Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, in an address delivered Wednesday to members of the city's business community, said, "We have created something special in Somerville."
But he added, in what became a refrain in his speech, "We're just getting started."
The mayor, speaking at the eighth annual Business Town Meeting, organized by the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, spoke about a broad range of topics affecting the Somerville business community and city at large, but his overall message was that Somerville has achieved many successes over the past decade.
"We have here in Somerville a community all pulling in the same direction," he said.
The mayor was upbeat about the character of Somerville.
"Somerville has an irrepressible and infections energy," he said, and "our local business community is becoming the envy of our neighbors."
Diversity and creativity
On the city's diverse population, he said: "We are unmatched in our diversity and our ability to make that diversity flourish." He added, "If you can take a trip around Somerville, you can eat your way around the world. I've done it."
He spoke about a vision for the city that has "balanced transportation modes" and reduces the number of cars while improving infrastructure for cars and bicycles.
He talked about the city's creative economy, saying, "Business, technology, education and the arts … that's the grand vision" for the city's future.
The mayor asked the Somerville community to push for statewide transportation funding reform, saying it's the key to ensuring the Green Line Extension happens. He said 85 percent of new business growth in Somerville in the coming years will happen around new MBTA stations.
He also said he's "100 percent committed" to extending the Community Path all the way to the border with Boston.
Speaking at Davis Square Theatre, Curtatone highlighted the city's schools. "I am so proud of our schools," he said, adding, "We send 80 percent of our students off to college" and provide school choice where parents can send their kids to neighborhood schools within walking distance.
He pitted Somerville's schools against those in other middle-class communities where students and families "are getting hammered by fees" to participate in sports and extracurricular activities, such as music programs.
"We don't believe in Somerville that those things are extras, and we don't nickel and dime you for it," he said.
A culture shift
The mayor also fielded questions from the crowd, addressing topics about the creative economy, parking, attracting research and technology firms to the city, development projects, and improving the city's squares, among other things.
Curtatone, when asked about encouraging "pop-up" businesses—small businesses, often food related, that "pop up" in a storefront for a short period of time before moving on—said those were the sorts of "freaky" things "we love" in Somerville, and he'd like to work to change regulations and permitting requirements to encourage such things.
"We want people out in the neighborhoods and streets in Somerville," he said.
He said there's a culture "shift" happening in Somerville, and there are people who ask if the city really needs block parties, arts festivals and other events.
"Yes, absolutely" we need them, the mayor said. "It's really what makes urban life so special."
Attracting big employers
The mayor said attracting larger tech and research firms—the sorts of businesses that exist in Cambridge near MIT and further away from the city around Route 128—has been a challenge.
He said it's not easy to "hunt elephants" from places like MIT, because they're established there already, but it's important to "set up in the long term an environment where we can organically grow."
CEOs of such companies, when looking for office space, are considering their options six to eight months in advance, which means, "if you don't have the stock [of office space] in the ground now, you're missing out."
He said the developers of Assembly Row are building an office building "on spec"—constructing it without tenants lined up—which is rare, but they're confident they'll be able to fill the space.
East Somerville is 'igniting'
The mayor also said, "What is igniting right now is East Somerville." He suggested that small businesses looking for opportunities look there.