WANTED: Sharper tools for Gateway City transit-oriented development

The Gateway Cities Journal

There’s a parable that tells of two woodcutters at a tree-sawing competition. When the starting gun goes off, the first woodcutter dives right in. The second sits on a stump. The first, who can’t see what the second is doing, laughs. About halfway through, the second woodcutter gets started. The first doesn’t realize that the second is making his way through his tree much faster. So much faster, in fact, that he wins the competition.

Those familiar with the parable know that the second woodcutter was sharpening his saw. The tale of the two woodcutters is important for the true story that follows.

Last week, our Transformative Transit-Oriented Development leadership team met to discuss the delay with the rail transformation strategy and plan. Readers may recall that last fall the MBTA’s governing board asked staff to present a plan detailing how the organization will implement the board’s Rail Vision strategy by this January. Instead of a guide for bringing Rail Vision to life, the team presented a vague, half-completed hiring plan – that’s it. Needless to say, Gateway Cities are deeply concerned that the lack of progress signifies internal resistance to making bold commuter rail transformation a priority.

To be fair, staffing woes and decades of disinvestment have the leadership team spending most of its time responding to last year’s scathing safety report. The team is hacking away at trees. It’s up to our electeds to make sure that the rail team has the bandwidth and the authorization to move beyond day-to-day operations toward saw sharpening for true rail transformation.

A comprehensive, long-term funding package (like this one) that includes dedicated resources to deliver frequent, reliable, clean, affordable rail service is the surest way to spur action. Gateway Cities are already doing their part to leverage future investment with zoning changes, comprehensive plans, prospectuses to attract private development, microtransit solutions, and other plans and programs to help alleviate our state’s housing and transportation crises. Lethargic action at the state level when it comes to modernizing transit infrastructure beyond the core MBTA system will only drive a fatter wedge between metro Boston and the rest of the state.

If we hope to spur growth and attract residents, jobs, and talent to our Gateway Cities, we need a transportation funding package that includes multiple tools to transform passenger rail. Regardless of whether the legislature is able to identify sufficient funding to build and operate the board’s Rail Vision strategy this session, they must enable Regional Ballot Initiatives (RBI). RBIs will allow cities and towns to put options to raise revenue for regional transportation projects directly to voters in their regions. Rather than awaiting their fate as legislators jockey and compromise on funding for one project at a time, RBIs will free each region to sharpen its own saw. Otherwise, we’ll just keep hacking away at our transportation woes with blunt instruments.

Housing & Economic Development

Brockton opens Makin’ It Brockton, a makerspace that provides a low-cost way for residents to gain skills and start businesses.

A 113-unit residential complex in downtown Brockton becomes the new home of the Milton Art Museum with a grant from MassDevelopment.

A new 10-unit housing project and a proposal for 4,000 square feet of retail space on a vacant lot are among the new projects under review in Fall River.

The Southeastern Massachusetts Visitors Bureau announces a Mini Grant program to amp up tourism in New Bedford and surrounding cities.

Pittsfield hosts a grand opening ceremony for the new Berkshire Innovation Center, which includes training facilities, biotech labs, offices, and event spaces.

The Worcester Public Market celebrates its opening in the city’s Canal District.


The new Interim Airport Manager in Fitchburg oversees major construction projects, which include updating and extending runways and installing a self-serve fueling station.

Advisory committees meet to discuss extending rail service to Springfield and Pittsfield. Worcester area leaders say East-West Rail will boost economic growth.

LISC announces additional funding for affordable housing near transit as part of Equitable Transit-oriented Development fund.

Join multiple state organizations in a call to action at the State House next week to support urgent transportation legislation.


Bristol Community College names a new dean for its Attleboro campus.

The Flatley Foundation funds personalized learning and math education initiatives at a Fall River school.

Students from Fitchburg and Leominster win prizes for their “Future City” models.

The New Bedford public library hosts a Wash & Read program, stocking laundromats with children’s books and hosting story hours.


Lowell works with the University of Massachusetts to establish a Green Community Partnership to accelerate citywide sustainability efforts.

New Bedford receives a state grant to evaluate strategies to mitigate rising sea levels.

Mayflower Wind strongly considers New Bedford Marine Terminal for a second offshore wind contract.

Officials in Pittsfield host a public meeting with the EPA to discuss cleanup of the Housatonic River.

City councilors approve a municipal aggregation plan in Quincy, allowing the city to purchase electricity in bulk on behalf of residents to lower the city’s carbon footprint.

Creative Placemaking

Fall River opens Viva Fall River on Valentine’s Day, a retail incubator pop-up space intended to encourage new enterprises and explore new ideas.

Six Fitchburg residents receive the national 2020 Community Revitalization Fellowship from the Center for Community Progress in Washington, DC.

Lowell receives a donation from an anonymous donor to light the Oullette Bridge at night.

A New Bedford brewery partners with local artists to design their new can labels.

Communities & People

Ashton Mota, a 15-year-old Lowell resident, serves as a national Human Rights Campaign youth ambassador and local advocate for transgender rights.

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