April 19, 2023 | Connecting and Gathering in a City of Main Streets at Main Street Now 2023 |
Moments from the 2023 Main Street Now Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: mark manne photography.
“My first #mainstreetnow conference has been amazing. The education content has been spot on. The relationship building has been exactly what I needed for 2 1/2 months in. Thank you to everyone who helped pave the way!” - Alicia Calhoun, Elkton Alliance, Inc.
Last month, Main Street America—in partnership with the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion (OEOI) and Boston Main Streets Foundation—hosted the 2023 Main Street Now Conference in Boston, Mass. And what an incredible experience it was! Over the course of three days, nearly 1900 Main Streeters from near and far gathered for dynamic educational sessions, immersive mobile workshops, and network-building activities. We also celebrated a multitude of accomplishments, acknowledged the unique attributes of the Boston Main Streets program, and reflected on our individual and collective duties to advance an inclusive, sustainable, and equitable movement.
Recap: Memorable Moments from the Opening Plenary to the Big Bash
Attendees snap a group selfie (left) and Mayor Michelle Wu speaks at the (right) opening plenary. Credit: mark manne photography.
Main Street Now 2023 officially started on Monday, March 27, with an Opening Plenary filled with incredible energy and inspiring remarks. Main Street America’s Interim President and CEO Hannah White provided a new way to contextualize the collective impact of this movement. City of Boston speakers included Aliesha Porcena, Director of Small Business, who encouraged attendees to explore Boston's 23 neighborhoods; Mayor Michelle Wu shared her strategies to foster equitable economic opportunity and Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola passionately invited us to embrace the multifaceted identities of this town and our hometowns. And we were thrilled to close out the program by announcing the recipients of the 2023 Great American Main Street Award. Congratulations again to River District Association in Danville, Virginia; Metuchen Downtown Alliance in Metuchen, New Jersey; and Downtown Florence Main Street in Florence, South Carolina!
The Main Idea panel engages with the audience (left) and an attendee shops at the conference bookstore (right). Credit: mark manne photography.
The following day we were back in the Grand Ballroom for the Main Idea session all about community wealth building and shared prosperity. Dionne Baux, Vice President of Urban Development at Main Street America, opened the session and welcomed Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion Segun Idowu to the stage, who described the City of Boston's commitment to equity, inclusion, and broad generational wealth building. Next, remarks by and conversation between Whitney Kimball Coe of the Center for Rural Strategies and Fay Horwitt of Forward Cities explored bottom-up approaches to building equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems and cultivating cultures of abundance in communities of all sizes. Tuesday also featured an engaging Civic Leader Lunch, three mobile workshops, the opening of the Expo Hall and conference bookstore, and a lively Exhibitor Reception.
Main Street America staff—Hannah Mira Friedland, Tasha Sams, and Jim Miller—pose for a photo in the expo hall (left) and attendees celebrate at the Big Bash, hosted at the New England Aquarium. Credit: mark manne photography.
Wednesday marked the final day of the conference and was a whirlwind of activity! Main Streeters attended 47 sessions, including one that doubled as the live recording of an episode of Main Street Business Insights, our new podcast featuring stories of America’s downtown and neighborhood entrepreneurs that is set to debut later this spring. Attendees also participated in enriching mobile workshops in Roslindale Village, Brighton, and Mission Hill, and turned out for a memorable Closing Plenary. We were captivated by Liz Ogbu's enriching keynote remarks about spatial justice and healing, and we celebrated the accomplishments of our colleagues who earned MSARP credentials and John Bry, the 2023 Mary Means Leadership Award recipient. Then it was off to the Big Bash for great food and libations, engaging conversation, delightful music, and visiting the residents of the New England Aquarium.
Reflections from Hannah White
Over the last few weeks, since heading home from the conference, I have been thinking about why this one felt so special. Of course, as Interim President and CEO, my own role and experience of the conference was distinctly different this year. Nevertheless, there was an incredible buzz and I know from talking to many others that they felt it too. It may have had something to do with our scale – this was the largest Main Street conference ever! Boston itself, our amazing host city, and its wonderful neighborhoods contributed to that feeling as well. And of course, the 130+ education sessions, plenaries, and mobile workshops provided immense value.
But I think much of the magic this year came from the passion, openness, and feeling of community that the audience brought. And the ways in which that spirit was invited into conversation with a broad diversity of ideas and perspectives – during sessions, at events, and in so many chance encounters in hotel hallways (or perhaps, in line for those long-awaited elevators).
It's that energy that I plan on taking with me into my own work and the work of MSA in the coming year. That sense of a collective mission and a common commitment. The conviction that achieving our vision of equitable and vibrant Main Streets is possible, but only if we have the perspective and humility to understand that doing so will require a broader tent and centering community in everything we do.
I look forward to continuing our good work in the coming year, and welcoming you all to Birmingham in 2024!
“Just wrapped up a great few days attending the 2023 Main Street Now conference in Boston...This year the conference had a record breaking 1,900 attendees and just within Boston there are 20 Main Street programs at work. This tells me the power of the Main Street movement is working effectively and more communities are revitalizing their downtowns. So encouraging and exciting!” - Kim McAuliffe, City of Georgetown
Relive the Conference
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