why is boston a good place to start things, but not to grow them

last week, my friend aisha made a really good point in a conversation about boston. the way i understand what she said was this: boston is a great place to start things and a difficult place to sustain and grow things. boston has huge institutional resources, schools and hospitals mostly. but unless you’re inside of or deeply connected to one of those institutions, you don’t have access to those resources. one example she gave was how the number of art events she got invited to skyrocketed after she became friends with an artist who was working at an art school in town.

the more i think about it, the more i see this to be true. it’s crazy that these institutions don’t support change in the way i assumed, but aisha’s insight feels dead on.

the more i’ve thought about it, i think two other things contribute to this reality.

the first is really a subpoint to aisha’s point about resources being held up in institutions. essentially, the reason these resources have more of a stifling effect than a generative effective is because the institutions are grown from conservative roots. they weren’t set up to be outward facing institutions and so they don’t have the structures or culture to be outward facing. there’s a whole body of work that an old professor friend of mine, lorlene hoyt (who is the executive director of the talloires network), has worked on in this lane. i think in that academic space it’s discussed as community-university partnerships. my impression of that work is that the biggest takeaway is that community-university partnerships, even in the best of cases, basicaly fuck over the community.

the second, also related to that, is that these institutions are interested in the new and shiny. they have plenty of infrastructure (competitions, incubators, hackathons, prizes, etc.) for sniffing out “innovations” or things that look/sound new. there is less infrastructure for growing those ideas into effective, impactful forms.

partly because i think the ethos is that those things, if they’re effective, should not have to be supported by the institutions. this surfaces a fundamental belief in capitalism (which doesn’t work) and a belief that if something is “viable” it will become self-sustaining business. this assumption isn’t really true becuase the world of business isn’t good for moving all types of ideas/work.

i think another part is that new ideas, ift hey’re really impactful, would actually change the nature of the institutions themselves. but these institutions have massive investment and stake in staying as they are. they hire tons of people and have huge physical footprints. they are inherently resistant to change.

so while it’s in their interest to be known for creating and initially supporting new ideas, they’re not structurally set up to support an ecosystem of innovation (that is unless your idea can survive in the academy OR is a business idea at its core).

other cities with less of their dna and resources tied up in big institutions actually probably are better for building and sustaining new ideas. but then the problem is that those places actually just tend to have fewer resources (or at least fewer of certain resources).


writing spell-check, link-finding, & formatting
19:00 8:00