How does New Bedford compete against Boston?

We can be something different – and even preferable

What follows is an excerpt from New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s prepared remarks for his state of the city address on Thursday.

OUR SUCCESS WILL DEPEND on our ability to think strategically about the future of our city, and to work together to follow that strategy. As we ask ourselves how we can continue our success, we have to take a good look at what’s happening in cities across the country.

America today is enjoying a prolonged period of economic growth that is disproportionately concentrated in its largest cities. America’s big cities are living in a golden age right now, fueled by major research universities, international airports, and corporate headquarters. They are home to virtually all of America’s venture capital, new office construction, and foreign investment.

Unemployment is negligible in these places, real estate prices are skyrocketing, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. These places are marked by forests of construction cranes, $50-a-plate entrees, and, very soon, driverless cars. Boston and New York are the two closest of many examples, and their seemingly unabated growth may have profound implications for the rest of America.

And these days talent tends to follow the flow of capital. The high school students who are here today are an accomplished group. If I asked them to raise their hands if they were interested in moving eventually to New York or Boston or some other big city, I suspect more than a few hands would go up.  [Keep your hands down, the answer is too painful]. But we shouldn’t be surprised. The talent drain of young people from Greater New Bedford is nothing new; it’s just that today the attraction of the big city is stronger than ever before.

So what does that mean for a mid-size city like us that is not part of a major metropolitan area, and doesn’t have the all same cards to play?

One thing it means is that we still have to compete. After all, we operate in the same global economy as the major cities. At the same time, we shouldn’t see ourselves as trying to be like them or beat them at their own game. We can be something different, and indeed preferable. In an America where the biggest cities are becoming more congested, expensive, and, in some cases, more violent, a city like ours offers a more manageable alternative.

Here, and in other mid-size cities, one can have those things that people like in urban places — the public spaces, walkable streets, cultural amenities, interesting architecture, and so forth — but without feeling crushed and disconnected at the same time.

We in New Bedford don’t have what people hate about big cities: regular traffic jams, high levels of gun violence, and not knowing your neighbors. And here you can still get a good meal at a restaurant for under ten bucks.

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My point is that a city doesn’t have to be a major metropolis to be successful in offering its residents an opportunity for a good life. Portland, Maine and Charleston, South Carolina, are noteworthy. They are great examples of port cities — one a little smaller than us and the other little bigger — that are succeeding.

Jon Mitchell is the mayor of New Bedford. To read the entire speech, click here.