Growing together or apart

Growth & Develpment Extra 2006

Today, Massachusetts is fast becoming not one state but two—and our sense of commonwealth is the worse for it. Some residents are enjoying the bounty provided by a resilient economy driven by innovation, entrepreneurship, and capital formation. Their home values have soared while their quality of life—starting with the liberty to live in the town of their choosing—has made them happy to be Bay Staters. For them, Massachusetts is a place of beauty, history, and opportunity.

For others, notably those of a younger generation, things are different. For many of those who were born here, buying a home in the town where they grew up has become impossible. For those drawn here by our incomparable institutions of higher education and medicine, staying here and building a career is, at best, a challenge. Indeed, middle-income families seeking the American Dream—a nice house, a yard, quality public schools, a reasonable commute, and low crime rates—face difficult choices. Most communities within Route 128, and many within I-495, are not affordable. For these families, the Commonwealth has become a place of high costs and endless commutes. For the rest of us, we risk losing the very thing that has always been Massachusetts’s advantage: the ability to attract and retain the most skilled and talented workforce in the nation.

Over the past two years MassINC research has painted a picture of demographic upheaval, with three forces coming to bear. First, outmigration: We are losing our native-born population to other states—and won the dubious distinction in 2004 of being the only state to lose in overall population numbers. Second, immigration: Our work-force growth, even our ability to stay even in number of workers, comes exclusively from the arrival of new residents from other countries. Third, aging and retirement: We have the 12th-oldest population in the country, and a large number of Bay Staters approaching that time say they plan to retire elsewhere.

What does all this mean for the Commonwealth’s future? Will middle-income families have a shot at the American Dream in Massachusetts? Will new incentives for housing amount to anything, or are we congratulating ourselves for what amounts to tinkering at the margins? Will we make choices that preserve the rich natural and historic heritage of our state? Will the older cities of Massachusetts —the “gateway cities” for many immigrants—make a return to vitality?

These are among the questions that motivate this special issue of CommonWealth. It is only the third extra edition in the magazine’s 10-year history, and the topic—growth and development—takes its rightful place along health care and education reform as a subject deserving the attention of a full issue unto itself.

Meet the Author
This special issue of CommonWealth —the biggest ever published—is made possible by an eclectic consortium of civic-minded organizations. The 38 sponsors of this issue represent the full spectrum of interests involved in growth and development: developers and property owners, real estate firms and construction companies, environmentalists, housing advocates, labor unions, homebuilders, public agencies, and foundations. That all these groups, with their varied viewpoints and interests, have made such an investment in independent journalism in their sphere of influence—with no promise of editorial control—is a testament to their commitment to our community. We thank them for their support, and for their faith in CommonWealth to do justice to the topic they care so much about, letting the chips fall where they may.

   Ian Bowles