By Sean Corcoran | Wednesday, March 30, 2011
CHATHAM, Mass. — Chatham owes just about everything it has to the fact it's located on the ocean. From its architecture — which, in many cases was based on buildings sea captains would find in other areas of the world — to its culture and tourism, the sea has helped keep the community fiscally strong, including during this recent financial trouble.
WGBH News: Where We Live
Tourism has grown to be the primary industry since people first began vacationing in Chatham in the late 1800s. But what's somewhat remarkable is here's a community that's just one year shy of its 300th birthday, and for all of that time it's remained a fishing village.
Today, the population goes from just more than 6,000 over the winter to about 24,000 in the summer, with tourists and second-home owners. But fishing has never gone away, and there are fishing families in town that go back six generations or more.
How has fishing survived in Chatham while fading away in so many other communities? People in Chatham point to things such as its location near some of the world’s most productive fishing grounds. It's a small-boat port with lots of types of fish coming and going from the pier. And fishermen say Chatham puts a premium on preserving the industry, so it maintains the working waterfront and it puts the fishermen in the forefront.
Historian Mark Wilkins, executive director of the Atwood House, a town landmark where the historical society is located, talked about the relationship between tourism, Chatham's location, and its reputation as a home to fishermen.
"It's a national hot spot," Wilkins said, "especially among summer people. It's a beautiful place. Beautiful bodies of water, dynamic landscape, and its sort of retained that very small town fishing village character. A lot of towns have not, but preservation is very active and enforced here of architecture, residential zones and this sort of thing. They've tried very hard to preserve the character of this town."
One of the reasons Chatham has remained largely financially stable has to do with the benefits it derives from fees: Beach fees, shellfishing fees and mooring fees, for example. With the help of these fees, for more than a decade the community has managed to avoid increasing the town's budget by more than 2.5 percent each year.
Its bond rating recently was raised to the highest available, making it less costly to borrow money. And its reserve fund remains healthy.
There have been financial issues to work through, as well as some layoffs since the financial crises began, but even those were mostly through attrition — not filling job vacancies. And through the turmoil of the past three years, the town has managed to keep the tax rate extremely low — one of the five lowest tax rates in the
Despite the low tax rate and the high-end properties, residents here say it's important to remember that when the winter comes and the population drops, this is a real community, with retired folks, fishing families and people who make their living in the service industry. Taxes may be low, but the cost of living is high. So certainly in the winter the idea that Chatham is only home to the rich is just not the case.
But because of the town's strong financial standing, as other communities have moved to raise taxes, cut services and put off building projects during the financial crises. That mostly has not happened in Chatham.
Gerry Panuczak, the town's personnel director, says that, for the most part, Chatham has stuck to its capital plans, replacing or refurbishing almost all of its facilities in the past 10 years.
"So they redid town hall," Panuczak said. "They reconstructed the community center. We've got a new police station that will come online in June. We have a new annex facility, which is all the people who don't work in town hall, they work at the annes, and that is going to come online in June. We're planning for a new fire house."
Last week, the 2010 US census reported a loss of about 500 people in Chatham since the year 2000, bringing the population down to just over 6,100 year-rounders.
And what's notable is the loss among families with children. Chatham saw a 15-percent drop among people under 18 years old. And that speaks to perhaps the biggest problem Chatham faces — having enough kids for its school system.
In the 1990s, Chatham was the first school district on Cape Cod to implement the state's School Choice program, which allows students to attend school in other towns if there's room. And that's been good for Chatham.
Schools Superintendent Mary Ann Lanzo said the district has just under 700 students in total. And about 170 of them are School Choice. They come from as far away as Sandwich for a whole variety of reasons. And in return, Chatham gets $5,000 per student they from their hometown.
"Chatham is one of the few places over time that has really benefited from school choice economically," Lanzo said. "It has funded probably 10 to 12 percent of entire operating budget at this point. We have been in the first five in terms of standing in the state of funds for school choice."
But even with School Choice, Lanzo says the biggest threat to the quality of Chatham schools comes from having classes with not enough students.
"I'd say we weren't talking 10 years out it would have a major impact on students," she said. "I would say we're talking five years or four years. Because we wouldn't be able to have the advanced placement classes. We wouldn't be able to offer the array of remedial classes for students and programs."
To combat the declining enrollments Chatham and the neighboring town of Harwich have agreed to create a regional school system. But some people have questioned how that will work, considering that Chatham and Harwich have a history of being strong rivals.
Chatham has voted against regionalizing several times over the years. Back in the 1950s, the debates often came down to class and race issues. We haven't heard any of that this time. Instead, there has been lots of census talk, as well as the promise of saving Chatham taxpayers between $3 and $4 million annually by combining systems.
The district officially begins in 2012, and a new high school should open two years later. Already they're planning for a football team, thinking about a mascot — there's a real push to energize people.
Part of that effort came about last week when the kids went to the polls to vote on a name for their new school district.
What did they choose? Monomoy, after the Monomoy Regional School District, a Native American name, and a tribute to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge down there.
By WGBH News | Tuesday, March 29, 2011
The WGBH News Where We Live series, which returns Nov. 14–18, explores new economic realities in cities and towns across Massachusetts. But we know you know this story best. Is the American Dream still possible where YOU live?
Send us your stories or impressions of the economic change, growth or difficulties in your community. We'll share them across WGBH — and we might mention them on air. So keep them coming! You can submit your stories here.
'Always Christmas' in Georgetown
submitted by Terry and Rick Palardy
"We are living our retirement dream. Rick started making wooden ornaments for gifts back in the mid-‘70s... we are living our happily-ever-after years, right here near the center of town, where we can walk to everything basic when we, too, reach the age when we can no longer drive. I just published a book."
Promoting Sustainability In Norwood
submitted by Susan Clare
"Our nonprofit, launched this year, is dedicated to sustainability and community building in Norwood. Our grassroots efforts are aimed at getting 'small and local.' We are becoming a presence in Norwood, and wish to see the town viable and sustainable for all residents and businesses."
Here's a sampling of what we heard in April.
Arts Ed. On The Chopping Block In Norwood — But Why?
submitted by Carl Cummings
"There’s an interesting – and enraging – economic situation in Norwood that I’d like to share.
"Recently, the town’s school committee passed a 2012 fiscal budget that will dramatically decrease the public school system’s music department.
"Fighting for fine arts funding is unfortunately nothing new. It’s a campaign that WGBH has been very active in historically, and it isn’t the first time this battle has been fought in Norwood. The music department there has in fact enjoyed a rich history of quality, consistently developing both award-winning groups and passionate, successful students over past several decades. All of which hasn’t come easy; without constant effort from the town’s parents, educators, students and alumni to secure funding, the department likely would have been critically reduced years ago.
"But I call this recent development both interesting and enraging for two specific reasons. Read more
'Mall City' In Burlington
submitted by Nicholas Zubiri
"Some new housing developments are being built. A large Borders bookstore is closing, in Wayside Commons Mall adjacent to the Burlington Mall. In recent town elections, most elected offices went unopposed. Lahey Clinic may be a great hospital, but many residents would go rather go to Winchester or Emerson. Sometimes, I feel that Burlington is trying to become Mall City within Mass."
A "Renaissance" in Old Haverhill
submitted by Elinor Curtin Cameron
"Several festivals from Kids' Fest in May through a Trolley Tour to the Cultural Treasures in June, River Ruckus in the summer, the Italian Festival in the fall, the Santa Parade and Christmas Stroll draw crowds to the downtown area...Outside the downtown core, Haverhill's Cultural Treasures: John Greenleaf Whittier's Birthplace, Tattersall Farm, Haverhill Firefighting Museum, Winnikenni Castle and The Buttonwoods Museum invite visitors to encounter the city's rich past and to explore acres and acres of recreational land. Haverhill is home to two colleges, Northern Essex Community College and Zion Bible College, six golf courses, a ski area and a hospital.
"The Merrimack River courses through the center of town. For years an industrial sewer, it is now suitable for recreational boating and is studded with docks, both private and public, from Rocks Village through the center of town.
"Grassroots organizations are working to revitalize the area. Their influence is starting to truly show. Haverhill is an old city which seems to have discovered viagra and is re-discovering its youth."
Jamaica Plain, Boston: Stores Come and Go, the "Coziness of the Place" Remains
submitted by Rebeca Plank
Downtown Reinvention in Attleboro
submitted by Amy H.
"Attleboro is a city that is trying to reinvent itself like so many other communities around MA. Once know as Jewelry Capital of the world, the city has declined in recent decades, but there is hope on the horizon. A downtown revitalization plan is taking shape, industries are starting to occupy former factories, and people are noticing the great assets that Attleboro has. It's all right here!! The close proximity to Boston and Providence is great as well!"
Creative Reuse in Watertown
submitted by Rich Minton
"I'm on a very active recycling committee that works with and advises the DPW and runs projects designed to bring recyclables into the stream that are not curbside items. There are several sister groups that are deep into environmental issues. Currently the town is extending the bike path on an old rail bed so that the Charles River bike path in Watertown that goes between Cambridge and Newton/Waltham will connect with the Minuteman Bikeway at the Fresh Pond Reservoir."
Beverly: A City of History, But 'Something Sorely Missing'
submitted by Mickey Coburn
"People don't seem to come to visit — tourists. They pass through on their way to other North Shore towns. The city has history. Something sorely missing. Not sure what that is."
New Diversity In Lynn
submitted by Shane Woodbury
"My wife and I work in health care, so we really haven't suffered in this economy. We bought our first home in Lynn last year, by the beach area, and we love it. But what I've noticed in Lynn is that many houses are for sale and it seems like the same houses have been on sale for a couple of years now. I don't know for certain, but I think less people are buying homes in Lynn and more and more are renting. And the ones who are selling, seem to be having a difficult time in selling their homes.
"Back in the 80's, downtown Lynn suffered some major big fires. At the same time, malls in Danvers and Peabody were becoming the North Shore's new destination for shopping. Downtown Lynn never recovered from the malls in surrounding towns and communties. However, downtown Lynn does have a thriving Hispanic community who have open their own little corner stores and resturants everywhere. The food is great and I find the Hispanic community in Lynn to be hard working, very friendly, and determined to achieve the American dream of owning your own business and home.
"So downtown Lynn is still in transformation. Many new reasturants like the Blue Ox and many very popular Spanish resturants like La Fe and Rincon Macorisano are thriving in business. The Lynnway is still a big destination for auto-sales. But I guess to sum it up here, Lynn is rich in diversity and is mostly a middle-class working small city. The crime rate is not as high as some think it is. In fact, for a city of over 89,000 citizens, Lynn's crime rate is actually normal for a city of it's size. Anyways, most importantly, Lynn is where I was born and is where I live now. I would have it no other way."
|Fruit Street Fields in Hopkinton. (Flickr)|
Ten Years in Downtown Hopkinton
submitted by Mary Murphy
"My business, Hooray for Books, "Creative Classes Where Kids Look, Cook, & Devour Good Books," just celebrated 10 years in business which seems like a huge milestone these days. I am actually franchising the business concept but feel like many others in our downtown are going under/away and Space for Rent signs are more prevalent in the downtown. Our town also just voted down a new school that was tied to starting districting too. People don't want to divide the town into districts and they likely can't afford higher taxes either."
submitted by Sarah Hines
"Will be interested in hearing about Ashland on Thursday. There are a number of people working on different aspects of the town and we'd be glad to tell you about the efforts to revitalize our Rt. 126 corridor, the downtown, introduce Design Guidelines, create an urban renewal plan...and more."
We've heard short comments from you, too:
submitted by Peter Pascale
"PARKING TICKETS. Dramatic increase in issuance of tickets to supplement budget shortfall. This would be a good news story."
submitted by Geoff Gilbert
"New condos, parking garages, riverwalk, bridges & main street improvements."
submitted by Bill
"Foreclosures, foreclosures, foreclosures."
submitted by Ralph
And let's not forget your tweets! You can get us on Twitter via the #whereweliveMA hashtag, or by tweeting @wgbhnews.
@CallieCrossley: For 20 yrs Randolph has been most integrated/diverse town in MA. Still is but at risk of becoming more homogeneous
By Phillip Martin | Monday, March 28, 2011
BROCKTON, Mass. — For at least three decades, the image of Massachusetts’ sixth largest city was dominated by larger-than-life figure Rocky Marciano. Professional boxing personified Brockton’s working class, rough and tumble reputation, which was also exemplified by another world champion, “Marvelous” Marvin Hager.
Their images shaped Brockton’s view of itself as “The City of Champions.” However, since the triumphant days of Marciano and Hagler -- spanning from the early 1950’s through the 80’s — Brockton has undergone a major transformation.
WGBH News: Where We Live
A changed city
The city that was once dominated by Italian and Irish Americans is now a community of various immigrant groups and the state’s fastest-growing African American population. According to the 2010 Census, the city lost 500 residents over the past decade, falling from 94,304 to 93,810 persons. Brockton has also been transformed from a small city anchored by mid-sized enterprises to a community dotted with numerous small businesses.
One of the most successful is Everett’s Auto Parts Enterprises. Tom Andrade, the owner’s son, is the company controller. Everett’s has been in business since 1951.
Andrade explained his business. “We have three primary lines of business: We sell used auto parts. Customers can come in and pull they’re own parts, a traditional junkyard. We also have a full service yard where we purchase vehicles at salvage auctions, inventory them and sell them through the computer system. We do all the work for you. Thirdly, we process a lot of scrap vehicles. We take scrap vehicles, and harvest the metals out of them. Crush the vehicles.”
Andrade expresses what few others can: The recession has been good for business.
|Everett's Auto Parts, in Brockton, is one of the city's many successful small businesses. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)|
“Normally in a recession we don’t tend to do as well as you’d think we should, but this recession has been so long and so hard hitting that it’s acting theoretically the way it should, and we’re busier than we’ve ever been,” Andrade said.
They’ve actually had to kick their employees off the parking lot to make room for customers. Andrade says that Brockton is an ideal location for a company of this sort because of its immigrant, working class demographic character.
“Just the wide availability of customers, and some of it low-income in nature, it lends itself to this business,” Andrade said.
Hispanics now make up about ten percent of Brockton’s population, according to the latest census. The city also has the largest Cape Verdean population in the country. African-Americans now comprise a third of residents, according to the 2010 census, an increase of 75 percent since 1990. And the average household income is about $39,000. That’s good for business, says the owner of an electric supply and installation company, who asked that her family name not be used.
“It’s cost effective and people want to work. I have a lot of people just in my neighborhood who ask for work. I just had a guy apply for a job,” the businessperson said. “I’m not advertising that I’m hiring but he came up right on the corner to apply. Cause he’ll come to work everyday, and he’ll work hard. You know, for a minimum wage.”
Leasing office space is also less expensive than renting in several other nearby communities. The patriarch of the family-owned electric supply company says there are additional advantages for small companies in Brockton.
“Brockton is a very user-friendly city. Historically it’s been a very good place for small business. Even more so now with a large increase in the minority population because minority people from these countries are used to small businesses,” he said.
He says Brockton’s small size also makes it easier to do business there. “You can walk right into the city hall and talk directly to the inspector or the tax person or whoever you’re dealing with,” he said. “There isn’t a long mail order thing and so forth and they’re right there to help you with whatever you need.
|Tom Andrade (right) poses with a member of his staff at his business, Everett's Auto Parts. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)|
Ups and downs in the City of Champions
While pizza shops, fast food restaurants, car repair shops and companies offering inexpensive eats and repairs of various sorts are bucking recessionary pressures, small manufacturing companies and construction related-firms are struggling. Even the owner of the electrical-supply company finds herself barely able to stay afloat.
Walking into the lobby of her company there was no receptionist to greet me because she had been laid off. The owner says the problems have more to do with the state and federal government than Brockton itself:
“We don’t as employees contribute to state unemployment. We pay a little of federal unemployment social security. And the company matches that. So the state decides that we’re going to up the amount that you have to pay in March, but we’re going to retroactivity that to January. I have to pay three months of a higher rate tax that I wasn’t counting on that I don’t have the cash flow for, and immediately had to lay off two guys.”
Not a Realtors’ market
Real estate companies are also feeling the pinch of the economy. Last year housing foreclosures increased here by six percent, in spite of a new state law signed in Brockton months ago by Gov. Deval Patrick requiring banks to wait 150 days, rather than ninety, to start foreclosing on homeowners. It also required warnings for those in danger of losing their homes.
The city in the view of some is also over-crowded. The Brockton Enterprise quoted a local real estate agent, William Callahan, who said that the leveling out of the city’s overall population suggests that Brockton simply is out of room. Others, however, believe there is still room for growth.
Another issue directly tied to the once-booming real estate market is a controversial proposal to build a $350 million dollar power plant on the city’s south side. Some argue that it will bring in much needed property-tax revenue, while others believe it will bring in pollution and depress home property values.
All of this affects the way that Brockton is perceived and, therefore, the atmosphere in which small businesses operate.
|Brockton's Main Street. (Timothy Valentine/Flickr)|
From a business point of view, Brockton High School is graduating a better educated potential workforce and earning a national reputation as a result. Ten years ago, Brockton High was one of the worst performing schools in the state. Last year, it outperformed nearly 90 percent of Massachusetts schools on the MCAS. High School principal, Susan Szachowicz, is credited with leading the school from near failure, to bounding success, and she shares that credit with fellow teachers, students and staff.
One of the graduates of Brockton High is the owner of the electrical supply company. She says that she plans to stay in this city where she was raised and schooled.
“My sense of community happens here. I don’t get that feeling in Boston,” she said. “I get it here in Brockton. It’s just nice. They know who you are.”
Monday, March 28, 2011
By Adam Reilly | Friday, March 25, 2011
Mar. 28, 2011
LYNN, Mass. — In 1930, Lynn was the shoe capital of the world. Today, it’s a hardscrabble community of 90,000 grappling with the problems of many old cities, along with a notorious reputation that makes many outsiders keep their distance.
But the people who live and work in Lynn say the city doesn’t get the respect it deserves. And despite the recession, they’ve got ambitious plans for the future.
WGBH News: Where We Live
On its northeastern edge hard against the Atlantic, Lynn feels bucolic. Nahant stretches to the east and Boston’s skyline looms in the distance. People from across the North Shore gravitate to this spot, drawn by the views and miles of pristine pathways. The stretch is one of Lynn’s great charms, but not the only one.
“It’s big but it’s small. A lot of people kind of know each other. And with that, people do look out for each other a lot,” says Keith Lee, who grew up in Lynn but left to play college basketball.
While Lee was gone, he missed Lynn’s close-knit feel -- and the diversity he once took for granted.
“You’ll see within a group a couple of Latin kids, a couple Spanish kids, and a couple Russian kids all hamming it up,” Lee said. “So many restaurants — Latin, Vietnamese, African now — this a beautiful place.”
But most people don’t associate Lynn with gorgeous coastline or multiethnic flair. Instead, they think of empty storefronts and gritty streetscapes -- as well as the occasional violent crime. And despite Lynn’s affordable real estate and proximity to Boston, they keep their distance.
“If you live outside of the city of Lynn, really the only time you’re hearing about the city of Lynn is when something bad happens,” said economic development chief James Cowdell, who is determined to change Lynn’s image.
So Cowdell decided to rebrand Lynn as a mecca for inexpensive urban living. In 2004, Lynn rezoned its downtown for condos and spent $3 million on improvements. Now, 250 people call downtown home — but Cowdell says that isn’t enough.
“Our goal was 500. We viewed that as the critical mass that if we had hit 500 then we would really see new restaurants, those type of ancillary businesses opening up. So we’re halfway there,” Cowdell said.
Lynn also has big hopes for its neglected southern waterfront — including a boardwalk running to Swampscott and a mix of homes and businesses akin to Quincy’s Marina Bay. The power lines that prevented development for decades were finally removed last year. Now the city is waiting for developers — but the timing isn’t great.
“It’s the worst recession of our lifetime,” Cowdell said. “And so even if we remove all obstacles, we were talking about the power lines &nmdash; 150 acres of developable land — you still need somebody to come along and say let’s do it,” Cowdell said.
Until then, downtown remains Lynn’s best chance at a renaissance.
For that, the city needs people who see possibility instead of blight: People like Jocelyn Almy-Testa, who opened The Little Gallery Under the Stairs in Central Square five years ago.
“When I first moved here my in-laws actually drove me through downtown Lynn and said,You want to stay away from this. My eyes just popped open and I said, Are you kidding me? That’s exactly where I’m going,” Almy-Testa said.
Today, The Little Gallery boasts a calligrapher in residence, a makeshift bookstore and a steady stream of art shows, musical performances and movie screenings.
Almy-Testa says she’s hooked on Lynn’s blue-collar cosmopolitanism.
“I’ve met people from so many different countries, Russia, Ireland, different parts of Europe, Ukraine, all over Africa, South America,” Almy-Testa said. “It’s an amazing mix of people. And everybody’s just working really hard to make their dreams come true.”
Not everyone in that mix comes from far away. Swampscott native Matt O’Neill opened the Blue Ox restaurant in 2009 in a space where two other restaurants failed. Since then his Mediterranean-American cuisine has dazzled Boston foodies — and drawn people from outside Lynn to a place they might otherwise have avoided.
“North End, you can be in here in 20 minutes. East Boston. Chelsea. This is where we’re pulling from — Peabody, Salem,” O’Neill said. “We’re getting such a diverse crowd here that I never thought we’d get.”
O’Neil says the lesson is simple: downtown Lynn is a perfect spot for ideas and ambitions to take off.
“I hope we’re a case study as to what can happen downtown,” O’Neill said. “If you believe in what you’re doing and you work hard enough — yeah, it’ll work.”
As for that bad reputation — newcomers and natives alike insist it’s overstated.
“People take these sterotypes, the 'Lynn Lynn City of Sin,' and they run with it,” Lee said. They’re not open-minded enough to actually ask somebody from here what’s going on.”
If downtown keeps growing and the waterfront takes off — outsiders might finally get the message. Until then — the people who know Lynn best know what the rest of us are missing.