Boston 101 Events through the Rappaport Institute

The Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at the Harvard Kennedy School has a handful of upcoming events that are worth checking out. Here are two that we wanted to share; for more information, visit the Rappaport Institute’s events page.

1) Designing Play That Matters: Community PlanIt and the Boston Public Schools

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Malkin Penthouse, 4th floor, Littauer Building, 79 John F. Kennedy Street

Eric Gordon, Associate Professor, Department of Visual and Media Arts, Emerson College and Lead Designer, Community PlanIt

Commentary by Nigel Jacob, Co-Director, Office of New Urban Mechanics, City of Boston

Can Community PlanIt, a web-based social network developed by Eric Gordon’s Engagement Game Lab, help improve public schools in Boston? This fall, the Boston Public Schools tested this approach by having students, teachers, parents, and administrators use the tool to help design standards to gauge school performance. BPS’ experience with this approach was so positive, that the schools are exploring other opportunities to use Community PlanIt.


2) The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Allison Dining Room, 5th floor, Taubman Building, 15 Eliot Street

John Friedman, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and
Raj Chetty, Professor of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Commentary by Thomas Payzant, Professor of Practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education and former Superintendent, Boston Public Schools

In new research, Friedman, Chetty, and Jonah Rockoff found that elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students’ standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students’ lives. In later years, these students not only have higher earnings than students who had less effective teachers, they also had lower teenage-pregnancy rates and were more likely to attend college. (Note: this research was recently featured in this New York Times article if you’d like to learn more.)

Motorola Mobility Foundation 2012 Empowerment Grants

Are you a nonprofit or public school/district looking to engage your community through mobile media? If you’re working in the areas of community, education, health & wellness, or arts & culture, there’s a (grant) app for that.

The Motorola Mobility Foundation will award approximately 20 grants totaling $500,000 (average award: $25,000) to eligible entities working collaboratively in the aforementioned focus areas. Just seven states are eligible, but Massachusetts is one of them.

Learn more on how to apply and what kinds of projects were funded last year by clicking here.


What’s your walk score?

Go to and enter your address. How does your neighborhood do? My New Bedford neighborhood gets a 55:  “somewhat walkable,” which is based on the proximity of my house to restaurants, groceries, coffee, bars, libraries, parks, etc.

So sure, this is a fun tool to use–particularly if you’re house-hunting–but why does it matter? According to a study by CEOs for Cities, a one-point increase in a Walk Score can translate to as much as an additional $3,000 of property value. This subsequently benefits homeowners and a municipality’s property tax base.

But at the same time, accessible amenities are increasingly in high demand among the creative class that cities are desperate to court (thanks to Richard Florida’s work). It turns out that there’s a house in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood that shares the street address of my own. Their walk score? Ninety-four. “A walker’s paradise.”

And then there’s the health benefit. Walkable neighborhoods promote the reduction of carbon emissions and thus particulates that contribute to things like asthma. Quite obviously, they encourage people to walk more, reducing obesity and its related ailments (a University of Utah study found that an average man living in a walkable neighborhood weighs about 10 lbs less than peers in a less walkable community).

So what US cities are leading the charge in walkability? Unsurprisingly, San Francisco leads the pack, and New York, Boston, Chicago, and Portland find themselves on the list. But what’s a numerically un-walkable city like New Bedford (score: 65) or Fall River (score: 62) to do? Promoting neighborhood-based small business corridors has a huge impact, according to a study done by UC-Irvine. The key is that these businesses must not only support the needs of the neighborhood, the researchers say, but they must also draw from the outside to sustain the businesses’ viability. Read more in this Atlantic Cities article, or check out the published study here.


From the local headlines

  • It’s been hard to miss what’s been going on with New Bedford Public Schools, but here it is in a nutshell: NBPS submitted a turnaround plan, the state is “unimpressed”, talk of a state takeover is in the air, Mayor Mitchell responds (here is his statement). (What does a takeover look like? Here’s what happened in Lawrence last November.)
  • Urban mayors meet to discuss opportunities to work together across southeastern MA.
  • Fall River’s ‘Building Blocks’ program, aimed at cracking down on abandoned and neglected properties, acts as stumbling block for new owners taking on a major rehab because of outdated, imprecise information on current ownership.
  • Governor Patrick visits BCC to tout proposal to do things like centralize functions of the state’s community colleges and provide performance-based funding. Read more about that plan here.
  • Area elected officials–along with some students from Durfee High School–head to Boston to “save Meditech” and ensure that the company’s proposed development (and new jobs) stay in the region.

South Coast cities make graduation rate gains

One of the roles of the Urban Initiative is to serve as a knowledge base for people and organizations who share in our mission of supporting the needs of cities like New Bedford and Fall River. This has us fielding regular requests for information, often from nonprofits putting together need statements and making the case for their programming.

When pulling up some school district-level data from a New Bedford nonprofit today, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. New Bedford’s graduation rate, which I knew full well to be 53.5%, now stands at 56.4%. Turns out the 2010-11 data is now available, making the uptick news indeed. I dashed over to Fall River’s profile on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website, knowing that the district has been steadily marching closer to the Massachusetts graduation rate, which now stands at 83.4%. Indeed, this district–which had a graduation rate of just 54.1% in 2007, has now posted a rate of 71.0%. To put this in some context Revere, a district that is considered by DESE to be the highest performing district among Fall River’s ten peer districts (based on size, demographics, and performance), had a graduation rate of 70.6% in 2011.

Here’s a visual to make it even easier to see progress over time, and in context:

Source: District Profiles, MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; see ‘Indicators’ tab for graduation rates and more.