The Gateway Cities Project
As a state, Massachusetts has experienced one of the nation’s most successful transitions to the 21st Century’s knowledge economy. In fact, in recent years while other states have experienced severe setbacks in their economies, Massachusetts has undergone periods of steady growth. Despite this, average growth in the state’s economy relative to other states masks a reality that consists of widening gaps along several socio-economic indicators between the knowledge core that has developed in and around Greater Boston and many of the state’s older industrial cities located outside of Route 128. The existence of these disparities and the growing recognition that these communities require and deserve significant attention and investment have provided monumental impetus for the creation of the Gateway Cities Alliance and the work that the Urban Initiative and MassINC have been able to achieve thus far in this area.
Recognizing the urgency set forth in a recent report released by MassINC entitled Reconnecting Massachusetts Gateway Cities, the Urban Initiative set to work establishing a formal partnership with MassINC and speaking with the mayors and city managers of the Gateway Cities to secure their support for the establishment of a coalition and the launching of a collaborative effort to address the challenges they face and promote a set of policies that can jump-start their economies, trigger regional growth and prosperity, and improve the lives and futures of their residents.
The first significant milestone in this effort took place on May 19, 2008, when the mayors and city managers of the eleven Gateway Cities gathered at the Old State House in Boston in an event sponsored by MassINC and the Urban Initiative to sign a compact to unite their administrations in future efforts aimed at economic and community development. In addition, the compact set forth a willingness and desire to work together with state legislators and state officials in crafting an equitable urban agenda. The event was attended by state legislators from the Gateway Cities, members of the Governor’s administration, and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, who, as a former Gateway City mayor himself, expressed his understanding of the challenges that currently face these communities and the tremendous opportunities that exist within each one. Considering the Commonwealth’s long-standing tradition of localism and home rule, the event and the compact were hailed as an historic display of unity and an unequivocal call for change.
Following the success of the compact signing, the Urban Initiative and MassINC went about organizing coalition members and the economic development directors from each of the eleven communities to begin discussing several concrete policy initiatives that the coalition would pursue immediately. In particular, this core group of organizers and policy-makers focused on the expansion and geographic targeting of specific state-funded economic development incentives and repairing the state’s housing policies. In addition, with an understanding that this new urban agenda would ultimately require the support of the State Legislature and the Governor, MassINC and the Urban Initiative began working with several state senators and representatives in their efforts to form a legislative Gateway Cities Caucus, initiated discussion with legislative leaders around a set of policies and initiatives that could be introduced during the next legislative session, and began advising state officials and members of the Governor’s cabinet on the development and organization of this new urban agenda.
Having garnered the attention and support of the key players and outlining initial policy recommendations, the Urban Initiative organized the first-ever Massachusetts Gateway Cities Conference on October 3, 2008 at the UMass Dartmouth Advanced Technology & Manufacturing Center in Fall River through the generous support and sponsorship of Verizon Communications, MassINC, the SouthCoast Development Partnership, and the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council. The event brought together over 200 individuals from across Massachusetts and the eleven Gateway Cities including their mayors and city managers, members of their legislative delegations, and also Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray and other state officials. The conference provided the Coalition a rare opportunity to sit together and face-to-face with its partners at the state level to present their concerns and begin to forge a robust and active state-local partnership to carry through the necessary reforms that can revitalize their communities.
The following presentations on the Gateway Cities Initiative were given during several conferences and events: