What makes a city attractive? Strong employment and capital investment, good schools, accessible housing, verdant parks, resilient environments, joyful shopping and entertainment, excellent healthcare, safe neighborhoods, social and ethnic diversity that enhances creativity? Further, is it possible to build attractive cities and regions without driving out the residents and businesses that made those areas attractive in the first place? How can participatory action research engage students, faculty, policy-makers and the public in shared strategies for improving urban quality of life?
Dukakis Center Economic Development analyses have emphasized quantitative factors such as labor force skills, cross-marketing between municipalities and the business community, available development sites and fast-track permitting, housing costs, and school success measures as key incentives toward making working cities work well. As America’s national economy booms with low unemployment and interest rates, qualitative factors and community engagement have been added to these economic factors as assessment tools for gauging the quality of life in our cities.
Annual 2019 popular publication lists of the “best” cities in the world have been released, with a recurrent dearth of cities in New England. Boston, with strong employment, great universities, superb health care and cultural institutions, an entrepreneurial spirit, and population growth of 10% over the past decade, ranks high in walkability, park access, technical employment opportunities, and easy health insurance access.
The Greater Boston region also has the worst traffic congestion in the United States, low home-ownership rates, high residential racial segregation and income disparities, and low affordability. Dwell, Monocle, and Travel & Leisure list no New England cities on their “best” lists, while Worth lists only Providence as a desirable New England living destination. By contrast, Charleston, SC, Savannah, and Chicago are on multiple lists. Despite, or perhaps as a result of recent rapid growth, New England has much to do to be widely considered as an attractive and livable destination. This challenge makes New England a desirable location for participatory action research into how public policies can be applied toward improving opportunities and quality of life in urban areas.
The Dukakis Center’s research and Just Cities urban support agenda continue to focus on this challenge of implementing collaborative, ethical, and inclusive “think and do” research in New England and globally. We are involved with capacity-building for planning in diverse, under-served communities. Our participatory action research focuses on community engagement, self-determination, values and social justice in a time of turmoil.
The 2019 Housing Report Card, spearheaded by Associate Director Alicia Sasser-Modestino, addressed regional planning and zoning issues as impediments to the development of affordable housing. Her research, program assessments, and publications also focused on workforce training, summer jobs for youth, and credit-building programs.
Student research in conjunction with Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute focused on potential development impacts of Opportunity Zone tax incentives on Roxbury, adjacent to the Northeastern campus. The first annual Dukakis Center fall Mind the Gap conference focused on public transportation equity, bringing newly elected Representative Ayanna Pressley to campus. Other research and community engagement projects involved school design to improve learning outcomes, youth employment program outcomes, commercial truck tariffs, racial equity, global urban design trends (at the Venice Architecture Biennale), and collaboration on data project presentations with the Boston Area Research Initiative. We also co-hosted the Boston Society of Landscape Architecture’s annual meeting with Northeastern’s Architecture Program.
The 2019-2020 school year is the context for engaged policy debates and strategic planning for pressing urban and regional challenges relevant to the 2020 Presidential election:
- The Dukakis Center is working with Northeastern’s journalism and law schools to present a Fall 2019 Open Classroom weekly policy discussion on the Role of Media in Shaping Presidential Primaries.
- The Spring 2020 Open Classroom will focus on community engagement with issues of resilience.
We welcome comments and participation in shaping Northeastern University’s role as an impactful contributor to urban and regional policies that enhance the quality of our shared environments.
Dr. Ted Landsmark, M.Env.D., J.D., Ph.D.
Director, Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy