Boston world cities conference: mayors fish for answers to urban problems, end up in shallows

Urban progress cannot be made in a static society, nor can big cities gloss over their challenges if urban problems are to be solved, concluded delegates to "The Great Cities Conference of the World."

Representatives from 36 cities on four continents conferred; examined Boston neighborhood by neighborhood, downtown to suburb; and sought solutions to problems facing cities throughout the world.

Participants in last week's meeting here agreed that the international urban conference should be continued in some form.

But some protested that the consultations in this first meeting were too shallow.

"We are not looking at the roots and basic causes of our problems," declared Dr. Andonis Tritsis, a university professor and technical adviser for urban planning in Athens, Greece. "We should grab this occasion to look at class, racial, economic, and housing issues, basic causes of our problems. We should see what Boston is doing to face these problems."

However, Dr. Tritsis clouded his own plea for relevancy with international politics when he proposed that the conference take a stand on the "crushing of democracy in Istanbul, Turkey." Greece and Turkey, which have a long history of disputes, have been at logger-heads over the status of Cyprus. Delegates cheered his words, applauded his stand on Istanbul, but passed no resolutions at the conference.

Representatives from Istanbul and three Arab cities withdrew from the conference at the last minute. Their absence was not explained nor discussed publicly. But the Arab representatives were said to have objected to the prominence of Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem, in planned discussions. Istanbul's delegation was said to be absent because of the recent coup in Turkey.

Reflecting on the conclave, host Mayor Kevin H. White said, "Issues of crime, poverty, substandard housing, discrimination, structural unemployment, inadequate urban education, archaic bureaucracy, slums, barrios, and ghettos have all been either overlooked or shortchanged by this conference. We have not discussed the global inequities which victimize us all -- acid rain, excessive dependence on oil, inflation, and recession."

And discussions barely touched "the greatest challenge we face -- the harnessing of the political process for human progress," Mayor White added. Calling the conference a modest beginning, he explained that "we deliberately started the process by focusing on success stories. . . ."

Most of the 200-plus visiting public officials, planners, and fiscal officers coupled their solution searching with sales pitches for their own hometowns. They plugged them as great ports; as venerable preservers of traditions, culture , and knowledge; as renovators of downtowns and neighborhoods; as pioneers ideas to save cities from population crunches.

Besides helping Boston observe its 350th anniversary at gala balls, concerts, and other events, delegates to the Great Cities Conference heard experts read papers or give practical talks on urban problems and met with members of Boston's business, educational, cultural, ethnic, and waterfront communities.

Typical of many visitors was Mrs. Nathan N. Kahara, wife of the mayor of Nairobi, Kenya. A teacher, she visited the Trotter public school in Roxbury, Boston's black community, to see an American classroom. Mrs. Kahara spoke to a fifth-grade class and presented each child a gift she herself had made.

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