Gateway Cities come of age
It was 10 years ago that MassINC launched its Gateway Cities initiative with a report documenting the challenges — and huge opportunities — in the state’s once vibrant industrial cities.
“Massachusetts’ proud, old manufacturing cities must be counted, on balance, as distressed,” it said. Yet, concluded the report, “For the first time in decades, these cities’ reconnection to prosperity seems at least imaginable.”
A decade later, MassINC, the non-partisan public policy think tank that publishes CommonWealth, has continued to carry out research showing some of the pathways to renewed prosperity in Gateway Cities. It has also pushed initiatives to help them get there, such as a MassDevelopment project that has placed mid-career “fellows” with expertise in urban planning and development in Gateway Cities to help with strategic planning, site acquisition for redevelopment projects, and other initiatives.
But none of that would be happening without the energy and initiative of residents in the 26 Massachusetts communities that have been dubbed Gateway Cities, says Maureen McInerney, public affairs associate at MassINC, in this week’s Codcast. “They say, yes, we are ready to take this and run with it,” she says of leaders in the communities. She says they are simply looking to MassINC as a “catalyst” to help them tap the energy and potential in their community.
One new approach to that catalyst role at MassINC is the publication this month of a magazine spotlighting interesting people, initiatives, and ideas taking hold in Gateway Cities. Gateways is a glossy 80-page magazine that tells the tale of today’s Gateway Cities through stories rather than the research reports that are the bread and butter of MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute.
Gateways includes the tale of Seth and Mitch Nash, two brothers who grew up in Pittsfield, left for what seemed like greener pastures, only to return and locate in their hometown a successful business, Blue Q, that manufacturers whimsical “joy-bringing products.” There is also the story of a remarkable public art project that is changing the face of downtown Lynn with massive murals that have turned big brick facades into giant canvases.
One key to Gateway Cities revitalization is strong political leadership, says MassINC’s research director, Ben Forman, who joined Maureen on the Codcast. So it’s no accident that Gateways leads off with an interviewwith Pittsfield’s current and immediately past mayor, Linda Tyer and James Ruberto. Ben says they “have shared a common vision for a more inclusive and prosperous city, and they’ve worked collaboratively to achieve it.”Gateways magazine tells the story of the many good things happening in the communities that were being left out of the state’s tech boom. But all is not rosy in these cities, where poverty is concentrated and economic mobility has been limited. Providing fertile ground for businesses like Blue Q and others to thrive is an important part of the current Gateway Cities story. But the goal is also to “build a middle class from within,” by helping current residents move up the economic ladder, says Ben. “All the data we see on that question are troubling,” he says, making clear the huge challenges still facing the communities.