Tech Alliance’s Susannah Malarkey on Four Things Seattle Could Learn from Boston, and One Big Northwest Advantage

6/29/10

Susannah Malarkey, the executive director of the Technology Alliance in Seattle, spent three days earlier this month in Boston with a group of Seattle civic and business leaders as part of the 2010 Intercity Study Mission. These annual trips, organized by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce since 1983, enable Seattle business leaders to pick the brains of civic leaders from around the country and bring the lessons back home to the Northwest on venture capital, urban planning, and education.

In the 27 years the program has been around, this was the third time Seattle representatives have looked to Boston for tips on how to foster community, growth, and local industry. There’s a reason why we keep coming back. Boston has a comparable population to Seattle with just half the landmass and a long history as a standout cluster for academia, innovation, and startup culture. Boston has a lot to offer Seattleites as we are planning for our own city’s future, Malarkey says. I dropped by Susannah’s office last week and spoke with her about the trip. Here are a few of the most important lessons she took away from our sister city to the east:

Reconnecting to the Waterfront

In 2006 Boston completed the most expensive highway tunneling project in the country, the “Big Dig,” which rerouted the city’s Central Artery, Interstate 93, through downtown and away from the waterfront. The project, which went billions of dollars over budget and six years past its initial completion deadline, is often compared to the proposed deep-bored tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct along Seattle’s waterfront. And though the two projects are  different, according to Malarkey, there is much to be learned from both the Big Dig and its aftermath. What were the biggest hiccups in the project? How do we ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes? What can we do once the project is completed to help our city reconnect to its waterfront?

Former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Fred Salvucci, often referred to as the “godfather” of the project, told the visitors from Seattle about the major road bumps Boston experienced during the Big Dig. On the top of the list: inconsistent management. He emphasized the need to have a clear vision, measurable objectives, and strong and consistent leadership to successfully complete a project of this size, Malarkey says.

“It was an enormous project, they had switched management, and it was so huge and so complex that not having consistent management was really key to not having it finish on time,” Malarkey says.

In Boston’s case, finishing the project was only the first part of the equation. The second part was reviving the city’s waterfront, even when little resources remained. Instead of using taxpayer dollars, … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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  • Jerry Jeff

    Out of all the variables in student performance, why scapegoat the teachers in (economically) poor school districts? With all the variability in the quality of administration, political interference, parental distraction and non-involvement, language barriers, and neighborhood violence I think it’s willfully simplistic to dump everything at the teachers’ feet. Otherwise an interesting article, and I was pleased to see Northeastern Univ cited as the great program it is.