Ideas without data are just hallucinations

The Gateway Cities Journal

For a decade now, we’ve been playing up the untapped potential of Gateway Cities. Their tight street grids and existing transportation infrastructure have been one of our frequent talking points. With added emphasis, we always note that this fabric is not just an opportunity for Gateway Cities, but for the entire state. At a time when many people want to live and work in walkable places and travel about on trains, our constellation of dense urban centers connected by passenger rail should be a unique selling point for Massachusetts.

While there has been some downtown building of late in Gateway City station areas, this trickle of development doesn’t place us on a trajectory toward the transformative development we envision. What gives?

That’s why it’s particularly vital to ask and answer these questions now. Redevelopment is additive. Projects that are built today will have repercussions for what follows and how much energy and economic vitality we’ll ultimately generate from the transit infrastructure serving our Gateway Cities.

At the annual Massachusetts Smart Growth Conference last week in Worcester, we announced our intention to search for answers, following the facts wherever they take us. Perhaps it’s just a matter of the service, or lack thereof (i.e., high fares, infrequent and lengthy trips over relatively short distances). But experience in large cities like Boston suggests it’s likely more complicated than that; to get the right mix of activity and appropriate scale in station areas, you have to plan for development and diligently execute on your strategy.

That’s why it’s particularly vital to ask and answer these questions now. Redevelopment is additive. Projects that are built today will have repercussions for what follows and how much energy and economic vitality we’ll ultimately generate from the transit infrastructure serving our Gateway Cities.

With support from the Barr Foundation, MassINC has assembled a team of experts in real estate development and transportation to look at how we formulate state policy to foster the right mix. This group will crunch the numbers working with local transportation and economic development officials in four case study cities-Fitchburg, Lynn, Springfield, and Worcester. Situated in different parts of the state, these communities will serve as models, and data drawn from these cities will allow us to rigorously test policy options.

Damien Chaviano, a real estate developer leading the conversation at the Smart Growth Conference last week, succinctly stated what’s really driving us to take on this work. “Ideas without data are just hallucinations,” he said. Hear, hear. To help policymakers make transformative investments that increase mobility and spur transit-oriented development, we’re setting aside all of our preconceptions and following the facts wherever they take us.

– Ben Forman

Senate budget lacks funds for TDI: Other Gateway City priorities get a boost

Last week, the Senate released its fiscal year 2018 Ways and Means Budget recommendation. The Senate proved to be a leader on line items supported by the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, including Regional Transit Authorities, dual enrollment, Community College workforce grants, and adult basic education. However, there was one notable absences. The Senate budget proposal did not include any funding for the Transformative Development Initiative.

Here is a summary of the line items and proposed amendments Gateway Cities Caucus members are supporting.


The Brockton Area Transit Authority will add 8 new buses this year, and plans to add 12 more next year. To attract riders, the new vehicles will feature an aerodynamic design, a new paint scheme, and Wi-Fi service.

The MBTA drops plans to add stops to its nonstop Boston-to-Worcester service.

Officials from the New Bedford Airport Commission will meet with the City Council to present a proposed partnership between the airport and Florida-based Elite Airlines to operate twice-weekly flights from the Whaling City to Melbourne, a city about 90 miles outside of Orlando.

Congressman Seth Moulton disagrees with state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack on whether South Station expansion and a North-South Rail Link can both be done. He calls the South Station project a massive waste of $2 billion.

Check out Steven Miller’s must read blog on developing a vision for regional rail.

 Economic Development

A section of the city-owned Whaling City Golf Course on Hathaway Road in New Bedford will be used for construction of a new business park.

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia  ratchets up his feud with the Fall River Office of Economic Development, officially ordering the privately funded organization to vacate its City Hall offices.

The Lynn Economic Advancement and Development (LEAD) team announces new investments in housing, arts, open space and transportation at their spring meeting.

To Celebrate Massachusetts Small Business Month, the Baker Administration awards $330,000 to eight Transformative Development Initiative districts to support downtown improvements for business growth and job creation.

Springfield completes negotiations with MGM to bring 54 new market-rate housing units downtown.

Worcester leaders check out the digs at a new downtown hotel.

A MassDevelopment CEO candidate who was about to take the reins of the agency abruptly withdraws.

Todd Litman blogs on the costs and benefits of gentrification. Governing looks at five economic development best practices.


Brockton schools face huge layoffs because of budget constraints.

Lawrence High School sharply reduces the size of its library to make room for an advanced program for high-achieving students.

The search for a new Lowell High School principal has been narrowed to three names. Meanwhile, a bid for a new Lowell High School at the site of Cawley Stadium makes some progress on Beacon Hill.

Worcester school officials choose to completely rebuild South High, instead of renovating the current building. School leaders hope the new building will afford space for vocational and technical education.

A vote on the future of Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School by unionized teachers in Haverhill is postponed until next month.

MassBudget releases a paper on alternative school discipline policies.


Brockton city councilors delay a vote on the $78 million purchase of the Aquaria desalination plant until an independent analysis by area businessmen is conducted.

A Fall River city councilor calls for altering the city’s form of government by changing the charter from a strong mayor to a strong council and adding a city manager.

Haverhill weighs a $300,000 plan to have National Grid take ownership of the rest of the community’s streetlights.

Globe editorial urges Lowell to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed last week and revamp its city elections to include district seats, not the all at-large system now in use.

Creative Placemaking

Take a look, Beyond Walls hosts neon sign lightning ceremony in Lynn.

Next City looks at how we bring more artists into city planning.

Communities & People

The Mill Cities Leadership Institute sends off its 2017 graduates and begins recruitment for the Class of 2018.

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