From Heavy Industry to Great Neighborhood: Lawrence, Massachusetts leverages its community resources


As one of the last planned mill cities in the Northeast, Lawrence, Mass., was engineered specifically to maximize the water energy potential flowing on the Merrimack River. Between the 1840s and the 1960s, the city’s textile industry generated a constant flow of financial capital, luring other businesses and workers and contributing to a healthy, vibrant community.

But in the aftermath of World War II and a steady decline in domestic manufacturing, the city lost its economic engine and suffered the flight of its middle-class white population to the suburbs. What was a manufacturing powerhouse 40 miles north of Boston is now New England’s most heavily populated Latino City, home to multiple generations of mostly Caribbean immigrants who came as low-wage labor but have stayed to make the city their own.

Since the decline of manufacturing, the city has struggled to stay afloat amid volatile economic and development trends. The recession and resulting public budget crisis have encumbered it even further.

There is hope on the horizon, however: Lawrence possesses a dynamic civil community of nonprofit groups, residents, local property owners and small businesspeople who are charting a new course. Collectively, these groups are spearheading a movement to pump life back into the economy by leveraging Lawrence’s historic resources in a new way.

The textile boom left the city’s rivers and canals lined with 12 million square feet of mill buildings. “Some of these buildings are the same size as skyscrapers lying down,” said Andre Leroux, who has lived and worked in the city and is now the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA). “At the time that they were in operation, they were the biggest buildings in the world.”

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Partnership in the News: Somerville Residents Planning for Future

Three years of work have paid off, with the release of Somerville, Massachusett’s first 20-year comprehensive plan, reports the Somerville Journal.

“This is an extraordinary achievement made possible by the hard work of hundreds of community-minded contributors both inside and outside government,” said Mayor Joe Curtatone at the event. “Because it is based on so much public input and review, it truly represents a consensus view of our values and priorities as a community.”

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Momentum Continues in the States

Though all eyes have been on federal transportation policy the last few weeks, states have continued to push forward with their Complete Streets efforts. Bills have been introduced in West Virginia and Rhode Island, and several states with Complete Streets policies in place move ahead with implementation.

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Partnership in the News: Millis Undertakes Study to Spur Development

The Town of Millis, Massachusetts is soon to benefit from a portion of the $4 million Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Planning grant awarded to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, reports the Milford Daily News.

To help spur development of the town center, Millis will participate in a feasibility study with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to encourage new housing and business opportunities.

Millis is hoping to create a “more vibrant” downtown area, and applied for the study in August, said Town Administrator Charles Aspinwall.

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Smart growth news – June 23, 2011

The City and Bikes: Rubber Meets Road
Wall Street Journal, June 22, 2011
Spring was a little shrill and embarrassing. There were crazed media furies about bike lanes, non-stop reports of police crackdowns, hyperbolic worries that the city was transforming into an effete Euro village. If we didn’t defend our streets, the cyclists would overtake Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg and Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan would open a leg-shaving station in Union Square…But then a funny thing occurred. It got warmer, more people started riding, and the mania was eclipsed by reality.

Five Smart Growth Projects Receive $1.5 Million in Aid
Boston Globe, June 23, 2011
Five development projects seen as promoting dense urban development oriented around mass transit have been chosen by the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance to receive $1.5 million in aid.

Carroll officials take stand on growth, transit, immigration
Baltimore Sun, June 22, 2011
Public prayer is just one of the issues that is defining this five-member, all-Republican board, all but one a newcomer to governance. They were swept into office on the tea party wave last year after a campaign that emphasized property rights and an opposition to many environmental initiatives, affordable housing and public transportation in a county where more than half the workforce commutes to jobs outside its borders. “We don’t want subways or metro buses,” said Richard Rothschild, one of the new commissioners. “They are conduits for crime. That’s not politically correct, but it is factually substantiated.”

Is a housing construction boom coming?
The Atlantic, June 22, 2011
You might think the question posed in the headline above sounds crazy. Aren’t foreclosures very high and thousands of distressed properties hitting the market each day? Didn’t residential construction go bonkers during the housing bubble in an epic overbuilding binge? The answers to these questions are: sort of, but it’s complicated. After the bubble popped, home construction fell to historic lows and stayed there. As a result, we may be on the verge a housing shortage in the U.S., which would actually be very good news for the economic recovery.

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Spotlight on Sustainability: Boston and Littleton, Massachusetts

The following is a guest post from Mark Racicot, Land Use Division Manager for Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC)

Last year, a coalition led by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Boston was awarded a $4 million grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program (part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities). The MetroFuture Regional Plan, a groundbreaking initiative, is designed to strengthen the economy, create jobs, increase transportation options, and improve quality of life for area residents.

Residents of the Town of Littleton, Mass., have already seen the major impact this funding can have on a community. A few weeks ago, Littleton residents voted to amend the uses allowed on active farms in residential districts and protect the future of their farming economy. As one component of the larger MetroFuture plan, Littleton used Sustainable Communities funding to protect agricultural land and will use additional funds to look at wastewater treatment programs and development in the village.

Keith Bergman, Littleton Town Administrator, said, “Littleton is committed to economic development consistent with community character. We’re host to IBM’s largest software development lab in North America, but we’re also a rural community with a rich agricultural tradition, active farms, and even a town-owned orchard. We want to help our farmers keep their land in agricultural uses by expanding ancillary uses, so we’re big on green, as well as Big Blue.”

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Smart growth news – June 9, 2011

Report: Deferred road repair poses financial liability
American City and County, June 6, 2011
Some states’ habit of spending on new road construction rather than on regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and costs to repair those roads are rising faster than states can address them, according to a new report from Washington-based Smart Growth America (SGA) and Taxpayers for Common Sense. The report, “Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads,” examines road conditions and spending priorities nationwide and recommends changes at both the state and federal levels that the organization says can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

U.S. Road Expansion Costing Taxpayers
The City Fix blog, June 8, 2011
A smaller initial investment in renewed priorities of road maintenance actively reduces the scale of future costs, found a new report by Smart Growth America. “Rehabilitating a road that has deteriorated is substantially more expensive than keeping that road in good condition,” the report says.

Scrimping on highway repairs leaves states in a bind
GovPro.com, June 8, 2011
Some states’ habit of spending on new road construction rather than on regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and costs to repair those roads are rising faster than states can address them, according to a new report from Washington-based Smart Growth America (SGA) and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Metro Detroit’s bus system fight may risk millions
Detroit Free Press, June 8, 2011
Metro Detroit has its most realistic chance in a generation of creating a rail and bus transit system that could transform how the region commutes and launch economic redevelopment from downtown to the suburbs. But if Detroit and tri-county leaders can’t agree on combining city and suburban bus systems — an ambition that has eluded the region for decades — they risk forfeiting millions in federal money.

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Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.

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"Advancing Equity in Sustainable Community Planning and Implementation" webinar materials now available online

Thank you to everyone who attended Smart Growth America’s Sustainable Communities Network webinar “Advancing Equity in Sustainable Community Planning and Implementation.” This webinar was hosted by Smart Growth America, PolicyLink, Reconnecting America, and the National Housing Conference.

Listen in: Click here to view the archived webinar

Speaking on the webinar were Bob Allen, Director of Transportation and Housing Programs at Urban Habitat; Jessie Grogan, Policy Analyst at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Boston, MA; and Jonathan London, Director of the Center for Regional Change and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of California, Davis. This webinar was moderated by Kalima Rose, Director of the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity and leader of PolicyLink’s Sustainable Communities work. Download materials from the webinar at the links below:

Want to know about webinars like this one before they happen? Join the Sustainable Communities Network, an online community of state and local government officials, business leaders and non-profit professionals interested in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The Network provides opportunities to ask questions, learn best practices and share ideas with others from around the country. The Network also shares updates about federal initiatives, upcoming events, webinars and conferences to support vibrant, sustainable communities. Click here to subscribe.

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WalkBoston: Good Walking is Good Business

The following is a guest post from Smart Growth America’s ally WalkBoston.

WalkBoston, Massachusetts’ main pedestrian advocacy organization, is working to reach beyond active transportation and smart growth partners to recruit allies in the retail, employer and real estate worlds to promote walkable communities. WalkBoston’s latest publication, Good Walking is Good Business (PDF), presents a wide array of research that shows how walking benefits many elements of the economy.

According to the Urban Land Institute, vibrant, walkable retail areas attract people to stay longer, spend more money, and visit more often. According to Marlon Boarnet, director the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Irvine and author of Retrofitting Suburbia, the most walkable, densely-built shopping districts in Los Angeles have four times the retail activity of “strip mall” shopping centers in less dense areas. For businesses, supporting improved walking conditions is a sound but sometimes overlooked investment. Here are some of the ways walkable neighborhoods support businesses.

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