Harnessing the ‘Third Way’ to improve communities

The Gateway Cities Journal

When I was in graduate school studying urban planning in the early-2000s, there was a lot of talk about how cities need “good” schools, but surprisingly little discussion or study about how you build community to nurture a good school, and vice versa. Luckily, I had the opportunity to work for a professor engaged in social network research. He encouraged me to read sociologists like Herbert Gans and Mark Granovetter, which is how I developed an appreciation for why both individuals and communities depend on social relationships to thrive. More so than any other institution in our cities today, schools are positioned to nurture these social ties.

Unfortunately, our school improvement strategies rarely take community development principles into account. In fact, the methods we employ to turnaround failing schools often slice the delicate social fabric of our most vulnerable neighborhoods by relying heavily on outside expertise, culture, talent, and governance; by severing the ties between schools and community through school assignment processes; and by failing to engage families and neighbors. Even the full-service schools that work hard to provide wraparound support through community-based organizations often fall short—delivering a patchwork of services that respond to distress in a community is not a substitute for fostering strong social organization.

Detaching community development from education policy has also led to an education reform movement that tacitly accepts high-poverty schools, encouraging educators to find ways to increase student learning in these settings, rather than directly confronting concentrated disadvantage. While cities like Boston with lots of flashy appeal are an exception, for most cities, it is extremely difficult to reverse decades of residential disinvestment when high poverty schools are the norm and nobody is advancing viable strategies to remedy this condition.

With these problems perpetually nagging my sensibilities as a planner, I was particularly excited when Chris Gabrieli and his team at Empower Schools approached MassINC to enlist our help stimulating a conversation around a Third Way. The Third Way builds on Chris’s experience working collaboratively with the Springfield Public Schools to develop an Empowerment Zone, an approach that recognizes disadvantaged communities need external resources and support, but that they also must be a full partner in the effort to bring about lasting change.

Read more on Commonwealth magazine…

 Housing & Economic Development

Lt. Governor Polito tours Lynn and other TDI sites across the state to check in on progress.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston selects Round 2 Working Cities Challenge winners: Haverhill, Pittsfield, Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester.

The Lowell City Council taps Winn Companies as the new master developer of the Hamilton Canal District.

Holyoke breaks ground at Lyman Terrace, a major public housing redevelopment.

Unemployment in Springfield falls to its lowest level in nine years. Fall River’s unemployment rate drops to 7 percent.

Harvard University plans a $1.6 million expansion at the Holyoke computing center. The developer of a 47-unit affordable housing complex across from the Holyoke Public Library receives a $625,000 loan from CEDAC.

Springfield’s MGM casino, which is rising in the heart of the city, goes against the grain with a downtown location.  

The Sun reports on Lowell businesses participating in Interise’s StreetWise MBA program.

Responding to the Gateway City data profiles prepared by Clark University, the Telegram editorial board calls for an informed conversation on Worcester’s future.


The Massachusetts Education Policy Fellowship Program releases the application for the 2016-2017 cohort. This is a great opportunity for educators to hone their leadership and policy advocacy skills.

The “third way” in education attempts to give a name to a set of reforms and a collaborative approach to addressing education challenges that are already being put into practice.

A fight over the Lowell Community Charter Public School raises issues about the boards that govern charter schools.

A Berkshire Eagle editorial urges the abandonment of student impact ratings to measure the performance of teachers and administrators. 

Revere High School Dr. Lourenco Garcia writes about the potential of blended learning in an urban high school.

For overtones from today’s lead, read this blog on place-based learning. Also check out policy research from the Center for Cities and Schools. 

Creative Placemaking

Opportunity Peabody‘s public piano project brings character to downtown Peabody.

Another notable sailing vessel pays a visit to New Bedford Harbor as recreational use of the harbor continues to gain momentum.

Make-It Springfield opens downtown pop-up makerspace.


A House energy committee unveils a bill that would require utilities to purchase 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind, along with 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power.

Municipalities throughout the state are exploring how net-metering agreements with solar energy producers could offset community energy costs: Leominster is building on its three-year effort, while Fitchburg is exploring its own opportunities to benefit from solar.


The MBTA debuts new commuter rail schedules and a Worcester to Boston express train. The “Heart to Hub” train skips 13 stops in an effort to get to Boston in under an hour.

Haverhill’s roads are about to undergo a radar scan to unveil weak spots that could turn into major problems.

Communities & People

Hundreds of students graduate from Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech and remember their late teacher George Heath, who was killed last month protecting a pregnant woman during the Taunton mall attack.

Public Agenda looks at the growth of participatory budgeting with a focus on traditionally underrepresented communities.

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