Sunday, February 11, 2007
Berkshire Eagle: Middle cities are struggling
HEADLINE: Middle cities are struggling
PUBLISHED: Saturday, February 10
By Hillary Chabot, Berkshire Eagle Boston Bureau
Middle cities often have empty storefronts dotting their once-vibrant
downtowns. The cities sprouted and grew into leaders during the industrial
era, but lost their purpose and are now struggling to reinvent themselves.
Pittsfield and 13 other middle cities have populations of more than 40,000
who dwell outside the Greater Boston area. The cities are trying to boost
their local economy while often facing fiscal instability and
higher-than-average crime and dropout rates.
Study to boost economic vitality
The Pioneer Institute, an independent think tank, studied the 14 cities
and investigated how to bring back economic vitality into urban middle
cities. Lowell, Springfield, Lawrence and Chicopee were all included in
Although Pittsfield is doing better than most middle cities, its residents
fall well below the state average per-capita income at roughly $20,000,
and only a little more than half of its students score "advanced" or
"proficient" on the math portion of the MCAS tests.
Middle cities continue to perform poorly despite the almost $1.5 billion
in state aid they received last year, James Stergios, director of the
"There are huge expenditures going to middle cities, and I'm wondering if
there is a way to use the money more effectively," he said.
Further state funds needed
Pittsfield, along with other midsize cities, can stimulate its local
economy further if additional state funds are promised for tangible
results, he explained.
"You offer them a carrot, but you tell localities what you think they need
to do," Stergios said. The state would invest more in the communities as
they make improvements in children's test scores, reducing crime and
managing their local finances.
A safe environment in which people can work and play is vital to economic
development, along with encouraging businesses created by the large
immigrant populations that are already present.
Although he may not have the answer to bringing back Pittsfield's former
bustling downtown, Stergios believes that asking the questions is an
"The goal is not to assume these measures are the right ones, but we think
this might be a good start for the discussion," he said.
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