayors may have participated because they held favorable views of Boston and/or Mayor Menino which could marginally inflate the number of mentions of looking to Boston for ideas. Alternatively, they coiudl have simply had Boston on their minds when responding to the survey which could also affect the data via a priming effect.

In other words, it’d be a lot easier to brag about this if the study weren’t conducted by a Boston school in an initiative with former Mayor Tom Menino’s moniker stamped on page 1.

Recent ideas that mayors said they borrowed from other cities include everything from affordable housing, to an annual music festival, to bike share.


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*Actually, while Boston ranks high in the survey for which cities other mayors look to for policy ideas, the study also surveyed mayors about whom they rely on most for policy information. Other cities and mayors ranked second on this list, but the first was “your mayoral staff,” with an average reliance ranking of “often” to “very often.”

At the very bottom of this list is the media, with an average reliance level between “rarely” to “sometimes.” Gee thanks. We’re flattered.

Check out the full report at bu.edu.


Yiqing Shao Yiqing Shao, Digital Editor at Boston Magazine bmagdigital+yshao@gmail.com