Boston’s roadmap for a more inclusive future

For years, Boston has had a reputation as America’s ‘most racist city’. However, renewed efforts from both city government and place marketing organisations are challenging those perceptions, and laying the foundations for a more inclusive Boston. Segun Idowu, Chief of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion for the City of Boston, is just one of the individuals working tirelessly to ensure that Boston’s policies, actions, and marketing align to create real change in the city. Before he joins us in Houston for the City Nation Place Americas conference, we sat down with Segun to discover what the key is to making a lasting impact and how cities can make sure they’re putting their money where their mouth is.


Thanks for joining us, Segun. To start with, how important do you think leadership is in driving change, and what should leaders looking to make change be focusing on?

Everything starts at the top. If ideas, policies, agendas, initiatives, or programs meant to bring about change are sourced from other internal or external stakeholders, they must be supported and prioritised by leadership.

One example in Boston is our recent success on supplier diversity. Prior to Mayor Michelle Wu coming into office, a 2020 Disparity Study found that only roughly one percent of contracts were being awarded to Black and Latino businesses combined.

Because Mayor Wu made supplier diversity a key plank in her campaign and carried that over to her Administration, our team had the flexibility to try new ideas, develop new policies, and make necessary internal changes that allowed us to increase the value of our spend with BIPOC businesses to 14 percent within one fiscal year. This was possible because Mayor Wu and those within the Administration value two key things that every leader should: the expert perspectives and ideas from impacted groups, and a willingness to try new things, fail, and try again. Without those two ingredients, change will either never happen or not be sustained beyond your tenure.

How can place marketing organisations and government work together effectively to make real change for their communities?

In Boston, we in the local government are fortunate to have a close relationship with these organisations, such as Meet Boston. Our goals are the same: to create an experience that is impactful and beneficial to all.

Groups like Meet Boston have done an excellent job of promoting all of Boston’s neighbourhoods and what they have to offer, and this has driven a lot of economic growth in areas that were hit hard by the pandemic.

What can place brand teams do to support their minority-owned businesses and create a more inclusive destination?

Minority-owned businesses should be included in all marketing, not just specific campaigns focused exclusively on minority-owned businesses.

If a place brand team is promoting an area, minority-owned businesses should be woven into the fabric of the marketing. The marketing can include specific callouts to minority-owned businesses, but they should not be a separate group.

Place brand teams should treat clusters of diverse businesses the same way that they market other areas. For example, in Boston, the Back Bay’s Newbury Street should be marketed similarly to predominantly Black areas like Nubian Square and Mattapan Square. Maverick Square in the predominantly Latino neighbourhood of East Boston should be promoted like the Seaport District. They are all worthy of tourist dollars and support.

Can you share one aspect of your work that you’re most proud of?

I am most proud of the ability to bring groups that are in conflict together into resolution.

In terms of procurement, we got City departments to redo their systems and embrace new practices. As a result, we were able to double the City’s spend with minority businesses.

Another example of successful partnerships is our Legacy Business Program. The Program highlights long-standing, independent enterprises that make a strong contribution to community character. Winners receive grant funding to support the long-term success of their business. This Program starts with a community nomination process. Then, City Councillors select businesses from the nomination list to move forward. A review committee comprising representatives of nine City departments and partner organisations narrows down the list. Then, the review committee sends their recommendations to the Mayor. While this is a lot of steps, it demonstrates that partners both within and outside City government are dedicated to supporting legacy businesses.

And finally, with the SPACE Grant program, the City seeks to fill vacant storefronts and help small business owners secure new storefront space or expand to a space by subsidizing the costs associated with operating expenses. This program was established by talking to businesses and landlords. It is a program that addresses the needs of both.

Amazing. Thank you for sharing that with us, Segun.


City of Boston’s Segun Idowu will be joining Martha Sheridan, President & CEO of Meet Boston, for the closing keynote at City Nation Place Americas 2024. Join us in Houston on May 14-15th to hear how key stakeholders in Boston are collaborating to challenge perceptions and change the narrative around the city, and to learn from more than 40 place brand and marketing experts. See the full CNP Americas agenda here.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.