The Future of Everything: 10 Long Term Predictions for Boston

One thing’s for sure: Boston will never be the same again.

Photo illustration by Benjamen Purvis


Trains Will Solve the Transportation Crisis

Jarred Johnson
Executive director, TransitMatters

Some of the most futuristic societies in the world—Japan, Korea, Hong Kong—have heavily invested in transit, and continue to do so. Montreal is doubling down, post-pandemic, on transit. Paris is building miles of brand-new subway to connect the suburbs. Here in Boston, we’ll eventually see a rail network that is totally transformed from the one that we have today. It’ll be much, much faster—I’m talking about 30 to 40 percent trip-time reductions, and running as frequently as every seven to 15 minutes. It’ll run off electric power, so it’ll be a lot cleaner, and take people from the suburbs into the city; the city into the suburbs; or from one suburb to another, at any time of day.

In a nutshell: The transportation of the future will be a commuter-rail network that is no longer a commuter-rail network, predicated on dated notions of serving white-collar commuters, but a true regional rail system. We know that nothing else enables more affordable housing development, nothing else supports our historical town centers, and nothing has the same benefit to our environment—not electric cars, not autonomous vehicles, not delivery apps. With high-speed regional rail in place, folks could find cheaper rents or more space for their families without suffering a terrible commute. Working-class families in gateway cities would have access to jobs and amenities in Boston and the Inner Core. People could move about in the evenings and on weekends.

There’s already some of this thinking happening. The new transportation bond bill, signed in January, includes funding for rail expansion and modernization. The MBTA, meanwhile, has begun spreading out the schedule to create hourly service throughout the day. It was definitely not high up on MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack’s list, but with her taking a job in the Biden administration, hopefully the new secretary can take this on. Every element of regional rail, after all, has the support of the majority of the public.

The amount that would need to be done in order to make this happen is monumental; I don’t want to downplay that. However, we’re better poised than any other area of the country. No other place has the amount of commuter-rail track that we have. Plus, the new stimulus program that President Biden is talking about has the potential to accelerate a lot of this work, and to get it done in a much quicker timeframe. Whenever it comes to be, our lives will change forever. —As told to David S. Bernstein

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Personal Finance

AI Will Change How You Invest

Hardwick Simmons
Former chairman and CEO of the Nasdaq Stock Market, and former president and CEO of Prudential Securities

The financial business has changed almost more than any other. It used to be a business serving the public—of stockbrokers, not so-called wealth managers. There were no index funds, or ETFs, or robo-investing, or even certified financial planners. The basic stockbroker bought and sold stocks and bonds for retail clients. But the really good ones also acted as counselors and friends, so much more than just people collecting commissions for buys and sells.

It’s estimated that baby boomers will leave to their beneficiaries some $68 trillion. In other words, many millennials and Gen Xers will soon be showered with wealth. These are generations that like to “do it themselves,” but as they get busier in their lives and their careers, they’ll realize they have no time to do it themselves. They will need personal guidance and advice more than ever.

Two things will fuel a new golden age in investing: technology and transparency. AI will provide money managers with the tools to know virtually everything about you—your passions, your hobbies, the games you play, the music you listen to, your wish lists. They’ll flip on their computer in the morning, and it will say, It’s Marion Smith’s birthday. She’s a Scorpio, and tulips are her favorite flower. She loves dogs, and there is a new pet vaccine company that’s coming public this week. You should call her about it. Their screen will also pop up with other clients who own pets. You’ll appreciate that your financial adviser is taking your full family and dreams into account while helping to plan for your future and retirement better than ever.

Index funds, in my opinion, will not fill the bill in this new world, particularly with trillions coming into the pots of the next generation. They will need personal assistance, specifically tailored to them and their families. Transparency and technology combined with a real person to guide you…not a robot. I only wish I could come back into the business to catch this wave. —As told to John D. Spooner

Elder Care

Nursing Homes Will Become Obsolete

Susan McWhinney-Morse
Cofounder, Beacon Hill Village

I always had an irrational fear of the concept of “assisted living”—institutions populated only by the elderly and removed from society at large. I lived, and still do, on Beacon Hill. It’s a neighborhood filled with shops, restaurants, and people of all ages taking energy from one another. Many of my friends on the Hill felt exactly the same about nursing homes and their like. We all said, “There’s got to be a better way.” We did not want to grow older feeling marginalized and isolated in an institutional setting.

My friend Nancy Coolidge and I talked about a solution over lunch one day. Then we gathered again with about a dozen people from the area and came up with the idea to keep our older neighbors in their houses and apartments. We would maintain our familiar surroundings, free to live in the real world, not seclusion, and get the care we needed at home. People would become dues-paying members, plus we hoped for contributions from non-members who believed in the possibilities of our success. For a fee, we’d provide vetted healthcare professionals to come to people’s homes. We’d also vet people to help our members with shopping, bill paying, tax assistance, transportation to doctors and dentists—the whole gamut of service providers.

When we went to Harvard Business School with our plan, including becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, I remember them telling us, “You are amateurs. Nothing like this exists in the world. It will never work.” Well, we were used to being patronized, as if we didn’t matter anymore. So it made us more determined that we were onto something big. Eventually, the New York Times did a feature on us, and the concept exploded.

We now have about 370 members in Boston. They pay $975 annually for a family, and $675 for an individual membership (fees are reduced for low- and middle-income seniors). Grassroots have spread the program to several hundred neighborhoods in the United States, and places in Europe and Australia have also gotten onboard with similar programs. The city of San Francisco has given us thousands of dollars to assist with village rollouts there. As word of mouth spreads, I believe this program will continue to expand dramatically, potentially extending the lives of so many people who are allowed to feel that they are valued, participating members of the community.

Ultimately, I think the concept is still in its first inning, particularly given the failure of the assisted-living and nursing-home models during the pandemic. Those facilities have contributed to 40 percent of COVID deaths in the U.S. Our members have had no deaths from COVID. Would you like to pay $975 and stay in your own home with access to help on every level, or pay $250,000 for institutional care? I’d say it’s a no-brainer. —As told to J.D.S.


Fancy Takeout and Outdoor Dining Will Thrive

Ed Doyle
President, RealFood Hospitality Strategy Design

Because of COVID, restaurants have been willing to let customers engage with them in ways they wouldn’t before. I mean, if I had told Tony Maws two years ago to figure out a way to redesign Craigie on Main’s kitchen for takeout, he would have thrown me out the front door. And while eating on my kitchen island is not the same as dining at Craigie, that goddamn chicken is still awfully good. So even post-pandemic, maybe on a Tuesday when customers don’t have two and a half hours to sit down for dinner, they will still want that takeout service. Guests never would have thought about having that opportunity before; now they will miss it if it’s gone.

Going forward, I don’t think you’re going to find restaurants be as constrained as they made themselves before. You’re a white-tablecloth spot? Well, now you’re going to be a white-tablecloth spot that I can still get on DoorDash, or enjoy on a sidewalk patio, or buy a bottle of wine from. Maybe there’s not a traditional host; maybe there’s no check that comes to the table.

I am convinced that we will take this far more dynamic dining model forward with us in a way that is not just about survival, but about creating better ways to connect with the consumer, because that is what drives loyalty. Restaurants will still be anchored in a brand experience, but they will also meet guests on their own terms, whether it’s where they want to pick the food up or how much time they want to contribute to the experience. It’ll be a way for eateries to continue to elevate their innovation and creativity.

For this to be successful, diners should make themselves be part of the conversation. As restaurateurs are struggling to get through this God-awful mess, feedback, good and bad, helps them determine what works and what doesn’t. If the takeout menu item didn’t travel very well, say so—and not on Yelp! Care about the restaurant enough to have a constructive conversation as it works best to serve you. That feedback loop is so important to helping restaurants figure out what is working and where the opportunities lie for the future.  —As told to D.S.B.


A Great Transfer of Land Can Make Boston a More Equitable City

Segun Idowu
President and CEO, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA)

Wealth equals freedom. And we need Black people to be a lot freer if we’re going to have a healthy society. Free to live where we want, to get the education that we need, to work where we’re qualified, and to own a vehicle, take an Uber, or access state-of-the-art public transportation to get to that job. It’s a luxury to have access to resources to create the life you want to live.

To eventually erase Boston’s enormous wealth gap, we should increase the net worth of the city’s Black families to twice as much as the average white family’s net worth today. That would be roughly $500,000. That number might sound shocking or impossible to some people, but to me the current median net worth being 31,000 times higher for a white family than it is for a Black family in this city is more shocking.

Addressing a wealth gap that’s been made that wide over time by the city’s own policies and actions must include Boston giving Black people ownership of the land. Not just their homes, but also the land underneath and around those homes. The same goes for businesses: Commercial properties need to be ceded over to Black people as well, because the rents that they have to pay are astronomical and not commensurate with what they’re earning.

Give us the land. We know how to till it. We know how to build on it. We know how to use it. Boston itself can transfer large amounts of city-owned property. It can also help compel some of the city’s large nonprofits, including educational and medical institutions, to give our people back some of their land.

Other steps we should take toward closing the wealth gap are not new solutions. Deeper investment in communities; purchasing and procurement reform; wiping credit scores clean; forgiving student loan debt. We haven’t done any of the thousands of ideas that have been offered by Black and Indigenous people in the past two decades alone, and we certainly haven’t done any to scale.

It’s important we act now, because the development of some communities cannot coexist with the underdevelopment of other communities. We are all tied together. If Roxbury is not doing well, neither is Allston-Brighton, neither is the Back Bay, and neither is Jamaica Plain. While we may live in individual bubbles to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our lives and livelihoods are not contained by them. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Either we go up together, or we go down together.” That’s true. —As told to D.S.B.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod


You Will Become Your Own Nurse

Pam McNamara
CEO & President, Health Helm

Healthcare is the tapeworm of society; it consumes almost 18 percent of the GDP in America, much more than the cost in any other country. It’s swallowing us. One way to reduce costs is to decrease the number of visits to doctors’ offices, hospitals, and emergency rooms and allow patients to take control of their medical care. This, of course, means embracing mobile technology like never before.

Most millennials want to engage with their care providers on their devices. And amazingly, older patients in their seventies and beyond also want technology in their lives when it comes to their health. The problem is, only a small number of hospitals currently have systems that let patients interact this way.

Apps like Trusted Patient Coach, which my company developed, will be among the answers to this in the future. It’s a communication system that lets patients track their own symptoms and self-report to their nurse and doctor, without the need for frequent in-person visits. You monitor your own blood pressure. Your watch can check your oxygen levels; you can send a snapshot of a mole to your doctor for their scrutiny. Patients tend to get feedback instantly, and they can see on the screen if their message has been read or not. It makes the interaction a personal experience.

The most exciting thing that could result from this is making highly personalized and currently expensive “concierge medicine” available to millions of people. Among the benefits: If you have a rare kind of cancer, and your local hospital is Mass General, and the best doctor in the world for your malady is at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Dallas, that doctor will be consulted for your treatment. Or if you live in Seattle, afflicted with a rare disease, and the biggest expert is at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, you’ll get the treatment insights from Dana-Farber. It’s all about connectivity. Machines talking to one another. The barriers will break down between regions, and between countries. Costs will come down as well. Patients taking back control leverages everything. —As told to J.D.S.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

City Planning

Public Art and Food Trucks Will Blossom Along the River

Max Grinnell
Urban planning expert and visiting lecturer at Massachusetts College of Art and Design

The Boston Pops have had a Fourth of July concert on the Esplanade for decades—but there are so many other types of music that might be celebrated along the Charles. In the future, I envision people from all across the city having the opportunity to regularly eat, gather, and enjoy public art close to the river.

It sounds so simple, but as most of us know, Boston has lots of rules about food and alcohol. Also, there are many stewards of the land. You think about what it took to create Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park or the Boston Public Market. You’d have to have buy-in from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the city of Boston, the city of Cambridge, and some property owners and get them to say, We want to provide more amenities to more sectors of the public.

So what would some of those amenities be? We could consider mobile, strolling musical performances in partnership with schools such as Berklee or Emerson; public art displays funded by local organizations; and, of course, food trucks.

This isn’t some sort of dilettantism—public spaces are important. They’re a gateway to a more important conversation about expanding opportunities to a broader range of Bostonians. And if we want to attract the next generation of stewards for these spaces, I see the goal 10 years from now being not necessarily dramatic changes to the built environment, but more dynamic cultural programming that will appeal to all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The one constant in life is that cities change, and I think that the use of the Charles River should change to reflect society at large. It belongs to everyone, and what happens there should reflect the diversity of Boston. It’s really important, as they say, to push the envelope. —As told to Brittany Jasnoff


Women Will Transform Our Innovation Economy

Sangeeta Bhatia
Director, MIT Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies

When we formed the Boston Biotech Working Group last year, we conducted a study that revealed that if women employed in just seven MIT departments had started companies at the same rate as their male counterparts, Boston would have had at least 40 additional startups. Those are potentially the region’s next Modernas, Genzymes, and Biogens that might be employing thousands, generating state revenue, and producing much-needed treatments and diagnostics—if only the women in those departments were able to turn their inventions into companies at the same rate as the men. And you can multiply that beyond MIT’s walls.

I’m a professor at MIT and sit on the board of a public biotech company, which gives me visibility in a way that helps me see what my inventions can become, and what it would take to turn them into viable companies. It also means that I already have established relationships when I need to find the right investors and the right CEO. But another faculty member said to me—her kids watch the Harry Potter movies—that she feels like she’s wearing an invisibility cloak. She’s in the middle of Cambridge, she works in a really hot field, and she’s never been on a scientific advisory board, never been on a company’s board, never been asked to cofound a company, never been invited to a dinner party with venture capitalists.

Sadly, her story isn’t unique. If you have an invention but are not connected to the larger biotech ecosystem, you don’t know the legal terrain, how much money to raise, or how to form a business plan. Together with my fellow MIT professors Susan Hockfield and Nancy Hopkins, I created the Boston Biotech Working Group to help address this, so that we don’t lose out on the next 40 startups. Our goal is to get potential company founders out of the labs and connected to the right people.

So how do we accomplish that? Right now, Massachusetts biotech boards are 14 percent women. We should be at least 25 percent, and ideally to parity, within five to 10 years. Other states are mandating diverse board composition; that hasn’t happened yet in Massachusetts, but we can be a coalition of the willing. We also need academic administrators who encourage women to engage in the biotech ecosystem, and an ecosystem that’s eager to receive them. Only 2.7 percent of venture dollars in 2019 went to companies founded by women, and it’s even worse for women of color. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.

The biotech industry is inventing the future of healthcare, and this year has taught us that we need better diagnostics, and better medicines, faster. Well, 40 missing companies means 40 missing medicines and diagnostics. The Boston analogy, because we’re a hockey town, is shots on goal. We are failing to take all of our shots on goal. Let’s change that. —As told to D.S.B.


School Is Going to Last Forever

Marty Meehan
President, University of Massachusetts

We’re in a period of disruption that the world of American education has never seen. We are seeing a massive decrease in the traditional learning model, which the pandemic has accelerated. It would have happened eventually. But we are in it now, and it changes everything—in my opinion, for the better.

The future of education is that we will teach not just the young, but everyone. And we will teach them “whenever and wherever.” What does this mean? While the four-year campus experience remains valuable and popular, and UMass enrollment is growing, some people can only take classes from 10 at night till 10 in the morning. Some can fully attend school in person; some can do a hybrid model, in class part time and remote for the rest. Many can only learn remotely. As a result, we will become a nation where you can be in school for the rest of your life—not necessarily for a degree, but for lifelong learning.

If this sounds like the “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning is waning, you are right. We are challenging tradition, and replacing it with serving individual needs. Partnerships with businesses that help them fulfill explicit needs for workers will be a bigger part of the equation than ever before. We are building an alliance with Brandman University in California. They have programs, among other things, for educating the active military and other adult learners. Together, we are creating “UMass Global” to target a population that was really never served in the past. Using online platforms makes it possible to reach new audiences and expand our impact in communities of color. Again, we are tailoring lifelong learning to the individual. We want to have a system in which you can call us looking for help and someone will call you back within 15 minutes to steer you into a course that meets your needs.

In the future, this new model will benefit everyone in Massachusetts, because the better we are educated, the more the economy can grow and thrive. UMass already contributes $7.5 billion to the statewide economy, and we’re the third-largest employer in Massachusetts. Our teachings can follow you wherever you are, in this country and abroad. “Whatever works best for you” should be the new higher-education motto. —As told to J.D.S.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

The Workplace

You’ll Never Sit in a Cubicle Again

Elizabeth Lowrey
Principal and director of interior architecture, Elkus Manfredi Architects

The office will no longer be a mandate, so it will become a magnet. Why? Because hybrid working is here to stay. Work from home will become work from anywhere, so in-person and virtual collaboration will continue and offices will be redesigned to accommodate hybrid working. People will long for in-person collaboration. The results from the creative energy of “being in the room” cannot be replaced with “being on the call.”

How do we get from here to there? The office has to be redesigned and recalibrated for its new uses. Expect a renewed emphasis on health and wellness. There will be more natural sunlight streaming into the office, for instance, and more indoor plant life. You will notice the circulation of indoor air more than before.

How we actually work in the office will also undergo a dramatic transformation. There will be fewer file folders. Workers will be untethered, and previously used open social areas, like the café, the outdoor terrace, the foyer, or the building’s lobby, will become team-collaboration work areas. Perhaps the biggest change, since we are already doing the solo work remotely, will be that the previously open fields of individual workstations will also become team-collaboration work areas.

The new office must be something people want to come back to. It must be about creating a community, a destination with a heart and soul. That means being in a neighborhood with small shops in the vicinity, with a place to have a drink and a place to exercise. There needs to be collegiality and convenience.

Ultimately, the office will become a magnet because it will be a hub of learning, mentoring, socialization, collaboration, and innovation, which will yield more-impressive results than just remote working. And that’s beneficial for both employees and employers. —As told to J.D.S.

Read more about how to handle life post-pandemic with our ultimate guide to what’s next