Summer 2007

Summer 2007

Dispatches

Dispatches

Pay up—and shut up?

Under one school of thought, second-homeowners are a major asset to the Massachusetts economy. They pay property taxes, constantly renovate those second homes, and buy up all the heirloom tomatoes and artisanal goat cheese the natives can crank out, without requiring much in return in the way of services.

But there’s another point of view: Part-time residents are colonizing weasels, driving up home values (and everyone’s taxes) by overpaying for properties and then destroying the character of a town with their Land Rovers, chi-chi wine stores, and walk-in Bikram yoga classes. When second-homeowners outnumber year-round residents, it can feel a bit Upstairs, Downstairs.

In response, many towns charge second-homeowners a personal property tax in addition to residential property taxes. Condominium owners in Dennis, most of whom are seasonal residents, faced a quadrupling of the fee for beach parking last summer. And the town of Dartmouth charges nonresidents more for waterway permits. The general thinking is that anyone who can afford two homes can probably spare the dough. Plus, where else are they going to go, Illinois?

But second-homeowners are beginning to push back. New Yorkers Thomas and Miriam Curnin, who say they’ve paid about $150,000 in property taxes on the 120 acres and second home they own in Egremont, filed a lawsuit last year after residents denied them the opportunity to speak at a special town meeting. The couple lost their first round this spring in U.S. District Court, but they are appealing. Thomas Curnin notes that second-homeowners pay 46 percent of the town’s property taxes, and that should entitle them to be heard.

“We think it’s a denial of First Amendment,” he says. “We’re not asking to vote. We just want the right to speak.”

UPDATE: The Curnins lost their appeal in November. See details here.

By popular demand

Citizens may not always exercise their right to vote, but they still like to know the opportunity is there.

A Nantucket study committee proposed at April’s town meeting to make the membership of three bodies—the planning board, historic district commission, and shellfish and advisory board—appointed rather than elected. One reason: Qualified people might be shying away from the rough and tumble of the electoral process.

“It can be hard,” says town clerk Catherine Flanagan Stover. “People say things that might not be true, and [candidates] might not want to put themselves through that.”

The appointment process would result in better qualified candidates and stronger accountability, argued the study committee. But critics, including current members of the planning board, said that the move would take power away from voters. A majority of town meeting voters agreed.

At the other end of the state, town meeting voters in Williamstown had the opposite decision to make. In May, residents of the small college town narrowly approved the switch from a planning board that was appointed by selectmen to one that will be chosen by the voters. Anita Barker, who has served as both selectman and planning board member, made the proposal, saying that the vetting process for possible board members has not always been thorough, especially given concerns over the impact of new development on the character of the town. “There wasn’t much discussion,” she says. “We didn’t feel the [selectmen] were doing it as fairly or as broadly as it should have been done.”

Williamstown was the last municipality in Berkshire County with an appointed board, a body that the town formed in 1939. Not that there was much to do; there was after all, no zoning back then. In fact, compared to today’s workload, the Williamstown board’s first assignment seems positively quaint: to come up with a map of the town.

The issue of how board members should be chosen came to a head, says Barker, after selectmen failed to re-appoint a planning board member who had opposed a controversial subdivision development. By a three-vote margin, 111-108, town meeting voters endorsed the change, and residents will elect a five-member board to staggered terms beginning next May.

That is, if they can find five people to run.

A bumper crop

Bay State farmers are facing another tough year, thanks in part to increasing fuel and fertilizer costs. Things have gotten so bad for dairy farmers that Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency in the industry. And despite the growing popularity of farmers’ markets, farmland acreage is declining.

But some see opportunities as more consumers worry about food safety and vow to eat “locally.” That may be one reason for the sudden proliferation of agricultural commissions. Some 103 communities—including some unlikely locales, like bustling Newton—have established boards that advocate for farmers, help protect farmland, and work with town boards on agricultural issues. (See the complete list at massagcom.org.) In 2001, there were just six.

Scott Soares, acting commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources, also attributes the increase to smart-growth regulations. Towns are recognizing the value of farming in maintaining open space, he says, and “AgComs” can represent agricultural interests in the development process.

Sure, everybody likes local milk and produce, but the new residents of a town may not be so enthusiastic about the fine bouquet of cow manure on a hayfield in spring, the sawmill running at five in the morning, or those roosters, which tend to exercise their freedom of speech not just in the early morning, but All. Day. Long.

So the town of Rutland, in comparatively fast-growing Worcester County, last year established both an AgCom and a “right to farm” bylaw that gives farmers the legal rights to do their job, despite complaints from their new neighbors.

“It means you have to live with it,” says Skip Clark, who owns the 150-acre Ketonen-Clark Farm, where he and his family raise cattle, hogs, and chickens.

Is all this interest too little, too late? According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, Worcester County lost about 12,000 acres of farmland between 1997 and 2002. (Plymouth County lost 22,000 acres, or about a quarter of its farmland, during the same period.) When Clark was a kid, he says, there were almost 100 farms in Rutland; today there are fewer than 10.

But farmers are an optimistic lot—they have to be. And it helps to have a voice.

“Every time you turn around, there’s a new house going in somewhere,’’ he says. “The AgCom is a good buffer between the farmer and the people who are going to complain.”

Squeaky wheels

Squeaky wheels

the specter of little toothpicks twirling on the horizon of Nantucket Sound is causing fits among the political elites who make summer a verb on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. On overcast days, they wouldn’t see anything but the soft line separating water from sky. But on sunny days . . .

Those toothpicks are what you may one day see of a wind farm located five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. Some 130 turbines—dispersed over 25 square miles in the 550 square miles of Nantucket Sound—would stand as high as 440 feet above the surface of the water. The turbines would produce 1.5 megawatt hours of energy, enough to cover three-fourths of the electricity needed on the Cape and Islands, home to 250,000 year-round residents and three times as many people during the summer.

Cape Wind is the dream of an entrepreneur named Jim Gordon. A kid from Newton who discovered nature at the West End Club’s summer camp in New Hampshire, Gordon earned millions selling energy-saving devices and building natural-gas plants in New England.

In 2001, Gordon and other entrepreneurs started talking about bringing wind power to Massachusetts. He now promises that Cape Wind will lead to the reduction of 734,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year—good news for an area long dirtied by power plants and auto congestion.

Even more important, a wind farm could help make Massachusetts a leader in alternative energy. And who could be against windmills?

In their chatty book Cape Wind, published by New York–based Public Affairs, journalists Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb tell us exactly who. By their reckoning, the long and often nasty debate about Gordon’s project is all about the privilege and hypocrisy of the upper class.

At the beginning of the approval process, Gordon visited Spiro Mitrokostas, the executive director of the Cape Cod Technology Council, who agreed that the project had lots of potential for creating new jobs as well as energy. But Mitrokostas warned Gordon: “Only two or three hundred people run the Cape. If you don’t have them on your side, forget it. If Ted doesn’t like this, you’re going to have a problem.”

Indeed, liberal heroes like U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, journalist Walter Cronkite, and historian David McCullough opposed Cape Wind because it threatened to alter their posh vacation spots. (Cronkite has since switched sides.)

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound quickly raised $15 million—a coming-together of old and new money—from such people as Listerine heiress Bunny Mellon, Paul Fireman of Reebok, and Richard Egan of EMC. The group produced a powerful infomercial with Cronkite’s authoritative voiceover, dominated town meetings, and exploited the arcane parliamentary maneuvers of Washington.

The rhetoric against the wind farm went far beyond the initial outcry about the toothpick horizon. Opponents said the project would:

  • produce a “killing field,” with turbine blades slicing birds that flew in the area;
  • cause awful noise pollution;
  • devastate the animal life of Nantucket Sound, including sea lions and diverse schools of fish;
  • interfere with air travel, especially at Nantucket and other local airports;
  • ruin navigation in the area, threatening vital shipping industries;
  • destroy the appearance of the whole area and cripple the tourism industry, just as surely as putting a Motel 6 in the middle of the California redwoods or in Florida’s Everglades.

Williams and Whitcomb do a good job tracking and refuting charges. Many of the claims lacked any data (even though Gordon showed a willingness to sponsor independent research). Other claims were clearly wrong.

When the policy arguments failed, activists attacked Gordon personally. In a radio debate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told him, “You’re a developer here who is trying to make a buck, and you’re trying to do it by imposing your costs on the public.” The Alliance placed a full-page ad in Roll Call, a Washington paper devoted to covering Capitol Hill. WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING?, a headline asked. Nearby, a cartoon showed Gordon clutching money while stepping onto a boat in the sound.

Williams and Whitcomb ask why Ted Kennedy—whom they consider a legislative genius working behind the scenes to subvert the project—is so adamant against Cape Wind.

The authors find their Rosebud in an encounter between Kennedy and Jim Liedell, a retired utility executive. According to Liedell, a supporter of the project, he approached Kennedy at a summer concert in Hyannis. The scene is reminiscent of Cindy Lou Who asking the Grinch why he’s taking the Christmas tree.

Liedell asked him why he opposed the project. “The developer’s not paying anything,” Kennedy reportedly answered. But Jim Gordon said he would be willing to pay, said Liedell. “That’s peanuts,” responded Kennedy. Any other reasons for opposing the project? “The sight of them bothers me,” Kennedy said. But even on crystal clear days, the turbines would be mere wisps on the horizon. Is that so bad?

Then, says Liedell, came the ultimate answer from the senator. “But don’t you realize,” Kennedy said, “that’s where I sail.”

Is this how politics really works? Does Ted Kennedy really oppose Cape Wind with such ferocity just because he does not want to lose some of the mystique of piloting his 50-foot craft wherever he wants in the waters near his estate?

intentionally or not, Williams and Whitcomb have written a case study that could fit neatly in the 1956 classic The Power Elite, by C. Wright Mills. In that book, Mills argues that political, economic, and military elites occupy a tight network that shares a common worldview and makes common cause on important issues. Elections and other political activity matter, but only within the boundaries of the elites’ system.

Jim Gordon has survived this obstacle course—so far—because he has had ample supplies of both money and tenacity. The Cape Wind story might, then, be seen as the ultimate proof of Mills’s argument. Elites only lose when another elite comes along!

The problem with the elite theory is that it doesn’t consider the absolute messiness of politics. Whatever its reputation as a liberal sandbox, where policy-makers can build all kinds of crazy new programs, our state is a prime example of politics by complexity and confusion, timing and luck.

Massachusetts state and local government has grown like Topsy over the years, with only occasional and weak efforts to shake out obsolete, redundant, contradictory, and irrelevant regulations and agencies. Since politics gets so tangled in process, no one really knows whether good projects can make it through the system. Whatever you try to do—build housing, rehab an old hospital, open a school, fix a park—you know that someone is going to use some arcane process to block you. If such a process doesn’t exist, they’ll invent a new one.

When Gordon proposed Cape Wind, he was challenged by the mind-bending system of Massachusetts politics as much as by the elites of Nantucket Sound. The review by the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board alone took almost three years and produced 2,900 pages of documents. RFK Jr. told Jim Gordon, “I’ve seen grocery stores on the Cape that go through more of a permit process than this project,” and he wasn’t completely wrong. But he missed the larger truth that the state poses absurd barriers to all kinds of good projects.

Even when Gordon lined up allies, funded independent research, made his case before every civic body, and jumped through all the legal and political hoops, he still had to worry about the losers changing the rules in the middle of the game.

Consider one effort in Washington to quash the project, through something called the Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005. This bill, introduced by Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Ted Stevens of Alaska, would deny wind energy permits to any site within 20 miles of a shoreline, national park, or wildlife refuge, and would allow states to veto wind farms within 20 miles of their borders. In other words, wind power would be banned in virtually all of America. The bill didn’t get out of committee.

The good news is that it looks like Cape Wind is going to happen. Though still wary of possible lawsuits and more legislative hanky-panky, project officials expect to complete federal, state, and local permitting by the end of 2008. From the time the company begins driving pilings for the bases of the turbines, they expect to begin delivering energy in another two years.

We say it all the time, but forget too often: The region’s economy will thrive only if we constantly reinvent the economy, using the brainpower and chutzpah of people like Jim Gordon.

When will we know that Cape Wind has succeeded? When tourists are spotted on the Cape and Islands wearing chic T-shirts with images of spinning toothpicks.

Charles Euchner, a New Haven writer, was the executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University from 2000 to 2004.

Made in Massachusetts

Made in Massachusetts

nowadays we expect to see actors, athletes, and other celebrities used to sell products. Things were much different a century ago, when goods got their props from doe-eyed, rosy-cheeked boys and girls.

Images of cherubic-looking youngsters were used to advertise things any kid would want, of course, like bicycles, chocolates, and lace-up shoes. They were also employed in marketing items that could benefit whole families, such as pianos, lawn mowers, and sewing machines. But those same innocents were also used to sell products like “liver pills,” “nerve tonic” and “vegetable compound”—so-called medicines for adults, whose most active ingredient was alcohol, or worse.

These images, among others, can be found in Chaim Rosenberg’s Goods for Sale: Products and Advertising in the Massachusetts Industrial Age (published by the University of Massachusetts Press). Rosenberg calls his book a “nostalgic tribute” to a particular marketing technique: Victorian trade cards, colorful three-by-five-inch lithographs handed out as souvenirs at fairs and expositions. These cards helped build national markets for products made in Massachusetts and were collected by both children and adults, who often pasted them into scrapbooks. Today they’re rare and valuable, and Rosenberg reproduces more than 100 of his favorites here. (Rosenberg, not a full-time historian but a professor of psychiatry at Boston University, does not include footnotes or endnotes to flesh out the skeletal bibliography. And so we have to take his word for it when he declares, for instance, that Chase & Sanborn, founded in Boston in 1862, made “the first ground coffee in America to be distributed coast to coast.”)

Goods for Sale also chronicles the rise and fall of Massachusetts industries, primarily between 1860 and 1920. During that period, many Bay State communities had national—sometimes international — reputations. Gardner was renowned for its chairs, Easton its shovels, Westfield its buggy whips, and Attleboro its jewelry. Holyoke became famous for the production of paper, Springfield for firearms, Taunton for silver, and Waltham for watches.

As these Massachusetts-made products became more widely available throughout the country, they were boosted by new forms of marketing. More than 100 lithographic companies were active in Boston during the 19th century, many producing the multicolored trade cards featured in Goods for Sale. With soon-to-be famous artists like Winslow Homer and Childe Hassam among the illustrators, it’s no surprise that some, in Rosenberg’s estimation, became “elaborate minor works of art.”

Millions of sewing machines came from the
town of Orange.
Courtesy of Chaim M. Rosenberg.

They also became idealized views of industry and its place in society. The mills and factories depicted on trade cards aren’t smoke-belching sweatshops. One of the cards reproduced in the book shows an enormous, immaculate mill on the banks of the Merrimack River. “This is where I hope to work sometime,” an optimistic person with the initials G.B.L. apparently scribbled across the front of it.

Rosenberg also shows us an 1897 calendar issued by the Malden–based Boston Rubber Shoe Co. that uses charming lithographs of the Massachusetts State House and Trinity Church to help convince people of the quality and durability of their footwear. Although familiar to Bostonians, it seems doubtful such icons would mean anything to national audiences today.

ralph waldo emerson supposedly said that if a man could make a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to his door. When Elias Howe Jr. was 24, the Spencer native heard similar words. “Invent a sewing machine,” someone at the Boston machine shop where he worked told him, “and it will ensure you an independent fortune.”

With a wife and three kids to support on a $9 weekly salary, “poverty and concern for the future of his family encouraged him” to invent just such a machine, writes Rosenberg. “After a number of false starts, Howe hit upon the idea of using a threaded needle with an eye near the point, interacting with a shuttle carrying a second thread, moving back and forth.”

In 1845 he assembled a few prototypes, found a model that worked, and applied for a patent, which he received the following year. Today people associate Isaac Singer with the sewing machine, but Elias Howe’s invention gave birth to the industry. According to Rosenberg, between 1850 and 1900 there were 250 sewing machine companies in the United States; 45 got their start in Massachusetts.

In no community was a local sewing machine company as prominent or dominant as in the Franklin County town of Orange. In 1862, Thomas White, 26, moved his sewing machine factory there (from its smaller quarters in nearby East Templeton) to be closer to a railroad line. Steam power had eclipsed water power, and factory owners, no longer dependent upon swift moving rivers to run machinery, considered proximity to rail a major advantage.

By 1866, White “decided that the country was moving to the booming West,” writes Rosenberg, so he moved his company to Cleveland, which had even better rail service. In less than a decade, a tiny Massachusetts town became both the beneficiary and victim of the fast-expanding railroad system.

Rather than pack up their families and move west with him, White’s employees formed the New Home Sewing Machine Co., and it became the most successful Bay State firm in the industry, with 750 employees and an assembly line turning out 500 machines daily. According to Rosenberg, between 1877 and 1930, more than 7 million sewing machines were assembled in Orange.

Two of the most interesting trade cards reproduced in Goods for Sale were issued by the company. One shows a young man, with two dogs nipping at his feet, chasing after a horse-drawn wagon filled with sewing machines, in a manner reminiscent of a kid chasing after an ice cream truck. But instead of seeking a cool, refreshing treat, he’s shouting, “Hello! Stop I want a New Home Machine.”


Oil stoves from Florence, Mass., supposedly
brought joy to children and adults alike.
Courtesy of Chaim M. Rosenberg.

The other card, which Rosenberg describes as “delightful,” was given out by the company at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It depicts a precocious young girl with a sewing basket at her feet, wearing granny glasses as she peruses a book titled The Song of the Shirt.

It also lists cities where the New Home machine could be purchased, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco. That list is topped not by a metropolis, but by the justifiably proud “Orange, Mass.”

For a half-century, New Home loomed large in every aspect of small-town life, providing schools, housing for workers, a company store, a post office, and a community center. When New Home was sold to an Illinois company in 1930, production moved with it and brought an end to what had been one of the Bay State’s most vibrant industries, but echoes of the past still reverberate in Orange. Thomas White has a road named after him, as does New Home founder A.J. Clark. The town library is named after Clark’s partner, John W. Wheeler. A dam on the Millers River at the site of his factory is still known as the New Home dam, and across town is a package store called New Home Liquors.

patent medicine is another quondam Massachusetts industry, but it wasn’t done in by factories chasing their customers out west.

Rosenberg describes the industry’s beginnings in England, where medicinal chemists “sought to protect their products by means of a royal patent.” By the time the term gained currency in 19th- century America, “patent medicine” covered “an infinite number of concoctions claiming a wide array of benefits.” There were no laws to prevent apothecaries from making claims without evidence, and many patent medicines got their strength from alcohol, opiates, or even cocaine— ingredients which, Rosenberg writes, accounted “for much of their appeal.”

By mid-century, 1,500 different patent medicines were for sale in America, with some of the largest companies here in Massachusetts. One of the most successful was in Lynn, where Lydia Pinkham, a mother of four in her mid 50s impoverished by an invalid husband, decided to sell a home medicine she had long been handing out free to family and friends. Because vegetables were known to promote health, she called the mixture “vegetable compound,” though it was not filled with tomatoes or carrots but rather more obscure ingredients such as unicorn root and fenugreek seed. “Despite her lifelong temperance views,” Rosenberg writes, alcohol was another significant component of Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.

Ads became ‘elaborate minor works of art.’

Merchants were given bottles on consignment, and the product began to sell in small quantities, but it wasn’t until a Boston Herald ad in 1876 brought an unexpectedly strong response that Pinkham hired an advertising company. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was then claimed to cure a wide array of ailments, including faintness, flatulency, and “weakness of the stomach.” According to the back of one trade card, the concoction could also “dissolve and expel” uterine tumors, while curing “Bloating, Headaches, Nervous Prostration, General Debility, Sleeplessness, Depression and Indigestion.”

Sales were helped when Pinkham put her curly-haired, kewpie-doll-mouthed granddaughter on a trade card, but they really took off when the “reassuring portrait” of Lydia herself was used to market the product. “Over the years,” Rosenberg writes, “Lydia’s company spent $35 million on advertising and shipping.” Pinkham became “the country’s first great female entrepreneur” and “one of the best-known women in the United States.”

People felt they knew Lydia Pinkham and wrote her for advice. Her death in 1883 was not widely publicized (she was a national icon before there was national media), and the company simply responded to new queries with “form letters advocating continued use of the Vegetable Compound.” The upshot, writes Rosenberg, was that for a number of years after her death the company continued to gross more than $1 million annually.

In 1905, however, “the clouds of decline” moved over the company when the Ladies’ Home Journal published an exposé on the patent medicine industry. Among other things, the magazine revealed that Pinkham had been dead for 22 years and the company had “duped” its most faithful customers into believing otherwise. Then came the Food and Drug Act of 1906, which required makers of patent medicine to list alcohol content on the label. Not surprisingly, Pinkham’s customers were shocked to learn that her vegetable compound “contained a heavy dose of it.”

When the American Medical Association joined the fight against patent medicines, the death knell was struck. “None of the nineteenth-century Massachusetts patent medicine companies made the transition from folk remedies into the science-based pharmaceutical industry of modern times,” Rosenberg notes.

Lydia Pinkham’s patent medicine was born in Lynn.

the patent medicine bust was but a precursor to the end of nearly all the Massachusetts industries commemorated in Goods for Sale. When the Great Depression hit, owners of the red brick mills and factories that dominated the landscape and economy of so many Massachusetts communities either closed shop or fled south to escape, as Rosenberg writes, “labor strife, changing fashions [and] technological advances.”

They included the makers of footwear, automobiles, pianos, and many other industries that advertised their goods for sale on trade cards. The gilded age of Massachusetts industry was over, and the state would have to wait for a completely new set of products to rejuvenate its economy.

Simple pleasures

Simple pleasures

buildings matter. They temper our mood, refract our ambitions and sensibilities. At their best, they might inspire us to behave better.

“We want [buildings] to shelter us,” says essayist Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness (Pantheon, 2006). “And we want them to speak to us—to speak to us of whatever we find important and need to be reminded of.” In this abundantly illustrated book, which is being adapted into a three-part PBS documentary that will premiere on October 3, de Botton uses a raft of fascinating examples in support of his point that architecture is as much about psychology as design: Good buildings signal an understanding of who we are and what will satisfy us.

de botton’s book leads me to ask, “How do I feel in this space—how does this space make me feel?” I’m in the fifth-floor reading room of the Boston Athenaeum, on Beacon Street just a block from the State House. This is one of this city’s grandest rooms, where it is possible to read in tomblike silence amid a group of like-minded souls. It’s a quietly elegant space, unafraid to be unobtrusive.

Recently in The New York Times Book Review the journalist-historian Walter Isaacson not so gently disparaged the space as an “aloof perch.” I look around the room. It feels anything but aloof.

In fact, a certain humility sets in when you sit among these phalanxes of old books. As for those mute but knowing busts of marble, their implicit command is to dig deeper, look farther back in time, and absorb more of the record, before pronouncing.

True, the Athenaeum has comfy leather chairs, and “people actually do take naps here from time to time,” says director and librarian Richard Wendorf. But, he adds, “this place is put to very serious use for the most part.”

I admit to appreciating the benign stuffiness of the Athenaeum, and I’m not above absorbing its comforts. I’m getting what I came here for: a sense of propinquity to art and ideas, not just access to the stacks. Which, by the way, are terrific to explore. They’re the heart of the place, and they aren’t fussy. They lend the place a feeling of penetralia, says Wendorf, borrowing a term from Henry James: “a sense of mystery, places that need to be explored —you have to penetrate it. Handsome and stately and formal as the building is in many ways, it’s also eccentric and idiosyncratic enough to pull you in.”

The fifth-floor reading room of the Boston
Athenaeum is not an “aloof perch,” but simply
unafraid to be unobtrusive.
Photograph by Thomas Kellner.

Another bastion of penetralia is the Museum of Fine Arts, an institution that originally grew out of the Athenaeum’s art collection. Over the past century, the museum has grown to spectacular proportions, and it is more a civic monument than a cozy retreat, but you can get lost in there, especially in the old part that houses the permanent collection.

The main entrance on Huntington Avenue, closed in 1990 to save money, was reopened in 1995 —restoring the intent of architect Guy Lowell, who won the commission for the museum in 1907. Joined by curator Frederick Ilchman, I climb 42 steps to the Acropolis-like epicenter. “Like a temple, you are drawn higher and higher,” says Ilchman. We ascend to the rotunda, which opened in the 1920s and is decorated with reliefs and murals by John Singer Sargent.

The key painting, head on, proclaims the museum’s mission. Ilchman translates the classical iconography with ease: “Athena shielding the arts—architecture, painting, and sculpture—from the ravages of time. The irony is that sometime between Sargent’s time and ours, this knowledge of reading personifications and symbols has just disappeared. Most people walking in here in 1921 could have gotten that, and very few people get it now.”

The rotunda of the Museum of Fine
Arts is another example of
measured exuberance—grand but
not overpowering.
Photograph courtesy of Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston.

The rotunda dates from roughly the same time as the Athenaeum’s reading room and is suffused with the same measured exuberance—grand but not overpowering. In fact, I feel coddled. “It’s supposed to elevate you, or ennoble you, which is a tricky concept in a city that defines itself as being the first to put its foot down against British rule and aristocracy and that kind of thing,” says Ilchman. “Even though New York and Philadelphia grew to much bigger size, Boston considered itself older and more cultivated. Thus, it could be the Greece to other cities’ Rome.”

The MFA grew piecemeal during the 20th century, disrupting the intended balance of Lowell’s modular plan. By 1981, the de facto main entrance had shifted to the West Wing, orienting visitors to the garage and parking lot, rather than Huntington Avenue and its trolley.

The West Wing, a vast, light-suffused galleria designed by I. M. Pei, works well for commerce, but “it’s less hospitable for works of art,” says Ilchman. It offers amenities galore but barely a hint of what lurks in the museum’s permanent collection. “You can go to an exhibition, have lunch, peruse the bookstore, see a foreign film and hear a lecture, and never get into the heart of the museum. One could happily spend three hours in this wing and never go more than a hundred feet from the doorway.”

Despite the airy feeling created by Pei’s massive barrel-vault, the galleria generates less spiritual uplift than the older parts of the museum. I feel an urge to draw the blinds, closing off the outer world.

I have a similar response to the flashy new Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront in South Boston. I want to like the building, but I’m put off by its gloatingly outward-looking, transparent design. Even before I enter, I sense a lack of mystery. The building says “Look at me” so loud I have to make a concentrated effort to see the art.

The MFA has hired Foster & Associates as architects of the American Wing, an ambitious addition now under construction. To Ilchman, the selection of Norman Foster is a signal of the museum’s desire to return to “a kind of classical harmony or symmetry” in the floor plan, with a renewed focus on the permanent collection. The new American Wing will act as a counterweight to Pei’s airy, modernist West Wing.

“Had you selected someone like Zaha [Hadid], Daniel Libeskind, or Frank Gehry, who might insist on an exciting, big twisting sculptural kind of thing—that would be basically saying, this is not really much of a temple anymore,” says Ilchman. “Part of the question is, what is one’s attitude toward the Sargent murals and the rotunda? If you decide you want to ignore or overpower Sargent, you can add something totally different, but if you decide you want to return the rotunda to primacy, to celebrate it, then you have to think about redirecting attention there unapologetically.”

There’s a larger lesson here for Boston, not just for our buildings but for our public spaces. We need to resist the urge to apologize for our architectural heritage, which tends to emphasize background and continuity over flashiness and singularity. The best buildings manage to avoid distracting us from our purposes in using them, or in being near them. Which doesn’t mean they have to be ugly, or even plain. But in our consumer-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture, we run the risk of giving architects too much license for self-expression. Alain de Botton puts it nicely when he remarks that architecture is at its best when it has “the confidence and the kindness to be a little boring.”

The new ICA has a gloatingly outward-looking,
transparent design.
Photograph by Iwan Baan.

The MFA and the ICA buildings are unusual in Boston in that they stand apart from other buildings. The Athenaeum is more the norm—it is nestled among many other buildings on Beacon Street, and you might walk right past it without remarking on its grandeur. It feels like a background building, rather than a showpiece, and to me that’s a virtue. It fits right in.

I doubt that an architect would design a building like the ICA in an environment that was already built up. As the waterfront is developed, the architects of neighboring buildings will be forced to respond to the ICA, and attempt to create some continuity—to fit right in—and that will be tricky. They’ll have to overcome the urge to compete with the ICA. The goal will be to complement it as they fill the gaps in the streetscape. Let’s hope the ICA will benefit from the context it receives from these newer buildings.

Albert LaFarge runs a literary agency in Boston. He is the editor of The Essential William H. Whyte (Fordham University Press).

Down town

Down town

Following one failed comeback scheme after another, Malden may finally get smart

smart-growth policies are often associated with leafy suburbs in commuter rail territory (see Town Meeting Monitor). So it’s easy to forget that there are older cities in Massachusetts that already have all the right elements—high density, mixed-use zoning, extensive public transit—and have still fallen short of the urban village ideal.

The city of Malden, where I grew up, is a particularly frustrating example. Its once-vibrant downtown has few pedestrians, and there are as many empty storefronts as viable businesses. This lack of activity has continued despite the area’s advantages: Malden has recently added a significant number of housing units, it’s on a subway line, it has a poverty rate slightly below the state average, and the crime rate is no worse than in thriving parts of Boston or Cambridge. But the city of 56,000 just hasn’t been fertile ground for the principles of smart growth—or New Urbanism, to use the older term. (It may also be the more accurate term, given that many cities in need of smart planning have already reached their population limits.)

Many Malden residents are unhappy with this situation, and about 300 of them were at City Hall on a Wednesday night in June, attending a “Visioning Workshop” facilitated by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. The turnout “elated” City Councilor Gary Christenson, who said he expected to find 30 or 40 participants, given how few people attend regular government meetings.

I attended one of nine smaller discussion groups at the Visioning Workshop and was impressed by the enthusiasm of participants, if not totally sold on their chances of achieving consensus. A poll of the two dozen or so members of my group revealed that the two most popular goals were revitalizing downtown and limiting development, but the first may be incompatible with the second.

Still, things are happening. Strolling through downtown after the workshop, I came across several places buzzing with activity—a new pan-Asian restaurant, a martini bar, a couple of Italian eateries, two Irish pubs. Unfortunately, no two were next to each other, and there were no way stations—no cafés or convenience stores—to help glue the area together. The upscale Asian restaurant, for example, was between a discount store that closes early in the evening and a space formerly occupied by a lingerie store. (The sign in the window informed customers that Lady Grace had moved to a site in Woburn with “plenty of free parking” and “easy access” from major highways.)

The city touts its accessibility via public transit, but visitors who take the Orange Line to Malden Center can look toward downtown and see nothing but parking garages and the plain brick cube that serves as City Hall, though the city is promising to put up signs that indicate life beyond these forbidding structures.

If you turn south from the T stop, you’re within walking distance of two supermarkets, but don’t expect any window shopping along the way, since you must walk past more parking areas and such anti-pedestrian businesses as a muffler shop and a liquor mart. The Super Stop & Shop has been here for years, but the Super 88, farther down on Commercial Street, just opened this February, extending a chain of Asian supermarkets that had been highly successful in Chinatown, Dorchester, and Quincy. Many of the staff did not seem to understand English, reported a longtime resident (my mother), but eggs were cheap, and the fish selection was mind-boggling. I haven’t seen the fish yet, but I am bemused by the changes that have taken place in a city where I remember “Chinese food” as something you got in Polynesian restaurants—and where there were twice as many supermarkets as there are now, but none of them carried anything you couldn’t get at the A&P.



Malden’s fortress of a City Hall,
a business strip enlivened by a new Asian
Restaurant, and the looming towers of 160
Pleasant Street.

Disembarking Orange Line passengers can also walk north on Summer Street, past a family-style restaurant in a converted train depot. The next block features mixed-use zoning, with apartments above first-floor storefronts, but none of the businesses attract many pedestrians (certainly not the gutted remains of a typewriter-repair shop), and the neighborhood convenience store turns out the lights at 9 p.m. A couple of years ago, I was elated to see a café with an art gallery open on this block, but it didn’t last very long. “I was making money but not enough to hire somebody to help me,” the café’s former owner, Sylvie Moretto, e-mailed me from her new home in Paris, “and doing it all by myself was just too much. Besides, the Dunkin’ Donuts was just a few blocks away [right next to the T stop]; it didn’t help.” After the café closed, it became an office for a home-mortgage company.

MYSTERY TOWN

Perhaps the lack of a “brand” has hampered commercial development in Malden. The city seems to be an enigma to most people I talk to, even though it has almost twice as many people as (admittedly more cinematic) South Boston. When the Boston Globe named Kevin Cullen as a columnist for its Metro section in June, editor Martin Baron pronounced Cullen “Boston to the core,” even though the writer grew up in Malden and graduated from Malden High.

You probably have been in Malden, even if you don’t realize it. Its most heavily traveled road is a stray-hair section of Route 1, between Saugus and Revere, that’s too short to have any exit ramps. If Boston is “All That Jazz,” Malden is “Mr. Cellophane.”(“You can drive right through me/And never know I’m there.”)

Or you might have a dim knowledge of it as one of those “M” cities to the north of Boston, along with Medford (Malden’s opponents in a 101-year-old high-school football rivalry) and Melrose. Its name brings to mind such words as middling, mediocre, and run-of-the-mill—unlike those wonderfully wealthy “W” towns of Wellesley, Weston, and Westwood. (“There’s just a lack of grace and beauty in this town,” said an older woman at the Visioning Workshop.)

It doesn’t have the glitziness of Boston or the teetering-on-disaster problems of Springfield and Lawrence. The city rarely appears in newspaper datelines unless there’s a press release from the state Department of Education, whose headquarters are in a nondescript office building downtown. Malden was the site of one of the biggest Boston-area stories of the 1980s: the accusations (and the still-controversial convictions) of child abuse involving the Amirault family and the Fells Acres day-care center, which was about six blocks from my family’s house. But I don’t remember and can’t find any stories speculating on why it happened in Malden, perhaps because it was too hard to plug the city—not entirely urban but not quite suburban, no longer working-class but not really white-collar —into any cultural stereotypes.

The city is neither glitzy nor teetering on disaster. The city brings to mind Gertrude Stein’s famous quip about Oakland, Calif.: “When you get there, there isn’t any there there.” In Massachusetts, that means it has no college, no hospital (Malden Hospital closed in 2001), and few entries in the Zagat’s restaurant guide.

Cities like Malden are especially prevalent in Massachusetts, thanks to Boston’s failure to annex much of the territory to the north and west of its downtown. In 2005, the Hub accounted for only 13 percent of the population in its own metropolitan area; the comparable numbers were 43 percent for New York, 30 percent for Chicago, and 25 percent for Philadelphia. There are 13 communities in the Bay State with a population of between 30,000 and 100,000 and a density of more than 5,000 people per square mile; only California and New Jersey have more. Besides Malden, they include: Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn, Medford, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Watertown. Malden is at the high end of this category, with 11,103 residents per square mile. It has an area of 5.12 square miles, or half a Wellesley, and 61 percent of its land has housing on it. (The comparable figure for Boston is 41 percent.)

In France, a place like Malden might be considered part of the banlieue, or the crowded outskirts of a major city. Paris’s banlieue received worldwide attention two years ago, thanks to several nights of rioting by people who will probably never be able to afford living in the “inner city.” That frustration, if not the violence, is becoming familiar to people priced out of Boston. None of Boston’s older suburbs is as badly off as Newark and Passaic, both in northern New Jersey, where per-capita income is less than half of the citywide average in New York. But Chelsea, Lynn, and Revere are already poorer than the Hub, and incomes in Everett, Malden, and Quincy did not grow as fast during the 1990s as they did in Boston itself. The pawnshop and half-dozen “dollar” stores in downtown Malden, only a few blocks away but completely out of sight to shoppers at the more respectable chain stores along Route 60, also suggests a kind of economic segregation.

NO MIRACLE CURES

Malden’s population peaked at 59,804 in 1950 (when it was almost entirely white), gradually declined to 53,386 by 1980, and is now estimated at 55,871 (with a white population of 70 percent). For decades its most famous export was Converse footwear. Converse was founded here in 1908, and until the 1970s, it had a near-monopoly on basketball sneakers.

Converse’s demise was at the hands of newer sneaker manufacturers such as Reebok and Nike, which bought the company in 2003. And the overall decline in manufacturing jobs in Malden (down to 8 percent of the city’s total employment in 2005) coincided with the deterioration of a once-thriving downtown and the rise of shopping malls in nearby Medford and Saugus. Before then, Jordan Marsh was the district’s anchor store, where I’d rifle through LPs on the top floor while my mother inspected linens in the basement, but there was also a movie theater (the Granada), a Brigham’s ice cream parlor, and the family-owned Dandy Donuts (instead of the two Dunkin’s there now).

There has been one reason after another to hope that the downtown would come back. When the Orange Line was extended to Malden in 1975, city leaders hoped that shoppers would come from elsewhere. Instead, the subway seemed to make it easier for Maldonians to get to the bigger Jordan Marsh in Boston (and for me to get to the more interesting movie theaters in Harvard Square). At about the same time, Malden built a new City Hall literally in the middle of Pleasant Street, blocking traffic from the West End of the city and ensuring that people disembarking from the Orange Line could not see that there was a shopping district a few yards away. The idea was to create a pedestrian area similar to that in Boston’s Downtown Crossing, but it didn’t help that City Hall was nothing but a brick-and-glass cube with a windswept plaza—a more mundane version of Boston’s “Brutalist”-style seat of government.

As walkers and subway riders proved elusive, the city turned back to the auto, approving the construction of two huge parking garages downtown and a bypass road that made it possible for residents to go for years without seeing Pleasant Street. Indeed, Route 60’s lower elevation makes the apartment towers and the largely vacant two- or three-story retail buildings seem rather menacing to strip-mall shoppers, like a cut-rate Gotham City. A florist and an ice cream shop—two independent businesses that would seem a natural fit for a downtown district—are instead hunkered down in a little building in the middle of a Route 60 parking lot that was built in 1994, not even allowed to touch the Walgreen’s and the Blockbuster videostore behind them.

After Route 60 made downtown even more irrelevant, the city looked elsewhere for economic growth. In 1995, Malden joined Everett and Medford as the host communities for TeleCom City, a 200-acre site on the Malden River that’s little more than a mile south of downtown. But in 2004, after nine frustrating years of trying to lure high-tech industry to the area, a multi-city commission changed the name of the development to River’s Edge and announced that it would consider other options for the land—including more housing. As it turns out, being within a couple of miles of Boston and Cambridge doesn’t necessarily mean you can be a big player in the New Economy.

TEAR DOWN THIS HALL

Malden’s latest strategy seems to be an embrace of the people who are moving here anyway: students, single adults just out of school, and mostly Asian immigrants, all priced out of Boston. Many of these people may not even realize that Malden is a separate city from the Hub, and they may wonder why Mayor Menino doesn’t extend his Main Streets program out here. (Suburbs such as Malden resisted becoming part of Boston because they wanted no part of the big city’s problems, but they also don’t get the benefits of large-scale revitalization programs.)

These newer residents are largely responsible for the scattered signs of life downtown. There are Vietnamese, Indian, and Haitian restaurants among the dollar stores, as well as the Irish pubs and Italian restaurants that recall Malden Square’s heyday in the previous century. More diversity is probably on the way: The demographics of Malden, the state’s 18th largest and fifth most densely populated community, are changing at least as rapidly as in Boston—or in relatively well-known cities such as Worcester, Lowell, and New Bedford. From 1990 to 2000, Boston’s Hispanic and non-white population rose by 26 percent; in Malden, it went up by 163 percent. At the same time, Boston’s foreign-born population increased by 32 percent; in Malden, it was up by 98 percent. Indeed, I hear more non-English-speakers on the Orange Line platform at Malden Center than at Boston’s Downtown Crossing station. In my subgroup at the Visioning Workshop, “diversity” was voted the biggest strength in Malden—but several participants cited what they diplomatically called the “transient population” as one of the city’s biggest challenges.

In accordance with the smart-growth principle that the best new housing is near public transit and already-existing housing, Malden has also been getting even more crowded. The city approved 892 permits for new housing units between 1997 and 2006 (more than two-thirds of them in multifamily buildings). Compare that with two communities of roughly the same population: Over the same period, the more affluent “streetcar suburb” of Brookline approved 342 units, and the western Massachusetts city of Chicopee—with cheaper home prices but far from Boston’s economic sphere—approved 560.

But several participants in the Visioning Workshop said that there are already enough residents to support a revitalized downtown.

“There’s a way to do it [revitalization] without piling on more,” agrees Christenson, the city councilor, adding that developments such as 160 Pleasant Street—an 11-story, 204-unit luxury apartment building primarily responsible for the rather spooky look of the downtown skyline—have sparked something of a backlash against more high-density housing.

Malden may be developing a healthy skepticism of quick fixes, but there is another Big Idea to try, and it happens to be something that Boston is also considering: Tear down City Hall. Mayor Richard Howard reiterated his support for knocking down the building in his “State of the City” address in February, a move that could reconnect the two halves of Pleasant Street and allow subway riders to see downtown Malden from the Orange Line platform. Rather than build a new structure, Howard supports a move of City Hall operations to the “Art Deco wing” of the underused Malden High School on Salem Street, across from the H.H. Richardson–designed public library.

More modestly, Christenson says that angled parking on Pleasant Street, which could replace parallel spots as early as this fall, would encourage quick visits to the business district.

“It makes all the difference,” he says of easier parking. “You don’t fear going downtown.”

There’s also hope that, with more people actually living downtown, Malden will reach a tipping point, with too many potential café and boutique customers for entrepreneurs to ignore. The 60-unit Central Place Apartments opened across from the T stop in 2005, and tenants have just begun moving into 160 Pleasant Street (with one-bedrooms starting at $1580 a month). Of course, that complex does include parking, and its Web site touts its location “near major highways,” but the city can hope that some of the new residents get around to exploring their immediate surroundings.

There’s already some evidence of that. The startlingly chic All Seasons Restaurant, which features a sushi bar and live jazz, seems to have established a steady clientele since opening in May. At the nearby Exchange Street Bistro, one patron told me that the 120-seat restaurant is “more South End than Malden,” and it seems to be doing a good business in drinks with South End prices; all of the seats at the bar were occupied during both of my visits there. It has a modern, attractive exterior, even if the location is a bit more cautious—not among the ghosts of Pleasant Street but on a lower-level block facing the parking lots and strip malls.

“You saw how Davis Square changed,” says Bistro owner John Carlino, who formerly worked at 29 Newbury St. in Boston’s Back Bay. “We need three or four more restaurants to become a destination place.”

Perhaps this historically working-class city may finally experience a rebirth—and prove that smart development isn’t just for towns with new growth. How will we know that Malden has finally arrived? Carlino has one suggestion that’s not terribly original but has worked in plenty of other places: “If only we can get a Starbucks…”

Tax and mend

Tax and mend

asked why he’s taken a lead role in the bid by House Democrats this year to enact an overhaul of the little-known alternative minimum tax, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield points to Maggie Rauh, a Chicopee accountant and mother of three in his western Massachusetts district.

Rauh and her husband are among the many Bay State residents trying to raise a family on a middle-class income. Saving is hard, she told Neal’s Ways and Means subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures earlier this year. And the tax code is only making it harder. After working the numbers, Rauh told the subcommittee, she was “dumbfounded” to realize that, in 2007, unless Congress acts to limit the projected hit of the alternative minimum tax, her family will be among the 23 million American households forced to pay more under the separate tax system, increasing their tax burden by $1,300—no small sum on a family income of $75,000.

That’s not what Congress intended when it created the AMT back in 1969. At the time, Congress was reacting to news that 155 high-income taxpayers had avoided taxes that year altogether by claiming unusually large deductions. The idea was to ensure that wealthy Americans couldn’t pull that stunt anymore.

But Congress made a crucial mistake by failing to index the AMT to inflation, the result of which has been a steady expansion of the people who find themselves hit by the tax, particularly among those with larger-than-average families or substantial deductions for state taxes and home mortgage interest.

Here’s how it works: Taxpayers must calculate their taxes under both the regular tax system and the AMT’s rules and pay whichever bill is highest. AMT filers cannot claim deductions for home mortgage interest or state and local taxes. Instead, single filers may claim a $42,500 deduction (or $62,550 for married couples filing jointly) and then pay 26 percent on income up to $175,000 and 28 percent on income above that.

Beginning in 2001, Congress has passed an-nual “patches” to the AMT, or one-year adjustments that have shielded most taxpayers from its bite. In 2006, only 4 million Americans ended up paying the AMT, thanks to the patch. But because of high property costs and state and local taxes, Massachusetts is one of the hardest-hit states in the country—seventh overall, according to a recent study of 2004 data by the Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank. Nearly 4 percent of state taxpayers paid the AMT that year.

The hardest-hit congressional district in the Bay State was the 4th, which runs from western Boston suburbs such as Brookline and Newton down to the South Coast and is represented by Barney Frank. There, nearly 5.5 percent of taxpayers were hit with an average AMT bite of $4,500 beyond what they would have paid under the regular tax structure. Neal’s 2nd district, anchored in Springfield, had a relatively low burden, with only 2 percent of taxpayers paying the AMT there.

But Neal, because of his role as the only Bay State representative on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, has been more attuned to the growing AMT problem than most, first proposing legislation to fix it a decade ago. Now, with Democrats in control of the House for the first time since 1995, and Neal chairing the Ways and Means subcommittee with oversight authority on the issue, he’s leading the effort.

“This was part of the promise we made during election season: to make sure middle-income people are not going to get hit by the alternative minimum tax,” he says.

But it’s proving a lot easier said than done. Neal and his allies want to end the AMT hit on middle-class households, while paying for it with tax increases elsewhere. (Price tag: $800 billion over 10 years.) “We don’t just want to do it that way, we have to do it that way,” he says. That’s because House Democrats, upon taking control of the chamber in January, put back in place so-called pay-as-you-go rules, which require legislation to be revenue-neutral.

Neal says his plan would benefit 87 taxpayers for every one who has to pay more because of it. “The anger of the one is relatively insignificant compared to the 87,” he says. But most of the 87 who stand to benefit from Neal’s fix—people like Chicopee’s Maggie Rauh—have never actually felt the tax’s hit, because of the patches Congress has passed each year. That’s why the political calculus is that those who would benefit from a permanent AMT solution are unlikely to know the difference, while those stuck with the tab to pay for it surely will.

Meanwhile, despite the Democratic takeover of Congress, Neal isn’t getting much help from the Senate, where finance committee chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is pushing a two-year patch for the AMT at a cost of $110 billion that he doesn’t intend to pay for by raising taxes elsewhere.

Neal says he’s not worried about how the Senate approaches the job, saying that it’s the House’s role to lead on revenue measures, and let the chips fall where they may. He wants to raise the AMT rates from the current level of 28 percent on joint income tax filers with incomes of above $500,000, in order to pay for an elimination of the tax for filers below $250,000. Families with incomes in between would still be subject to the AMT, but would get a rate reduction. (But if the legislation does not include indexing for inflation, the AMT squeeze on the middle class could reappear down the road.)

For their part, Neal’s Republican counterparts on the Ways and Means Committee have blasted the approach as a surefire way to short-circuit economic growth. President Bush hasn’t said whether he would support it, but most Washington prognosticators think it’s unlikely.

Neal says that for every year Congress passes another temporary fix—and fails to pay for it with tax increases elsewhere—other federal programs and urgent funding needs are left unmet. “It takes away your ability to do other things you’d really like to do,” he says. “I think there’s more political risk to not fix it.”

Whether enough of his colleagues come to see it that way, of course, is the real question.

AN OPPORTUNE TIME FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES

Once I got past the inflammatory cover headline (“College Try: Why Aren’t Mass. Community Colleges Making the Grade?CW, Spring ’07), I was glad to see CommonWealth present such a thoughtful and balanced assessment of the challenges and the potential of our state’s community colleges.

This is a timely topic. Gov. Deval Patrick acknowledged as much in his proposal to make community college free for all Massachusetts residents. The governor’s proposal has merit: It is a good thing to signal the importance of higher education to high school students in the Commonwealth who may think that college is too expensive. And it is important to make an explicit link between public higher education (two- and four-year) and the state’s economic future. A public commitment to community colleges playing a key role in that economic future is long overdue.

However, the state can probably make more efficient investments. Scarce public resources should be targeted to those for whom cost is a serious obstacle, not to any resident who chooses a two-year college. Moreover, while the governor is sending a powerful signal about access to college in an era when at least two years of postsecondary learning are needed to secure a family-supporting wage, the more pressing challenge facing Massachusetts community colleges and their students is success in postsecondary education. Whatever we think of graduation rates as a measure of community college performance, too many students who want to earn a credential never reach their goal— and this is unacceptable. Access without success can be a hollow promise.

As CW’s Michael Jonas notes, this may be a moment when community colleges not only get the attention they deserve, but when focus shifts more deliberately to how to help more students succeed once they get to college. Four Massachusetts community colleges—Bunker Hill and Roxbury in Boston, Springfield Technical, and Northern Essex in Haverhill and Lawrence—have been selected to join a national initiative on community college student success called Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, launched several years ago by the Lumina Foundation for Education (www.achievingthedream.org). Four local funders have stepped up and pooled resources to support this effort for five years: the Balfour, Boston, and Davis Foundations and the Educational Resources Institute. (Jobs for the Future is a national partner in Achieving the Dream.) A state team led by the Board of Higher Education will identify and promote changes in policy designed to improve outcomes, particularly for low-income and minority students. This is a real opportunity—one that the governor, the Legislature, and the higher education community should get behind and make the most of.

The future of Massachusetts is its human capital. Too often, we think this means the elite research institutions—public and private—that contribute so much to our state and its well-being. As CW so rightly points out, the state’s community colleges are a critical piece of the way forward. This might just be the time when both college and political leaders come together around this critical agenda.

Richard Kazis
Senior vice president
Jobs for the Future
Boston

MEETING THE NEED FOR FUTURE PUBLIC LEADERS

Richard Freeland’s Considered Opinion essay (“Turnaround Time”) offered a no-nonsense assessment of the state of coordination between the Commonwealth’s economic engine and the academic assets throughout metropolitan Boston, but his calculus missed an important element of managing any bold partnership over the long haul: growing the next generation of public leaders and managers needed by our nation’s federal, state, and local governments. Bureaucratic reformers may call for personnel cuts and contractor downsizing, but if we are to properly align academic institutions to support economic development ends, we should also look at educating the public stewards necessary for this dynamic, multiyear effort.

While not yet a crisis, the time for action is well before crisis conditions exist. I believe Freeland’s ideas must be expanded in a post-9/11 environment to reflect national service needs. Recently, two determined young men who served in Teach for America in rural Mississippi offered a bold vision for growing the public-sector workforce through the creation of a civilian equivalent of West Point, called the Public Service Academy.

The Public Service Academy would educate the professionals needed for the numerous functions of our federal, state, local and tribal governments. In exchange for a paid education, individuals would join public service for five years, providing needed expertise and passion—and perhaps remaining to help replace the 44 percent of government workers eligible to retire in the next five years.

Freeland identifies the need for a strategic plan to align diverse stakeholders’ efforts. More visionary leadership from the state’s university presidents can help. Our universities are on the front lines of developing new solutions to the world’s problems, from global warming to stem-cell research. So why not implement a better system for educating our best and brightest to ensure our nation’s critical infrastructure, essential services, and national security programs?

However, when it comes to building future generations of leaders, the best option the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration could come up with was to create a virtual academy, thus disparaging the “brick and mortar” concept of education. Everyone gets spam from various virtual universities, but would you trust them to train future diplomats and air traffic controllers? Does anyone think Congress should replace West Point with a series of video teleconferences and instant messages?

In addition to Freeland’s recommendations, there are three things educators and public officials need to do. First, federal agency leaders must assess the skills needed to deliver smarter, better service. The federal Office of Personnel Management should also work with agency heads to establish a clear pipeline for recruiting workers with these skill sets. Once colleges understand the pipeline, they can align their programs, courses, and job placement efforts to provide graduates with the right skills and job opportunities.

Second, governors, mayors, and university presidents should convene a summit to assess local university capacities and to align scholarship funding and service requirements in order to produce the types of graduates needed for the future workforce. They should set up a “strategic think tank” with a rotating pool of graduate school fellows in diverse fields to support the development of Freeland’s framework and other essential joint endeavors.

Third, hearings on the Public Service Academy concept should be held on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures. The hearings may lead to a state-level public service adaptation of the ROTC concept as a way of providing economies of scale through existing degree programs—with the added esprit de corps and unit cohesion coming from weekly training classes and hands-on summer training.

To increase economic opportunity for the Commonwealth, our elected leaders must ensure the effective management of the public trust. And college graduates deserve additional public service options in order to build businesses, lead diplomatically, protect our environment, teach our children, ensure the quality of health care for veterans and elderly, and protect our national security. It is our responsibility as leaders in our various professions to act now so there is a new generation of public servants ready to receive the torch when it is passed.

Bridger McGaw
Task Force on Homeland Security
The Century Foundation
New York

HOMEOWNERS PAY DEARLY IN SPRINGFIELD

Robert David Sullivan (“Money from Home,” Head Count) has it wrong. Springfield is not a city that does not “squeeze a lot from homeowners.” Residential property taxes in Springfield are 59 percent above the state average for cities in Massachusetts (according to a recent Northeastern University study), thanks to a Proposition 21/2 override that now contributes about $18 million extra to the city each year. Commercial property tax rates, according to the same study, are 44 percent above the state average for cities.

The idea that Springfield residents are somehow getting a free ride via local aid is a myth, not a fact.

Paul Peter Nicolai
Nicolai Law Group
Springfield

CORRECTION

The State of the States feature in our Spring issue erroneously stated that Massachusetts ranked 39th in the number of municipal employees per 100,000 residents as of 2004. Massachusetts actually ranked 36th by that measure; it was 39th in the number of state employees per 100,000 residents.

On second thought

On second thought

Smart-growth forces enjoy a reversal of fortune in Kingston

UPDATE: Kingston’s Place turned out to be far from a done deal. The developer pulled the plug on the project in 2010.

kingston — Residential growth, smart or otherwise, is rarely an easy sell in the outer Boston suburbs. Townsfolk fear that too many new homes and residents will erode the quality of life that attracts people to these communities in the first place.

But this spring, the South Shore community of Kingston embraced a 109-acre development with more than 700 new homes. Four years earlier, the town had killed a similar proposal for the same property, dealing a setback to the smart-growth movement, then in its formative stages in Massachusetts. (See “Growth Smarts,” CW, Winter ’03.) Backers say that smart growth prevailed this time because the benefits were clearly laid out—as were the consequences if it failed.

The new project, known as 1021 Kingston’s Place, would be the largest development in the town’s history by far, and its residents would be within walking distance of the Kingston commuter rail station. “This is an opportunity to locate affordable housing in a place that makes sense,” says Thomas J. O’Brien, a former Kingston state representative who became Plymouth County treasurer last year.

It is also an opportunity to take advantage of Chapter 40R, the three-year-old state law that financially rewards communities—in this case, with more than $600,000—for rezoning to allow high-density and affordable housing near public transit or town centers. (See “Chapter 40R on the Rise,” CW, Spring ’07.) As the law requires, 20 percent of the units at 1021 Kingston’s Place would be affordable for low- and moderate-income households. But almost every possible housing type is included in the plan: 245 condominiums, 260 single-family homes, 225 apartments, and 33 home-office-workplace units.

The idea for Kingston’s Place was hatched by Thorndike Development of Norton, a company known for its “new urbanist” projects such as Chapman’s Reach (Quincy), and Pinehills (Plymouth). For Kingston, the company came up with a village-style development with green space and walking paths not only to the rail station, but also to soccer fields and the town’s elementary and middle schools.The smartgrowth movement meets its Waterloo in Kingston

Selectman Mark Beaton opposed rezoning the site for housing when the idea was first proposed in 2003. But when Thorndike offered detailed plans about what would be built and how the town might benefit, he liked what he heard.

“The first time the zoning was proposed, the town had a lot of questions…and, basically, the people who put it forward said, ‘Don’t worry about it,’” according to Beaton. “This time, the developer came forward and said exactly what he was going to do.”

Still, Kingston’s acceptance of Chapter 40R did not come easily. Opponents have compared the project to plunking the neighboring town of Plympton (pop. 2,800) right into the middle of Kingston. At the same time, Dennis Randall, a member of the town planning board, found it hard to believe that the location—an abandoned sand and gravel pit—was suitable for such an ambitious project. “It looks like an Iraqi war zone,” he says.

Town meeting deliberations spanned three consecutive nights in April. The plan almost died amid parliamentary maneuvering by both supporters and opponents, but a dramatically increased turnout on the last night—orchestrated, critics complain, by Thorndike Development—put the zoning change over the top. The project will need one more approval from town meeting in the fall, and opponents may try again to scuttle it.

the debate over smart growth in Kingston started more than a decade ago, when local officials and housing advocates eyed the huge expanse of open land next to the train station, which opened in 1997 with the revival of the Old Colony line to Boston. The first rezoning plan would have allowed 800 homes on the site, owned by local businesswoman Mary O’Donnell. A majority at town meeting supported the proposal, but it fell well short of the two-thirds needed to change local zoning bylaws or ordinances in Massachusetts.

After that, the land stayed vacant, and other uses for the site were pretty much ruled out. A nature preserve was highly unlikely in such forbidding terrain. Retail stores preferred to set up near the Route 3 interchange with the relocated Route 44, a four-lane highway linking Plymouth with Providence. And given the distance from Boston, the site wasn’t ideal for office space.

Meanwhile, developers began to target Kingston for Chapter 40B housing. There are now six separate plans in the works that total 590 units of housing, about 150 of which would be affordable. All of the projects, which were filed after 2003, are designed to trigger Chapter 40B, a state law that can negate local zoning if less than 10 percent of a municipality’s housing stock is deemed affordable.

“The town is inundated with 40B proposals,” Beaton says. “We’ve been asking the state to stop jamming these things down our throat.”

While the pressures of 40B were mounting in Kingston, Chapter 40R passed on Beacon Hill. O’Brien, then a state representative, was a co-sponsor. “I believe if people are given the appropriate incentives, they will embrace affordable housing,” he says.

However, the state’s financial incentives may matter less than the fact that the Thorndike project would add 146 units to the town’s supply of affordable housing and, according to town officials, push Kingston over the 10 percent affordability threshold. The town thus would be immunized against future 40B proposals. (The 40B applications already filed would not be affected by such a change in the town’s status.)

The 40B dilemma is presumably one reason that the town was newly receptive when Thorndike and its president, Lloyd Geisinger, appeared on the scene in January 2006. Thorndike had the property under agreement from O’Donnell and began pitching ideas for 40R zoning and a smart-growth project on the site. In March, the board of selectmen initiated talks with the state Department of Housing and Community Development on establishing a 40R district at the property—the first step in getting state certification of the zone and, ultimately, state payments.

Through the summer and fall, Thorndike representatives met with town boards, civic groups, and individuals who lived near the site, hashing out solutions to such things as increased traffic and the added strain on the public works, police, and fire departments. By the end of the year, the developer had put together a tantalizing package of incentives. Thorndike promised to build a new ramp that would lead from the development and the train station to Route 3 southbound, promising an end to the frustrating evening traffic jams that regularly occur near the station now.

Smart growth may help keep out 40B housing.

Thorndike also promised to pay for a new town well, an expansion of the sewer system, playing fields for local youth sports programs, and a new fire truck with a 100-foot ladder that could reach the tallest buildings in the complex. When a citizen advisory group asked that Thorndike construct environmentally friendly, energy efficient buildings made of recycled and recyclable materials, the company agreed to have the designs certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Under Chapter 40R, Kingston should also get money from the state—$600,000 upfront and $3,000 every time a building permit is pulled for the project. But the town, like others across Massachusetts, is watching with interest developments on Beacon Hill, where Gov. Deval Patrick and some lawmakers are trying to find a steady source of 40R funds to ensure that cities and towns get their promised cash (a detail that the Legislature and Patrick’s predecessor, Mitt Romney, didn’t attend to when the law was passed). Administration officials said they expect to make an announcement on the matter this summer. But Thorndike has promised to pay the incentives itself if the state doesn’t come through.

Another boost for the Thorndike project came in the results of a study commissioned by the town and issued this past March by the Boston consulting firm Community Opportunities Group. The report concluded that the high-density development would not be that attractive to families with children and instead would draw mostly young professionals and older people. The project would bring in only about 200 new schoolchildren, who could be absorbed into existing schools, according to the report. Community Opportunities Group predicted that the project would produce a net benefit for the town’s coffers of $707,000 a year.

For some Kingston residents, all of this was too good to be true.

“The developer played the town like a fiddle,” says planning board member Dennis Randall.

Randall maintains that residential growth inevitably strains municipal resources and produces higher taxes, which are already a major concern in Kingston. To close a budget gap this year, Kingston voters approved $1.5 million in Proposition 21/2 overrides, which will boost taxes on an average home by about $300 a year. “I don’t buy the analysis,” Randall says. “It argues that the way to get out of a budget deficit is to grow your way out of it. If that were the case, our taxes should be going down now.”

Of the 40R cash the town would get, he says, “It’s a one-time payment. The long-term impact is for the life of the town.”

But town planner Thomas Bott says that a housing development is the best thing that can happen to the property. “This is going to take an ugly landscape and turn it into something attractive and much more profitable for the town,” he says. (And as he told CommonWealth four years ago, “The whole idea [is] to take the people who were going to move to Kingston and put them by the T instead of other parts of town.”)

Kara Brewton, project manager for Thorndike, also argues that the development’s affordable housing will benefit the entire community: “When your children are coming out of college, where are they going to live? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could live in the town where they grew up?”

on the first night of town meeting in April, supporters of the project turned out in force, and they tried to get the measure taken out of order so that it could be voted on right away. The debate bogged down, though, and no vote was taken before the meeting adjourned for the evening.

On the following night, after a couple of hours of debate, a vote was finally called, and the tally was 506 to 291 in favor of the plan—a simple majority but not quite the needed two-thirds to amend the zoning bylaws.

Health Board chairman Dan Sapir, an outspoken opponent of the project and publisher of the Kingston Observer newspaper, made a key strategic move right after the vote: He called for reconsideration. Sapir reasoned that if the measure could have been immediately defeated a second time, the project would be dead. “Once a motion for reconsideration fails, the prior decision is sealed and can not come up again, either that day or at a reconvened session,” Sapir wrote in the Observer.

Before the vote could be taken, though, a supporter of the project called for adjournment. A simple majority is all that is needed to adjourn, and the motion to continue the matter to the next night carried.

Over the next 24 hours, both sides mobilized their forces, and the result was one of the largest turnouts ever for a Kingston town meeting. There was a big showing from the 230-home Indian Pond Estates next to the site, but opponents cried foul over an agreement between Thorndike and the Indian Pond Neighborhood Association. Thorndike had agreed to pay for improvements to a road in the development, and in return, the association agreed to undertake a get-out-the-vote effort. While Sapir and other critics called the deal unsavory, Thorndike and the association defended it as legitimate town meeting politicking. After a lengthy debate, the vote was taken and this time the margin was overwhelmingly in favor: 925 to 341. The zoning change had finally passed.

“It was a very high-stakes poker game,” Randall says.

“Town meeting was dramatic after this long drawn-out process. It certainly was an exciting three nights,” agrees Brewton.

Opponents have not given up. An easement is needed to build the new ramp to Route 3, and that will require town meeting approval at a session scheduled for the fall. Critics of the project say they will carry the fight to the voters again.

The project also has to undergo extensive state regulatory review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and will need permits from a number of state and local agencies. “We’re really at the beginning of the permitting process,” says Brewton, who projects a 2009 construction start and a decade for full build-out.

Selectman Beaton acknowledges there is a long way to go before Kingston’s new village-inside-a-town becomes a reality. And while he understands there are risks in accepting such a dramatic change for the town, he believes the rewards will be worth it. “I think to Kingston’s credit, we took the leap of faith,” he said.

MCAS is a national model for accountability

the anti-mcas activists may not want to hear this, but the MCAS graduation requirement is here to stay. The data does not lie: Our children are learning more, achieving more, and surpassing their peers nationwide.

The MCAS graduation requirement brought true accountability to the state’s public schools, and it allows employers to feel confident in the basic skills of high school graduates. Most importantly, the pressure of MCAS has increased the performance expectations for Massachusetts students and teachers.

And they have responded in spectacular fashion.

Shortly after the passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act and the future promise of the MCAS graduation requirement, Massachusetts was closer to the middle of the nation’s academic pack. Since the graduation requirement kicked in, our numbers have risen steadily on both local and national assessments. Our SAT scores have gone up each year, placing us continually at or near the top of the country. And for two years running, Massachusetts students have been tops in the nation for math and reading proficiency according to the National Assessment of Educational Process. No other state has ever held the top NAEP math and reading rankings in the same year, let alone two years in a row.

Massachusetts and MCAS have been held up as a national model for accountability and balanced assessment. A recent Time magazine report on the No Child Left Behind law heralded “Massachusetts’ high-quality exams” as the “gold standard” that should be adopted as the national assessment system. The report concluded that the MCAS exam was more meaningful than other states’ tests that are too weak, watered-down, or not properly connected to the classroom curriculum.

If we backtrack now, we unravel 15 years of progress.

The MCAS works because it’s not just an off-the-shelf assessment test like so many others. It’s a standards-based test, meaning that kids are tested on what they are actually learning in school. It requires students to demonstrate writing, reading, comprehension, and problem-solving skills. In short, MCAS exams measure the whole education of the whole child.

Critics often assume that students who drop out of high school do so because they cannot handle the pressure of the high-stakes exam, but this is not true. A survey of district superintendents conducted by the Department of Education in 2005 found that family problems and academics were the two main reasons why students drop out of high school. Other reasons included economics, frequent truancy, health issues, and a lack of interest in school. Many high-achieving students have also reported that they dropped out to start working because they didn’t think they could afford the cost of college tuition.

And if the survey results aren’t convincing enough, consider the numbers: The Department of Education just announced that the statewide dropout total decreased from 3.8 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 in 2004-2005 to 3.3 percent in 2005-2006. Of the more than 9,000 students who dropped out that year, more than 2,500 were seniors. And of that total, more than 68 percent had already passed both high-stakes exams.

It is also worth noting that top MCAS performers are more prepared for academic success after graduation, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. The Boston Globe noted that the study “offers evidence that performance on the high-stakes tests is linked to college readiness and bolsters the case that the state’s academic standards are helping to prepare students for college.”

And despite the anti-MCAS activists’ anecdotal stories of students and teachers buckling under the weight of the graduation requirement, the data tell a much different story. In June, the Department of Education announced that 92 percent of students in the class of 2008 had already met the state’s graduation requirement by passing the math and English MCAS exams after only three tries. This was the best performance of any class to this point, and it continues a trend of annual improvements in the passage rate after three attempts.

Mr. Kaplan and Rep. Sciortino are correct in saying that, historically, too many students have been written off and ignored. The result has been generations of students sentenced to a life of mediocrity. We cannot afford for this to continue, as a Commonwealth or as a nation. It is the social, economic, and moral imperative of state and local government to provide equal educational opportunity for every child in the Commonwealth.

The increased statewide classroom accountability brought about by the MCAS graduation requirement was one of the pillars of the Education Reform Act of 1993. In exchange for enhanced accountability, legislative leaders, then-Gov. Bill Weld and the business community agreed to a significant ramp-up in state education funding. Since the beginning of education reform, the state has invested $40 billion in new education funding. There is no doubting the Legislature’s and past and present governors’ commitment to funding the promise of education reform.

If we backtrack on the accountability of MCAS now, we will not only do a disservice to our children, we will unravel 15 years of significant progress. In one fell swoop, we will erase the grand bargain between teachers, students, parents, administrators, and employers that has made Massachusetts the envy of the nation.

But the debate over MCAS, which for the past few years has been quiet, is suddenly growing louder. The anti-accountability activists are back again, this time trying to weaken the foundation of MCAS by adding in a laundry list of ambiguous requirements with little educational merit. If they had their way, new “assessment measures” would continue to be added until MCAS has the weight of a pop quiz. Hopefully, they are not fooling anyone.

Anti-MCAS activists should refocus their energies and join the real education debate going on both locally and nationally. For the past 15 months, key education stakeholders—union leaders, principals, superintendents, elected officials, higher education leaders, and employers—have met at Genzyme to discuss a common agenda to begin the next phase of education reform. During meetings of this group the subject of MCAS rarely comes up. Certainly no one in that room has made a push for eliminating or even weakening the graduation requirement. There is too much important real work to do.

This group, co-chaired by Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer and Analog Devices founder Ray Stata, doesn’t waste time debating the merits of MCAS. It is more focused on pressing educational challenges, such as helping the state’s lowest performing schools turn themselves around, recruiting and retaining the world’s best teachers, and finding ways to support these teachers in the classroom.

If Massachusetts is to keep its leadership national position in K-12 education—and find ways to outpace our global competitors—we need to set a 21st-century agenda. Giving up on high standards will not get us there. The children of Massachusetts need—and deserve—much, much more.

Christopher R. Anderson is president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Henry Thomas is president of the Urban League of Springfield and a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education.

Statistically Significant

Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster

Maybe it’s a subliminal reminder to do well in school, but girls’ names ending in “a” are all the rage in Massachusetts. According to the Social Security Administration, the top five names for newborn girls in the Bay State last year were Ava, Isabella, Emma, Sophia, and Olivia. Nationally, the top five included Emily and Madison, but they got less love here. The good old Irish name of Mary, a standby in the Bay State’s top 10 until 1969, fell all the way to 95th place.

On the boys’ side, Matthew, Ryan, Michael, Nicholas, and Andrew headed the list. (This was the only state where Matthew was on top.) Jacob, Joshua, and Ethan were in the national top five but got snubbed here. The president’s first name, George, didn’t make the top 100 at either the state or national level. Less surprisingly, Mitt and Deval were also absent. But John continues to poll well in JFK’s home state, coming in sixth; it’s one of the very few names that has been consistently popular over the past 50 years.

Mosquito patrol

The risk of contracting eastern equine encephalitis in Massachusetts peaks during the second half of August, according to the Department of Public Health, due to the prevalence of adult mosquitoes. The DPH recommends aerial spraying to kill mosquitoes (using an “adulticide” called Anvil that targets fully grown insects but is not considered harmful to humans), but some communities are voicing doubts about the technique.

In May the town of Grafton took its chances and opted out of the 38-member Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project, saving $47,000 and pleasing residents who voiced fears that the spraying was also killing honey bees. And last fall the town of East Bridgewater became the first in the state to opt for a more natural form of pest control. It spent $1,000 apiece to set up 10 “bat houses” in areas that attract both humans and mosquitoes, such as athletic fields.

(Bats were not included in the purchase price, but officials are counting on the structures to do well on the housing market for upwardly mobile skeeter-eaters.) A representative of Atlantic Termite and Pest Control, which installed the houses, told the Boston Globe that each structure can accommodate 300 bats and that each bat can eat 1,200 insects an hour. Actual results should become known this summer.

Rush hour at the emergency room

The Division of Health Care Finance and Policy recently calculated that 1.02 million visits to Massachusetts hospital emergency rooms in FY 2005, which resulted in charges of $959 million, were unnecessary or could have been avoided “with timely and effective ambulatory care.” It turns out that avoidable ER visits are most frequent between 6 and 9 a.m.—perhaps because of the stress of getting ready for work combined with the fact that many health clinics are not open yet. Women, minority groups, and Medicaid recipients make up a disproportionate share of these ER visitors.

The agency’s report concludes, “Even if some percentage of visits by Medicaid and uninsured patients were moved to clinic or office settings, a substantial savings to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could accrue.”

Suffolk’s elected elite

“Robert” is the most common name in the current legislative roster on Beacon Hill (14 members), something that can’t last much longer. The new Massachusetts Political Almanac also reveals that Suffolk University claims the most former students in the Senate and House; 44 members, or almost one-quarter of the Legislature as of the beginning of this year, included the school on their biographies. Boston College is second, at 28, followed by Harvard, with 24. Boston University and MIT, known for their international student bodies, have few grads in legislative office, but at least BU can claim Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Tim Cahill.

Another stat gleaned from the Almanac: While 83 percent of the male legislators were born in Massachusetts, only 42 percent of female legislators can say the same.

Who’s lining up at our ATM?

Though 18 presidential candidates filed first-quarter reports with the Federal Election Commission, just three candidates—Republican Mitt Romney and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—accounted for 74 percent of the contributions from Bay State residents. Among Democrats, Clinton raised the most money ($980,000), doing especially well in Boston’s 02116. But Obama may be more dependent on the Bay State. He almost matched Clinton here, with $919,000, and Cambridge’s 02138 was his seventh-most-lucrative zip code in the entire country, giving him $183,000.

Mitt Romney collected an impressive $2.3 million in Massachusetts, but his top zip code was in Provo, Utah, making him the only major candidate whose biggest haul wasn’t in his home state. The Bay State did make an appearance in seventh place: Weston’s 02493 shelled out $132,000. Two of Romney’s Republican rivals had Massachusetts zip codes among their top five, but Sam Brownback’s four West Roxbury contributions amounted to only $4,750, and Ron Paul’s $4,600 from Wellesley came from two people with same last name.

Gaps in dental coverage

Almost one-third of Bay State communities—including most of the territory west of Framingham—are part of a “dental shortage area,” meaning that they have a people-per-dentist ratio of more than 4,000-to-1, according to a new report by the Oral Health Collaborative of Massachusetts. A separate MassINC tally (using June data from the state Division of Professional Licensure) found that Charlton and Northbridge were the biggest towns without any currently licensed dentist, while Chelsea was the least-served city, with six dentists for a population of 33,000. By contrast, Brookline had 185 dentists, or one for every 300 people. The Collaborative warns that the dentist-to-population ratio is in a steady decline across the U.S., due to a lack of newcomers to replace retiring practitioners (see Statistically Significant, CW, Winter ’04).

One possible solution to the shortage is not getting much support among the tooth squad: The Massachusetts Dental Society is fighting a bill in the Legislature that would allow dental assistants and hygienists to practice without the direct supervision of fully licensed drillers.