A unique urban-revitalization program in Massachusetts has captured the attention of metropolitan areas across the country. If successful, supporters say it could become a model for generating economic growth and better education in midsize, formerly industrial cities.
MassINC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank last month launched the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. Its goal is the revival of former manufacturing cities that have potential but are hindered by social and economic challenges. Locally, Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton will be impacted.
“It seems to be the only national model where a group of like-minded cities formed their own unit,” said Marjorie Malpiede, MassINC’s vice president of programming and public affairs.
She explained the institute is the continuation of a five-year endeavor to advance a political and economic agenda for gateway cities which have the same challenges – and opportunities.
“We were formed to help people attain the American dream and to help the middle class, therefore part of our work focuses on the gateway cities,” she said.
The project began in 2007, when MassINC and the Brookings Institution, an economics and policy research organization, undertook a study that identified a deep divide between job growth and prosperity in Greater Boston and the gateway cities. Once identified in a report, MassINC organized leaders from each city around their common problems. In the ensuing years, political traction grew as community representatives worked with the Massachusetts legislature to promote an economic policy to benefit these cities.
The group totals 24 former industrial cities in Massachusetts, classified as having a population between 35,000 and 250,000, and an average household income below the state average and an educational attainment rate below the state average.
The movement has since given birth to the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus in the state legislature, an assistant secretary for gateway cities and a $10 million education agenda.
“We convened all of the mayors and got them to think of themselves as one political and social unit rather than individually trying to accomplish things on Beacon Hill,” Malpiede said. “The gist of the report is that there wasn’t a level playing field in terms of things like public resources, restrictions, requirements and tax credits. … These post-industrial cities were once havens for the middle class and manufacturing centers but have since struggled, cities like Springfield, New Bedford and Pittsfield.”