Posted on Thursday, February 15 2007 by Heather Brandon
Last week, a three-person panel representing Springfield sat before an audience on the 14th floor of Boston‘s Omni Parker House Hotel at an event hosted by the Pioneer Institute. Their task was to reflect on what lessons we might draw from Springfield’s experience in making reform efforts during the ongoing Finance Control Board era. The panelists were David Panagore, Chief Development Officer; Peter Gagliardi, executive director of HAP, Inc.; and Police Commissioner Edward Flynn.
Moderator James Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, opened by asking the panelists to reflect on the new working paper he had just presented, “Rehabbing Urban Redevelopment” (PDF). Following is a transcript of the panel discussion, followed by a short question-and-answer period.
James Stergios: I’d like to hear your reaction to the problems that were put forward in this paper, and that is: central problems facing middle cities are questions of leadership and loss of function. How true does that ring to you, and what pushback would you give to that?
Peter Gagliardi: Your analysis around loss of function is kind of a different concept to me, but really brought a number of strings of thought together. As I look at some the troubled neighborhoods where we’re working on housing issues, the function, of course, was the jobs created by the [industrial] giants of the 18th, 19th centuries, who created a city with an economic engine, and the housing around those places of neglect where people could live. The jobs have moved. They’re not in the same place. There’s been a shift, and we’re sitting with this infrastructure and an array of housing opportunities that need the reinvention that’s called for in order to become vital once again. I think that clearly rings a bell with me.
Police Commissioner Edward Flynn: I would say certainly it’s a function of leadership. I mean, in many ways, I can thank the Justice Department and the FBI for much of my police career. I started out in Jersey City, and while I was in the police academy, the mayor, and the president of the city council, and the US congressman were all going to jail as part of the then-infamous Hudson [County] Eight scandal.
Fast forward several years later, and four mayors in a row in Chelsea get indicted, and go away, and the vice squad gets arrested, the city’s bankrupt, and I get to be the chief, and that’s where I meet Dave [Panagore]. And now I get an opportunity to work in a place like Springfield, which, if you ever drive around in it, it’s heartbreaking, when you see the confidence that was once in that community. But I’m there because the city’s functionally bankrupt, and because prior administrations were under a cloud of investigations that even now is resulting in various guilty pleas.
So, yes, a failure of leadership can destroy a city. All cities, particularly middle cities, face extraordinary challenges because of their loss of function. The economy is shifted. The highway system has changed; migration and commuting patterns—people move to the suburbs, they chase the big yard; the middle class has many temptations to be elsewhere.
The cities still fulfill their core function of attracting poor people and people looking for work, but the kind of work they once could provide isn’t there now. And so they become regional catch basins, of which everyone can say, well that’s Springfield’s problem, and the suburbs remain pristine. So certainly, the loss of function is an historic issue, but the failure of leadership is a precipitant cause of failure after failure after failure.
Chief Development Officer David Panagore: I think that the physical infrastructure of these cities—they were built for another purpose. They’re essentially single-purpose communities: Lawrence, Springfield, etc.; when you look at the physical layout of the city, when you look at the road, and the infrastructure, it was a massive investment in the 19th century. It was completely designed for another purpose. It wasn’t designed for the modern era.
And so therefore the sum costs that we have in these communities right now, they were built for another purpose, and so the sense of loss of purpose is reflected now in the massive amounts of infrastructure, and essentially urban renewal type activities, that have to occur. I see it in Springfield, a prime example: the road system in the city was designed to support the Springfield Armory. That’s what it was there for. That’s why certain things are where they are; without the Armory there today, these roads serve no purposes; the developments serve no purposes. So I think right now, one of the things you wind up facing is massive infrastructure repair costs to fix these cities so that they work in a modern era.
Secondly, on the leadership issue, and I think Springfield is an example; Chelsea’s another good one. Springfield’s a $500 million corporation. It’s geographically-based, with a variety of functions. Where else would you go where you would popularly elect its CEO on a two-year basis without any necessary requirements of a skill set in running a $500 million corporation?
The city is blessed right now with an excellent mayor, but as Ed Flynn has said, the ability to have corruption and problems in local government is often an indication of the problem, but in general, managing these large-scale modern corporations called cities is incredibly complex, and you don’t just have one series of stockholders who are looking for a bottom-line profit. You have all of these interest groups.
The shortest distance between any two points for a municipality is never a straight line. You have to weave through a lot of constituencies, and it’s an incredibly complex operation. It’s difficult at the best of times; it’s impossible at the worst of times, and only through a receivership or a control board, at certain times, are you able to cut through that, and get something done. Necessary, but difficult.
JS: You guys are all working on this issue related to the development of a new function for Springfield, if you will, in getting the city back on its feet. What are ways that you’re trying to address that function question? To start, what’s the role of public order in the development of the new function?
EF: One of the challenges in government is to find the space to think strategically, to think forward, to think big-picture. It’s not that we’re not capable of thinking big-picture, but the pressures of the moment frequently outweigh the more diffuse questions of the long term. The ability to stand back and relate what we’re doing, to other cities, is an important exercise, and one that’s seldom used at the local level. I’m constantly finding that I’m trying to [give] context for our crime rates compared to other cities. Folks don’t want to hear that, because they want to compare their crime rate to a gentler time, and all they know is that their city has changed, and, you know, why can’t I make it like it used to be?
I think the challenge for the police department is—the way I summarize it, actually when I started out in Chelsea, and I mentioned it again when I came to Springfield. I want to see crime come down, fear come down, and the for-sale signs come down. By that I’m trying to convey that there is a nexus between crime, fear and disorder that results in people fleeing their city, even though most people are never the victim of a crime.
People become fearful of their environment because they perceive a loss of control over civic and public space. They feel that no one is in control, no one is in charge, and no one can stop the common incivilities that everyone faces: that could be graffiti, that could be an abandoned building that no one attends to, it could be aggressive panhandlers, it could be that drunk sleeping in the doorway of that business that you’re going to open up, it could be your broken-into car; it could be a wide variety of frightening behaviors: youth standing on a corner, people looking menacing, street prostitutes, what have you. None of those things necessarily directly physically affect you, but they affect your morale. They affect your fear level. They affect your willingness to stay and continue to do business and live there.
The ability of a police to prevent those incivilities, to structure a public environment in which people feel comfortable, is as important as our moral obligation to do something about the deadly violence problem.
The challenge, however, for police departments, particularly in middle cities, is that we can’t overwhelm our problems like a Los Angeles or a Chicago or a Washington can. Or even a Boston, despite their complaining about the size of their police department. They have big police departments compared the numbers of people that live in their city. They have extraordinary resources. Middle cities don’t have those resources, and so the stress and tension in a police agency is wholesale policing versus retail policing.
We get hundreds of thousands of individual 911 calls about which people want us to do something immediately. They can’t understand why we don’t get there in two minutes for everything that bothers them. Wholesale policing requires that the police sort of have a sense of benign control over public spaces. That means presence, that means a foot officer, that means a bicycle officer, that means we seize but hold territory, so that normal commerce and pedestrian activity can occur. There’s always the tension between trying to find the space and time to provide that essential service to community morale, and the constant pull of individual demands for police service.
It’s something that challenges us constantly; we’re doing a number of things to try to do both, but it’s a very strong tension in police departments of these middle sized cities, in which there are extraordinary demands for individual service, but very real public order issues that the police must engage with, if those neighborhoods are going to be perceived as places in which to live, do business, and raise a family.
JS: Peter, can you speak a little bit about that—about housing programs and where to invest, and where to really concentrate your own resources. The larger question of function—how does that tie into a public safety strategy?
PG: I’d start off by saying as we look at Springfield, it’s a city with some inner-city neighborhoods that were once great places to be a homeowner, and that was a great strength to a community, through years of decline and frankly a lot of neglect. We now work in one particular neighborhood that I would cite. There’s 4,700 people; there’s 134 or more vacant lots or boarded-up buildings. That’s about ten percent of all the residential parcels in the neighborhood. If you think about the impact of that, it’s devastating.
We’re in a world now where we’re talking about smart growth, about encouraging people to live back in the cities. There are economic reasons for people to make those choices, one being the cost of commuting, for the big SUV driving in from 30 miles out of town; it doesn’t take long, because we don’t have rush hour, we have sort of rush minute, but you know, transportation systems are good, so it’s easy to get in, but it’s still expensive.
And on top of the cost of the house farther out, where there’s not a lot of infrastructure, there’s some real opportunities, socially, for us to encourage people to live back in the city. And, in fact, there are jobs in the city. There are as many people who live outside and commute in for jobs as there are job-holders who live in the city. So there’s a huge network—there are tens of thousands of people who drive in, who could live in the city if they so chose. That’s a big piece of information.
People say, well, where will they work? Right now, today, there are 800 jobs open in the city of Springfield, over 600 in health care alone, and a good number in higher education and financial services. There are jobs. Some of the people taking those jobs could live in these neighborhoods.
The objective there is, how do you make these places where people want to live? We’ve got to get rid of the blight, we’ve got to encourage homeownership, we have to have people, the eyes on the street, living in places, doing business in the city where they live, and certainly our first audience is the people who work there. So, that’s kind of the area that we’re tackling.
I think one of the challenges here: when you start the process, the market price of housing is less than the cost of creating it. If you want to bring economic diversity into a neighborhood or a downtown—and I think this is a hard lesson for an advocate for affordable housing, and who knows full well the need for housing for the very poorest of our population—we can’t solve problems of downtown and our older neighborhoods with just housing for the poorest of the poor.
In Hartford, which characterizes itself as one of the world’s largest office parks, in order to get people to live there, the state of Connecticut has invested significant dollars in market-rate housing, which has now created a market that may sustain itself. I think there’s a lesson in that. Investment is sometimes in the revitalization itself; not just the creation of affordable housing. I think that’s an important takeaway from work I did on the [December 2006] white paper (PDF).
DP: My essential thinking is simple, but I would also contrast between Springfield and Chelsea. My essential thinking is the number one economic development program in Springfield is the Springfield Police Department. Everything else is an afterthought. If we don’t have public safety in the city, if we don’t have public order, if there is not a perception of it as a safe place to live, you’re not going to get the outside investment; you’re not going to get people staying there; you’re not going to get the development you need. Everything that we’re doing, in a sense, is just spinning our wheels unless that happens first. So I do think that public order is king, as you say in the presentation.
Second, though, I would distinguish between Chelsea and Springfield on one key matter, and that’s proximity to Boston—or proximity to a hot market. There are a couple of different ways to solve a problem. In Chelsea, I think there was a similar issue, but because of the proximity to Logan, the proximity to Boston, there was an ability to bring projects into the city that were basically transformative on their own, that had to happen because they were being pushed out of Boston. As you all recall, the Logan 2000 program was pushing things off Logan—the rental cars, parking garages, employee parking—those sorts of public projects could come to Chelsea—data centers. Boston-based type activities could move into the city, and therefore they could become catalysts for changing the city and its base.
In places like Springfield, Lawrence, Brockton, Pittsfield, you don’t have those immediate proximities. If you look now at Brockton and Worcester and the impact of commuter rail on those towns, and the development that’s happening there, you see that in a sense, they are being metaphysically tied to Boston. And they’re having an impact.
For places like Springfield, where you don’t have this natural market to draw from, at least in our generation—it may be in 20 years, the development pressures build—but right now you don’t have those natural draws.
In looking for public and private funds, you really do have to first rely upon public order and public safety, and making that happen so that you can create an economic market, so that everything else can follow from it.
EF: Hopefully I’ll see these priorities reflected in my budget. I’m writing down these quotes furiously.
But a couple of things—one of the things that was clear, obviously, during the hiring process, was this sense of Springfield’s reputation, and how it damaged itself. And just building on Dave’s remarks, about we are our own metropolitan area, and that brings with us both advantages and disadvantages. We can’t ride the coattails of the Boston metropolitan area, like Chelsea did, or even like Jersey City could.
For all of its problems right now, downtown Jersey City is skyscrapers. Why? Because in the mid-’80s, they realized that they could be the back office for Wall Street. And the cost per square foot of an office, and the cost of electricity was so much lower in downtown Jersey City, a stone’s throw from midtown Manhattan, that the office market took off, and suddenly there was an incredible economic engine.
The areas of downtown where I used to patrol, which were literally shooting galleries and flophouses, are now $2 million brownstones. So it can happen if you can find your economic niche. The strength of the problem areas, if we can identify one, and build on it, we can pull a lot of people along with us.
Here’s the downside of being the center of your metropolitan area. Every single bloody robbery and shooting in Brockton or Lawrence isn’t on the TV. The perception of Springfield as the “wild west” is driven by the culture of: if somebody gets shot, it’s going to lead all three TV channels’ news. Now our crime stats will be a one-day story.
But every single one of these events—I’ll give you a perfect example. Last summer we had a particularly bad weekend. We had, like, I don’t know, six or eight robberies in one weekend, scattered around town. Not one of them was within a half-mile of the business entertainment district. But sure enough, the reporter was doing the stand up downtown. And the survey to the public: please dial (413) 222-1212, because we want to know, how safe do you feel in downtown Springfield after all these robberies occurred?
Why don’t we just blow our own brains out?
I mean, if you ever go to Springfield, I’m telling you, we have some challenged neighborhoods, with significant violence, about which something must be done, absolutely, and we’re bending our will to it. Do we have neighborhoods that look like Braintree? Yeah! We’ve got our own suburbs within our own borders. Those people read the paper and turn on the TV. And even though they feel safe in their own neighborhood, it’s like, oh my God, the city’s going to hell in a handbasket.
What we end up with—and I run into this all the time, and I suspect all of my colleagues in some of the other cities find it as well—this culture of victimization, defeatism, and bitterness. Nothing can be done, everything’s terrible, it’s never going to be any better than this.
I understand it, on one level, because people remember their city differently. But on the other hand, it’s a corrosive cancer, and it’s so difficult to provide countervailing messages consistently, that are the truth, that aren’t Pollyanna, but nonetheless that say, these things are improving.
We’re the same size and demographics as these ten American cities and we’re doing better than all of them. Or we’re doing better than two-thirds of them. There’s no venue to communicate that to the public. So, okay, we had a shooting last night: Springfield’s never been worse. That’s the downside of being our metropolitan area. [It leaves us to] search for a new identity as an economic engine.
JS: On the issue of leadership, you work closely with the mayor. What are the caveats you would put on [the idea of benchmarks]; what are the strengths of that proposal, what are the weaknesses; your comments?
DP: I would first start with an important point that’s made in the paper, that you make, which is having one point of contact with the state. I think that one of the things you wind up doing as municipality is the state outsources responsibility for its relationships to the municipality. So the municipality has to manage 17 individual relationships with the state, with each individual department, with each individual program. The responsibility lies solely on the municipality to figure out how to get through the state maze. There is no sherpa for the municipality, and there is no coordinated program.
So I think first of all, having a single point of contact with the state, where the state is managing its relationships with the municipality, is an incredibly important aspect in order to achieve the sort of leadership, benchmarking, and other activities. Without that, it just becomes much more difficult.
I would also say that with the benchmarking activities, I do think it’s incredibly important that we continue to work on developing performance measures—output-driven, input-driven, whichever way we approach it—I do think that this is a very good start. I think that we have to take time; it’s sometimes more an art than it is a science, in terms of knowing what we’re measuring.
Frequently, staying on the economic development side, I see that there are factors that, you know—someone’s job growth, residential property value. These are things that are going to take years to make an impact. The decisions you make today may not show up for five years. So you need to both have short-term and long-term benchmarks.
One of my old bosses used to say, people who like to perform like to be measured. When you talk about municipalities that want to engage with the state, those are the municipalities that are going to want to be measured.
Folks who don’t want their performance measured are probably the folks who aren’t going to want to participate, and you’re not going to have them in the first round. And so I think tying it as well to benefits, to incentives, is incredibly key to enticing them, because that becomes a carrot, so that the local leadership is able to say, hey, if we do this program, we can get this funding, and we can make this local program happen. I think that’s very important.
I’ve witnessed a lot of different mayors operating in a lot of ways, and I would say the difficult time for all of them is trying to manage across all of the departments. In Springfield, there were 28 direct reports to the mayor. We reduced that down to eleven. Again, using a CEO analogy, what $500 million corporation has 28 departments horizontally reporting to one CEO? I think that’s a difficult issue as well. So I think professional management married with elected leadership, on the basis of benchmarking, that’s how we should head.
PG: In another life, I had the opportunity to work within a state agency and the job that I had was to offer an incentive to communities to create a particular entity. We were asking them in that case to create what we called a local housing partnership to encourage more affordable housing in the community. In return, we promised that those of us working with the communities—and we had field staff, so each community had somebody that was their advocate inside—to coordinate the delivery of resources so that you could focus all the pieces that you needed to bring a project to fruition. So that you didn’t put the infrastructure money in one community, and the housing money in another, and neither project would go forward.
What a concept—even within our one agency, people didn’t talk to each other. Not that they didn’t want to; they were just busy, and there was nobody orchestrating that, and our job was to orchestrate it. What we found is that it actually worked.
Well over half of the cities and towns in the Commonwealth formed a local housing partnership in order to establish that relationship, to access the advocate inside that would help them navigate among the different pieces, so you could put all of the pieces of the puzzle together to make a project happen. That’s just inside one agency, but you could sense the frustration that the staff and the municipalities were having. Inside, we would see, you know, one piece of the agency making a grant, while another piece of the agency is cutting off a grant for the same city for nonconformance. Something didn’t connect.
In order to rationalize delivery of state resources on a public policy, this idea of having somebody inside be the advocate, to cut across agencies, could be the one-stop shopping point. We used to talk about if you do the thing we ask you to do, you get the [gold cup]. Well, that’s exactly the thing you’re looking for, that’s the incentive.
In most communities, even the political leadership, really responded, because they want to know, what are the rules of the games? How do we get the resources to do the things we need to do?
You will still have the issue of some places, where you have entrenched, corrupt leadership, where no amount of incentives will solve the problems; you’ve gotta deal with the other issue first. But if you work from the theory that most people are well-motivated, want to do their job, and want to improve their municipality, then providing a way to rationally do it makes a whole lot of sense, and I think that’s one of the most powerful pieces of what you propose.
If somebody in the governor’s office takes responsibility for honchoing this job and for representing these 14 cities to state government, you will see a change in most of the 14 cities.
JS: Just a final question and then we’ll open up to questions from the audience. You all have an experience at the local level, state level, some at the national level. What do you see as the principle obstacles to try and influence something like this, which is essentially many of the lessons learned from Springfield, but to try and do it in a preventive way? What do you see as obstacles, and the potential ways of getting past that?
EF: One is an obstacle that we’ll probably never be able to overcome, and I hate to say that. We are the prisoners of really an archaic, colonial, governmental structure that says these few square miles have an invisible wall around them ten miles high, and everything inside these 12, 15, 30 square miles must float on its own public.
One of the things that was fascinating to me when I went to metropolitan DC and became the police chief in Arlington. Arlington is a county form of government, but everything within its boundaries is one governmental unit. And we were bordered by Fairfax County, and across the river was Montgomery and Prince George Counties, and these were extraordinarily large, professional government entities with anything from 200,000 to a million people.
You know, Arlington has within its boundaries a version of Chelsea, but it also has within its boundaries a version of Chelsea, but it also has within its boundaries Wellesley, and Brookline, and Lexington. And we had a very robust economy, tied certainly to DC, but my point is we had a tax rate that spread across a genuine variety of social classes and economic circumstances. Arlington could support itself. If that same community was up here, we’d have been ten different towns. And one part of our town would have been always broke, and not have enough leadership, and in desperate need of state aid, and the rest of it would be like, our schools are fine. I mean, I look at Springfield, and I say, and I mean it sincerely, there are areas of Springfield where you’d think you were in the suburbs. But nonetheless, we’ve got some very distressed areas. We border on one of the richest towns in Massachusetts. Driving across it, I am now in Longmeadow, leafy, lovely Longmeadow: another world. It supports itself, doesn’t need state aid, schools are wonderful, everybody walks to the store in the middle of the night and fears nothing. I mean, this is a challenge that’s virtually impossible to overcome, as long as we have to totally depend on our ability to support ourselves, which of course, we can’t, given the fact that one of the core missions of central cities is to provide opportunities to poor people. Okay? But I’d also build on Peter’s observation, which is that no city can be viable without a middle class. I accepted three responsibilities when I came to Springfield, from a police point of view. One, we need to do something about violent crime; we have a moral obligation to do it, and it’s destroying our at-risk neighborhoods. Two, we have to stabilize downtown business district and provide a sense of order down there so people will visit, do business, and make Springfield a destination city it’s always been. But the third obligation we’ve gotta do something about the quality of life issues in our middle class neighborhoods, because they’ve got options, and if they leave, we’re dead. How do we provide policing that takes their issues seriously, while still retaining for us the flexibility that really deals assertively with violent crime? We’re working hard to do that, but I won’t bore you with how we’re accomplishing it. The point is, those are all three equally important missions for the future of that city. But the great challenge that will always be until we can discover ways of regional governance that makes sense when it comes to resource-sharing and resource-development, we are always going to have very needy middle cities that have to have lots of state aid. Benchmarks is a wonderful way to try to separate those who are sincerely trying to improve themselves, versus those that are picking at the bones of what’s left of their city. And I would certainly encourage their development. I would also accept the notion that every city’s going to have a base level of aid. I think good benchmarks is an incentive for extra aid. But we do have inherent challenges, I think, that are built into the way we’ve been governed since the 1600s.
PG: Certainly, part of the issue is always a resource issue. The problems that we look at in Springfield are finite. In any of these cities, they’re finite. There needs to be some commitment to address those in a targeted way. You probably can’t put everything into every city all at the same time, but systematically, you could make a difference doing it several at a time. Also, the tools that we have to use need to be flexible enough to address the issues of our particular communities. We’re working with housing tools to revitalize housing in troubled neighborhoods that are designed with a hot Boston market in mind. We need to create incentives for people to live in neighborhoods. We’re not in the enviable situation of having 100 people line up for a lottery for every unit that becomes available. People do have options. Sometimes a run down house that has no deed restriction is more attractive to them than the new house we built, where we said well, it’s a great deal, but for 50 years, you really can’t sell it for what it’s worth. You’re going to have to give it back to us at the end, and let us sell it to somebody else. Great idea, if the objective is to preserve affordable housing. Not a great idea if it’s to create an incentive to bring people into a neighborhood where up to now, people have chosen to walk away. So I think that’s part of it. A lot of times, people talk about jobs, they talk about education. I think schools in Springfield get a bad rap. We’re working with a very troubled population, and the statistics bear that out, but there are some good buildings, and there are some good people working in those buildings. I think, too, that people say, where are the jobs? There are jobs. Springfield isn’t necessarily a jobs problem; it’s a disconnect between people who don’t have job skills and jobs that need people that are quite skilled. We need to find a way to bridge that gap. The economic engines are there. Springfield has got several of the things that everybody says you have to have. We’ve got higher education—and the institutions of higher education surround that target neighborhood I told you about—they’re walking distance to the service-level jobs in those schools. We have health care in spades—a big, big, employment base and only to grow. Financial services: I love to point out when I’m here in Boston, Springfield has the only Fortune company headquartered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and it is one mile away from our target neighborhood, MassMutual. And somebody also said that it’s the fourth-largest financial services company in the nation. That’s not a bad asset. Not a bad asset at all.
DP: I agree entirely with Peter, and with Ed, that governance issues, fiscal issues, programmatic issues are key. I would focus on two different ones, which are, in a sense, paradigm issues. Which is first local pride. I think the sense of pride in these municipalities has to change, and they have to work it from the inside, and this calls for working together with the entire community. So in terms of obstacles, it’s getting the community to believe in itself, and Ed mentioned that from the point of view of cynicism. It’s getting the community to believe it can happen. I would look at Chelsea, one of the things that happened right after receivership ended, was it went for an All American City award, and they got it. And I followed it closely, I wasn’t there at the time, but I was told that it was transformative, because suddenly people started pulling together and believing that something could be made, and that this was a good city to be from. So I think that has to happen at the local level in order to achieve these changes. And second, I would say, as a person who lived in Boston, and worked here for over ten years, that the perspecitve of Boston and the rest of the state does need to change. It’s the classic line, that there’s life beyond the 128 beltway, that there’s life beyond 495. The vitality and the opportunity that I see living out in Springfield is amazing. When I overlay this region with the Bay Area region, which I just came from, and I think about Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco, in that area, there are four to six million people, and no one cares in that area whether you come from Fremont, which is between Oakland and San Jose, or you come from Los Altos, or you come from San Francisco: you live in the Bay Area and it’s a good job, and it’s a good life wherever it is. I would say that Massachusetts, in order to thrive and survive in the next generation, would frankly need to expand the pie so that it recognizes the Springfields, the Lawrences, the Brocktons are not only great places to live, but great places to raise a family, great places to have a job. And as we move into this era, this technological era, the recognition that these jobs can go anywhere, and that we exploit more of our state, so it is no longer just a competition between Boston and Chapel Hill. It’s if it’s not going to be in Boston, it can be in Springfield, it can be in Worcester, it can be in Pittsfield. And to recognize, to utilize, the entire state, and all of our opportunities, all across the state. As an ex-resident of Boston, I just want to mention, I love living in Springfield. I got a one-minute commute. I’m an hour from Tanglewood, two hours from the mountains, I’m two hours from New York City. I right now have an apartment in Springfield that would cost me three times the amount my Boston apartment cost me when I lived here. And I have a good job. That story is not told well enough. It is not known well enough. And the opportunities lie in these cities, and we have to take advantage of them, and I think that has to happen from the capital city in order for us to implement this sort of program.
JS: Let’s move on to questions. Please state your name.
Ramon Juarez: My name is Ramon Juarez, I am a professor of public policy in the PhD program at UMass-Boston. For me, it’s kind of a surprise to hear you talking about further centralization of the executive function, because the broad changes that have taken place in the public policy arena demand that we—to the country—open up and decentralize executive functions, incorporating the broad range of groups that come into the picture, as a result of policy evolution. The non-profit sector, for instance, community organizations for immigrant groups. So it seems to me tremendously contradictory that in the current political environment that Senator Hart spoke about, you’d be talking about further centralization. Especially a bureaucracy to which these cities are completely dysfunctional. I mean, you’d be centralizing further dysfunctionality. That’s one comment. The second one, if you’re talking about connecting the cities to the knowledge base industrial [..] Commonwealth, it seems to me that it’s evident that it’s necessary to develop the connection of the cities to the higher learning institutions, at a sub-regional level. Not just to the centralized system of the University of Massachusetts. So I just wanted to pose those two contradictions, especially, I mean, some of the cities have already seen two or three cycles of economic expansion and never have been able to catch on that. Lawrence, for instance. So, it seems to me that you need to expand your model, and my challenge to you is, how are you going to propose new things that have not been on the table for at least 25 years?
JS: Will you comment on executive function, and the tie to universities?
DP: Yes, I don’t think in our comments we may have made ourselves clear. I will use an example in Springfield. We recently went through an Urban Land Institute approach, and it was a week-long panel to come up with an economic development plan for the city. We clearly recognized, particularly in these type of municipalities, that there are any number of interest groups. And to create another group, an elite, let’s say, who came up with a plan, and came down from the mountain with the tablets, and declared what the program was, was not going to be effective. What we needed to do, and what we did do, with the business community, and the neighborhood leaders, and the CDCs, was interview about 150 people, and do a bottom-up process. When we talk about centralization, what we’re talking about is strong, effective, executive leadership and coordination. The approach of a town, which is to have everyone individually elected, and no one growing in the same direction, and everyone deciding which way they want to go, is not effective when guiding or leading a $500 million corporation. What does need to happen, though, is that leadership needs to be open and inclusive. If it is a star chamber type organization, I do not think in any of these municipalities it will work, but it does need some effective leadership to coordinate all of the policies, if for no other purpose, to get people talking. As Peter said, inside one agency, people weren’t even communicating. How often in the work week, and we all know in this room the myriad of the state agencies that are out there, how complex it is just to gather folks in one room and hear what they’re doing, so that we all know what the coordination is. So I view it, myself, as an issue of coordination and leadership, and leadership means openness, and inclusiveness of other people’s point of view. It does not mean exclusivity.
EF: I’d like to make another point as well. One of the places I was a police chief was a town form of government, and I came to that position from rough, tough Jersey City, with all of the rough, tough, bare-knuckle politics and real crime. It was the hardest political environment I have ever worked with in my life. The place was rolling in dough, but the politics was all about people who hated each other. And everybody was elected—the town moderator was elected, the head of this committee was elected, the head of this thing was elected. Now, if you’ve got a very prosperous town somewhere bringing in lots of money, and you are commuting to your job elsewhere, and you participate in the schools, and the activities of your kids, as far as you know, everything’s fine. Those towns are frequently miserably run, but the’ve got a margin for error, because they’ve got wonderful financial receipts coming in. You take some of our central cities that don’t have a margin for error, what they’re providing is essential. Their communities are desperate, needing high quality services. And so the balance between participating in the political process, which is essential, and accountability measures—being able to fix accountability for functions—being able to insist on a base level of competence to steer this boat in a way that can provide the services that people need, becomes much more important. And I think in those contexts, as Dave says, getting the guts of the bureaucracy right, and identifying accountable people, is absolutely essential for long-term success.
JS: Next question?
Deanna Greene: My name is Deanna Greene. As some of you know, I’m in the process of doing a research study on concentrated poverty in a few neighborhoods in Springfield. And it’s part of a national effort to look at concentrated poverty, and each of the Federal Reserve banks in the country are involved in this. And it’ll be published in the summer, the 12 case studies around the country. And so I’ve been spending some time in Springfield, interviewing some of you on the panel, and others, and learning a lot about what’s happening there. And one of the things that I think strikes me, that you all have touched on, is the morale issue. There’s a lot of things that people have said and indicated about just the overall sense of community and morale in Springfield. And so I’m wondering, from each of your perspectives, how much community organizations play a role, as a tool, in helping get at that issue? Because, I think, you know, you have the city in one place, and residents in another, and somehow you have to facilitate that relationship, and communication. So I’m wondering if you have considered this. And also, how strong the community-based system in Springfield is—if that’s an important factor in a middle-tier city to have, a lot of organizations that represent [community and] individual interests—if that’s an important component to revitalization.
PG: Springfield has some very active neighborhood organizations. You can tell where they’re working because you can see the results. We have one of our principal cheerleaders here in the audience today, from the neighborhood that just won’t take no for an answer, and won’t settle for second-best, and makes themselves heard, and does make a difference. Not every neighborhood is blessed with that kind of organization, and that’s a difficulty. Those are on the level of voluntary organizations. When you have a city the size of Springfield, if everything that identifies itself as a neighborhood needed to have its own incorporated 501(c)3 neighborhood based development organization, we would have 16 or 20 organizations all wanting to have an executive director, a finance officer, a program manager, and they would labor mightily, and not deliver a lot, because the resources would be divided up. In fact I think that historically, as I look at it, it has been a difficulty in Springfield. It’s a question of not everybody pulling together, but everybody being split apart into very tiny pieces that are below the threshold of feasible operation. It is hard news to break to a neighborhood that, well, gee, no, we can’t come up with a couple hundred thousand dollars a year for you to have your own entity that’s focused on the 4700 people who live here. So the voluntary organizations start to become very important. A role that we play—we’re a regional agency, and we work with 43 cities and towns—but we put a lot of work in Springfield, because it’s our home base, and it’s the biggest city in the region. When we’re invited in, we can partner with that volunteer group in the neighborhood, as we have in the city’s Old Hill neighborhood, to do something, and we make it a practice not to go stepping into a neighborhood without that invitation. And I think that that’s been important. But a lot of things are acheived by the non-profit sector. The work we’re doing in housing is not something the for-profit people would be doing right now; in fact, some of them probably think we’re crazy. But that’s our job. It’s to produce housing for sale to first-time homebuyers, until the market can do it, and we’re not needed.
EF: We have a lot of community connections with what we call community beat teams, which are groups of people organized around small neighborhoods, as well as the civic associations. I think one of the things that we all confront is the Bowling Alone phenomenon. You know, people want to come home from work, and go home, and turn on the cable TV and veg out. So getting people out of their houses and into a community environment is sometimes a bit of a challenge. But I’ve gone to meetings with 100 to 150 people in that room, about their neighborhood issues, and I recognize two things. Number one, there’s real vitality there, although quite honestly, as a public official, I sometimes experience that vitality as hostility and anger. That, nonetheless, is a very important ingredient with which to work. I recognize, also, that we’re in the hope-selling business. As a matter of fact, certainly I’d say that the new governor certainly demonstrated during his campaign the notion of people having hope, and investing hope in the future, as a powerful motivating force. I think that’s very much true in Springfield, but as we try to provide hope, we also have to provide results. And that’s a challenge. I think when community groups expose an issue in their neighborhood, whatever city government unit first learns of this via a public meeting, that problem has to go to the top of the list of whoever is affected by it in government. We don’t always do a good job of that. We’ve all got our own individual lists of projects we’re working on, but if I go to a community meeting and they’re saying this abandoned house in this neighborhood has become a shooting gallery, its killing our neighborhood, something’s gotta be done about it, well, the police department doesn’t do code enforcement; we don’t tear down buildings, but I’ve gotta know that if I go and pass this information on to the housing department, that they’ll dive right in there, because that neighborhood’s beside itself, and they’re going to put aside their other lists, and go to this one, if that neighborhood, at this time, needs to see results. I think we, in Springfield, and governments generally, need to do a better job of coordinating the resources around those projects that will have the greatest impact on the morale and sustainability of a neighborhood. We really need to give those people hope, and they’ll only have hope if they see us respond directly to their concerns. I think if we can develop a track record for doing that, we can turn some of that cynicism into engagement.
DP: What he said.
JS: We’ll take one more brief question, and one brief answer.
Estella Johnson: Oh, I was going to ask two questions.
JS: You get one.
EJ: Okay, I’ll ask the one that I think is most important. Underlying a lot of what we’re talking about is the issue of segregation by race and by ethnicity. Massachusetts is a severely segregated state. In the metropolitan planning area council, of the 101 communities, 85 percent of those communities are 95 percent white. Only 14 communities have virtually all of the minority group populations. There are consistent studies that show discrimination by race and ethnicity. I’d like to hear how your recommendations would address that particular issue, which often underlies much of what we’re talking about.
JS: In terms of the recommendations, I think that one of the things that is underlying the premise of all this is that we have very low expectations—for education, and public order, across the board. In terms of business creation, if you take a look at business creation in Springfield, small business creation amongst the minority population, there’s a lot of energy there. Somehow the state doesn’t want to see that. It sees many of these areas as places of community development rather than economic development. I think the challenge to us is to change our thinking on this. I think that economic development and social mobility can happen. We need to help; we need to be there to make sure it’s easier, make sure the regulatory issues are easier. Folks who speak English as a second language can get through the process more easily. In education, we have to make sure that the schools are actually trying their best, and if they are not succeeding, let’s try alternative methods. So I think it’s very much a matter of expectations and changing our thinking to some extent from one of purely community development—which is an important skill, I’m not saying we should abandon that—but as has been mentioned many times, there are 800 jobs in Springfield. Of 800 jobs in Springfield, having a [push to] move into the downtown would help to sustain the larger pot of money at the local level, which is property taxes, that would allow for services to be delivered at a higher quality, and therefore would also serve these populations better, to help them gain social mobility.
DP: I would mention that to start with by even focusing on the middle cities with the populations they have is a start. All the programmatic work that we’re doing, in terms of working on the blighted neighborhoods, working on the school system, working on public safety—these are all programs that are focused in the neighborhoods of most need, and in Springfield, the needs, between the African-American and Hispanic populations, those are two most heavily-hit, and where the earning capacity, jobs, and living conditions are poorest. And so when one of the items that we focused on in working with HUD, and working with the state, it was mentioned that the anchor neighborhoods—the idea there, and it’s work that actually the Federal Reserve has done in Richmond—it’s focusing resources, instead of giving each neighborhood in Springfield $1,000—there’s 17 neighborhoods—you give one neighborhood or one block area $17,000, and so you can see results. And so programmatically, it really does underlie all this, but I would also say just speaking from my own experience, we don’t have enough dialogue about this. I was actually in San Jose, and there was a Boston group that came up, it was actually Huey Jones said this, he said the difference between San Jose and Boston is that we don’t talk about race in Boston, and we do in California. So it takes our folks to go out to California to have a conversation about race. And so I think having more discussions about it is very important; we don’t do enough of that. But I would think in terms of the stuff we put forward, in terms of Springfield and Chelsea, have been programs that have been focused in those neighborhoods on the populations in greatest need.