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Innovation District: Boston’s “South Boston Action Plan”(2)


Innovation District: Boston’s “South Boston Action Plan”(2)


The simplicity of our career’s beginnings

will not damage its greatness at conclusion.

——Zhuangzi·Man in the World


Talent will decide the future of economic development in Boston, and holds the key to the fate of development in the world’s metropolitan areas.

——Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

       This is the third Thanksgiving I’ve spent in Boston, and I feel that the holiday spirit is stronger this year than in previous years. Cars have been parked in front of our doors by friends and relatives getting together with our neighbors to celebrate the holiday, and on the streets I keep running into happy groups of people. Even children’s playgrounds appear crowded, having added more than a few strange faces. Groups of eager and enthusiastic people converse with cheerful voices, and with rich facial expressions and animated body language, next to tables in restaurants, on the sides of roads, and at playgrounds; everyone has swept clear the reserve and quiet of their everyday lives- there is really a feeling bordering on exuberance in Boston now!

The phrase “a fall filled with troubled tidings” could be used to describe the more than one month that has just passed, and I believe that the successive series of unexpected events that occurred here over that time made everyone hold within themselves thoughts which they now wish to get off their chests and topics which can be discussed at length.

First among topics that people won’t let go of is that of late October’s storm, the once in a lifetime Hurricane Sandy; while the hurricane didn’t actually make people go wild with terror, it still did make people extremely nervous. First came the state governor announcing that Massachusetts had entered a State of Emergency, closely followed by a stream of telephone calls, text messages and emails broadcasting all types of warning information and disaster-related reminders. Television and broadcasting stations rolled out live reports on the storm center, followed by shopping centers’ disaster-related goods being completely bought up. When the storm’s strong winds and rain hit, schools stopped classes, transportation stopped, businesses closed, and rescue teams along the Greater Boston seacoast prepared to meet the challenge.

However fortunately, after making landfall on the New Jersey coast, Sandy’s winds turned left and headed westwards, so that the storm’s center only glanced by Boston. While some areas of Massachusetts suffered light storm damage, no persons lost their lives due to the storm. Rattled, but not seriously damaged, Boston did not ignore the damaged plight of its brother and sister cities; Boston mayor Thomas Menino immediately sent well-prepared teams to New York to be immediately put into use in local disaster rescue and relief efforts. The conversations I hear now no longer discuss the “luck” that we had, as they did during the “nervous” times before the storm as well as after it hit, but now mostly concern the fact that ‘we can’t always be this lucky, what will we do the next time a “Sandy” comes? What preparatory work should we start to carry out now?

Another often-mentioned topic is of course that of the political elections that have just ended. In Massachusetts, everyone, in addition to paying attention to the presidential election, placed even greater attention on the election results for the US House of Representatives and Senate Positions, and the most gripping of these races was the struggle for one of the state’s senate seats in the US Senate. Romney’s current domicile is Massachusetts, he served as Massachusetts State Governor in the past, and he also made his election headquarters in the Boston area, however everyone was deeply aware that he had no chance of victory in Massachusetts, called a base of the Democratic party, and the only question with the presidential election results in Massachusetts was that of just how many votes he would lose by.

In fact it was the election contest between female Harvard University Law School professor Elizabeth Warren and Republican Party Senator Scott Brown that was fiercely contested, with polling results from polling organizations before the elections showing that voting support was extremely close for both. The election results were even more surprising, with the Democratic Party candidate, 63 year old Warren, winning a clear victory, 54% to 46%, over the “Tall, Handsome and Rich” Brown- who had already served for two years as Senator-, winning the most expensive election for US Senate in history (the two candidates spent almost 80 million US dollars in campaign costs)!

Whether discussing Sandy or the election, everyone comes to mentions one of Massachusetts’s political stage’s most important characters-Boston’s Mayor Menino.

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      If discussing Menino in connection with Sandy, people would first praise his planning and calmness in the face of the approaching natural disaster, and secondly express worry about his and Boston’s future development. The concern is not only about Menino’s physical health, although this is a concern indeed- since cutting short a vacation in Italy due to illness on October 26, he has continuously been in the hospital receiving treatment. Although from time to time he uses the media to release news that he is gradually getting better, it seems that the outlook is not positive, and people indeed have cause to express deep concern and wishes for his physical health.

After hearing and seeing the awful plight of disaster areas such as New Jersey and New York City after the assault by Sandy, even more people have begun to sweat over the Innovation District construction project which Menino has actively promoted. The worry is, when the Innovation District is completed after several years, with its position on the coast in South Boston’s wharf district, if the Innovation District were to be hit by a storm equally as strong as Sandy, what would the result be? Would current safeguards be enough to successfully stop the sea’s rise and storm winds from causing negative influence and damage? As he sits in his hospital room reading and approving official documents, Mayor Menino, who has continued to be clear of mind, has certainly heard the worries and calls from the citizenry regarding this!

If discussing the election in regards to Menino, everyone, without exception, expresses their conviction and admiration for him. In regards to the election for US Senate, Menino was, from the beginning of the campaigns, in a very delicate and sensitive territory. Brown is a Republican, but actually happened to agree with Menino on many important topics, and the two men had established a very close personal relationship in the midst of their work together. Menino always greatly praised Brown’s ability and performance. However, although Warren- who like Menino is in the Democrat camp- was very active in the Washington area and extremely well-known nationally, didn’t have much experience cooperating with Menino in local government. At the Democratic Party National Convention, Menino didn’t clearly express support for Warren in his speech, and this made the Democratic Party unhappy and worried. Menino delayed giving his public support for Warren until September 21.

Why was obtaining Menino’s support so important? In addition to the influence that comes with being a star mayor, everyone also greatly values his charisma and organizational abilities. “They have a very capable team that can take issues to the streets”, said one Boston former City Council member, “this means making phone calls, identifying potential supporters, going door to door, etc. The work they did for Patrick (who has served as Massachusetts Governor since winning the position in 2006) was amazing! As long as they do the same for Warren, her victory is certain!” The facts of the election confirm that these words were not false!

On the day of the election, 2,289 volunteers rang the doorbells of 110,000 households, and gave citizens rides to polling places, gave free pizzas, hot coffee and hot chocolate to voters, and even used fast-food vehicles to give voters snacks such as soup and cookies, to supervise over and win votes. Election results showed that in Boston, 255,139 city voters cast votes, the most voters since 1964, and that of these 75% of voters cast votes for Warren.

After learning of the election results, Menino, in his hospital bed, couldn’t back his surprise and pleasure, and exclaimed, ” Look at Boston’s voting results, even better than the election for Patrick, this is so impressive!” Using the strength of Menino’s election machine, the Democrats not only defeated Republican Senator Brown, who had just warmed up his Senate seat and possessed great personal charm, but also ensured that all of Massachusetts’s sitting House Representatives seeking re-election were re-elected. As Republican strategist Todd Domke said in exasperation: “The reality is the Republican Party has met with widespread defeat in the entire Northeastern Region, and it was especially bad in Massachusetts.”

These two seemingly unrelated events (Hurricane Sandy response and the election), are actually both extremely connected to Menino, and thus convey a common message: when considering government administration and operation of political parties, human factors need to be considered; people really are the most important part of this equation. The Innovation District project has been a project on which Menino has labored for ten years, and although overall progress has been smooth, it seems that in the face of unexpected natural disasters, there will continue to be doubts and further re-assessments regarding the project. After all, city building’s biggest return and goal is to serve the people, and if city residents’ lives and properties are threatened (even if only potentially threatened), even the best, creative ideas will run aground no matter how much effort has been expended into them!

From this vantage point, it seems that Boston’s City Government and Menino are facing a new challenge. This election changed my original perception of the grassroots organizational power of the American government. Previously I primarily believed that it was very difficult for such loose “Election Clubs”, which can be freely entered into or left, to produce the ability to organize, mobilize and bring together constituents. However now it seems that although under the democratic structure it is still very difficult for political parties to use so-called strict discipline to control members, individual bodies with strong missions and senses of responsibility, and possessing strong contributive spirits, can very easily organize and create “a turning of the tide” and “miracles”. This also adds dramatic and theatrical results for elections’ multi-party competitive tussles.

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      After observing and analyzing Menino’s actions throughout the years, it seems that the label of “people-oriented, serves the voters” could be used by Menino to openly describe his idea of government administration. This kind of idea has been fully embodied in the planning and implementation of the Innovation District. The construction of the average industrial park faces two difficult choices:: either creating a good environment and then looking for businesses, or first recruiting businesses and then creating a good environment. Some people have called this a problem of “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” In the construction sequence and in infrastructure’s function and design, Menino used a method that was close to peoples’ needs, by first starting a series of Service Park entrepreneur projects.

In April of this year, the Boston Innovation Center (temporary name, a more permanent name is still under consideration) began construction; this is the opening work for Menino in creating a good environment for the Innovation District. Total investment in the Center is 5.5 million US dollars, and it is designed to be a one-story building occupying 12,000 square feet (about 1,115 square meters), with a construction completion and opening date of spring, 2013. The Innovation Center will be comprised of a 9,000 square foot (about 836 square meters) public space and a 3,000 square foot (about 279 square meters) cafeteria. The public space will include several conference rooms, classrooms and exhibition halls, so that several types of dialogue activities, such as conferences, forums and expos/conventions, can be held. After construction is completed, this Center will be opened for free to newly created companies and their employees.

The Boston Innovation Center is responsible for the goals of promoting dialogue and communication, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and promoting industrial development.  Menino has in the past pointed out that “The Center will be the first building of its kind in Boston, and will be a core part of our city’s innovative facilities … perhaps the next billion dollar idea will be born here.” The Center’s investment came from two companies- Boston Global Investors, and Morgan Stanley-, and the government, after a period of ten years of free use, will return the handling of the Center to its developer(s) (as one of the conditions for obtaining the Seaport Square’s business license). After construction on the Center is complete, its operations will be contracted out by The Boston Redevelopment Authority to the Cambridge Innovation Center, using the cafeteria’s profits to maintain normal operations for the Center.

The Boston Innovation Center’s functions will be close to that of the Microsoft New England Research and Development (NERD) Center built by the Microsoft Corporation in Cambridge, but the Boston Innovation Center will be the first public innovation center in the nation. A difference between this Center’s functions and those of the Cambridge Innovation Center is that this center will not accept companies on a long-term basis, but will only provide companies with short-term use inside the Innovation District.  The Boston Innovation Center’s construction and operation models will also display Menino’s and his team’s innovative thought processes.

How can affordable use housing be provided to employees of companies entering the Innovation District? This has also become one of the problems which Menino has made great efforts to solve. He promoted the  “ONEin3” conference (a survey found that 30% of Boston’s residents are young people between 20 and 34), and has also appealed for developers to construct mini-apartments that can be rented for low prices to entrepreneurs and science and technology employees, calling these mini-apartments by the name of Innovation Units. In order to construct these Innovations Units, he has used legal processes to change the standard for apartments’ dimensions. He had to due this as the City Government’s regulations previously stated that the dimensions of Boston’s smallest apartments’ should not be less than 450 square feet (about 50 square meters), however estimates for the mini-apartments were that if rents were to be kept controlled at 1500 US dollars per month, mini-apartments containing only a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom would only be able to have dimensions of 350 square feet (about 42 square meters).

After this, the City Government invited famous design company ADD Design (ADD Inc.) to carry out full market research and come up with a specific, applicable implementation strategy for the mini-apartments. 300 “micro-units” with dimensions from 300 to 450 square feet (about 28 to 50 square meters) will, in accordance with ADD Design’s design plan, be built at the four residential projects on which construction has begun inside the Innovation District.. After construction these mini-apartments will be rented out at low prices to the government to help the government attract young entrepreneurial talent and the “creative class” to come live in them.

Under the unremitting efforts of Menino and the Innovation District’s management team, the Innovation Disctrict’s environment has obtained clear improvements. Several specialty cafeterias, bars, etc. have opened one after another, communication and internet service providers have energetically opened services, and go-between firms such as law firms, accounting firms and corporate innovation centers have arrived one after another Some large corporations- such as Fidelity Investments, etc.- that have in the past considered moving services to Boston, plan to move their headquarters to Boston and also increase their level of investment, and even a gardening organization plans to use fresh flowers and plants to dress up the bridge connecting the city with the Innovation District to obtain more notice from tourists and city residents. The need to satisfy peoples’ needs has brought forth a fervor for construction from city residents and various organizations, and this kind of fervor has itself positively influenced others and carried with it the input of even more strength into the project; all of Boston, with the Innovation District at its core, has dug up a new construction fever.

Menino is in the midst of using a string of “small” actions, using the needs of entrepreneurs to embark upon this effort, thus successfully resolving the “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” problem that the Innovation District frequently met with in its early start up phases. These methods of his are in actuality also a development and expansion of Boston’s culture and tradition of governance. As Edward Glaeser pointed out in an important article regarding Boston’s development: ” From its earliest years, Boston existed not only as a production center, but even more as a place where people wanted to live: she is a consumption city. As people want to live and work there, whenever the economy met with trouble, residents chose to stand fast and innovate.”

Through the development strategy of the Innovation District, we can also clearly see that a so-called consumption city must start from small matters such as its residents’ clothing, sustenance, living, transportation, etc. needs, and must do its best to create a safe, convenient and livable city environment. Many seemingly trivial and ordinary matters, are actually those that can best cultivate good feelings by city residents for their city and faith in their government, and it is also these ordinary affairs that can encourage city residents to carry out investment and consumption without excessive worry. Moreover, during key and difficult times in a city’s development, a city’s culture and civilized spirit, having been slowly and painstakingly built, will make itself manifest and create enormous power for good.

*               *              *

       Boston’s emphasis on, and attraction to, talent does not only stop at creating a comfortable living environment, nor does it stop at providing employment positions and opportunities to start companies, but also is displayed in the use of innovative science and technology and the products of this. Innovation economist Scott Kirsner long ago wrote about this quality of Boston in his article Innovation City. He believes, that Massachusetts residents quality of both daring to and liking to try new products and new technology has greatly inspired inventors and entrepreneurs to continuously go and create. As innovation and creation have a market here, expended effort can quickly gain acknowledgement and returns. Today, the scope of consumers for innovative products has far surpassed that of individual residents, companies, groups and government, and such consumers long ago already became an important client base.

Through the bio-med, clean energy and computing information technology concentrated in the Innovation District, it can be seen that Boston is an energetic advocate and leading user of many new technologies. Indeed, the Greater Boston Area has eight famous university medical schools, and countless medical organizations. Mass General Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are always in the front ranks of American hospital rankings. Mass General Hospital not only ranked number one in the 2011 American Comprehensive Hospital Rankings, but is also Massachusetts’s largest private employer, with 23,000 employees. The Boston area has enormous needs for new pharmaceuticals, new instruments, new apparatus, and new treatment methods. Many clinical medical hospitals and R&D organizations frequently open mutual dialogue and cooperation with companies in related fields, causing the Boston area to become a key center in world pharmaceutical research and development.

Strict standards have been formulated for the Innovation District, requiring that developers do their utmost to use leading environmental friendly and energy conserving science and technology and products, and some companies entering the park have even used technologies that have never been used before. Meandering along Boston’s avenues, high efficiency environmentally friendly and energy conserving BigBelly Solar trash cans can be seen everywhere, produced by a local enterprise. Rental bike stations designed for pedestrian used, called “The Hubway”, have been sensibly placed at transportation junctures. Those who like driving can also enjoy the fast easy car rental service provided by Zipcar.

Last year Boston ranked third on the America’s Greenest Cities ranking, and has been selected as The Best City for Walking in the USA many times, as well as America’s Healthiest City. This green, healthy wave has also touched upon the Innovation District. Computer Information Technology has been widely used in city governance. Graduates of the Harvard Kennedy School working at Boston City Hall have used email to send out introductions to professors excitedly describing the work they’re currently working on; as a daughter project of New Urban Mechanics , we are in the midst of developing a piece of software post haste. After it is successfully developed, all you’ll need to do is to install the software into your cell phone, and once your car begins travelling in the Boston area, we’ll be able to track the rise and fall of your car caused by bumps in the road. After we’ve collected enough information, timely repairs can be carried out to roads affected by such bumps; the large-scale use of information technology will greatly promote the improvement of attention to detail in city management.

The city of Boston is also overflowing with the ideas and fervor of young people, and continuously gives birth to youthful wisdom and inspiration, and I’ll give two examples of this here. The first is, at the end of July, the Pandolfo brothers, for whom the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, held an exhibition, created several huge murals on buildings in the busy city district. One of these murals created a huge public debate, and was called “The Giant of Boston”; this mural has a dimension of 5000 square feet (about 465 square meters), and made an entire building used for ventilation for the Big Dig, located at a busy intersection, into colorful graffiti. This work’s photo was uploaded onto Fox Boston’s Facebook page on August 4th, and the original will be preserved until the end of November for viewing. What is the meaning behind the painting?

City residents can post any of their opinions about the mural on Facebook. Most city residents see it as both a work undertaken for the public good as well as for philanthropy. Some people have praised this work as giving Boston’s streets “color and energy”, giving rise to citizens’ curiosity and imagination. However, many people have connected this painting with 9/11 and terrorism, and not only have expressed their dislike of this, but also suspiciously ask “why did Menino allow them to paint in this place?” Moreover, one of the brothers who created this work, Gustavo, once said, “You should draw whatever you want, and I don’t care whether it’s illegal or not. Cities are just my canvas for painting.” The other brother, Otavia, added, “Surprise is a good thing, it can make life move the human heart.” This completed “illegal” enormous work still stands on the street today, silently accepting the praise and criticism of passerby.

The other example/story is one that occurred to a young Boston resident named Blake Boston. The roots of the incident can be traced back to 6 years ago, when Blake Boston’s adopted mother happened to take a picture of him. In the picture Boston was wearing a baseball cap and collared fur coat, coolly standing in a brave posture, in the hallway of his home. Sixteen year old Boston put this photo on his MSN without much thought, hoping to share it with his friends, and mother and son both thought this was the end of the matter. However, this photo suddenly became greatly popular on the internet two years ago when it was altered by an unknown person to become a meme (meaning a cultural factor that spreads from person to person), and given the name “Scumbag Steve”. In an instant, Blake Boston became the poster-boy of those street kids living fast lives and looking for trouble (doing drugs, drinking alcohol, petty theft, etc.)

Blake Boston’s Facebook page exploded with large amounts of visitors, and the assault on the person of Scumbag Steve continued unabated. He and his adopted mother fell into the depths of previously unknown anxiety and bewilderment, and over the next several days, he chose to stand up for himself, by making online arguments for his innocence , asking for the website(s) to delete the posts, and calling for understanding and respect from web users. However all of this only achieved the opposite effect, only added fuel to the fire. The baseball cap, with small square designs imprinted on it, that he had worn at the time of the picture especially became the tool of internet-users in making their jokes; the first online portrayal showed the cap being worn on the head of ex-Egyptian president Mubarak, and the cap then became a symbol for contrary ideas, and photo-shopped by internet-users onto the heads of the people they didn’t like, with even Obama being unable to avoid such pictures being made of him.

The incident became more serious and more serious as it continued, to the point that Blake Boston was often noticed by people when walking on the street, with people sometimes asking him whether or not he was “Scumbag Steve”. At a loss, Blake Boston finally decided to change his attitude. He decided to accept reality and make “Scumbag Steve” into a brand to sell, and used this opportunity to help himself, as he liked performing rap music, enter the world of entertainment. He ordered limited edition baseball caps and sold them at high prices online, every week produced a rap song with “Scumbag Steve” as its gimmick, and laughed along with all those internet-users who recognized him in real life. Today, he has his own band and manager, and has thoroughly escaped the former money problems he had when he was unemployed and living at home.

Having written to here, I can’t contain my own secret surprise in one matter: doesn’t the city of Boston’s various methods and actions, and the city’s personality that these reflect, completely meet the requirements of Professor Richard Florida’s 3T theory?! Professor Florida has been called a “star professor” in North America. The scope of his research is quite large, and he has conducted intense research into regional economics and public policies, etc. He also is very good at taking his own academic work and making them into public products for business and sale, and it is said that he ranks with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates as famous speech-givers.

Florida’s landmark work is The Rise of the Creative Class, published in 2002. In this book he systematically expounds on the core ideas of how a creative city’s development is formed, these being Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. The ability to attract and serve talent, fostering and using science and technology, and diversity in culture are the basic pillars of creative cities such as San Francisco, New York and Boston. Although more than a few scholars have criticized the logic and rigorousness of Professor Florida’s theory as being clearly inadequate, if the real path trodden by the city of Boston, no matter whether taken as a compilation of experience or as a theoretical guide, is analyzed, these theories of Professor Florida all have extraordinary meaning.

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      The construction of the Innovation District and Boston’s rise despite current conditions, have not only provided new experiences for America’s economic development, but have also added a fresh new example for the long-debated problem of developmental trends in post-industrial cities. A group of scholars, including Edward Glaeser, Richard Florida, Bruce Katz and Saskia Sassie, have energetically advocated using innovative economics and smart growth to promote cities’ prosperity and revitalization, in this way thoroughly helping to reverse the problem of city centers declining due to the middle class spreading to the suburbs. During this process, the political and business, academic spheres have maintained unusually close contacts and cooperation.

In America, scholars go through intense, hard work in researching problems, and politicians and entrepreneurs listen to ideas from academia with genuine interest, and courageously undertake real exploration in related theories. Therefore, and due also to the fact that roles and positions in this relationship are often swapped, and the political, business, and academic spheres have formed a reliable, highly efficient mutual and beneficial cycle. Here, study for practical use, and the idea that knowledge and action go hand in hand, are no longer just ideals to pursue, but rather have become an active reality.

Most recently, Professor Florida, wrote an article in The Atlantic Cities, in which he ardently called for re-elected President Obama to place importance on the development of metropolitan areas, and use this to promote economic growth and employment growth: “When we can see the US economy as the combination of cities and metropolitan areas economies, not just as a single national economy, what appears in front of us is a completely different image”. At the end of his article Florida clearly advised,” if we want to return to growth and create jobs, America needs to throw off its national economic policy/strategy as quickly as possible, and should instead place our sights on those many cities and large metropolitan areas that will show us how to emerge from our difficulties.” This is truly very similar in spirit to Menino, in 2008, calling for the two presidential candidates at the time to place more attention on the problems of cities!

Two weeks ago, I specially invited old college classmates who had come to America to take part in training to go have dinner at Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant in the Innovation District, in the hopes that they could personally experience Boston’s developmental pulse through the Innovation District. This restaurant is a family-operated, specialty restaurant, started by Anthony Athanas in 1963. Since the restaurant’s opening, it has attracted many famous officials and famous people from Massachusetts and even the whole country, and its fame is similar to that of Beijing’s Quanjude restaurant.

Mr. Athanas called for the improvement and transformation of this district in the 1980s. His thoughts at the time were that he wanted to take planning for Pier 4 out of the industrial district and change it to be part of a mixed-use business community, creating many office buildings, residential buildings, parks and restaurants. Mr. Athanas’s dream for this district’s development has finally been realized! However, what he perhaps didn’t expect, is that the restaurant’s current incarnation will be replaced by a one acre waterfront park, and that the soon-to close restaurant run by his descendants has yet to confirm where it will reopen.

After dinner we walked to the balcony in front of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and looked at the sparkling lights of Boston’s center in the night, seemingly both close and yet far away. Looking at the Fine Arts Museum and a few not-distant tall buildings, the future of the Innovation District seemed almost close enough to touch: everywhere you looked were construction sites and expansive open-air parking lots, providing onlookers with material for infinite daydreams.

Innovation District’s planning and start have displayed Menino’s wisdom and resolution, and the fact that Boston, considering how precious its land is, could still have such a large space for its growth, makes it seem that the heavens have blessed and favored Menino! No matter whether Menino’s physical condition does or doesn’t allow him to obtain a 6th term as mayor, and no matter whether the Innovation District is ultimately finished under his watch, the Innovation District has already become the greatest political legacy of Menino’s political career. Perhaps only the Big Dig, completed in 2007, can compare with the Innovation District- which helps in “moving the center to the south [of Boston], [and] developing along the waterfront”- in having such a giant influence on Boston.

Yesterday Brigham and Women’s Hospital held a press conference regarding Menino’s health. He was finally diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, and still needs to be transferred to another hospital for further recovery treatment. Although just a spectator, I still whole-heartedly hope he can return to health soon, win re-election, and finally make the Innovation District into an exemplary work.

I remember that when I worked in Changping, I encouraged cadres to read a report entitled Grass of the Sun-Standout Female Entrepreneur Shi Jingxian’s Legend, and during this time I also went multiple times to see the bedridden Shi Jingxian herself. The reason I esteemed her so greatly is because while working in Changping she did two things. One was setting up one of China’s famous light industries at the time–the Beijing Baowenping (Thermos Bottle) Factory. The second is that she advocated restoring the Ming tombs and other cultural relics and opening them up to tourists.

I have always believed, that it is very difficult for a person to successfully and truly complete one or two accomplishments in their life, and that in order to get the opportunity to complete such an accomplishment, we have to spend long hours in preparation and waiting. Shi Jingxian was fortunate because she didn’t lose the opportunity to complete these tasks, and thus lived a life without regrets! I hope that fortune also likewise smiles on Menino! Having been abroad for two years, I don’t know how Mrs. Shi has been doing recently, and so would truly like to wish her: Good peace, health and happiness to such an outstanding person.


To thank all you readers in your patience for finishing this article, I’ve provided “Scumbag Steve’s” first song for your listening pleasure.



Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

To Be a Hardheaded Idealist


To Be a Hardheaded Idealist

—— A Speech Delivered at the Postgraduate Graduation Ceremony of Peking University, 2008

Dear Party Chief Min Weifang, President Xu Zhihong, distinguished government representatives, esteemed faculty members, proud parents, and above all, graduates:

 Good morning!

As a former graduate of Peking University, I am very honored and privileged to be here for this solemn commencement. First of all, I would like to thank Peking University for giving me a chance to re-experience an exciting moment and reflect upon the unforgettable and dear memories. Graduation always invokes mixed feelings about the joy of harvest and sorrow of departure, nostalgia for the past life on campus and longing for future life in society.

Twenty two years ago, I, a young man from a remote village in western Liaoning province, first set my feet in Beijing to study at Peking University and start a new page of life. During the past twenty-two years, our Alma Mater has celebrated her ninetieth, one hundredth and one hundred and tenth birthday, and together with our country, has suffered setbacks and experienced changes and developments. During the same period, I had stayed in Peking University for seven years as a student and then six years as a faculty member, before I went to work in various government positions for nine years. My years in Peking University allowed me a unique opportunity to explore her tradition and experience her spirit.

During my years of studying and teaching, especially in the days organizing the centennial celebration, I came to the realization that “Peking University’s tradition has always been polyphony, where the passions of China collide and get transcended, where the dynamic and explosive zeal meets the tranquil and rational reflection. It is this collision and fusion of passion and reason that forged her immortal soul and ensured her centuries of glory. If passion makes her adorable, the transcendence of passion makes her respected.

In the darkness of the early twentieth century, patriotism meant saving the country, and progress was made through criticism. Fighting and crying were entangled on the path to salvation. In the era of peace and prosperity, patriotism means strengthening the country, and progress is achieved through construction.   Innovation and dedication are required to make our people rich and our nation great. Therefore, pragmatic style, constructive attitude, innovative pursuit and dedicative morale reflect and characterize the spirit of Peking University in the new age.

I have repeated the remarks I made for China Education Newspaper in 1998 and Bimonthly Talk in 1999. They were what I learned as a student and what I tried to pass on to my own students in Peking University. As the nation’s top educational institute, Peking University carries the great expectations of our country and our people, to foster idealists with practical wisdom, and to turn out graduates who can transform dreams into reality and make a real difference in society.

I want to share this with you because it is the most important thing I learned during my thirteen years at Peking University, and the tradition I am deeply indebted to. I have been thinking for many years about how to become a hardheaded idealist. Shortly after the celebration of the new millennium, I waved goodbye to the joyous crowds celebrating the New Year in the centennial hall for new missions, with my deeply-held beliefs in transcending passion, becoming a down-to-earth idealist and a rational constructor. Since I left Peking University, I have been adhering to these beliefs in every tiny detail, and putting what I understand as the tradition and spirit of Peking University into practice during my service in the Youth League, local governments and party leadership. “Quiet pragmatism, attention to detail, seeking no shortcuts and sparing no efforts” has become my catchphrase and my work ethic as a leader.

I know too well that I owe all these realizations, persistent practice, methods, commitment and courage to Peking University. For years Peking University has been educating me with her inexhaustible store of knowledge, edifying me with her unique culture, and elevating me with her noble spirit. She has bestowed upon me the most valuable treasure for my life. I want to express my gratitude to Peking University, to her leadership, teachers and students.

Ten years ago, at her centennial celebration, Peking University set up the goal to become a world-class university, integrating the three missions of national rejuvenation, university development and talents cultivation. The renowned writer Lu Xun used to remark, “Peking University has always been a pioneering force in innovation and progressive movements, leading China to a better and upward path.” During the past ten years we have witnessed this transforming spirit and the concerted efforts of all to move Peking University forward. They have produced the enormous improvements in various aspects, from teaching and researching, international communication and cooperation, to cultural prosperity and service development. Peking University is braving winds and waves to become an internationally renowned university.

I have firmly believed that the just criterion for the greatness of a university is to see whether its graduates can make a great contribution to the country, the nation and the whole world. To judge how far a university is away from its goal, we need only to look at the performance of its graduates. Therefore I used to tell my students, “The ideal graduates of Peking University are those who can help the university to realize its ideal.” I also left a message to the Youth League Committee where I used to work: “Only when ideals are deeply rooted in the fertile soil of reality can they yield sweet fruits of success.” As a new generation of Peking University students, you need to combine the university’s aspiration with your own studies and daily work in order to move her closer towards a world-class university. An excellent student is judged according to not only one’s academic record in the university, but more importantly, the contribution one makes in a specific area after ten, twenty or even thirty years of graduation. As is well put by the famous Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi, “It takes three days’ burning to verify the true jade, and it takes seven years’ growth to recognize the useful wood.” To help Peking University realize her dream requires several generations of its graduates to engage diligently in unostentatious hard work.

I really envy you, the younger generation of graduates, because you grow up in a new era, an era of development ushered in with reform and opening up, an era of information made possible by the internet, and an era of globalization marked with unprecedented communication and cooperation. You have benefited from a better environment for learning, an easier and more convenient access to knowledge and information. You are the new generation beaming with vitality, confidence and a most promising future.

Today I want to take this rare opportunity to share with you my experiences and thoughts. They may sound like empty clichés to you, but they have been the treasured truth I learned from Peking University. Our life’s journeys may run parallel in some aspects, but will always bear the stamp of our own time. I encourage you to explore your own paths and I shall respect your choices. I believe you, as carriers of Peking University’s time-honored spirit, will embrace a richer and more glorious future. You will contribute a new chapter to your personal success, the further development of Peking University, and the rejuvenation of our nation.

July is a departing season in Peking University. The light breeze from Weiming Lake sends our Alma Mater’s deep love, and the sweet flowers add sorrow to our farewell. You are going to different futures in various parts of the country and the world, and may never have a chance to meet again. But I believe there must be some bits of Peking University to have become part of our lives, as there must be a flower that never fades in our memory. No matter how far we have traveled and how much time has passed, the filial bond between us and our Alma Mater will not lose its strength of union, because we will always remember fondly of Peking University as where we spared no youthful sweat and as our most cherished spiritual home. The future path will be long and winding, but I believe you have packed enough of wisdom and strength in your traveling luggage. I warmly congratulate you on graduating from Peking University, and sincerely wish you every success in future endeavors.

Thank you all!

Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

A Lost Election


A Lost Election


On November 6, when CNN projected Barrack Obama’s assured reelection at 23:20 (EST), the shifting lights of red and blue from the Empire State Building in New York changed to all blue to mark Obama’s victory; overwhelming joy and excitement at Obama’s campaign headquarters turned McCormick Place in Chicago a huge stage for celebration; a dead silence fell in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where supporters for Mitt Romney were struck by sadness and disappointment.

Empire State Building in all blue         Supporters for Obama went wild

Obama once again defeated a Republican candidate and won his seat in the White House for another four years.

At 0:56 of November 7, Romney, after phoning Obama to congratulate him on his victory, turned to his own supporters waiting in the chilly night, and made a “genuine and graceful” concession speech. He called for the ending of “partisan bickering and political posturing” and the combined effort for “a resurgent economy and to a renewed greatness.”

     Romney’s concession speech        Romney’s supporters disappointed

At 01:39, Obama finally came out to greet the expectant crowd with his wife and two daughters. He delivered a 21-minute long victory speech, and just like how he was four year ago, full of confidence and courage, passion and eloquence, setting the audience’s heart afire and blood boiling.

  Obama with his family on the stage        Obama delivers victory speech

As if troubled by an uneasy conscience, Obama mentioned the less glorious aspects of the campaign: “I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests.” He seemed to be repeating what he said on the Democratic National Convention two months ago: “I know campaigns can seem small, even silly sometimes. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites.” Obama then was a humbled and reflective candidate trying to admonish himself and seek public support, but now he is defending and justifying himself as a winner and America’s savior. Once on shore, we pray no more. The glory of triumph soon dispels the cloud of doubt, and the speech assumes a different undertone. It continues in Obama’s usual style: touching stories told with unspecified characters, parallel slogans shouted out in passionate tone, transitional mood introducing replaced concepts, enveloping all the audience in its grand aspirations. The victory convention grew naturally into a hysterical carnival.

It is hard to fathom the thoughts of supporters for Romney who were watching the live TV broadcast on Boston Streets, but the crying of Abby from Colorado came into my mind. The four-year-old girl’s outcry against the bombarding campaign advertisements made over 15 million hits on Youtube because it voiced many Americans’ distress: we don’t care a damn about who will be the president—just end the bloody campaign because we’re all sick of it.

Tired of election, 4-year-old Abby cries

America’s presidential election that happens every four years is an eye-catching event, generating enthusiasm and expectations all over the world. But this year, the American public has showed a general lack of interest from the very beginning of the campaign. The whole process took over one year, with the same passionate speeches, heated debates, overwhelming advertisements and dazzling conventions, yet it failed to kindle the public’s confidence and hope, without which the campaign would be nothing but a bore and torture, however boisterous and vacillating it appears.

Many causes are accountable for this. In my opinion, the major faults lie in the two candidates’ evading key issues for debate and indulging in empty talks on policy definitions.

I have the fortune to experience the presidential campaign during my visiting term in the States, and have been following the two parties’ moves closely since a year and half ago. Apart from the functioning process and mechanism of America’ democratic politics, three topics captured my interest in particular. The first is about America’s domestic economic policies, and whether innovation economy would be on the candidates’ agenda with renewed attention and measures. The second concerns the global challenges facing humanity, such as climate change, energy consumption and anti-terrorism. To what extent will they enter the political perspective? And what responsibilities await America, the only superpower in an age of globalization and informationalization? The third is regarding US-China relationship. How to bring the economic imbalance and trade friction to a satisfactory settlement? In which areas can the two countries seek fruitful cooperation? To my disappointment, the two candidates touched upon the first two issues without systematic explanation and debating.

As for the third issue, although China featured in both candidates’ proposals and provoked much discussion, on the whole it remained a sub-issue on the economic agenda. In the eyes of many experts, the cliché-ridden “China policy” and “China-bashing” have become monotonous, shallow and ineffective.

The big game is over, but many spectators have lingered. Discussions about the gain and loss of the campaign as well as the country’s future directions are just beginning: Why Romney lost? Why Obama won? What will the next four years bring? Direct and conspicuous titles as such filled the comment section of mainstream newspapers. Both parties believed that the first debate kindled hope for Romney, but the turning point came with Hurricane Sandy hitting the eastern coast on October 29. The hurricane not only sent Obama back to the White House and demonstrated his presidential capacity for decision-making and leadership, but also exposed Romney’s image as CEO of a private enterprise, who could think of nothing for storm relief except collecting donations for the victims. As commander-in-chief of the federal response to Sandy, Obama earned the unabashed praise from New Jersey governor Chris Christine and unreserved support from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.  “October surprise” tilted the precarious balance in Obama’s favor.  I think Sandy’s bigger though unexpected contribution is to elevate the campaign agenda to a higher level, forcing the issues of “government function” and “global climate change” into public focus. Undoubtedly Obama had the upper hand. Although there was no time for another debate, nobody questions the attitude and stance of Obama and the Democratic Party.

Obama at “Sandy” relief sites with Christine and Bloomberg

Another important reason for Obama’s victory is the Democratic Party’s successful use of various campaigning strategies.  The Democratic Party started a concentrated attack on Romney early on during the Republican primaries, and later successfully portrayed him as a billionaire who cannot relate to the poor; Bill Clinton delivered an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention and actively participated in the subsequent politicking events; Obama and the First Lady cast their votes early to encourage voter turnout and Obama broke into tears while thanking his campaign staff; Democratic grassroots organizations employed every possible canvassing means, including creating individual file for every potential supporter and  paying home visits, knocking on the door and transporting voters to the polling station on the voting day, so as to get out the vote and maximize turnout. After the election campaign, The Washington Post claimed: “A younger America, more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation than ever before, flexed its electoral muscle.” It is proved that the Democratic Party has better captured the dynamic of this age and won the heart of the young Americans.

The winners not on the ballot?

Obama closed America’s 45th presidential election as the first reelected president since 1940 with fewer votes than before, and the first president to succeed with unemployment rate higher than 7.2%. He is confronted with difficult domestic and foreign policy issues facing whoever wins the election, in a more divided and polarized partisan political environment. Perhaps he has not been fully aware of another challenge: the historical burden left by the “small” and “silly” campaigning. When Forbes released an article on November 6 describing the Romney campaign as “the most illogical, insulting, fact-free campaign ever,” should not Obama search his own heart and reflect on his own hard-won campaign? Although Britain’s The Economist endorsed Obama before the election, it declared that “America could do better than Barack Obama . . . this newspaper would stick with the devil it knows, and re-elect him.”  Should not Obama feel shamed at such a tongue-in-cheek compliment?

This election has embodied almost all the mediocrities and vices of previous presidential campaigns in history. There were no great issues to engage and enlighten the whole nation, but only broken and contentious policy propositions to divide the public; less of the vision, aspiration and charisma as befitting the leader of a great country, but more of deceit, threat and even personal attacks to attract votes; astray from the Founding Fathers’ advocacy for political civility, and lapsing further into a gridlock of racial disintegration; narrow and self-centered policies replaced liberal and compassionate principles. It is in this regard that I believe Romney suffered no injustice in failure and Obama won an ugly victory. This is purely a lost election. By that I do not suggest America’s irrevocable decline, or the demise of American democracy. Like most Americans, I would rather retain the memory in 2008 while looking forward to 2016.



王缉思, 程春华. “美国兴衰再评估:西风瘦马,还是北天雄鹰.” 中国改革论坛. N.p., 12 Oct. 2011. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <>.

Hanrold, Sirkin L., Michael Zinser, and Douglas Hohner. Made in America, Again: Why Manufacturing Will Return to the US. Rep. The Boston Consulting Group, Aug. 2011. Web. May 2012. <>.

Lieberthal, Kenneth, and Jisi Wang. Addressing US-China Strategic Distrust. Publication no. 4. John L. Thornton China Center Monograph Series, Mar. 2012. Web. Oct. 2012.

Overholt, William H. The Rise of China: How Economic Reform Is Creating a New Superpower. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993. Print.

Rowen, Henry S. “China: Big Changes Coming Soon.” Policy Review 170 (2011): 35-43. EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <>.


Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

Innovation District: Boston’s “South City Action Plan”


Innovation District: Boston’s  “South City Action Plan”

The good city is innovative and fun; it is prosperous; it strives for justice and sustainability- and above all, it is alive. —— Paul S. Grogan

All politics is local. —— Tip O’Neill


If one were asked to single out the most difficult role to play on the political stage of Massachusetts, the mayor of Boston would be the default answer. It can be explained by two reasons: firstly, the Greater Boston area has long been among the world cities and Boston is no doubt the center of the area. Therefore, any moves made by the mayor would exert significant impacts on the region and its surroundings. Such a fact requires the mayor to possess sufficient foresight and superb leadership. Secondly, as the capital of Massachusetts, Boston is both an independent city with its own constituency and the key area for state governance. Indeed, the state government and the city hall are located within half a miles from each other at the heart of the city. It is therefore very natural that the two governments would frequently find itself at odds with the other on various issues, ranging from development goals, project selection, construction timetable and specific operational plans. As a result, the post of mayor requires strong communication and coordination skills. To borrow the words from Chinese officialdom, the situation of Boston mayor is comparable to that of “Peking officials.” However, the incumbent Mayor Thomas M. Menino has served in this position for nineteen years, finishing up his fifth term next year. In light of the general popularity and his overall performance record, Menino is believed to be the most accomplished and popular mayor in the history of Boston.

Menino was born into an ordinary Italian immigrant family at Hyde Park, Boston. He received his higher education at University of Massachusetts Boston. Prior to taking the mayorship in 1993, Menino had served for ten years on Boston’s city council. Up to the present, he has never left Boston, his beloved city where he grew up, went to school and then work, got married and had children.  Ever since he first took office,  Menino has demonstrated strong dedication and an undivided attention to build a better city. Making full use of his major in community planning and with the most ardent enthusiasm and attention to details, Menino devotes himself to neighborhood development. For nearly two decades, he has visited individual homes and streets to examine and resolve problems. From cleaning up the parks and fixing the streetlights, to selecting location for convenience stores and repairing the sewage system, nothing is too trivial for Menino. When new projects come up, he is delighted to supervise every aspect of the construction, be it site selection, planning, supporting infrastructure building or exterior design. His burly figure often appears at the street corners, restaurants, bars, shopping centers and the barbers’. A survey conducted by a local media in 2009 showed that about 59% of the citizens had private talks with the mayor. He is omniscient. It is hard to tell if such is his innate leadership style or deliberative policy strategy. In short, his tireless work ethic and attention to the basics that make for a thriving city won him the reputation of “urban mechanics” early in his career.  His most distinguished achievements include promoting the growth of medium-size and small businesses, supporting education innovation, revitalizing cooperation-based community culture and clamping down on crime, for which he has been recognized as a national leader on urban neighborhood governance.

At 69 years old, Menino has been constantly bothered by minor health problems. His eye surgery and leg operation were both topics of local media reporting. His extremely strong Boston accent earned him the nickname Mumbles. For all appearances, he stands as strikingly different from the young, upbeat and eloquent American politicians we often see on TV. But beware such should not trick you into believing that Menino is no man of charm and competence. On the contrary, he has shown extraordinary insight and courage for innovation during his entire mayoralty. At the inauguration speech of his unprecedented fifth term, Menino pledges a new era of “shared innovation,” jointly built by the administration and the people; he promises to create a continuum of educational opportunities for the city’s youth, from dusk to dawn and from birth through college; he aims to revitalize the undeveloped parts of the city and construct a sustainable and shared innovation economy; he advocates civil entrepreneurship as a proper means to initiate a wave of urban innovation; he is committed to a culture of “inclusiveness” to bring the city even closer together across varied backgrounds. The whole Boston gathered under his championship. With criticism of “hopelessly myopic” and “lacking in spirits” against Menino the workaholic swiftly disappearing, his new initiatives are all making steady progress, among which the South Boston Innovation District is unequivocally the most prominent. Indeed, Menino’s South Boston “action plan” kicked off a new round of urban construction and has made great contributions to the city’s reviving economy. Innovation District, shortened as ID, is a new “ID” for Boston proper.

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Located at the old south seaport of Boston, Innovation District is nestled between Boston’s transportation gateways: abutting historic Boston Harbor, adjacent to Logan International Airport, and at the nexus of two major interstate highways. The 1,000 acres of residential, commercial, and industrial space includes Fort Point, Pan Pier, Seaport, Liberty Wharf, Channel Center as well as parts of the Financial and Leather districts. Before Menino rechristened it as Boston’s Innovation District and vowed to help companies large and small, this part of the city had been home to Seaport World Trade Center, Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and Marine Industrial Park. However, in the past decades, it remained a largely empty land with abandoned factories and gravels that attracted only artists to work or wander around.

Innovation District has clear and distinctive principles, goals and strategies. In Menino’s opinion, people in clusters innovate at a quicker rate, sharing technologies and knowledge easier and thereby increasing productivity. So he was determined to create a place, in midst of the economic recovery, for the best ideas to collide and the most promising entrepreneurs to meet and communicate. By assisting entrepreneurs to develop their business, more work opportunities will come along and the economy will grow. The ambition of Innovation District is not limited to another typical regional innovation economy cluster In Massachusetts like Kendall Square, Route 128 and Longwood Medical and Academic Area, but extends to building a vigorous and vibrant urban community with experiences and lessons borrowed from San Francisco and New York. To reach such an end, Innovation District defines its theme as “work, live and play,” that is, to build a multi-functional urban community that combines business and jobs, comfortable and convenient living, as well as leisure and fun. In addition to an abundance of collaborative venues, research and development space, Menino has spurred the investment of monies in transportation and municipal infrastructure. He has also made available a wide variety of housing choices as well as a large number of dinning and entertainment options. I cannot help but be reminded of a slogan on posters all over Changping when I started to work there: Let’s make Changping the first choice for investment and entrepreneurship, living and residing, tourism and leisure. Much encouraged, I understand how difficult it would be to turn these words into reality on the 300 thousand-acre land of Changping. To see such a seemingly unattainable goal being implemented in an orderly manner here at the Innovation District, I was simply overcome with emotion.

Being an opportune project, Innovation District has had a smooth first two years. Statistically, by February this year, over one hundred new companies had moved to the area, bringing more than three thousand new jobs. It is fair to say that Innovation District has managed to seize three opportunities. First of all, limited office space in Kendall Square drives rents up, and the soaring price forces many start-ups to look for more affordable place. Besides, as the second-time host of the BIO International Convention, Massachusetts consolidated its leadership in the world’s biomedical and pharmaceutical industry, attracting a number of multi-national corporations, European companies in particular, to relocate or open branches in the Greater Boston area.  Thirdly, against the backdrop of current global economic recession, Greater Boston is able to keep a relatively strong economic growth rate, highlighted by its featured innovation economy. With biomedical, clean energy and information technology, among others, being the primary industries, Innovation District has initiated a new economic path marked by multi-industry, diversified development as well as integration of industry, academia and research.  Some of the companies and institutions that have moved to Innovation District include: MassChallenge, Greentown Labs (Boston’s first clean tech incubator), Oasys Water (committed to developing breakthrough technologies to address the growing global water crisis), Space with a Soul (a non-profit accelerator), Babson Boston, Gezelle (sale of used electronics), Gemvara (customized jewelry making), Crimson Hexagon (social media monitoring analysis), NPR Digital (digital platform service), Buzzient (social media tools), Boston Society of Architects (a nonprofit membership organization committed to architecture, design and the built environment). In 2013, two well-known companies, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Zipcar will make Innovation District their home. The new headquarter of Vertex, a $900 million development plan under construction, is presently the largest private sector construction project in the nation. So, to respond to one of the comments made on my blog- “could you predict the most promising industry along Route 128?” my answer would be: Massachusetts’ innovation economy has stopped relying on one or a few industries; rather, Route 128, Red line innovation corridor and Innovation District have all presented a mixed development of multiple industries and it is thus hard to predict which one of them would become the new star. These industries’ shared advantages lie in knowledge and technology. Innovation activities are concentrated on basic research, product development and lean production. The most distinguished characteristics of the enterprises can be summarized as small scale, big investment, and high return.

*               *              *

The rise of Innovation District, viewed in a broader perspective, mirrors the revival of urban culture in Boston and America at large, thanks to the coordinated efforts of politicians, entrepreneurs and intellectuals. According to the studies of Edward Glaeser, professor of Urban Economics at Harvard University, downtown Boston showed signs of decline in the 1920s, hit bottom in the 1950s, and did not get back on its feet until the late 1980s. Glaeser’s observation could be verified by two facts. The first is the curious absence of any large-scale commercial building in Boston downtown amidst the building boom between 1950 and 1957 that created Route 128 as well as the industrial parks and commercial facilities along the line. The second is the disappointing result of the fundraising campaign led by the then mayor Kevin White and developer James Rouse in 1975 for renovating two cultural heritage sites—Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. Their proposal met unanimous disapproval from the city’s banks, as no one saw it a promising project. But Boston was not the only city hit by a downturn in fortune during the early part of the twentieth century—Detroit, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Cleveland followed suit. With the wholesale exodus of residents and jobs, the once glamorous downtown areas deteriorated into a nightmare of blight, decay and danger, filled with disease, poverty and crime. It was not until the 1980s that cities like Boston and San Francisco with unique human resources bounced back with the advent of information technology revolution, and recovered their former prosperity as new consumer cities.

While urban life invokes tribute and longing in Europe and Asia, it enjoys much less glorification in America. “Ambivalent” may best characterize its status in the American psyche. Paul Grogan attributes, and rightly so, the negative image to one of the nation’s founding fathers and America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, who famously declared that “cities contain all that is pestilential to the morals and moods of mankind.” Jefferson’s curse had substantially lowered American people’s estimation of cities, and the prejudice was only confirmed and deepened with people’s redefinition and pursuit of the American Dream: it was not about living in the gay and debauchery cities of high-rise buildings, but rather about enjoyig detached houses with spacious lawns, private swimming pools and groups of children—an orderly and civilized life in the suburbs in close contact with nature. Besides, the federal government had been the unwitting accomplice during the decline of cities. Such combined policies as the construction of federal highways, mortgage-interest deduction for suburban housing, generous support for automobile industries and long term fuel subsidies have all driven people to settle in the suburbs and left downtown to the homeless. However, the battle to rescue downtown from decline has never ceased, at least in Boston. In the political arena, Francis Sargent, governor of Massachusetts (1969-1975), vetoed a plan for Boston’s Inner Belt highway, making a timely effort to prevent Boston from further decline. Since 1960s, successive mayors of Boston from John Hynes through John Collins to Kevin White and Thomas Menino have all made unflagging efforts for the city’s revival. Their long terms, ranging from eight to twenty years, also ensured the continuity and longevity of policies, and promoted Boston’s steady course to prosperity. Business leaders have also made laudable contributions. Teradyne, the manufacturer of automatic test equipment, had firmly based its offices in downtown Boston since its inception in 1960 until its recent move to North Reading. When I visited Boston Properties last month, I learned from Michael LaBelle, the vice president, that the company has been, for the past forty years of its growth, focusing on high quality and high end office buildings and commercial complexes in the metropolis and never engaged in suburban projects. The company itself is headquartered in its masterpiece architecture, the famous Copley Place in central Boston.

Did the rebirth of Boston promote the status and importance of cities in general? Perhaps not in the opinion of Menino. During an interview at the end of 2007, he chafed at media’s lack of attention to urban affairs, and registered his disappointment that the importance of urban governance and urban problems seemed to have eluded the minds of the two presidential candidates. He cautioned America’s hope should reside in well-developed cities, and that the key to urban governance should be education, economy, housing, and public safety. Above all, innovation should remain the source and core power for the urban revival. Scholars have also risen to the defense of cities. In his 2011 book Triumph of the City, Professor Glaeser offered policy suggestions to the federal government and envisioned the beautiful future of urban civilization, based on his studies of the developmental history of the world’s famous cities. The book’s subtitle presents a powerful argument for the city: how our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier. Glaeser believes that in the new information age of globalization, physical distance no longer poses obstacle to communication, yet still most innovative ideas are generated through frequent and direct interaction and communication between people. Therefore he is a firm supporter and advocate for building skyscrapers and nurturing urban industrial clustering. No evidence has been found to suggest that Glaeser’s book has inspired Menino’s launching of Innovation District, but Glaeser and Menino certainly have shared some common beliefs. The official website of the Innovation District proposes that “Distance equals death,” as in contrast to the “Death of distance” theory of the British economist Frances Cairncross. But a closer reading of Cairncross’s work leads me to realize that the two notions are not intrinsically contradictory but rather address different issues. On the one hand, the extensive use of information technology has greatly reduced the time and cost of interpersonal communications, and in this sense distance has disappeared. On the other hand, the increasingly advanced information technology also calls for face-to-face communication to stimulate new ideas, so it would be rather unwise to give up the physical convenience offered by cities. Glaeser provides academic endorsement for Innovation District, while Cairncross does not necessarily oppose to it.

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Boston World Partnership, which successfully held the “Innovation Express” event, was established with Menino’s endorsement yet operates independently. The main task of BWP is to publicize and promote Innovation District and the “New Urban Mechanics” program. ” “New Urban Mechanics” aims at tackling the basic issues in the city through mustering the passion and wisdom of the constituents. For Menino, civic entrepreneurship, richly embedded in citizens and all kinds of social organizations, needs to be mobilized to resolve even the tiniest problems. Once the various types of foundations, entrepreneurs, tech experts and community residents plunge into this massive innovation campaign, Boston’s lasting prosperity and success will be guaranteed and enhanced.

From being nicknamed as “urban mechanics” to promoting “New Urban Mechanics” in a variety of ways, Menino’s political career seems to have been filled with trivialities. A popular Chinese term “city management” came to my mind. Nonetheless, quite in contrast with the Chinese ways of “making drastic changes,” Menino enhances his favorite city through maintaining the traditional functions and providing basic services. It is through gradual small-scale improvements to address constituent concerns that Menino achieves innovation and makes the big difference. Such is perhaps Menino’s unique approach to city management and may very well be the right one. After years of watching Boston’s development and studying urban policy, Professor Howard Husock from Harvard University made the following remarks: “I think that Mayor Menino has been an important mayor for Boston — and for Democratic mayors across the country especially — because he signaled that a focus on core, traditional services was important. That we should not only think that new projects and changing the face of the city should be the sole focus of a mayor. The delivery of core services is a message that any mayor can take to heart.”

Actively advocating a shared experience for an innovative Boston and perseveringly pursuing inclusion and diversity, Menino has gained support and respect from the voters. Such is also reflected in his attitude toward the Chinese community. Throughout the history of Boston, Menino is the mayor who has paid most visits to Chinatown. His frequent interactions with the Chinese often invite generous coverage by local Chinese media. Recently, Menino vetoed a redistributing plan that would split Chinatown into two parts. The action won him unanimous praise from the Chinese community. On the afternoon of October 12, 2012, together with Harvard President Drew Faust, Menino attended the donation ceremony by the Chao family to Harvard Business School. Noting that people of Chinese descent now comprise Boston’s second largest immigrant group, Menino called the accomplishments of the Chaos as a prime example of a family that had lived the American dream. Humorously, Menino mentioned that the size of Harvard’s Boston campus exceeds that of its Cambridge campus and that the new building at HBS made possible by Chao’s funds will have to get his approval.  He also took the opportunity to express his genuine wish for more innovation resources into Boston. Following the news that Boston outpaced San Francisco’s Bay area and became the most innovative city in the world, the China Press published an article on October 20 to further introduce the great contributions made to Boston by scientists of Chinese decent. I sincerely hope that Boston will carry on such an honor and that more and more American Chinese will join the force. Together, we will inject more Chinese elements into Boston’s vitality.




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“Case Study: The Boston Waterfront Innovation District.” SustainableCitiesCollective. N.p., 27 July 2011. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <>.

City of Boston.“The Strategy.” Boston’s Innovation District. June 28, 2010. Accessed June 23, 2011 <>.

Farrel, Michael. “High-tech Firms Find Fertile Turf in South Boston.” Seaport Innovation District. N.p., 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2012. <>.

Mayor’s Office. City of Boston. Web. 26 Oct. 2012.


Hiestand, Emily, and Ande Zellman, eds. The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston. Boston: Beacon, 2004. Print.

Patton, Zach. “The Boss of Boston: Mayor Thomas Menino.” Governing the States and Localities. N.p., Jan. 2012. Web. Oct. 2012. <>.

Tsipis, Yanni and David Kruh. Building Route 128. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, c2003.


Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

The Color of Innovation is East Crimson


The Color of Innovation is East Crimson

Although an ancient state, Zhou’s sole mission is innovation.

—— Anecdotes of King Wen, Major Odes. The Book of Poetry

      On October 27, 2011, an organized gathering on one of Boston’s red line subways attracted the attention of many passers-by. At one o’ clock sharp in the afternoon, a train with the sign of “Innovation Express” departed slowly from JFK/UMASS station. In the last carriage of the train, over fifty special passengers stood together, shaking hands, greeting each other and quickly getting into conversations. The organizers, as soon as they were finished with announcing the itinerary as well as warnings, quickly passed the bullhorn on to prearranged keynote speakers of the day. It was Boston World Partnerships, shortened as BWP, who initiated, sponsored and organized this innovation trip via Internet and cell phone. Those invited were all entrepreneurs and business networkers actively involved in innovation activities around Boston and Cambridge. “Innovation Express” not only allowed passengers to freely join at all stations but had set up brief addresses by representatives from start-up facilities and organizations in between stations. All participants alighted at the Davis Square Station in Somerville and took the return train back to Kendall Square, where they continued the buzzing discussions in Cambridge Innovation Center.

The event was a huge success. For one thing, the participants exchanged plenty of information regarding the industries; for another, they made first moves on establishing lasting ties with peers. Besides, the city was able to promote both Innovation District and New Urban Mechanics, and the passengers who joined during the ride learned about many companies and organizations along the red line. All had an extraordinary first-hand experience of Boston area’s rich innovation atmosphere and growth vitality. By the word of month of the participants and witnesses, as well as extensive media coverage, “Innovation Express” brought into public view such enterprises, institutions and projects, well known or unfamiliar, as UMass Boston Venture Development Center, Work Bar, Cambridge Innovation Center, Harvard Innovation Lab, Boston World Partnerships and Future Boston Alliance.

The ingenuous planning of “Innovation Express” boosted the fame of Red Line, yet it was President Drew Faust of Harvard University who first made connections between Red Line and innovation. Anyone who knows well about the trajectory of Boston’s innovation economy would remember the moment on May 1, 2009 when Faust delivered a memorable speech at UMass Boston campus, entitled “Innovation, Collaboration and Renewal- Lessons along the Red Line.” Through citing a considerable amount of both data and facts, Faust struck home the significant role universities and research institutes in the Greater Boston Area have played in promoting regional economic development. Echoing the theme of Obama’s address at the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Science one week earlier, Faust made a vocal appeal in continued increase in  R&D investment, at a difficult time as such, to assist America’s economic revival and sustainable growth. She employed her personal experience on the Red Line to articulate a new and weighty discovery.

“The Red Line, which I rode here this morning, is far more than a subway line, far more than a transportation artery – it is a highly useful reminder of where we have been, and where we are, and where we can go … if we commit to working together to get there.”

“The Red Line is not just transportation. It connects programs; it connects institutions; and, most important…it connects people…people who are the most efficient translators of ideas, innovation and knowledge; it provides us with a vision of what our community was…what it is…and what it can become. But this unassuming transit line is also a ruby necklace, whose jewels include – to name a few – Tufts, Harvard, Novartis, Amgen, MIT, the Broad Institute, the Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Federal Reserve Bank, and, of course, the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Venture Development Center whose creation we celebrate today.”

Foster then introduced in specific some of the innovation events and programs that have grown and developed on the many innovation sites. The close linkage between innovation and Red Line was then officially established.

On April 13, WBUR, the radio network based in Boston, began one of its reports on Red Line with the following words: “Remember how Route 128 used to be known as America’s Technology Highway? Well perhaps now there’s America’s Technology Subway.” Boston’s innovation hub, especially tailored for novice, Greenhorn Connect, made a direct proposition that we should rename the “Red Line” the “Innovation Line.”

In America, meetings, events and speeches too are obligations for leaders and managers. Yet events like “Innovation Express” and such talks as those on “Innovation Red Line”, I figure, would seem more of a delight than boredom for most people.

*               *              *

      March 23, 2012 marked the centennial anniversary of the Red Line subway. The red Line, last to be built among the four subway lines in Boston area (America’s first subway line was opened in 1897, which became part of the present day Green Line), soon grew to be the region’s most modernized and fastest subway line with fewest accidents. From using the world’s longest and widest carriage to being among the first to install soft seats, polka dot curtains and ventilation fan, and to recently putting in place LED displays and other advanced electronic equipment, the red line has been the most convenient and comfortable local public transport.

It took over fifteen years, from 1894 to 1909, for the Red Line project to start after it had been conceived. Initially, the discussion was about route and funding, then Boston Elevated Railway was asked to build the bridge over Charles River first, and finally, the number of stops along the line was debated. All different types of stakeholders, including residents living in adjacent areas to the line, businesses, government agencies, as well as construction and operating companies, were allowed to fully express their opinions and aspirations, followed by endless hearings, verifications and debates until compromises were ultimately reached. Once all the procedures were finished, building the road became easy. Only three years passed before all the construction work was completed. At five twenty-four on the afternoon of March 23, 1912, the train with superiorly designed extra-long and extra-large carriages set off from Harvard Square toward Park Street. Nearly 300 passengers took the first train, mostly Harvard students. They danced and cheered as if they were heralding a brand new era! A total of eighteen years were divided between three years of actual construction and fifteen years of investigation and negotiation. What may appear incredible to us is exactly the American way of doing business. In view of its normal operation 100 years later and its assumption of new tasks to promote innovation economy, all the prudence and delay early on seemed worthwhile.

The opening of subway line from Harvard Square to Park Street was only a prologue to the construction project of a main artery to connect the south and north of Boston. Although the large-scale construction concentrated in a two-decade period between 1912 and 1929, it was not until after 1985 that the expansion was completed and the whole line began its stable operation. In the 1970s, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (referred to as MBTA) conceived a grand plan of connecting Route 128 with the Red Line, which met the fierce opposition of some residents from Arlington, the town it would run through. After four years’ demonstration and negotiation, the plan was abandoned in a referendum, but now serves as a textbook case for Professor Alan Altshuler’s course in Kennedy School of Government. However, the entire blueprint for the Red Line is still waiting to be materialized. In fact, a new debate has been on for many years over the connection of the Red and Blue lines. It is a fairly simple proposal: to build a Red-Blue Connector to link Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) on the Red Line with the Government Center on the Blue Line. The progenitor and promoter of this proposal is a reputable NGO in the New English region—Conservation Law Foundation. Founded in 1966, with legal professionals as its core members,CLF advocates environmental protection and public transport services to encourage the region’s “smart growth.”

As for the negative opinions of Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, CLF’s lawyer Rafael Mares responded with firm rebuttals point by point. He believed any opposition to or delay of the project would be short-sighted, because “it’s a critical project with economic, environmental, and social-justice components.” A series of hearings have been scheduled to decide the fate of this project, and the “Innovation Red Line” is likely to welcome another opportunity for its performance enhancement.

*               *              *

     Boston is a city in fervent love with red. Red can be seen everywhere, from Harvard Crimson, the Red Line, the Boston Red Sox, red lobsters, to the Freedom Trail, a famous tourist route painted in red and marked with historic sites of America. Loitering on Harvard campus or wandering in Cambridge and Boston downtown, I feel familiar and intimate at the sight of red color everywhere. It is unclear whether Boston’s love affair with red has any connection with Harvard, but the Red Line did get its name from the university. When first opened it was called “Cambridge Connection” or “Cambridge Main Street Subway”. The MBTA bought it over from Boston Elevated Railway in 1964, and the next year they tried to mark different subway lines with various colors. Thanks to its origin from Harvard, which prides itself on the world-famous “Harvard Crimson”, this line was renamed “the Red Line”.

Boston is among the first of American cities to establish ties with China, and so is Harvard as a university. Since the early half of the nineteenth century, Boston merchants have begun to trade with China, and the city enjoyed prosperity from the lucrative maritime business. Harvard’s relationship with China can be traced back to the early twentieth century when the Qing government started to send students abroad. As one of the earliest American universities to receive these students, Harvard remains a key academic institution of Chinese studies. People still take delight in talking about two events that occurred in the Republican era. The first is that Yuan Shikai, upon the recommendation of Charles Eliot, former President of Harvard University, employed Frank Goodnow, the renowned American political scientist and expert on administrative law, to draft a constitution for China. Goodnow completed two between 1913 and 1915. In a speech delivered at the Conference in Memory of the 1911 Revolution on October 29, 2011, William C. Kirby (Professor of Harvard Business School, Director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, and Chairman of the Harvard China Fund) made the following remark: “Goodnow had drafted two constitutions: the first one would make- actually it did make Yuan Shikai president for life, and the second one would have made him emperor if he had not died soon. So this was Harvard’s contribution to Chinese democracy.” There is much truth behind the sarcastic humor. The second event happened in 1936, when a giant marble stele, reportedly coming from the imperial court, was presented by the Chinese alumni to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Harvard University. The stele, standing west to the Widener Library and within 500 feet from the famous John Harvard Statue, is now a well-protected cultural relic in Harvard Yard.

Today the tie between Harvard and China is closer than ever. A student of Harvard can have access to the abundant collections of Chinese books at the Harvard-Yenching Library and the Fairbank Center, attend lectures at Ash Center of Kennedy School of Government and East Asian Research Center of Harvard Law School, and come across students, scholars, government officials and tourists from all over China. All these, together with the Harvard crimson, evoke in me warm and wonderful associations. However, I cannot say I was pleasantly impressed by an article from Slate, a well-known online magazine under the control of the Washington Post Company. This article, dated at May 23rd, used my favorite and respected color in its title—“The East is Crimson.”—but associated Harvard with a political scandal in China, introducing China’s training program and some current students and graduates in a mocking and ridiculing tone. I have a strong intuition and appeal from the bottom of my heart: Harvard crimson is bright red tinted with blue, closer to China’s deep and bright reds, an indication of depth and prudence embracing warmth and intensity. Could it be that the closeness in color suggests an agreement in spiritual temperament? The inscription on the stele proclaims culture to be the lifeblood of a country: a progressive country prospers on a vibrant culture, which in turn thrives on active learning and innovation. Innovation and reform characterize the essence of Chinese culture just as they distinguish Harvard culture. Isn’t that right? There is one color that can transcend time and space to inspire a common vision, and there is a red that can be renewed and revived by our shared humanity, which I name as the color of innovation—the East Crimson.




A Century of Chinese Republics. Perf. William Kirby. Conference in Memory of the 1911 Revolution. North Shore Society, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <>.

Cheney, Frank. Boston’s Red Line: Bridging the Charles from Alewife to Braintree. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2002. Print.

Denison, D. C. “Ideas Go Underground with ‘Innovation Express’.” The Boston Globe. The New York Times Company, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2012. <>.

Faurst, Drew. “Innovation, Collaboration and Renewal – Lessons along the Red Line.” Speech. Office of the President. Harvard University, 1 May 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2010. <> .

Gordon, David S. and Arnold Howitt. Extending the Red Line to Arlington. Case study. Cambridge, Harvard Kennedy School, 1987. Print

Moskowitz, Eric. “MBTA’s Red-Blue Connector: Will It Ever Be Built?” The Boston Globe. The New York Times Company, 23 Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. <>.

Noel, Pugach. “Embarrassed Monarchist: Frank J. Goodnow and Constitutional Development in China, 1913- 1915.” Pacific Historical Review 42.4 (1973): 499-517. JSTOR. Web. 10 Sept. 2012.

Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

Boston Route 128’s Past and Present (3)


Boston’s Route 128: Past and Present

 Distinctive and Unconventional:A Singular Success

      Economic miracles may suddenly become visible, but such miracles are almost always produced by solid fundamentals and these solid fundamentals always have a long history.

—— Lester C. Thurow

     Paradoxically, regions offer an important source of competitive advantage even as production and markets become increasingly global.

—— Annalee Saxenian

     On September 13, the Federal Reserve Bank finally launched its latest monetary policy, ending prolonged hesitation and observation. The new policy, “Quantitative Easing” or shortened as “QE3”, was designed to boost American economy and create job growth. Though much anticipated, the policy still managed to stir new waves in a turbulent world: the global capital market cheering for an upcoming carnival; the two parties drumming up support or suppression amidst their white-hot presidential campaign; scholars flooding the media with all kinds of analyses, comments and predictions…

Amidst all the uproars, my attention and thoughts were drawn to two discussions that happened earlier in the Boston area. One took place over a month ago and the other was on the eve of the “QE3” policy announcement.

On the evening of September 12, a brightly lit and crowded open classroom in Northeastern University welcomed two titans in the field of economics: Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard University president, Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton (1999 to 2001) and top economic adviser to Obama until 2010; N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers during George W. Bush’s presidency, currently counseling the Republican presidential candidate Romney.  Though both being Harvard professors in economics, they share little in common with respect to experience and position. Summers opened the discussion by stressing the active role government should continue to play to get economy back on its feet. He argued for more stimulus measures to repair schools, hire teachers and renovate airports. Mankiw, on the contrary, elaborated on the significance of tax policies on a long-term economic recovery. To the surprise of many, neither of them addressed the central bank or its policies. Instead, they concentrated on means available to the White House and the Congress. Government spending, taxes and deficits were the focus of their arguments.

Mankiw and Summers were able to reach one consensus though: neither increase in investment nor tax deduction alone would prove a fundamental strategy, for they are too costly and unsustainable. Any measures to fix the rooted flaws of a national economy must be consisted of multi-dimensional policies. Since Mankiw recognized Summers as a mentor while he was a graduate student in MIT and Dukakis, who was moderating the discussion, jokingly attributed his failure in the 1988 presidential campaign to hiring Summers as his adviser, a fierce battle of words, concluded in a relaxed and humorous atmosphere, leaving the expectant audience doubly gratified.

Another contention commenced via the Boston Globe. On August 7th, in an article titled “Fed must do more, its Boston chief says”, Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was reported to be making strong demands in an interview that Fed take immediate measures to fuel the stagnant economy despite the pressure of the election year. Since disagreements in the Fed are commonly resolved internally, media Interpreted Rosengren’s action to be “an unusual public plea”. As a “subordinate”, Rosengren would not normally express such a view to the public. A featured article “Economists: Fed action will have minor impact” soon followed the next day. Quoting views from Harvard professor in economics, Benjamin M. Friedman, the article states that monetary policies by themselves would hardly have any impacts and that the role Fed can play is fairly limited. “It is clear the US economy needs more stimulus,” but they should come from the Congress not from the Fed. Interestingly enough, the debate stopped abruptly in August and no follow-up report could be found. As some have speculated (in hindsight), Rosengren’s move was more a testing signal for Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman, than an urgent appeal out of his discontent with the central bank. Anyways, the short-lived controversy became a skirmish prior to the Fed’s formal introduction of its new policy.

These two discussions, unlikely to capture much public attention, provoked my thoughts on the extended process of issuing policies and regulations in America. First of all, the general public has to be consulted in advance; such may take form of open discussions launched by relevant departments or scholarly articles on media to stimulate deliberation and conversation. Policies then must go through a mix of legal procedures including debates and hearings. Once implemented, they are subject to supervision from all sides, and their effectiveness is to be assessed through a complicated review and evaluation process. As much as the Fed emphasizes its “independency”, it has to resort to discussions in academia and on media to show the impartiality and transparency of its policies- be it careful conceiving or mere coincidence, given the sensitive timing for the present occasion. Scholars, therefore, by putting forward direct opinions or beating around the bush, play a much larger role than acting as a go-between or simply justifying the policy-making.

In order to trace the development of Boston’s Route 128 and the growth of Massachusetts’ innovation economy, I have collected and studied almost all the papers and books relevant to the subjects over the past two years.  The most profound reflections on my part can be summarized as following: collective governance- by the government, business and academia- built upon self-governance and rule of law, promotes and sustains the prosperity and growth of a regional economy and society; different parties, communities and individuals with varied interests, styles and goals, through unremitting dispute, reconciliation and compromise, contribute to the advance of policies from being “democratic” to being “scientific” and “lawful”. Next, I shall introduce a number of scholars and their works to unfold the course of development of Boston’s Route 128 high-tech region.

*               *              *

     Vivid descriptions of “Massachusetts Miracle” and “Route 128” largely set in the late 1980s, a period when news coverage, featured articles and scholarly writings were entangled with the 1988 presidential election. For this very reason, each work must be carefully examined as to its objectivity and reference value. Here is a case in point: then governor Dukakis and his economic adviser, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter co-authored Creating the Future: The Massachusetts Comback and its Promise for America, blending Massachusetts’ economic performance with case studies from HBS. This seemingly academic work has been dubbed “an awkward hybrid” to glorify Dukakis. In spite of Professor Kanter’s extraordinary academic attainments elsewhere, the book only received insipid responses after publication, and is not worth recommendation.

David Lampe’s painstaking efforts produced two book that deserve close reading. One is a collection of essays entitled The Massachusetts Miracle: High Technology and Economic Revitalization, edited by Lampe and published in 1988; the other is Route 128: Lessons from Boston’s High-Tech Community, co-authored by Lampe and Susan Rosegrant. While working on this book, Lampe was a columnist in Business Week and Rosegrant a free-lance writer. Both continued to work in media and at universities, yet neither became a big name. Nonetheless, the book’s professionalism and academic standing was in the least affected.

The Massachusetts Miracle: High Technology and Economic Revitalization is a specially complied book. It consists of a chronological series of twenty-one historical documents and essays, recording in details major events and dramatic changes in Massachusetts’ economy from 1971 to 1983. Quotations carefully drafted by the editor precede each piece of writing, introducing the author and the background of what follows. The book brings readers into close contact with a prolonged public policy debate on the economic issues of the state. Although it contains speeches and articles by Francis W. Sargent (the 64th governor of Massachusetts) and Dukakis, among other politicians, the book as a whole gives bigger role to entrepreneurs and academia. Since as many as nine reports and articles were authored by James M. Howell, chief economist at Bank of Boston and his staff, Bank of Boston once hoped to delay the publishing till after the 1988 election in fear of a possible negative influence on Dukakis’ presidential campaign, whose role in the state economy did not stand out in the book.

Filled with optimism about the economy of Boston area and that of Massachusetts, the book builds on reliable sources and come to fair conclusions. The advice it offers to countries and regions eager to learn from and copy the Route 128 model is, in particular, candid and valuable. In a word, government, especially the state government, had minimal impact on the revival of Route 128; 128 phenomenon is easy to describe, difficult to explain and yet almost impossible to transplant or duplicate.

Allegedly, Lampe and Rosegrant had started the book Route 128: Lessons from Boston’s High-tech Community since 1985, when Massachusetts’ economy reached its peak. When it was published in 1992, however, the “Massachusetts Miracle” labeled by Dukakis, had collapsed, and both authors were confronted with numerous cases of society fighting with perseverance against the economic downturn. Previous editing experience and present sense of harsh reality enabled Lampe and Rosegrant to produce a book with historical perspective and uncommon wisdom. Through probing the roots of a cooperative relationship among the academia, industry and government in American history, they analyze the real driving force behind economic transition and development. In their eyes, a “miracle” represented by the single explosive growth of industry computers never existed; the true miracle lies in the area’s time-honored capacity for technological innovation. In order to reveal America’s competitive advantage, the book compares the academia, government and business, respectively, as the “mind, means and muscle ” of innovation, and further points out that the three players collaborate, conflict and compromise out of their interests, thereby advancing innovation in a highly productive manner.

From the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act, which redefined and expanded the role of university, to Lowell becoming the cradle of American industrial revolution, to the immense R&D funding from the federal government in the latter part of World War II and throughout the Cold War, resulting in the emergence of the electronics industry, and the huge contributions made by a number of universities and research institutes led by MIT all the way along, the story of Route 128’s high-tech community is one “of idealism and entrepreneurship, of ivory tower intellectualism and practical Yankee ingenuity, and of individual dreams and cooperative efforts.”

Route 128: Lessons from Boston’s High-tech Community explains the partnership between the academia, industry and government, and examines the origin and essence of American innovation. The authors insist that nobody, be it government, organizations or individuals, should claim credit for the success of Route 128, nor should we regard its temporary crisis and stagnation as decline or irreversible downfall.  A firm belief in “innovation” leads them to trust a real “American miracle” would soon befall Route 128 and the Bay state. In this very sense, the monograph has immense appeal for professionals and laymen alike, as much then as it does now.

*               *              *

      Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 is by far the most widely circulated and the most influential scholarly writing on the 128 phenomenon (and, for that matter, on Silicon Valley as well). Harvard University Press published the hardcover and paperback editions of the book in 1994 and 1996, respectively. It was an immediate success, met with enormous responses and winning “Honorable Mention, 1994 Professional /Scholarly Publishing Award of the Association of American Publishers, Business and Management Category”. In 1999, the writer authorized Commonwealth Publishing Co., Ltd to publish its Chinese version in Taiwan. In 2000, Shanghai Far East Publishers put the book’s simplified Chinese version into print. This book has thenceforth arguably formed Chinese-speaking people’s opinions (and bias), about Silicon Valley and Route 128.

Annalee Saxenian, author of this book, was born and raised in the Boston area, went on to obtain her master’s degree from University of California Berkley on the west coast and then her doctoral degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the east coast. Although both her master’s and doctoral dissertations dealt with issues in Silicon Valley, Saxenian had begun to explore the differences between Silicon Valley and Route 128 during her years in MIT. Later she returned to MIT in 1990 and devoted one year to researching Route 128.

The thesis and selling point is clearly and conveniently summarized on the back cover (potentially an advertisement): “Why is it that business in Silicon Valley is again flourishing while within Route 128 clearly and in a straightforward way in Massachusetts it continues to decline?” The answer, as found by Saxenian was such: “Despite similar histories and technologies, Silicon Valley developed a decentralized but cooperative industrial system while Route 128 came to be dominated by independent, self-sufficient corporations.”  Through comparative study and extensive analysis of local data, Saxenian discovered through over 100 interviews that the Silicon Valley and Route 128 demonstrate very differently in the following ways. Silicon Valley encourages openness and decentralization; communication and exchanges among highly specialized firms are common; the culture on the west coast tolerates failure, and supports experimentation and risk-taking. Companies in Route 128 are vertically integrated, valuing loyalty and hierarchy; they are independent and self-contained; with a strong sense of intellectual property rights, risk-averse firms discourage inter-firm contacts and cooperation; they are much more conservative and less flexible in management style. Therefore, companies in Silicon Valley are positioned to find professional talent, technical services and venture capital from an unmatched regional base of vendors. Start-ups are burgeoning one after another and time-to-market for new products are considerably shorter. In contrast, large firms in Route 128 refuse to open up to the region and are declined to assist spin-offs. With stringent restrictions on talent flow and traditional sources of financing, starting up a new company is hard and innovation eventually slows down.  In short, the different organizational structure and cultural characteristics of Silicon Valley and Route 128 determine the unequal learning ability and ultimately the fate of the two regions. Saxenian illustrated the above distinctions and struck home her point, using Hewlett-Packard in Silicon Valley and Digital Equipment Corporation in Route 128 as case studies. The fates of HP and DEC appeared to have verified her statement: in 1998 DEC was acquired by Compaq, and in 2002, Compaq was merged into HP.

Praise and criticism of the book never subside, largely due to the dramatic situation in Boston area around its conception and publication: When Saxenian began to research and write the book, Route 128 was amid its worst moments: the “Massachusetts Miracle” was disillusioned, economy was hitting the bottom and pessimism and depression was shrouding the Greater Boston area. Shortly after the book was published, however, the state economy was seen to be reviving and a new round of growth had commenced, causing no small embarrassment for Saxenian. The book’s examination of Silicon Valley and Route 128 is, in general, profound and correct. One could hardly find fault with its prediction and promotion of Silicon Valley.  Yet to conclude that Route 128 needs a complete rebirth from the fact that Silicon Valley succeeded and did so on a totally different model, was indeed a bit too hasty. Regional development takes root in the culture and tradition of the region, and the birth and growth of innovation is a long and meandering road, paved with trials and tribulations, for which patience and foresight are required. If we fail to explain the resurgence of Route 128 in mid 1990s, how could we possibly resolve the myth of its decline in 1980s? A Boston native, as she calls herself, Saxenian seems to lack an in-depth understanding of its culture and history. The task was to befall Michael Best!

Two issues are worth reflection with regard to the research methodology employed by Saxenian. Firstly, it is inappropriate to rush into judgment that organizational structure and local culture are to blame for the poor economic performance of a certain region; secondly, it is unreasonable to use the organizational structure and culture characteristics of a region with strong economic performance as a benchmark to negate or disparage styles and features different from it.  A more just conclusion should acknowledge the relative advantages of each model, allowing each to maintain its distinction while encouraging both to learn from each other. In August 1995, Saxenian wrote a preface to the paperback edition that was to be published by Harvard University Press. It could have been a perfect opportunity to modify some of her views in the book, yet she stubbornly insisted that horizontal collaboration between highly specialized firms trumps vertical integration within large enterprises, and therefore, “it (Boston’ Route 128) is likely to take decades to overcome the management practices, culture and institutions that have hindered the region in the past.” A worldly renowned scholar, expert on regional economic development, Saxenian is now Dean of the School of Information in University of California, Berkley. She also chose to reside in northern California and focus on studying Silicon Valley. But criticism from her hometown continues to follow her, likely to become a lingering regret of her lifetime.

*               *              *

       Michael Best, Professor Emeritus and External Director of Center for Industrial Competitiveness at University of Massachusetts, Lowell, is a low-key scholar with rigorous style. His thirty years of academic life, from 1982 on, produced three monographs and nearly twenty papers on economics. He is also a Fellow of the Judge Business School of Cambridge University, and serves about ten different positions in a range of political, business and academic organizations in both Europe and the States. His research focus includes industrial development strategies, business organization, technological change, cluster evolution, and regional innovation systems. Though not a prolific author, he has exerted profound influence in the field with each of his pulbications. Despite being frequently consulted by the national and local governments of many countries, Best seldom accepts media interviews. It was really not easy to find a picture of his on the Internet. Therefore, the only way to know Best is through his works. My regret soon turns to respect: perhaps such is what makes a true scholar!

Best’s academic efforts are manifested three-fold. Firstly, he plans to carefully sort out the main views of the key economics schools, laying theoretical cornerstone and right direction for his own research. He draws upon a long heritage in economic thoughts beginning with Adam Smith, and claims to have inherited the new growth theory (from Robert Solow to Paul Romer) that acknowledges science and technology as critical to economic development. He also sides himself with Schumpeter and Porter. The “productivity triad” he created is employed as an analysis framework to x-ray the economy and is said to be an amendment to Porter’s “diamond model”. The three domains that make up Best’s “productivity triad” are skill formation, business model and production system. Besides, Best strives to conduct research based on extensive and accurate data. On his initiative and in his charge, THREAD (short for “Techno-Historical Regional Economic Analysis Database”) was set up in the Center for Industrial Competitiveness. Many of Best’s papers and reports on the development of technology industry in Massachusetts utilized this database, for which reason the credibility of his findings was greatly enhanced. Thirdly, Best aims at nurturing an international comparative perspective for his research. He has travelled all over the world. His participation in industrial reconstruction and economic policy making brought him into close contact with the economies of many countries and regions, including Massachusetts, US, Northern Ireland, London, Malaysia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Jamaica, Honduras and Moldova. Extensive traveling and scientific research have bestowed his works with a genuine international perspective and global vision.

All those in pursuit of knowledge and truth hope their work to be recognized as objective, authentic and reliable. Best Is no exception, and he achieves so by respecting history with a critical eye, by collecting and screening regional economic data and by celebrating differences while seeking common grounds.  Painstaking efforts finally paid off with inner satisfaction and general praise. His 1990 book The New Competition: Institutions of Industrial Restructuring was highly recommended by book reviewers. Charles Perrow, among others, thinks highly of this book for four reasons: historical scope, comparative methodology, rigorous approach to theories as well as clear explanation of complex economic issues with simple language and models. A phenomenal sale of tens of thousand copies is a deserving reward for Best’s steadfast pursuit over the years.

Best’s examination of Massachusetts’ economy can mostly be found in a series of papers he wrote and his 2001 book The New Competitive Advantage: the Renewal of American Industry, published by Oxford University Press. From a “capability and innovation perspective,” Best addresses the resurgence of American economy, and that of industry in particular. The fifth chapter of the book entitled “The Resurgence of Route 128: the Triumph of Open Systems,” is a classical piece that explains the 128 phenomenon- its decline and rebirth- in a convincing manner.

——  A capacity to maintain the continuity of science and technology while actively adapting to the changing environment is the most prominent regional advantage of Massachusetts and the New England region as a whole. The New England area has traditional technology advantage, especially a leadership in precision machining and complex product systems worldwide. It was the first to convert from traditional industries such as garment, textile and leather to modern information industry and to contemporary plural industries in biomedicine, clean energy and so on. Adaptability and innovation have become the momentum for regional economic and societal development.

——  A new business model- systems integration-with its characteristic openness and flexibility played a decisive role in the resurgence of Route 128. Best inclines to interpret the years of economic downturn between 1985 and 1992 as a time of “creative destruction”, for following that period Massachusetts began to widely apply the principles of systems integration to business organization. A model as such that had proven powerful in Silicon Valley advanced new product development and spawned a large number of “disruptive” innovations. Route 128 started to exhibit equally durable vigor and vitality as Silicon Valley, if not more.

—— The 128 region gains a new competitive advantage through industry diversification and small-scale production. Massachusetts’ high-tech industry has evolved from a single computer industry to plural industries including biomedicine, precision machining, robotics and new energy. The region has never had a competitive advantage in mass production, and so automobiles and consumer electronics never took root here. The area favors high-end and exquisite personalized products targeted at a relatively small market. Presently, such products are labeled as “high-tech.” In Best’s opinion, this is exactly a new competitive advantage demonstrating “capability and innovation.”

Silicon Valley and Route 128 were used by Best as case studies to elaborate on “capability and innovation perspective”. It was his long-time efforts in creating new theories that rendered his interpretation of the 128 phenomenon convincing and impeccable. Only one point may be added here: In terms of America’s overall industrial development, Silicon Valley, Route 128, North Carolina Triangle Park or other distinctive industry clusters are all indispensable. Gentility on the east coast and cowboy culture on the west are no more than a regional division of labor with respect to basic research, product development and production scale. It is exactly thanks to such a variety of industries and qualities in different regions that American can still impress the world as a leading innovative nation and innovation economy.

*               *              *

       Today, Route 128 remains the focus of attention for numerous researchers and policy-makers. Outside the United States, Asians, in particular, have expressed a keen interest in the region. For instance, Professor Man-Hyung Lee from Chungbuk National University in South Korea and Professor Eungyoon Lee from the University of Hong Kong co-authored the paper “Legacy and Reconstruction of Route 128 Governance.” “Boston Route 128 Revisited” by Jarunee Wonglimpiyarat, researcher from Thailand’s Ministry of Science and Technology, titled has considerable influence among the English readership. Articles and reports published in other local languages are simply voluminous. Trying “America 128” in Chinese on google, you will find the search engine generates 800,000 results.

We follow 128 and study it for good reasons. It is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the development of regional economy and innovation economy. My close reading of the works in this areas yields five points which may be shared with the readers:

—— The clustering of regional high-tech industries and their success do not result from any active planning or interference on the government’s part. Such holds true for Boston’s Route 128, Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, to name a few. However, this does not mean that governments can be nothing but a passive onlooker. Instead, governments of various levels should refrain from any participation. They need to deliver sufficient infrastructure and convenient public services, and work closely with different sectors of society to provide incentives and environment for business development.

—— Underlying the success of regional economy have been the combined arduous efforts from all sides, especially the business community, over an extended period of time. Brilliant economic performance, oftentimes attributed to the present administration’s effective governance, is in fact a much more complex matter. First of all, businesses, especially those created and managed by entrepreneurial minds, are pivotal for the development of regional economy; the integration of entrepreneurship and advanced technologies is the soul for regional innovation economy. Secondly, for any industry to breed and break though, and for a certain region to form a virtuous and functional system, it takes decades or even centuries of hard work and persistence. “One generation sows and another reaps” is the governing law for the growth of a regional innovation economy.

—— The nurture and evolution of organizational system and cultural characteristics make up the power source for regional competitiveness and sustainable development. Knowledge economy and innovation economy are built upon information, technology and culture, as in marked contrast to the traditional economy, which relies heavily on land, capital and labor. On one hand, regional culture and tradition, together with the social and organizational system from which they derive, can positively foster economic development; on the other, high-tech, represented by information technologies, exert influences on regional culture and organizational system, leading to innovation and transformation. Yet, no changes in organizational structure or culture happen overnight. “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” and the ultimate secret is no secret- there is no shortcut to success.

—— For a country, pluralism and heterogeneity are the right directions for a knowledge-based economy. Comparing the histories of Boston’s Route 128 and Silicon Valley, I find it difficult to claim which is better, in terms of both experiences and lessons. Each possesses unique strengths and advantages that need to be maintained and developed, yet each exhibits certain desirable features, worthy of being acquired by the other. In view of the historical and present performances of both, I am inclined to view the two regions as a geographical division of labor within a holistic innovation economy. Route 128 region places more emphasis on basic research and industrial R&D, and thereby is the cradle of new industries, businesses and products. Silicon Valley, however, leans more toward innovation in the design and production process, and thus is the mecca of mass production and massive sales. As is shown clearly on the economic maps of such large nations as America and China, domestic division of labor and industry is realized through various industrial “districts,” “belts” and “corridors.” A “big” country makes “many” industries possible. No matter in the fields of economy, politics or culture, it is the breaking away with convention and tradition, or “maverick”, that enables multiple successes, all with strong capacity to resist risks.

—— Greater importance should be attached to researches on the cycle of innovation economy. Despite our genuine wish for perpetual growth and prosperity, the economy has a cyclical development of growth, stagnation, recession and recovery, which is beyond our will. Is there a special cycle for innovation economy? What are the implications of Route 128, with its course of sudden prosperity, rapid decline, recent resurgence and steady development? Can we find any correlation between the present global crisis and the high-tech led innovation economy? Several useful lessons could be drawn from the story of Route 128: there is no need to panic when the economic growth slows down or stalls, nor should any irrational actions be taken. Intervention may produce immediate effects, but the short-sighted measures may deal a lethal blow to the economy in the long run. Scholars on Route 128 are solidly united on one point: the 128 high-tech region is neither a product from governmental planning nor a result of administrative intervention.

Route 128 and Massachusetts at large have won plenty of applauses and cheers for their leadership in innovation economy. Such is not saying that the state boasts a perfectly healthy economic sector. In fact, it has long been besieged with worries, doubts and criticism, which include the following: firstly, Massachusetts, unlike California and other technology-leading states, is home to only a handful of big companies (among a total of 132 US companies on the Fortune Global 500 list, only 11 are headquartered in Massachusetts); secondly, Massachusetts fails to offer the best business climate, due to the high living costs driven up by expensive housing and commodity prices, not to mention its high taxes (it was once dubbed “Taxachusetts”); thirdly, the state has a long way to go to keep its locally educated talents from migrating elsewhere; fourthly, Massachusetts is not the “apple of the eye” for venture capitalists, and it is believed that such pillar enterprises as Raytheon could fall easy prey to the cut in defense R&D funding from the federal government; fifthly, vulnerability caused by sole dependence on the European and domestic markets demands expansion to the global market; and etc. A few of these problems have in part been addressed in scholarly works (e.g. the relatively small amount of big pillar companies), while many more have been placed on the agenda of collective governance. Recent prediction of a dozen local economics that the state’s economy had slipped into a “slow gear” did not arouse any panic or recrimination. People have chosen to take the fact with calmness and peace. Perhaps more stimulus measures are coming up or the market shall be let alone to recover. In any event, the innovation economy in Boston’s Route 128 area is growing with its characteristic perseverance, adding some bright hue onto the otherwise dim picture of America’s economic recovery.

On September 20, Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was invited to give a talk to an audience from South Shore Chamber of Commerce. With a deck of slides full of charts and graphs, and against the backdrop of America’s current economic situation, Rosengren intended to provide sufficient justification for the latest policy announced by the Fed. He also firmly dismissed the alleged conspiracy between Bernanke and him one month ago. All major news, Fox News included, reported his talk and the ensuing arguments. The local Boston Globe regarded the open discussion- stirred up by the senior officials of the Fed both prior to and after the announcement- as rare. Yet, given all the legends surrounding the meandering Route 128, what on earth is not possible for the dash and daring Boston?



Best, Michael H. The New Competition: Institutions of Industrial Restructuring. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.

Best, Michael H. The New Competitive Advantage: The Renewal of American Industry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Dukakis, Michael S., and Rosabeth Moss. Kanter. Creating the Future: The Massachusetts Comeback and Its Promise for America. New York: Summit, 1988. Print.

Earls, Alan R. Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2002. Print.

Euchner, Charles C., ed. Governing Greater Boston: The Politics and Policy of Place. 2003 ed. Cambridge, MA: Press at the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, 2003. Print.

Morgan, Kevin. Rev. of Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Research Policy 25.3 (1996): 484-85. EconPapers. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.

Lampe, David, ed. The Massachusetts Miracle: High Technology and Economic Revitalization. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1988. Print.

“Massachusetts’ Clean Economy Sees Massive Growth, Now Hosts 71,000 Jobs In Cleantech.” Massachusetts’ Clean Economy Sees Massive Growth, Now Hosts 71,000 Jobs In Cleantech. N.p., 01 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2012. <>.

“Massachusetts Economy Faring Well in World of Economic Hazards, UMass Journal Reports.” The New York Times, 21 June 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2012. <>.

Massachusetts Economic Outlook. Rep. JP.Morgan Chase, 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. < bank/document/Massachusetts.pdf>.

O’Connor, Thomas H. Building a New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal, 1950-1970. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1993. Print.

Perrow, Charles. Rev. of The New Competition: Institutions of Industrial Restructuring. Administrative Science 37.1 (1992): 162-66. JSTOR. Web. 15 Sept. 2012.

Rosegrant, Susan, and David Lampe. Route 128: Lessons from Boston’s High-tech Community. New York: Basic Books, 1992. Print.

Saxenian, AnnaLee. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994. Print.

Tuerck, David G. Rev. of The Massachusetts Miracle: High Technology and Economic Revitalization. Snwll Business Economics 1.1 (1989): 81-83. JSTOR. Web. 13 Sept. 2012.

Tsipis, Yanni Kosta, and David Kruh. Building Route 128. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2003. Print.

Woolhouse, Megan. “Obama and Romney Economic Advisers Spar on Taxes, US Aid Harvard Economists Offer Rival Visions.” The Boston Globe. N.p., 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2012. <>.


Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.








Boston Route 128’s Past and Present (2)


Boston Route 128’s Past and Present, Vicissitudes of Political Life 

       “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”                                                            —— Franklin D. Roosevelt

                                                                                                                                          Officialdom can hardly be a long-time lover.       —— The Scholars

       If a person were interested in the American public’s opinions about their country’s economic performance, he or she would easily notice their contradictory attitudes toward the role of their government. When the economy is booming, people oftentimes attribute the growth to factors extraneous to the executive power such as entrepreneurship, technological progress or international environment. In times of economic stagnation or recession, they would hold the government accountable for its demotivational or ill-considered measures. All kinds of criticism, accusation and even denouncement would come flooding in from every walk of life. Indeed, it takes not only integrity and sacrifice, but in particular “good temper” and “magnanimity” to hold key political posts in America.

The American people’s “vigilant” and “prudent” attitudes toward the government are reinforced in the mutual fault- picking and derogatory attacks between the Democratic and Republican parties. In fact, the two parties’ divergence with regard to the function and role of the executive branches of the government remain as the touchstone of their fundamental difference. However, their respective positions on the economic policies are not as clear-cut as “interference” versus “laissez-faire”, nor can the specific measures they take simply be labeled as “conservative” or “liberal”, “left” or “right”. In his 2012 State of Union Address, President Obama made the following statement, with which many well-intentioned politicians may side, “I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: ‘That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.’”

Ryan and Clinton, whom will the people trust?


The recently concluded Republican and Democratic National Conventions, while making formal declarations of their respective presidential nominees, also staged a vigorous debate on the assessment of current economic situations and of the present economic policies. Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, attributed America’s high unemployment rate and deterioration of credit rating directly to Obama’s incompetence. In his eyes, the president’s promise of “change” four years ago has delivered nothing but “fear and division”. Obama failed to prioritize job creation on his agenda; instead, he got Americans into “a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care”, which not only intensified bi-partisan conflicts but came at the expense of the elderly. Obama’ s best shot at fixing the economy was a costly stimulus plan; however, the $831 billion went to companies like Solyndra, which announced bankruptcy in September 2011, not long after its acceptance of the funding. Indeed Paul saved little face for Obama by so bluntly saying that the president had wasted the feelings, time and money of the American people! In contrast, former president Bill Clinton’s remarks at the Democratic National Convention, at least on the surface, was much more courteous. Yet his rebuttal to all the major criticisms from the Republicans was equally vehement. By reviewing the presidency history of the two parties since 1961, Clinton pointed out with pride that with shorter ruling period, the Democratic presidents had produced more jobs than their Republican counterparts. With specific data, Clinton defended Obama against Ryan’s accusation of hurting the elderly. On the contrary, Clinton held that Obama’s reform would “add eight years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund”, extending it from 2016 to 2024. Obama’s policies to support education are, moreover, of strategic importance and far-reaching significance. Drawing on his own experience as president, Clinton encouraged his fellow Americans to give the president a bit more time, because, to quote him, “No President – not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years.” Both Ryan and Clinton sounded uncompromising and reassuring, but whom can the people trust and whom will they trust?

Academia certainly would not remain silent, and a warning voice came from Stanford University on the west coast, “American economy faces an uncertain future…the reason for this predicament is clear: we have deviated from the principles of economic freedom upon which America was founded.” If John B. Taylor was echoing his concerns with Hayek’s works and ideas in his article “The Road to Recovery”, he was also emphasizing that as rightly perceived by Hayek, freedom and rule of law are the key to prosperity, policy-makers must adhere to rule of law and predictable policies, for only stable policies can sustain economic growth. ” On July 31, 2012, the centennial celebration of Milton Friedman, also held at the Hoover Institution Stanford University, could be seen as a straightforward critique on “big government”, “governmental regulation” and “aggressive fiscal policies.” Indeed, the criticisms made decades ago are still astonishingly relevant today!

After being hit by the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression in 1930s, Americans today pay unprecedentedly close attention to their domestic economic situation. People have every reason to expect that the “economic card” would be the watching focus of this year’s presidential campaign and that economic issues would ultimately determine who becomes the next host of the White House. Against such a complicated backdrop, will there emerge a set of economic policies marked by wisdom, practicality, innovativeness and minimum controversy out of the presidential campaign?  Perhaps such a wish is hard to gratify.

Two worldly renowned and respected economists and advocates of “free market”, Milton Friedman and Hayek Friedrich A. von

With earnest attention and expectation, let us look back on the history of Route 128, and following its rise, decline, resurgence and steady development, recollect the performances of several former governors of Massachusetts from both parties. Through the ups and downs of their political lives, we may be able to gain some valuable insights.

*               *              *

       Michael Dukakis was the man who single-handedly created the “Massachusetts Miracle” and later eye-witnessed its collapse. But Route 128, which was built during his term, has taken its fame thenceforth. Dukakis’s political life had quite a legendary flavor—he lost one election, won a reelection, and fulfilled three terms (1975-1979、1983-1991), serving the longest as governor in the history of Massachusetts. The “Massachusetts Miracle” enabled him to compete aggressively and favorably with George H. Bush in the beginning, but the sudden turn of fortune made him the closest governor to the White House from Massachusetts. Upon leaving office, he took full professorship at Northeastern University, and visiting professorships at University of California, Los Angeles as well as Loyola Marymount University. A devoted teacher apart, Dukakis has also committed himself to the strategic studies of Democratic election campaigns, and helped Deval L. Patrick win the gubernatorial election in 2006. He has been an “evergreen pinaster” in American politics.

The Dukakis economic policy took on a bold stroke during his second and third terms. His approach emphasized strong interference from the government and was known as “big government” and “industrial policy” in academia. The so-called “industrial policy”, as opposed to “technology policy”, refers to policies that provide direct fiscal and financial support to selected companies in specific industries. With the advance of new technologies and the increase of tax revenues, the aggressive Dukakis aimed at all-encompassing economic measures. The government stepped in to plan a number of industrial parks and went as far as to propose the slogan “if you need help, ask.” These practices invited challenges from the industry and the academia even in his heydays, not to mention more doubts and censure when the economy began to slow down in early 1989. Jeff Jacoby, a journalist from the Boston Globe argued that, “There never really had been a Massachusetts miracle. The state had outperformed most of the nation during the economic boom of the mid-1980s, but not because of any Dukakis wizardry. Its soaring growth had been powered by two engines: Proposition 21/2, the 1980 property tax cut adopted by ballot initiative that lit a fire under the Massachusetts real estate market; and the Reagan-era military buildup, which pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Route 128, the high-tech highway ringing Boston…” The “miracle” argument failed to send Dukakis to the White House; worse still, it was derided by George H. Bush as “Massachusetts Mirage”. Dukakis spent the latter half of his third term in pain and remorse.

 Dukakis, aggressive and upbeat, retreated under the onslaught of Bush senior


(From Spokane Chronicle, July 14, 1989)

Dukakis’s political legacies cover at least four aspects: encouraging and supporting the cooperation of production, study and research; developing public transport system (Dukakis himself takes the subway to work every day); promoting the advance of multi-industries in industrial parks; and championing the Boston urban revival. Dukakis blamed his own faulty strategies for losing the campaign, as he chose not to fight back forcefully George H. Bush’s malicious attacks. Even in the 2011 interview, he was still full of self-reproach and regret, saying that his failure to contain Bush senior and the subsequent resurgence of Republicans led by Bush junior had been the root cause for America’s crisis today. Despite its arguable truthfulness, Dukakis deserves our sincere respect for his strong sense of duty.

        *               *              *

       William Weld was probably one of the most popular governors in the history of Massachusetts. He first took office amidst the state’s turbulent economic times; yet when he sought reelection in 19994, he won with an impressive 71% of the vote. His coming to power as well as his outstanding performance introduced the golden age of Republican governorship in the Commonwealth.  It lasted for sixteen years until 2007 when Democrat Deval L. Patrick took over.

The “real miracle” was credited to Weld, who resolved Massachusetts’s fiscal crisis and handled a staggering deficit of 800 million dollars he inherited from Dukakis. The Wall Street Journal and the liberal Cato Institute respectively named him as the “most courageous” and the best governor in America. He fulfilled the promise he made during his 1991 inaugural speech about “a leaner and more entrepreneurial state government.” When he left office in 1997, the number of state employees was downsized by 15, 000 from that of 1988. It was during his term that the Massachusetts economy as represented by Route 128 gained new life, which took the academia and business world by surprise. While propaganda about the “Massachusetts Miracle” did not survive its namesake book in 1988, scholarly prediction of Massachusetts’s decline failed in a similar manner in 1994. Route 128 must have embarrassed quite a few politicians and economists.

However, perhaps even to his own surprise, Weld’s political life following Massachusetts was unusually rough. It almost seemed like he had exhausted his good fortune in the Bay state. Soon after ending his governorship, Weld was nominated United States Ambassador to Mexico by President Clinton. Yet he never made his trip, for the Senate simply disregarded the nomination. This was mainly due to opposition from Chairman Jesse Helms of Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who disapproved Weld for his moderate stance on several social issues. It was also partly attributable to a long-standing grudge Weld generated when he served as U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts. In 2005, Weld officially announced his candidacy for governor of New York in an effort to return to politics. Unfortunately, he was persuaded to withdraw one year later because he had picked the wrong partner, the candidate for lieutenant governor. From then on, Weld resigned himself to the private sector, and occasionally flirted with thriller novels and acting.

From endorsing Obama to backing Romney, Weld finally returns to the Republican family


Maybe Helms, a fellow Republican, did have sufficient reasons to doubt Weld’s political inclination. In the 2008 presidential election, Weld initially supported Romney in the Republican primaries and later endorsed Obama for presidency. The two people he had voted for are both in the final race this year. Who would Weld choose? The suspense was just announced: he formally expressed his backing of Romney at the Republican National Convention! In fact, United States parties do not have hard and fast rules on their members. It is generally a matter of personal choice to decide on whom to vote, and the choice would not affect one’s public image. A once most promising politician in Massachusetts had resort to such means to gain public attention— what a pity!

          *               *              *

       Mitt Romney’s political path can be described as “rocky and bumpy”. After losing the 1994 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, he “exiled” to Utah where he successfully managed the 2002 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Salt Lake City.  In 2003, he returned to Massachusetts as governor and served one term. His 2003 presidential campaign had a good start, but failed to beat McCain. Since early 2011, he has withstood a variety of challenges and devoted himself to the 2012 election. Will he realize his dream this time at last? The result is to be revealed in a few weeks.

Romney defeated his democratic opponent and became the 70th governor of Massachusetts in 2003, continuing Republican’s governorship record in the state. There was a bit of luck in it- Romney did not actually attend the primary. Then incumbent female Republican governor, Jane Swift, was plagued with political missteps and personal scandals, and thus opted out of the party’s nomination. Romney, in contrast, was enjoying boosting reputation and popularity thanks to the success of the Salt Lake City Olympics. With the support from both prominent party figures as well as the White House, he was inarguably the best choice for Republican nomination. It is notable that Swift, being the only female governor in the state history, was reported to be pregnant during her campaign. Much controversy as the news invited, it turned out unexpectedly a favorable element for her election. Working mothers loved her! However, the child issue also incurred plenty of criticism. She asked her staff to babysit her daughter, and on one Thanksgiving, she used a police helicopter to fly home to care for her sick child. When these personal matters were exposed, women voters who had supported her went outraged so much so that toward the end of her term, she had “the dubious honor of a single-digit approval rating.” Ironically, for Swift, both success and failure boil down to “the child”.

There was nothing remarkable during Romney’s governorship in the Commonwealth. Confronted with attacks from his predecessor Dukakis and his successor Patrick, Romney intentionally distances himself from Massachusetts. During his term, the state showed weak economic performance and saw a surging unemployment rate. His personal success in business and previous contribution to the Olympics did not bring much benefit to the local economy. Romney’s financial expertise is undeniable, which he maneuvered skillfully to solve Massachusetts’ fiscal problems. Instead of raising taxes, he increased a number of fees. Although he avoided following Dukakis’ steps and kept his inaugural words, criticism raved. Anyways, he was running out of choices to fix the state’s colossal fiscal deficit, and he did manage to balance the book. However it was done, it was done.

 Will the swaying Romney stabilize himself after the official nomination?


Romney’s greatest political achievement is the Massachusetts healthcare reform. Popularly known as “Romneycare,” it has transcended partisan politics in essence. As Romney himself acknowledged, “There really wasn’t Republican or Democrat in this. People ask me if this is conservative or liberal, and my answer is yes. It’s liberal in the sense that we’re getting our citizens health insurance. It’s conservative in that we’re not getting a government takeover.” Ironically, Romney was reluctant to claim the credit when Massachusetts celebrated the sixth year anniversary of the reform. Apart from its obvious contribution to improving people’s healthcare standard, the reform has boosted rapid developments in at least two industries—health care and health insurance. Massachusetts has become the global leader in biomedical researches, and the second-time host for the Biotechnology Industry Organization convention since 2007. Renowned European companies flocked in to base themselves in Greater Boston, as a direct result of the successful health care policies. Well-equipped with six years’ rich experiences, two big local insurance companies– Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare—are planning to explore new markets in other states. However, because of its striking resemblance with Obamacare, Romneycare has to be excluded from Romney’s trump cards, the action itself provoking ridicule and challenges. Is it a shrewd tactics or a miscalculation? Any judgment is too early to pass.

*               *              *

        Needless to say, Massachusetts’s economic performance and industrial development have been closely related to the economic policies of the federal government in different periods. This could be a deserving reward for its active role as a major state and its continuing support for a strong federal government ever since the founding of America. Taking the building of high-tech Route 128 for example, much of the construction was funded by the federal government. The R&D funds of MIT and other scientific institutes came from the defense expenditure and basic research investment. The present governor Patrick, a close follower of Obama, also obtained generous funding for education, science and technological development. In retrospect, the federal government’s timely windfall also explained the two Republican governors’ (Weld and Romney) seemingly effortless solution of the fiscal crises. Yet Massachusetts’s statesmen certainly have greater ambitions than gaining support and benefit for their own state; rather, they aim at a larger stage to showcase their talents.

Aspiring Patrick has been gaining momentum


Looking at the remorseful Dukakis, disillusioned Weld, undecided Romney, and triumphal Patrick, I was wondering just how far the Beacon Hill is away from the white house. The reflection put me in mind of a chat I had with a middle-aged white businessman in Newton two years ago. He raised a direct challenge about Obama: “Has he (Obama) ever run a government, or a business?” When I answered no, he smiled, “ then how on earth can he become a good president?” After a moment’s silence, he added jokingly, “our present mayor (Setti Warren) and governor (Deval Patrick) are both African Americans and they are doing pretty well. Perhaps Obama is just not dark enough.” His vote will definitely go to Romney this year, but the increasingly more conservative Romney has a slim chance in Democrat-dominated Massachusetts. Having always kept a close eye on the presidential election, I could not help thinking: success or failure, what is really at stake for Obama or Romney?

How far is it from the gold dome on Beacon Hill to the White House?

 It is fair enough to say that an American political post, be it the president, the governor or the mayor, does not grant much power but is always subject to balances and checks. Such, though, never discourages elites from eagerly going for it when the election season draws close. The competition is extremely fierce. Once the election is over, the winner takes office whereas the loser returns to a peaceful life after congratulating his old rival. They either resign for good or start preparing for the next run. In both scenarios, they would have a proper and decent placement. Although U.S. elections at all levels have been scandalized by “money game” and mutual attacks between candidates (on which Obama offered a surprisingly honest reflection in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention: “I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly.  Trivial things become big distractions.  Serious issues become sound bites.  And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising.  If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me – so am I.”), to contend in campaigns as such means intensity without violence, and to engage in “officialdom” like this means occasional disappointment but not permanent failure. Politics can become a choice for life– one can advance in full force or retreat with full honor. Triumphs or defeats, which could have made a roller-coaster trajectory of experience for politicians of other countries, are thus becalmed and consoled for the candidates in the United States. It is what I call: a political life filled with ups and downs yet never in lack of ready exits. We can well speculate: Individually, what one pursues has gone far beyond power itself. Is it pride, honor, duty or self-fulfillment? One can hardly know for sure unless being part of it.

Last weekend, I took my daughters to Gloucester for a folk art event. When driving through the north portion of Route 128, I could not help but think of the several political figures aforementioned. All of a sudden, my elder daughter asked me, “Dad, where are we going?” “To the White House.” I blurted out. Both she and I paused at my response and then laughed out at the same time!  The hearty and loud laughter lingered long over the 128 highway…



 Center on Women and Public Policy Case Study Program. “Jane Swift: Motherhood in the Massachusetts’ Governor’s Office.” Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. <> September 7, 2012.

Cooper, Michael. “A Candidate’s Sudden Turn from Prospect to Dropout.” June 7, 2006. <>. September 4, 2012.

Epstein, Jonathan. “Dukakis Speaks on Political Climate.” October 11, 2011. < >. September 5, 2012.

Gaines, Richard and Michael Segal. Dukakis: the Man Who Would Be President. New York: Avon, 1988, c1987.

Hayek, Friedrich A. von. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944.

Jacoby, Jeff. “Bill Weld’s Revolution that Wasn’t.” City Journal. Winter 1996. <>. September 4, 2012.

Kenney, Charles and Robert L. Turner. Dukakis: an American Odyssey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.

Kilborn, Peter T. “In His State’s Success, Dukakis Seeks His Own.” The New York Times. August 5, 1987.

Kranish, Michael and Scott Helman. The Real Romney. New York: Harper, 2012.

Romney, Mitt. No Apology: the Case for American Greatness. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010.

Saxenian, Annalee. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Senne, Steven. “Palin’s regard for Jane Swift changed in a swift manner.” June 12, 2011. September 9, 2012.

Taylor, John B. “The Road to Recovery.” City Journal, 22.3. (Summer 2012). <>. September 5, 2012.


Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

Boston Route 128’s Past and Present (1)


Boston Route 128’s Past and Present: Tracing the Roots

           Miracles are propitious accidents, the natural causes of which are too complicated to be readily understood.

                                                                                                                                                                                                         —— George Santayana

         The 1 -2 -8 number combination had made its appearance on the road map of Massachusetts as early as late 1920s. Without any scientific verification or painstaking conceiving, such an auspicious number – in the Chinese eyes – was no more than a result of the brainstorm by a few staff members of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works. At that time, the Boston Metropolitan District Commission confirmed the plan of expanding the Boston city traffic to a circumferential network of transportation. In order to cater to “the superior leadership,” these people haphazardly assigned Route 128 to a chain of existing local streets with various capacity and names that connected the main towns in Boston’s suburban area.

Today, “Route 128” is a loaded term with rich connotations. It has grown into a key high-tech region in the United States second only to Silicon Valley, and it has become the gauge of innovation and economic development for not only Massachusetts and America but the world at large. 128 High-tech Road, 128 High-tech Industrial District and 128 Innovation Corridor, altogether summarized as “the Route 128 Phenomenon,” have captured the attention of numerous policy makers, leaders from universities and research institutions, entrepreneurs and researchers. In the 1980s when “Massachusetts Miracle” was all the rage, visiting groups streamed in with the hope of learning and replicating the experiences and model of Route 128. Later on, following the decline and resurgence of the regional economy, there has not been a single moment when Route 128 does not affect the sensitive nerves of the global high-tech industry. All such, I fear, must have been way beyond the wildest imagination of the original code makers.

In fact, what we call Route 128 nowadays is not the road under its original name (that one still exists and is referred to as “Old Route 128”), but a relocated highway mainly rebuilt in 1950s. When we trace back the growing fame of Route 128, special thanks are due to two key figures. One is William Callahan, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, who fought against all odds and withstood the pressure to have the road built. The other is Gerald Blakeley, then young and ambitious employee of a Boston-based real estate development firm, Cabot, Cabot & Forbes.

*               *              *

       Callahan served his first term as commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Public Works between 1934 and 1939. At that time, the department, headed by Callahan, had begun to design a new and modernized Route 128 outside the dense town center. Restricted by scarce highway funds, the construction did not start until 1936. When Callahan was removed from office in 1939 by the Republican governor, Leverett Saltonstall, only two short sections of the new Route 128- one between Lynnfield and Peabody, and the other around the Dedham and Westwood area- were finished. For the next two years, Route 128 floundered and stumbled, growing merely a few miles, and brought to a complete standstill as the United States entered into World War II in 1941. When Democrat Paul Dever was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts in January 1949, he set highway building on top of his policy agenda. With the support of a Democratic-majority House of Representatives, Dever soon secured a $100 million bond bill, earmarked exclusively for statewide major highway projects. How to get around the bureaucratic red tape of the Department of Public Works and to speed up the road plans? Dever thought of Callahan who was known for his prolificacy and efficiency, and reinstated him to the post of commissioner in March 1949. Callahan had always dreamed of managing a few large projects, and was eager to have Route 128 completed during his tenure. To his great surprise, Callahan, this time round, was blessed with strong political backing and abundant financial support. Statistically, a total of $400 million highway construction fund was passed by the state legislature between the years 1949 and 1952.

During his new term, Callahan mainly planned and constructed two high-budget projects: the Boston Central Artery, which would cut through downtown, and the unfinished new Route 128. The former gained universal support, as people believed that a central expressway would significantly ease the downtown congestion. In stark contrast, Route 128 was exposed to ruthless criticism and doubts, while positive responses were few and far between. The major reason for objection was, “What is the point of spending the hugest sum of money in the road history of the Commonwealth to build ‘a road to nowhere’ in the sparsely populated and poor rural area? ” Confronted with various interrogations and censures, Callahan insisted, “This new highway will bring about the relocation of business establishments and open new residential sections. ” Just like that, the construction of Route 128 resumed in early 1950. Of course, Callahan conceded to reduce the original plan of a six-lane highway to four-lane. Once again, Callahan showed his competence and efficiency: he selected the route to be along the outskirts of town centers where demolition work was relatively light, and subcontracted the project to nine small constructors. The work went under way with a fanfare, and eighteen months later, on August 23, 1951, Governor Dever cut the ribbon for the 22-mile north section of the new highway.

The new section of Route 128 swiftly cleared all the accusations that had previously surrounded Callahan. On the opening day, certain portion of the highway witnessed 18,000 vehicles traveling by, and the number increased to 26,000 vehicles per day by 1954. After Callahan left office, the widening of the northern section from four lanes to six lanes soon began under the leadership of his successor, followed by the construction of the southern portion of the highway. Such results disproved the judgment of one of the most authoritative experts on transportation, chief Thomas MacDonald at the Federal Bureau of Public Goods. MacDonald had predicted that 15,000 vehicles per day on the highway would be an optimistic estimate for 1970. The Boston Central Artery project of Callahan’s was much less fortunate, however. Shortly after the road was put into full operation, many troubles ensued. Separating old downtown Boston, the project caused great damages to historic landscape of the city and generated negative impacts on urban commercial activities, thereby incurring lots of complaints from the residents. Worse still, the Central Artery quickly turned out to be the most congested road in the city, putting huge pressure on the transportation situation and environmental improvement. It got such nicknames as “the Distressway,” “the largest parking lot in the world,” and “Green Monster.” Although the artery was initially named after the paternal grandfather of President Kennedy as “John F. Fitzgerald Expressway,” it could not escape the fate of being demolished. In the “Big Dig” project of the 1990s, the expressway was torn down and moved to the underground.

Callahan’s whole life was inseparable from Massachusetts’ public transportation. Upon leaving Massachusetts Department of Public Works in 1952, he served as Chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority until his death in 1964. In 1961, a new underground tunnel beneath Boston harbor opened. It was named “Lieutenant William F. Callahan Tunnel” (commonly known as the Callahan Tunnel), a tribute to Callahan’s son who was killed in action in Italy just a few days before World War II ended. What a tragic loss! Every time I travel in the Callahan Tunnel en route to Logan International Airport, sadness and respect well up in my heart: Callahan and his son should be remembered now and by future generations for what they achieved and sacrificed.

*               *              *

      The rapid increase in traffic flow of Route 128 only partially realized Callahan’s prophecy. The subsequent commercial development activities helped him earn greater recognition. In 1948, the young and optimistic Blakeley became a new employee of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes. When he was studying the 1948 Master Highway Plan for the Boston Metropolitan Area, he noticed that a proposed Inner Belt project would link Route 128 with Cambridge and in particular, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thereby enabling a convenient access to areas along Route 128 from MIT and vice versa. Who does not want to be close to MIT? Blakeley pondered, and a tremendous business plan gradually took shape in his mind. I mentioned in my previous blog the interactions between MIT and Boston area’s regional economic development since the later part of World War II. In fact, the Bay state’s economy was going through a profound transformation at that time, despite its apparent recession. Light industry, garment, leather, machinery and alike were being outsourced to areas rich in energe resources and cheaper labor. The high-tech industry was still in its infancy and new industries driven by science and technology were seeking new space for development. MIT and Harvard’s strong research capabilities attracted new industries and R& D bases to settle in their vicinity. The areas along Route 128 possessed not only open space and inexpensive land, but also a large pool of unemployed workers with technical proficiency- left behind with the migration of traditional industries. Such a golden opportunity was not to escape Blakeley’s shrewd eyes. He recalled sneaking into the bathroom late one night and scribbling down a blueprint for broad commercial development around Route 128. In his plan, campus -like research facilities, offices and plants would be scattered along Route 128’s alignment, all with easy automobile access to MIT and downtown Boston. Blakeley also came up with a revolutionary model for the delivery of such projects. It is called the “package procurement” model, which can not only secure the maximum interest of his company, but also guarantee debt financing for the clients. Blakeley’s idea was quickly approved of and enacted by the top managers of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, who took an active role in lobbying municipal governments to modify their local zoning so as to accommodate commercial uses. The lobbying was met with little opposition and projects carried out smoothly. It was not long before people witnessed the birth of a brand new industrial park, New England Industrial center in Needham, together with a novel business development model.

Soon enough, companies like Sylvania, Canada Dry, Clevite, and Polanoid came and built up offices and plants in the area. Between 1950 and 1957, Route 128 welcomed a total of nearly $100 million capital investment. The road once ridiculed as “Callahan’s folly” attracted $500 million within one decade. In 1955, there were 53 businesses along Route 128. The figure soared to 223 in 1959 and 729 in 1967, with 66,000 employed workers. The land price too had risen from the initial $450 per acre to $ 5000 per acre by 1957. In 1959, the Boston Globe issued a fair comment: “The Road to Nowhere has now become the hub of everything”. Non-surprisingly, Cabot, Cabot & Forbes rapidly grew from a local firm to one of the most renowned national real estate development company. Blakeley himself became one of its leaders, and was acknowledged as the father of modern industrial park. It did not take him long to join the billionaires’ club.

In the 1970s, the cluster effects of the high-tech industries along Route 128 began to gradually manifest themselves. During the second and third terms of governor Michael Dukakis (1983 to 1991), “Massachusetts Miracle” became a catchword. 128’s prestige reached its peak with the settling in of famous corporations and research institutes like the Wang Laboratory, Some media even claimed that “Route 128 opens America’s high-tech age.” Since the 1950s when the construction of the major portion of Route 128 first started, thirty years had passed before the Massachusetts economy finally ushered in a new round of prosperity, jointly achieved by government agencies, businesses and research institutes.

*             *               *

        If time could stop for a while in the 1980s, we see, through Route 128, not only a “miracle” created by high-tech development, but a classical case of benign interactions between infrastructure construction and commercial development. It was thanks to the vision and perseverance, insightfulness and patience, dedication and diligence, of all levels of government officials as well as all types of entrepreneurs, that an ordinary municipal project could have grown into a success story of regional development. From the 1990s till the present, countless new miracles have taken place on the “roller coaster” of the Massachusetts economy. When exploring the causes behind all that has happened, one finds bits of luck and serendipity, but more importantly, a materialized form of entrepreneurship and innovative spirit.

The terms “entrepreneur” and “entrepreneurship” are often used interchangeably in western economics and management science. In recent years, scholarly translation and introduction have made them no longer foreign to both academia and business community in China. Notably, since the beginning of the 20th century, the various qualities and characteristics typical of entrepreneurs have been seen in diverse fields, and entrepreneurship has spilled over to governments, social organizations and non-profit institutes. As highlighted in Schumpeter’s definition of “innovation,” the soul of “entrepreneurship” is closely related to innovation, risk-taking, aggressiveness and responsibility. The people we just introduced, Dever, Callahan and Blakeley, were all great entrepreneurs ready and determined to “innovate,” and they all contributed to the promotion of “entrepreneurship.” In this sense, we do call for businessmen, politicians and scholars to embrace the spirit of “entrepreneurship,” whatever endeavor they choose to pursue.

Route 128 had been busy even since it first opened. According to Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization, the daily traffic volume on the route had reached 200,000 by 2010. In rush hours, the congestion can get extremely bad and the air would be filled with all kinds of complaints and horns. At such times, I cannot help but think of the “traffic jam prosperity” theory put forward by Mr. Liu Wei, professor of Economics from Peking University, which I believe may be able to soothe some of the most impatient drivers. The highway too reminds me from time to time of the multiple industrial projects along the highways of Beijing I had worked hard to advocate and advance as mayor and party chief of Changping District: the Future City of Science and Technology, the Zhongguancun Base of Engineering and Technological Innovation, the Life and Science Park, and the Shahe Higher Education Park, among others that formed the Corridor of Northern Beijing High-Tech Industrial Innovation. I have every faith that these projects will bring popularity and crowd, together with the hope of prosperity and progress!

Recently I read an article in the Boston Globe, which was about young workers in Massachusetts showing renewed interest in the colorful urban life and inclination to start businesses or look for jobs in downtown. Such a new trend has led a number of start-up companies to choose their sites and some enterprises along Route 128 to establish branches in the old city. What impacts would this have on the industrial parks along Route 128 and Interstate 495? Will new infrastructure and commercial development projects emerge as a result? It is still too early to tell. Yet there is one thing that we know for sure: the vast traffic with “the spirit of America” engraved on the license plates shall take the Massachusetts economy on to the next route of rationality and maturity.



Bureau of Research and Statistics, Massachusetts Department of Commerce and Development. “Listing of Firms along Route 128.” Boston, 1965.

Earls, Alan R. Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, c2002.

Hogarty, Richard A. “The Paradox of Public Authorities in Massachusetts: Massport and Masspike.” New England Journal of Public Policy 12.2 (2002): 18-37.

Kenney, Charles and Robert L. Turner. Dukakis: An American Odyssey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.

Mass Moments. Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. August 22, 2012. <>

Rosegrant, Susan and David R. Lampe. Route 128: Lessons from Boston’s High-tech Community. New York: Basic Books, c1992.

Saxenian, Annalee. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994.

Tsipis, Yanni and David Kruh. Building Route 128. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, c2003.


Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.

Innovation Economy and an Economic “Oasis”


Innovation Economy and an Economic “Oasis”

        If America wants to be a healthy, smart, rich, globalized, high-tech powerhouse, we arguably have no better model than Massachusetts.

—— Mark Vanhoenacker

       After the outbreak of the financial crisis, it did not take long for many U.S. economists and business leaders to recognize that innovation economy would be the key to brake recession and make possible a resurgence.  Paul Krugman defined the “great recession” as “the third depression” in the world’s history, and clearly stated that nothing but a new technological revolution that transforms the lifestyle and modes of production for all humanity could lift us out of the recession and usher in a new wave of economic growth.  Economist Tyler Cowen from George Mason University expressed a very similar view in his book, the Great Stagnation. Failing to accurately predict the crisis and defuse it in a timely manner, economists from various schools have been under great pressure. Yet while continuing to quarrel over the causes of the recession and short-term measures against it, few questioned or challenged the above positions. In the business arena, Warren Buffett have stricken home his point repeatedly: the value of the American system lies in innovation which unleashes human potential; innovation will lead America out of the predicament.  Steve Jobs also showed his confidence and believed that “as long as we innovate, we will be fine”. Gary Shapiro, CEO of American Consumer Electronics Association launched the innovation movement, a coalition of 100,000 citizens, wishing for a revival of innovation economy to spur America’s Comeback.

Winning the 2008 presidential election by advocating “change”, Obama has launched a series of policies and measures to promote innovation and economic development. In September 2009, he released “A Strategy for American Innovation: Driving towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs”. In his 2011 State of the Union Address, Obama proposed “Startup America Initiative”. In February 2011, he announced the “Wireless innovation and Infrastructure Initiative” and “Better Building Initiative”. The “Government Reform for Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative” was established in his Presidential Memorandum in March 2011. Very recently in March 2012, Obama advanced manufacturing initiatives to drive innovation, create job growth and ultimately improve America’s competitiveness in global trade. For the Democratic Party and the Republican Party who have plunged into an unprecedented political fight, innovation has been one of the two issues on which both can easily reach consensus (the other is said to be criticism on China’s human rights situation). These initiatives, rekindling Americans’ hope and refreshing their commitment to innovation, increased investments in basic scientific research and proved effective in supporting clean energy development. However, the two parties diverge again when it comes to the intention and impacts of such initiatives. Hardcore Republicans see Obama’s policies as a continuation of the Bush Administration, with no novelty in content or effectiveness in execution. Obama’s followers, on the contrary, firmly believe that America has finally made its way back on the right path. For them, it was due to the lack of foresight and the mistakes of the previous administration that the present polices are taking longer to show their effects.

Along with the increasingly raucous party brawls, America’s recovery has been full of twists and turns. The revolutionary breakthrough in science and technology, much longed for by everyone, seems unlikely to take place in the near future. The economy has not fared well in the past few months: high unemployment rate (risen to 8.3% in July 2012), slow growth rate (1.5% for the 2nd quarter of 2012), persistently low consumer confidence (latest reported to hit the bottom in July 2012) …… All of these not only fogged the prospects of the nation’s economic recovery, but also cast a heavy shadow on Obama’s efforts to seek reelection. Some have even begun to question if America’s competitive advantage, centering on innovation, is gradually lost. The 40th Republican National Convention, closed just this past Friday, not only made official the nominees for the 2012 Presidential election, but tirelessly hammered the Obama administration’s poor economic performance, especially when it comes to job creation and innovation.  Fortunately, there remain a few unyielding oases in the largely devastated desert, which somehow represent and indicate the future hope of a 21-century “innovation America”. Massachusetts is among the most convincing ones.

*         *         *

       Although Massachusetts has to bear the same troubles and miseries brought by the recession, it was able to buck the trend and had a couple of good shows. In comparison to the nation’s flagging economic situation that has lasted for a while, Massachusetts’ performance, if not outshining all others, has certainly been eye-catching.

  • Massachusetts was eleven months later than the nation to enter recession (recession in Massachusetts started in November 2008 vs. December 2007 for the nation); in March 2010, Massachusetts took the lead into recovery. Its economic growth rate is over twice the national average (growth rate 4% in Q2, 2012).
  • Unemployment rate in Massachusetts has been far lower than the national average (June 2012: US 8.2%, MA 6%); it created the record of a consecutive 16-month job growth during the recession.
  • In March 2012, Massachusetts regained the top spot on 11th Annual State Competitiveness Report, issued by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University (it was the third in 2010).
  • Massachusetts ranked the first on Kauffman Foundation’s 2010 State New Economy Index. Washington came in second with an obvious gap.
  • Boston, Massachusetts’ capital city, successfully broke into Economist magazine’s Global City Competitiveness Index, ranking top 10.
  • In October 2010, American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy placed Massachusetts as the most “energy efficient” state, replacing California.
  • According to Massachusetts Divison of Health Insurance Finance and Policy, the state’s insurance coverage ranks first in the nation: the uninsured rate has dropped to 1.8%, and the uninsured rate for children is as low as 0.2%.
  • Massachusetts has the best schools in America. Education Week’s 2012 report ranks Massachusetts the second on the overall index; but on two of the index’s most important measures- a lifetime educational Chance for Success index and a K-12 Achievement index, the state leads the nation. According to 2011 Harvard survey, the reading skills of Massachusetts’ high schoolers is fifth worldwide, and math skills the ninth, ahead of both Japan and Germany.


Particularly noteworthily, Standard and Poor’s (S&P), in view of the state’s outstanding performance in fiscal control and budget balance for recent years, upgraded the credit rating for Massachusetts to AA+ from AA in September 2011. Previously, the state had gained ratings of Aa1 from Moody’s and AA+ from Fitch. Taken together, this set of ratings gave Massachusetts its highest credit standing in history, contrasting starkly to the fact that S& P downgraded the credit rating for America about a month earlier. Such hard-earned results truly made the government and state legislature leaders happy and excited for quite a while. Most importantly, it added new confidence and motivation to the future development of Massachusetts.

Aiming at promoting collaborative activities among government, industry, universities and research institutes as well as advancing the healthy development of a high-tech oriented knowledge economy, Massachusetts state legislature established a specific economic cooperation organization, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (shortened as MTC). Ever since 1997, MTC has released Index of the Massachusetts Innovation Economy on a yearly basis.  Through a comparative analysis against other US technology leading states as well as other countries and regions with advanced science and technology, the Index makes an objective evaluation of the annual performance of Massachusetts’ innovation economy, clarifies the elements propelling or constraining innovation and economy, with the hope of providing some valid suggestions to policy makers, business managers and academic leaders. In 2004, MTC founded John Adams Innovation Institute, named after the second president of America, to lead the writing of the report. Beginning with a striking title, “Massachusetts USA leading the Innovation Revolution”, the preamble to the 2011 index fully recognized the state’s remarkable achievements in 2010 and further pointed out, “The Massachusetts Innovation Economy is one of the state’s key advantages in the global economy and an engine of prosperity for our citizens. It is also a source of resilience amidst national and global economic uncertainty.”

This preamble arouses one’s curiosity about the root causes and the historical origins of the economic prosperity and social progress witnessed in the Commonwealth.

      *         *         *

      When it comes to innovation in Massachusetts, almost all commentators would trace its history back to two or three hundreds years ago, or probably even four hundred years ago. Most of them would also be citing the many “best”, “No.1” and “leading place” that the state and the Greater Boston area have created in the history of America in order to reinforce Massachusetts’ position and image of an “innovator”. From the moment in the early seventeenth century when the pilgrims set foot on the continent of North America, settlers of the New England region, those in Massachusetts being the most representative ones, have begun their long journey of arduous pioneering. The dream and efforts of these early colonists to build a “City upon the Hill” reaped rich fruits on this not-so-fertile piece of land.

From the establishment of “Mayflower Compact” to that of the first state constitution, from the first shot in the Independence War to the United States Declaration of Independence (documents record five Massachusetts residents signed it), numerous founding fathers dedicated themselves to the Great American Experiment, drawing the blueprint and laying the rudiment for a future America. By founding Harvard University and opening the first public school in the nation (Boston Latin Grammar School), through building the first free public school (Dorchester Mather School) and opening the first public library (Boston Public Library), Massachusetts has been brave in educational innovation and reforms, finally growing into a world-renowned intellectual city. Inventions in Massachusetts are simply impossible to enumerate: the electric light, the telegraph, the telephone, the computer, the sewing machine, the typewriter, the microwave and the razor; the initial clinical applications of the smallpox vaccine, the anesthetic ether and the penicillin; the first email successfully sent out and the smooth launch of liquid fuel powered rocket- the list goes on and on. Hundreds of thousands inventions and creations as such revolutionized the lifestyle and mode of production of Americans and of people around the world. Besides, Massachusetts was home to the first lighthouse, the first railroad, the first motorcar, the first man-made canal and the first subway line. It also took the lead in introducing the park, the cemetery, the seaside bathing spot, the countryside golf club and other public facilities alike. It was in Massachusetts where the first Thanksgiving was celebrated and the first Christmas card was printed. People in Massachusetts also had the privilege to watch the first basketball and volleyball matches as well as the marathon in 1890s. The “American system of manufacturing”, featured by interchangable parts, later sweeping the world and preceding Ford’s assembly line, claims Massachusetts as its cradle, so does the modern industrial park and venture capital. In one word, invention and innovation are inseparable from the Massachusetts history and have become an engrained cultural gene, unique to the region.

American English has a special word to describe the innovative characteristic of residents in Massachusetts and in the New England region as a whole: Yankee Ingenuity. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the self-reliance of early colonial settlers of New England, United States”. The phrase is further elaborated as an attitude of make-do with materials on hand: it is “inventive improvisation, adaptation and overcoming of dire straits when faced with a dearth of resources”. I find it not fairly hard to locate an accurate equivalent in Chinese to fully bear the wealth of implications. Indeed, “Yankee ingenuity” is in fact where the nowadays much-lauded  “entrepreneurship” and “innovativeness” derive from. In the Bay state, one sees everywhere the upholding of tradition by the “politically-oriented” Massachusetts people. They not only have “the Spirit of America” engraved on their license plates, but also composed a song with “the Spirit of America” as its title and sing it widely as the unofficial state song.

With a deep understanding of and a warm respect for the history and culture, incumbent Massachusetts governor, Deval L. Patrick, stated proudly so in his first inaugural address: “Massachusetts invented America. American ideals were first spoken here, first dreamed about here… In so many ways, our struggle, our sacrifice, our optimism shaped the institutions and advanced the ideals of the nation.”  “Massachusetts invented America”, how boldly declared! This declaration, causing statewide and lasting resonance in the Commonwealth, was spread and eulogized broadly.

      *         *         *

       It took a long process of gestation and development before the “innovative spirit”grew into an “innovation economy”. With indomitable entrepreneurship, early pilgrims survived the many hardships and promoted the prosperity of business. Massachusetts and throughout the New England region have been leading America’s industrialization ever since they became the birthplace of the nation’s First Industrial Revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. As early as 1920s and 1930s, Massachusetts had witnessed economic transformation and industrial restructuring, both of which quietly carried on during the Great Depression. Starting from the latter part of World War II, as traditional industries accelerated outward migration and the federal government increased R & D investments, high-tech industries began to burgeon and grow in the Bay state. In 1950s and onward, scientists and engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set out one after another to found high-tech enterprises in suburbs along Route 128, and a variety of resources that had long been stored up in the Greater Boston area swiftly integrated. A large number of entrepreneurial scientists and science-minded entrepreneurs embarked on the journey to open up the brand new field of “innovation economics” with innovative practices.

The thirty years from 1950s to 1980s steeled Massachusetts and got it well prepared for a powerful display of high-tech economy in mid 1980s. Overnight, Route 128 was known as “America’s Technology Highway”, and “Massachusetts Miracle” became a buzzword. However, such happy days did not last long. In late 1980s, Massachusetts once again sank into recession and stagnation. Compared to the shower of praises on Silicon Valley, Massachusetts and Route 128 were mourned by many. It was a moment when the Massachusetts people showed extraordinary courage and calmness. Self-collected, they adhered to a unique path of development and meanwhile, looked to other regions for successful experiences. A desperate counterattack was going on under a seemingly tranquil surface! From the birth of “Massachusetts Miracle” and its disillusionment, to the economy’s resurgence in late 1990s and finally to its prominent position nowadays, the ups and downs are worth a careful study.

Innovation economy has taken on new features in Massachusetts. Firstly, the industrial structure shows a tendency of diversification. Massachusetts’ high-tech industry, commonly viewed as being dominated by computer, information technology and the defense industry, actually includes other areas like financial services, bio-medicine, medical equipment, precision machinery, robotics industry, clean energy, architecture design and social media, all of which have achieved a leading place in the nation. Secondly, a multi-polar industrial layout has developed in Massachusetts. Route 128 remains the core location for high-tech industries, but has extended to Interstate 495. Areas along the subway Red Line and the Innovation District in South Boston have also attracted a considerable number of enterprises and research institutions. In addition to Boston and Cambridge, such satellite towns as Springfield, Worcester, Bedford and Woburn too formed industrial parks with distinctive functions. Thirdly, multilateral collaboration constitutes the impetus for econimic development. While solidifying its own edge, Massachusetts draws on development lessons from other emerging high-tech industrial clusters, Silicon Valley being only one of them, and has nurtured a positive cooperation mechanism made up by universities, research institutions, financial and consulting agencies, enterprises and the government. Cross-industry, cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary scientific and industrial development projects came up in an endless fashion, contributing to the regional economic prosperity. These new trends and features are all built upon innvation economy; in other words, the innovative practices carried out by the various economic elements on all level of economic activities are the fundamental driving force. Put differently, economic growth relies primarily on knowledge creation, technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Scott Kirsner, an active Massachusetts economist and columnist on innovation economics, articulates in his article “Innovation City”, “Boston is a city that attracts people who want to work in industries that have existed here since Massachusetts was a British colony; it is also the city for those who believe that the only industry worth working in is the one they’re about to create.”  Referring to Boston, these words are in fact a true portrayal of the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

*         *         *

      “Innovation economy” is a new term born from the unremitting exploration and successful practice of innovation in Massachusetts. The term makes most frequent appearances in innovation economy index reports and is largely promoted through the efforts of media and consulting agencies in the Greater Boston area. The academic discussion of “innovation”, however, needs to be traced to the classical definition in Joseph Schumpeter’s 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.  In Schumpeter’s opinion, “creative destruction”, as an intrinsic factor of capitalism, describes the phenomenon that commercial enterprises under capitalism destroy and eliminate old technologies and production systems through innovation competition (rather than price competition), break the original market equilibrium and establish a new production system and market order, gaining lucrative profits in the process. Such a concept opened the gate to innovation, from where a novel school of economics-innovation economics- emerged. Attending closely to knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and the role innovation plays in economic growth, innovation economists, however, rarely use the term “innovation economy”. Similarly, the word “innovation”, in spite of being widely applied in the daily lives of ordinary Americans and broadly employed in the fields of politics, economy, culture and education, is in definition still mainly confined to the scope of technology and economic activities. When I was exploring a new regional development strategy for Changping in 2007 as mayor of the district, I looked extensively for the word “innovation economy” in the literature of innovation economics, but failed to find any. So I summarized my strategy as “ to vigorously develop laboratory economy and build an integrated regional innovation system of industry, academia and research”. As I did not have the access to documents in Massachusetts, I chose “laboratory economy” to carry my idea. Now thinking about it, “Innovation economy” would have been a more appropriate pick.

Guided by the “innovation prophet” Schumpeter, a series of glittering names such as Paul Romer, Elhanan Helpman, Brian Arthur, Robert Axtell, Eric Beinhocker, Richard R. Nelson, Richard Lipsey, Michael Porter and Christopher Freeman stand one after the other as signposts on the “innovation avenue”. The latest progress and breakthrough with innovation economics would have to be Michael Porter’s theory of national and regional competitive advantage. The aforementioned state competitiveness index issued by Suffolk University is exactly based on the measurement system put forward by Porter in discussing national and regional competitive advantage, i.e. eight groups of more than forty indicators altogether with a stress on per capita income and the capacity of sustainable economic growth. Schumpeter was a Harvard professor, so is Porter. From regional competitiveness to innovation economy index, the two reports echo each other, on both of which Massachusetts singles itself out. Can we conclude then, “innovation economy leading regional development” will be the next research subject for innovation economics?

No matter how the academic prospects of “Innovation economics” turn out to be, Massachusetts in THE place to feel the tremendous vitality brought about by “innovation” and “innovation economy”.  Thanks to my previous career experience, I have kept paying special attention to Governor Patrick’s political agenda and performance since I arrived here. His overall political agenda does revolve around “innovation economy” and his daily schedule is filled with innovation businesses: laying the foundation for innovation district, cutting the ribbon of school innovation laboratory, addressing at an annual student conference of history and innovation, proclaiming Massachusetts “innovation month”, writing an open letter to encourage student entrepreneurs and signing Social Innovation Compact with non-profit non-govrenmental agencies, to name only a few. Hardworking, pragmatic and full of pioneering spirits, the governor has won good wills and respect from his citizens. A vigorous advocate for the use of clean energy, an enthusiastic participator in the Race to Top program funded by the US Department of Education, a top leader in the social innovation program Pay for Success, Patrick has been faithfully practicing Obama’s innovation initiatives all along.

Deval Patrick, a Democrat, an African American, is rumored to have very close personal connections with Obama. Will this Democratic political star help Obama keep Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, away from the White House? How much would Massachusetts, as a preliminary manifestation of the power and significance of innovation economy, assist Obama with his final race in November? Let’s wait and see!



Cowen, Tyler. The great stagnation: how America ate all the low-hanging fruit of modern history, got sick, and will (eventually) feel better. New York: Dutton, 2011.

Kao, John. Innovation Nation: how America is losing its innovation edge, why it matters, and what we can do to get it back. New York: Free Press, c2007.

Kirsner, Scott. “Innovation City”. The Good City. Ed. Emily Hiestand and Ande Zellman. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, c2004. 58-73.

“MIT’s 150 Ideas, Inventions and Innovations that Helped Shape Our World.” May 15, 2011. < >

Porter, Michael E. The Competitive Advantage of Nations. New York: the Free Press, 1990.

Saxenian, Annalee. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1942.

Vanhoenacker, Mark. “Don’t Mess with the Bay State” . May 14, 2012. < >


A Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.


A Journey to Explore Innovation


A Journey to Explore Innovation

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Day by day, make it anew.

        —— The book of Rites·The Great Learning

        I had not originally made plans to open a blog like this but was rather encouraged to do so by a good friend. However, once I decided to write a blog, I have given the day it should begin careful consideration. Today, August 26, 2012, is the two-year anniversary of my arrival in the United States to pursue further studies. Being such a significant-to-me date, I chose it to begin this blog. As I reflect on the path that has led me to make the decision to come to the US, I want to summarize the seven hundred and thirty days that I have spent living and working in this foreign land while discussing my future writing and research plans. Mine may seem an unusual life journey revolving as it does around issues pertaining to innovation.

I. Dream of Seven Years

It was as bright as day outside. Breaking free from noise and turbulence we had been experiencing, the plane finally entered into a smooth state. From ten thousand meters high, I gazed down at the sea of clouds. Thousands of thoughts suddenly filled my heart…

In little more than a year after leaving Peking University, the idea of returning grew strong in my heart. At the end of 1999, I was transferred to the Youth League Beijing Committee and appointed deputy secretary, thenceforth launching on my political career, one which from most perspectives seemed to be filled with bright prospects. Compared to gladness from rising through the ranks and to expectations of future promotions, I was more pleased to be given the opportunity to put my educational knowledge to practical use and verification outside the “ivory towers” of academia. The transition from the campus into the “real” world was an exciting one for me, full of joy and even a bit of impatience to achieve success and overcome the challenges inherent to the office of which I had been given charge. Running among endless business meetings and entertainment obligations, growing accustomed to the applause, flattery and smiling faces I encountered as a part of my position, as well as facing successfully the attendant struggles and difficulties my office presented, I seemed, on the surface at least, to be a happy and fortunate young man. Yet, at the same time I often found myself confused and bewildered. The idea of continuing work at a university as a scholar had steadily sprouted in my heart and mind. Such a return to comparatively simple enjoyment as well as a personally fulfilling life, and to do something I truly love while still in my prime did not disappear or even weaken when I was promoted to the office of secretary at the end of 2001.

It was in the summer of 2003 when I made the decision to return to academia. Although I seldom mentioned it to others, I had privately started all kinds of preparatory work. Change is inevitable; and what have to be well chosen are the timing and the manner of goodbye. My return to school is a certain move; and what need to be confirmed are the specific university and research field. In summer 2005 when I finished my dissertation defense for Peking University’s Law School, I formally reported my thoughts to the leadership at Beijing Committee of the Communist Party of China, and fortunately secured their understanding and support. My plan then was to take one year off to study abroad, further my study on the legislation of digital governance- research that I started during my doctoral period, and decide on my future career path upon my return. So, in my spare time, I began taking English courses and contacting overseas universities for application-related matters.

However, things took a twist in spring 2006. With no knowledge in advance, I was sent to work in Changping District. Offered such trust from my superiors and the organization, and seeing the expectations from cadres and people of Changping, I made a commitment in an official talk with the municipal leadership, half a year later, to fully dedicate myself to Changping and put aside for the moment my study plans. Such a promise was completely from my heart and out of my own volition. I have long held the firm belief to accomplish whatever task I have chosen, or those life’s opportunities have presented me, to the very best of my abilities. I want always to be able to move on without regret. I also would like to make sure every time I have performed my responsibilities in such a manner that those following me will not be troubled by things I have left undone or incorrectly done. Besides, I soon discovered Changping District to be wonderfully lovable and very much worth my unreserved devotion. Therefore, in the subsequent four years in Changping, I never brought up the plan of studying abroad again. Yet certainly, I never abandoned those thoughts either.

In June 2010, I at last realized my dream to return to the university. During the four years in Changping, I took the office of governor and party chief, in sequence, and completed the two historical tasks of undertaking the Olympics projects and serving the national holiday celebration. In November 2010, I made a formal application to the parent organization and leadership to leave the office and rejoin the university faculty following a period of study and research. In the first half of 2010, I resigned from office as party chief of Changping, became a member of the county bureau level leadership training class at the Party School of CPC Beijing Committee, and ultimately, joined the faculty of Beijing Normal University… Unhindered as it appeared, the process was full of twists and turns. Yet in general, I was lucky. It was indeed not easy to complete the transformation of identity and change of career with maximum understanding and minimum attention!

The aircraft landed smoothly at Boston Logan International Airport. A couple of days ago, a typhoon passed through the New England region. Although it did not severely affect local residents, the ravages of a summer storm could still be seen upon leaving the terminal. In this dark night of wind and rain, new life began …

II. Studying at Harvard

After a hectic first month, things settled down for the most part. One friend who had business in the States came as promised and brought me six cartons containing about three hundred Chinese books. When attending the welcome dinner arranged by Harvard China Fund, I had my first informal speech in Harvard. The dozen of attendees invited to the dinner party were all institution heads with expertise on China’s issues. Some of them were internationally known Sinologists. I have consequently kept up communications and established good relations with a number of them. In our future conversations, they repeatedly mentioned that  “very impressive” speech I made the other evening.

“… My supervisor once asked me, ‘So many scholars have written so many books and articles, but who really listen to their opinions? Why do you have to join them?’ My answer was, ‘I chose such a transition to scholarship, only to gain happiness and contentment in pursuit of knowledge. I do not care particularly if my opinions are adopted or even my voice heard by others.’ Now, when I am able to see the Harvard motto of ‘VERITAS’ almost every day, I am reassured that I have come to the right place.”

Harvard University, praised as “spiritual home” by many scholars, has now finally become a new starting point in my journey towards knowledge and truth!

Later, I came to see that not just Harvard, but Boston, Massachusetts and even the greater part of Eastern America are all treasure troves to observe and reflect on the nation’s innovation! The position held by some Chinese scholar that “ East America is about politics and West America about innovation” seemed indeed biased and superficial.

I set for myself three tasks for my initial two years at Harvard: reading, observing and thinking.

I finished over one hundred Chinese books, which for the past decade I “had the money to purchase but not the time to read”. I took twelve innovation-related courses at Harvard and MIT as well as participated in nearly a hundred academic activities, large and small. I also collected books and papers needed for writing, and formulated preliminary research ideas and a basic framework for my study.

I visited over ten US cities and towns, and conducted over fifty research-related discussions and interviews. I also had the privilege to borrow a spacious house from a friend. Through access to local communities, I gained in-depth understanding of how Americans truly live their lives. When my elder daughter later joined me in the States, for schooling and medical assistance, my knowledge and thoughts about America’s health care and educational systems was further deepened. In a phrase, what I have harvested in the past two years far exceeded the seeds of my expectations.

With fewer phone calls and barely any banquet requests, I was finally able to enjoy tranquility and freedom. Away from the distractions of a busy social schedule, I was able to hear and listen to the yearnings of my heart. To have adequate time to savor knowledge and truth is surely bliss for me, someone who needs time for contemplation.  A friend came to the States, on a special trip to visit me, to find out how things were going for me. He said to me before his departure, “We were all very worried when you made your choice. We even had a sense of tragedy. But now, having seen for myself how you study and live here, I cannot help but applaud for you.  What you are doing seems heroic!”  I appreciated my friend’s concerns and understanding, but I explained to him, “In fact, it was not tragic then nor heroic now. It is simply that I chose at middle age to have the normal and ordinary life of a scholar.  Such, I think, is a true portrayal of my two years’ at Harvard as a visiting scholar.

III. Aiming at innovation

In the States, I have focused my research on innovation theory and its applications. My goal is to explore the system and mechanism issues involved in constructing an innovative nation. My plan is to spend at least one, and at most three years putting together a piece of academic work, which I trust will have value and which I have tentatively entitled “Innovation in America”. From today on, I will publish my thoughts regularly on this blog, sharing my experiences and insights with all of you, in hope of responses and suggestions. A bird sings out to draw friends!

Such research directions, thoughts and plans were finalized at the beginning of 2009 when I was still in Changping. After working in Changping for one year, I gradually formed the idea of establishing a regional innovation system that integrates industry, learning and research. Centering on this idea, I mobilized forces to carry out lots of research work. While the work was fruitful, I discovered there was a lack of both academic achievements and practical experience in the field. There were too many blank areas. Digging further, I found, in stark contrast with the international community, domestic study on innovation was similar in content and without much depth, making it incredibly difficult to achieve such a lofty goal as building an innovative nation. I am someone who would rather understand something in the most complete fashion possible before taking action than do something before having figured out how. As I comprehended increasingly better about innovation, I find myself more eager than ever to learn still more. Through reconsidering what I had been doing since mid 1990s, I decided to orient my research toward “innovation” following my transition to become a scholar. I am determined to exhaust the rest of my life on a topic with such major theoretical and practical significance.

I taught in Peking University for five years after graduating from its master’s program. My research interests then were higher education and university campus culture. I not only published papers and books, but organized academic seminars as well. During Peking University’s one hundredth anniversary and the celebration of the eightieth anniversary of the “May Fourth” Movement, I called for contemporary youths, especially young college students, to be builders with innovativeness. Such constituted the main theme of my work: to nurture rational builders who “promote innovation and transcend passion”. After taking office at the Youth League Beijing Committee, I again proposed the working mentality of “construction, service, innovation and development”. By advocating turning the Youth League into a learning and service-oriented youth organization, I hoped to achieve the modernization of youth work.

From Peking University to the Youth League and then to Changping, my main line of work had been experimenting with and exploring “innovation”. To integrate other theories and practical issues under the framework of “innovation” was the important goal I assiduously sought after during my later term in Changping. With such thoughts and directions, I became more than ever determined to leave my political post for scholarship and faculty work. For me, it is no problem to have a late start and a slow speed- as long as the direction is correct. Yet, it is very troublesome and too risky to have a high starting point and fast speed if one is heading in the wrong direction. In this sense, grateful as I am to be moving on my life into the field of research and study, a large portion of my heart remains with the colleagues and friends in both the Youth League and Changping. The six years spent working in the Youth League Beijing Committee and the four years in Changping District had blessed me with invaluable experience in youth work and local governance, respectively. In addition, these years not only allowed me to devote my wisdom and labor to a beloved land and community, but also recalibrated the direction for my research. Most importantly, I was made completely fearless in chasing my dreams! I am forever thankful for the Youth League and Beijing’s outstanding youth group! I forever appreciate Changping and its people from the bottom of my heart!

It was too in Changping where I developed my hobbies of climbing mountains, and meditating while walking. I often enjoyed having simple and delicious food at roadside shops and farmyards. Whenever I walk along Charles River or order simple food from the many small restaurants in Harvard Square, I experience a joy similar to that with which I grew accustomed back home! It is the pleasure of delicious food and breathtaking scenery; it is also satisfaction from pursuing “innovation” which I shall blog about to share with you, my friends, in days to come.

Having written thus much and into the wee hours Beijing time. Let’s, without further ado, hit the road at this night-ending moment!

 A Chinese version of the article can be found at Sina Financial and Economics Blog.