Recessions have an outsized effect on communities with fewer resources and, for most, recessions don’t end when growth begins. Never has this been more true than during the COVID pandemic. Whole industries have shut down, leaving many of the city’s most vulnerable out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Retail, food service and hospitality workers and many small business owners that make Boston both a fantastic place to live and work and a global destination, have borne the brunt of COVID closures and restrictions across the city. Meanwhile, Boston’s knowledge sectors, including technology, biotech and professional services, have continued to operate largely uninterrupted. The result is an expanding wealth gap threatens to impair growth and inclusivity in Boston for years to come.
Jonathan Greeley serves as the Director of Development Review at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). A member of the agency’s Senior Leadership team, he oversees the review of all real estate and development projects, as well as institutional growth, within the City of Boston. After more than a decade spent with the BPDA (formerly Boston Redevelopment Authority), Jonathan has significant experience with public engagement and neighborhood revitalization activities in complex urban environments. Since first joining the agency as an intern in 2005, his work has included the implementation of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, the reinvigoration of Downtown Crossing, conceptualization of air rights development along the Massachusetts Turnpike, and long-term planning for the Fenway neighborhood. Before his current role, he led the early conceptualization and launch of Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s first citywide plan in more than fifty years. Prior to joining the BPDA, Jonathan spent five years working with the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), an organization focused establishing partnerships between the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the local business community. There he developed, brokered, and mediated relationships with companies and non-profits to provide employment and educational opportunities for BPS students. Jonathan, who resides in the Back Bay, holds a B.A. from St. Anselm College and an M.A in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University. He received his AICP certification from the American Planning Association in 2014.
As Director of Small Business, Natalia’s extensive knowledge of Boston’s neighborhoods and the small business community compliment her experience in creating growth strategies and building partnerships across community stakeholders. Natalia leads a 14-person team focused on tracking and producing research on local and national trends to inform decision making about small business development tools, coordinates with local residents and existing businesses to ensure that there is a strategic and policy-driven approach to growth without displacement, and works with residents and other City officials to remove any barriers to do business in the City of Boston. Natalia manages and oversees the distribution of the more than $3 million in small business resources under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the more than $3 million in investment in small business within and outside of the 20 Boston Main Streets Districts. She directs and implements Mayor Walsh’s 2016 Small Business Plan to provide coordinated service delivery and economic opportunity for Boston’s 40,000 small businesses. Previously, Natalia served as the Executive Director of Imagine Boston 2030 , working to implement the first citywide plan. She was responsible for ensuring the first planning process in more than 50 years was representative of Boston residents’ vision and concerns. In this role, Natalia was instrumental in keeping the process visible and accessible to all Bostonians. She brought community leaders together and identified opportunities for collaboration. Natalia received her Master in Public Administration from Suffolk University in 2012. Natalia is a proud homeowner in Dorchester and serves on the board for several local nonprofits, including the Dorchester YMCA, Future Chefs, and Hyde Square Task Force.
Jessica Eshleman is fueled by the power of connecting people, place, and opportunity. As Union Square Main Street’s executive director, she has served the dynamic neighborhood of businesses and people in Union Square in Somerville, MA since 2018. Jessica got her start in downtown revitalization in Nashua, NH in 2008. When she moved to NH’s capital to become Main Street Concord’s director, she debuted “The Upstairs Downtown Walking Tour” to encourage upper-story development. She also became a lead organizer for “Rethinking Main Street,” which led to Concord’s wildly successful Complete Street Project. Designed to spur economic development and enhance the public realm to preserve Concord’s character, this multimillion dollar which continues to gain national recognition. Jessica holds a BA in American Studies from Franklin Pierce University. In 2012, the Union Leader recognized her in its “40 Under Forty” class and the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce named her Young Professional of the Year. In 2016, she completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, and in 2017, achieved her quest to summit New England’s Hundred Highest peaks. She is proud to make her home in Union Square, a unique and spirited neighborhood whose minority- and independently-owned businesses perpetually charge her passion for economic empowerment.
Jesse Baerkahn is the President and Founder of Graffito SP (“GSP”), a unique Boston-based real estate firm that operates as a strategic partner to landlords, tenants and developers focused on complex ground floor activation projects. Jesse’s multidisciplinary work at GSP combines his transactional training as an attorney and broker with lessons learned through other entrepreneurial endeavors within the real estate, arts and entertainment fields. Jesse has been working hands-on with restaurateurs, retailers, artists, makers, and other creatives in various capacities for two decades and is an outspoken advocate for real estate development strategies that embrace localism and experimentation. Jesse is currently on the Board of Directors for the Kendall Square Association, Now + There, and was previously a Board Member for the Artisan’s Asylum. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison (BA) and Northeastern University School of Law (JD).
Francis Goyes Flor is an urban planner and architect. She is currently a Policy Innovation Associate at MassHousing, where she works with MassHousing's Executive Leadership team to generate and evaluate policies and programs that advance affordable housing in Massachusetts. Her work includes research and implementation of strategies to narrow the racial homeownership gap, support neighborhood stabilization, and assist communities plan for and build housing that is affordable. Prior to joining MassHousing, Francis worked as a Housing and Land Use Planner at MAPC and as a Housing Analyst at the World Bank. She has collaborated in a variety of projects for community development and urban planning in Mexico, Ecuador, Guyana, Colombia, Jordan, Indonesia, and the United States.