Civic Behavior at the Boston Civic Summit

1209997642At Saturday’s inaugural Boston Civic Summit, people were really excited about the food. Shortly after we arrived, the second breakout education session let out and attendees trekked to a third-floor ballroom for a State Street-sponsored lunch of salads and cold sandwiches. Vivien Li made the parallel between eating together and working together as she introduced speakers Ron Bell and Dr. Thomas Sander to the hungry crowd.

The nice lunch wasn’t the only professional touch that the event had. Upon arrival, attendees (who were dubbed “delegates” on their nametags) were given embroidered tote bags and binders with a schedule and space for notes, along with a stack of business cards with their name, community group, and space for them to write their phone numbers.

Plenty of the cards changed hands during the lunch, and again at the Citywide 21st Century Town Meeting. Roughly 400 attendees sat at dozens of tables to discuss their goals for the city. Facilitator Joseph Goldman, who bore an eerie resemblance to Steve Carell, started the afternoon proceedings by asking delegates to answer basic demographic questions with tiny remote controls.

The results weren’t surprising. Fifty-five percent of the attendees were between 45 and 64 years of age, and 73 percent of the crowd was white. According to census data, 26 percent of Boston’s residents have lived in the city for four years or less, but 28 percent of the delegates at the summit have lived in the city for 40 years or more.

Clearly, the free lunch and snappy tote bags didn’t lure in the young crowd that activists need to reach, so a lot of the event was spent preaching to the choir. But if the delegates made the connections organizer and City Council President Maureen Feeney hoped they would, perhaps they can work together to get younger people involved in the community. If that doesn’t work, perhaps they should try again next year, and tell the young folks there’s a free lunch to be had.


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