An election is a terrible thing to waste
The Gateway Cities Journal
The image of Governor Baker standing shoulder to shoulder with Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera as the pair deftly responded to the Columbia Gas crisis appeared on screens across the country last week. This relationship was forged back in January 2015, at yet another trying moment. It was the Governor’s first month in office, and Lawrence was just one among many communities brought to a standstill by Snowmageddon. Governor Baker went above and beyond to help Lawrence get out from under the snow. The two leaders have shared a tight bond ever since.
Mayor Rivera’s experience working in partnership with the Baker administration isn’t unique. A half dozen Gateway City mayors are already publicly endorsing the Governor for a second term. The steady support for Gateway Cities from the Patrick administration to the Baker administration has been pivotal to keeping both the public and the private sector focused on the promise of our regional economic centers. But Gateway Cities can’t take this interest for granted.
The attention Gateway Cities have received over the years is the product of mayors banding together and calling on governors to advance a Gateway Cities agenda with a unified voice. A great example of that success is the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), a unique commitment to Gateway Cities fashioned by the Patrick administration and implemented with fidelity by Governor Baker’s team.
Democratic candidate, Jay Gonzalez, served as Governor Patrick’s budget chief when Gateway Cities were codified into state law, and the Patrick administration willingly took the flack for singling out a small group of communities (albeit urban centers containing one-quarter of the state’s population) for special attention.
Gonzalez has proposed broad-based investments in K-12 and transportation infrastructure, but like his opponent, up to this point, Gonzalez has mentioned little on how he plans to specifically support the unique needs of Gateway Cities.
Now is the time to press both candidates and get them to articulate what their policy priorities will be for Gateway Cities over the next four years. Whether it’s an editorial board considering an endorsement or small talk between a mayor and a candidate during a city visit, here’s a crib sheet for four straightforward priorities we should all be pushing the campaigns to address:
- Mixed-use urban development. For Gateway Cities, the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) is the pathway to mixed-use downtowns and all the good things that accompany this traditionally urban form. We have seen how HDIP can cost-effectively spur residential development in downtowns. These housing units are slowly drawing professionals into Gateway Cities and setting the stage for future commercial growth. The Baker administration deserves a lot of credit for fixing HDIP and making the program successful. The shoestring budget ($10 million annually) is now the only impediment to a program with the potential to leverage all the hard work of TDI and unleash truly transformative investment in our Gateway City downtowns.
- Neighborhood stabilization. Many Gateway City neighborhoods are still struggling with the legacy of the foreclosure crisis, and much like the homes caught in foreclosure limbo, they’ve been virtually abandoned. Federal funds to combat the problem are no more; the state’s recent Housing Bond Bill included very little to help cities and their partners sustain a response; and Massachusetts’s especially cumbersome regulatory environment makes it even more difficult for Gateway Cities with limited capacity to succeed. Much like the family homelessness crisis, which drew attention during the last campaign cycle, this is an issue crying out for leadership.
- Transportation. What to do about regional rail is perhaps the biggest issue that will play out over the next four years. The MBTA is rethinking its distance-based fare structures, which are cost-prohibitive for many. They are also examining strategies to increase frequency and speed to and from Gateway City stations. In the western part of the state, the New Haven to Springfield service is gearing up and the South Coast may finally see trains. Even more so than four years ago, transit appears to be a defining issue for the continued growth of our state and regional economies.
- Education. Lack of funding for K-12 education is by far the most disappointing setback Gateway Cities have faced in recent years. Districts like Brockton, which were making steady progress, now feel stymied by lack of resources and the mounting stress educators face as class sizes grow and support staff are lost. The Legislature finally seems poised to address this problem, but we’ll want visionary leadership to ensure that additional resources go to where they are needed most and these new state dollars are deployed in a way that maximizes their impact for students.
While there are just 48 days to go, public attention is only just now turning to this contest and the debates have yet to take place. We still have time to press these candidates on their visions, and get their commitments to Gateway Cities on the record.
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Housing and Economic Development
The Attleboro Redevelopment Authority makes the case for a loan deferment plan that will enable them to build additional housing in the city’s newly created transit-oriented development zone.
Support builds for NOAA to move its Northeast Fisheries Science Center to New Bedford.
Quincy changes it downtown area rapidly and for the better.
Brockton breaks ground on phase II of the transit-oriented Enterprise Block with help from a $10 million MassWorks grant.
Two craft breweries are due to open on the waterfront in Fall River.
The Globe highlights an innovative new bakery in Lynn.
Citylab begins a nine-piece series on the rural-urban divide in America with an article explaining the “gray zone” between the two, including the smaller urban areas that resemble our Gateway Cities.
A new study finds that successful entrepreneurs are mostly middle-aged.
JP Morgan announces AdvancingCities, a $500 million competition to invest in solutions that bolster the long-term vitality of communities that have not benefited from economic growth.
MassINC and the Worcester Regional Research Bureau host a forum on the future of transit-oriented development in the city.
City planner Jeff Speck offers his thoughts on the walkability of Lynn.
The Southeastern Regional Transit Authority touts impressive reforms and ridership statistics.
CommonWealth takes a close look at the MBTA’s plans for Chelsea.
Quincy entertains restrictions on overnight parking for non-residents in an effort to decrease congestion in neighborhoods near MBTA stops.
Everett examines the prospect of adding a new dedicated bus lane in an effort to improve connections to Sullivan Square in Boston. CommonWealth reports on the minimal resistance that a similar plan faced in 2016.
Thomas Anderson, the newly appointed superintendent of schools in New Bedford, underlines the need for creative solutions to engage parents in the learning process.
With help from MassDevelopment, EduCare opens shop in Springfield, providing more access to early childhood education.
Early college programs in Holyoke and Westfield will help students get a head start on a college degree.
A Quincy elementary school experiments with flexible seating options to help meet the needs of children with distinct learning styles.Communities & People
In a column that epitomizes the spirit of our Communities & People section of our journal, Boston Globe columnists beautifully portrays the resilient people of Lawrence. For all of our readers who would like to lend a hand, donations can be made to the Essex County Community Foundation’s Lawrence Emergency Fund, the North Shore-Merrimack Valley Relief Fund, and the TD Charitable Foundation and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley’s Greater Lawrence Relief Fund.