The Gateway Cities Journal

Creative placemaking succeeds when...

Creative placemaking succeeds when, as the National Endowment for the Arts puts it: “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.”

Here in Massachusetts, examples abound of successful placemaking efforts in 07e78b93-468c-4520-824b-990e93027652Gateway Cities. Perhaps the most oft-cited example is the revival of downtown Pittsfield. Its rebirth as a center of arts, culture and nightlife has been well documented by the New York Times, the Boston Globe (more here from the Globe), WBUR and other publications, and for many good reasons.

Between 2005 – shortly after the city began investing heavily in its creative economy – and 2010, attendance at arts and cultural events shot up 169 percent from 225,000 to 606,239; annual direct expenditures on local arts events (organizational and audience) grew by almost 49 percent, from $17 million to $25.3 million; full-time equivalent jobs in the arts sector increased from 531 to 762, a growth of 44 percent; local government revenue from the arts programming increased nearly 47 percent, from $738,000 to $1 million; state government arts revenue also increased by 47 percent, from $781,000 to $1.1 million; and collective yearly household income in Pittsfield increased by 54 percent, from $9.3 million to $14.3 million.

None of this happened by accident. It took municipal leadership, and investment by the city of Pittsfield, the state, and private entities to create what exists today.

Over the past year, in particular, it has become clear that even more opportunities exist for arts and culture to play key roles in the economic, educational, and quality of life issues facing our state. As a direct outgrowth of MASSCreative’s Create the Vote campaign, the city of Boston has hired a Commissioner of the Arts, and embarked on a cultural planning process that will eventually see the arts incorporated into all higher-level planning for the city of Boston. The Boston Globe, New England’s largest newspaper, regularly editorializes on the impact of the arts community on the broader health of the Commonwealth and the need for increased public investment in the community. State lawmakers and municipal officials have shown their willingness to increase public investment in the arts and cultural community not just once, but three years running.

That said, there is no cookie cutter roadmap for creative placemaking. Each city is unique, and successful endeavors build upon a city or region’s unique history. Lowell, for instance, taps into its past in the Industrial Revolution, while New Bedford and Gloucester leverage their connection to the sea, and Lynn and Haverhill draw on their past as centers of the shoe industry.

These efforts are moving forward with support from non-profits and community development oriented organizations that are running dynamic programs to encourage placemaking. Boston LISC, MSGA, Mass Creative and MACDC are working on expanding a Placemaking Fund that would develop statewide funding stream for Creative Placemaking work. This fund would serve as a pilot and organizing tool to capitalize on local community’s assets. Here some models statewide:

  • The Smart Growth Alliance Great Neighborhoods Placemaking fund provides small-scale flexible funding to support projects to integrate arts and into neighborhood development.
  • According to a  newly released report released by the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Creative Community Development in Massachusetts, 22 CDCs are actively engaged in fostering the creative economy, while 17 are involved in creative placemaking and 14 use arts and culture in their community organizing work. The report highlights projects in Salem and New Bedford.
  • LISC Resilient Community Resilient Families Program has worked in Boston to promote placemaking and is now looking to expand statewide.
  • The Massachusetts Cultural Council has designated 29 cultural districts that promote cultural activity. This year, $5,000 grants will be available for the districts.
  • The Federal Reserve’s Working Cities Challenge invested in Holyoke, Lawrence, Fitchburg and Chelsea to take on placemaking initiatives. It is ready to expand its program to more cities this year.
  • MassDevelopment’s Transformation Development initiative includes placemaking as one of its major tools and has placed fellows in Springfield, Lynn, and Haverhill to move that process ahead.

The change may be slow, but the benefits of creative placemaking are well worth it.

Matt Wilson, MassCreative 


Creative Placemaking

The Standard Times reports on Massachusetts Council Cultural grants to AHA! in New Bedford as well as to the new AHA! initiative in Fall River. 

Brockton celebrates its newly renovated City Hall Plaza, complete with grassy areas and a concert amphitheater.

Gov. Charlie Baker announces a $4.2 million grant for a park in downtown Quincy in front of the historic Church of Presidents, where the remains of John Adams and John Quincy Adams are entombed. 

Housing & Economic Development

Franklin Realty Advisors purchases a 640,000-square-foot office and retail complex in downtown Worcester that includes the tower that is home to the Telegram & Gazette.

Chicopee ponders building a new industrial park.

Three developers want to knock down the old district courthouse on Washington Street in Salem and replace it with a mix of housing and retail.

Visiting Lowell for a committee hearing, Gateway City legislators get an up close look at what recent economic development investments have produced.

Berkshire Health Systems opens its new Urgent Care facility in Pittsfield.

TDI-Haverhill hosts a downtown visioning session with Utile.

Wondering what a state economic development strategy for diversified, highly productive regional economies looks like? Check out the latest Brookings metro report on Minnesota.


A must read for Gateway City educators: the independent evaluation of the ELL summer enrichment academies finds that “Overall, the state’s investment in the ELL summer academies led to innovation in ELL curriculum; new collaborations among teachers and community-based organizations; stronger relationships between ELL students and teachers that continued into the school year; and most importantly, gains in English proficiency, instead of the learning losses that many students experience in the summer.”

At a State House hearing, lawmakers discuss expanding access to early education. Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett and Rep. Alan Silvia of Fall River were two of many voices advocating for improvements.

Massachusetts receives $15 million in federal funds to expand full-day pre-kindergarten offerings in Holyoke, Springfield, Boston, Lowell, and Lawrence.

South coast leaders gather to talk economic development strategy, including doing more to support students attending community colleges.

Students and administrators in Fitchburg and Leominster discuss stress in schools.

A new Urban Institute report examines the link between school choice and gentrification.

In advance of our social-emotional learning event next month, check out this excellent radio documentary featuring Expeditionary Learning in Springfield.

The Massachusetts Institute for College and Career Readiness invites Gateway City leaders to join a webinar on career literacy with Bill Symonds and Scott Solberg-September 24th from 1 to 2 pm.

Pointing to MassINC researchFitchburg superintendent Andre Ravenelle and BC professor Mary Grant pen an opinion column highlighting proven models for providing students with social-emotional supports and the need to do more to help Gateway City schools implement these practices.

 Getting to Know Gateway City LeadersGovernance

At an economic development committee hearing in Lowell, lawmakers once again consider legislation that would increase the number of Gateway Cities. Back in 2012, we offered our take on changing the Gateway Cities definition in an opinion column for CommonWealth. 

Pittsfield moves toward a new municipal government affirmative action ordinance.


The Springfield City Council considers tax breaks for the Chinese firm building new rail cars for the MBTA.

The New Bedford City Council plans to file legislation on Beacon Hill seeking more local control over traffic regulations.


Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll wants to borrow $2.25 million to cap an ash landfill.

Haverhill is planning to purchase 33 acres of land near its reservoir as a buffer zone to protect the water.

Communities & People

Twenty-nine women from the Greater Lowell area are honored for their achievements at the Sun‘s Salute to Women of Our Region. To learn more about each of the honorees, click here.

Longtime Lynn resident Rick Ingram combines exercise with trash collection, taking a walk every morning that results in two full trash bags and the appreciation of fellow residents.

Meet The Author

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