July project update

We’re still pressing on with many of the projects we wrote about in June. Here’s an updated list of activities:

1) The SouthCoast Urban Indicators Project (SCUIP)

  • This month’s newest subcategory is called, ‘Open space and recreation.’ It is the latest topic under ‘Environment,’ and the page details the number and types of recreation amenities, the demand on recreation amenities according to national standards, and protected versus unprotected open space.
  • We look forward to working with our high school interns to add at least one page on college access this summer.

2) Taunton HOPE VI evaluation

  • The final head-of-household interview will be conducted next week!
  • Later this month we will begin updating data points first released in this report.

3) College access

  • Interns begin their work with us on July 1. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be introducing themselves on this blog.
  • While the topic at hand is college access, the interns will be working together to decide what aspect of college access will be their focus and what deliverable(s) they’ll generate by the end of summer.

4) LifeWork Project

  • While we wait for the LifeWork project coordinator to be hired (know someone? see job posting here!) so that we can work with this person to begin setting up the evaluation process, we have been researching software that similar programs and organizations use to track outcomes.

5) Small business technical assistance evaluation

  • This month we wrap up interviews for and write our report on New Bedford’s Community Economic Development Center (CEDC) and the impact of its small business technical assistance program on entrepreneurs, many of whom are immigrants.

6. Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) conference

  • Along with Department of Public Policy Professor Chad McGuire, we have been selected to present at the CUMU conference in Kentucky this fall!
  • Our presentation relates to the degree to which cities’ efforts to plan for/respond to climate change overlap with efforts to attract human capital.

June job opportunities

Three job opportunities have come our way this month. Please help our partners find the right addition to their teams by sharing widely!

1) New Bedford Community Connections Coalition seeks Administrative Assistant

This is a part-time (30 hours/week) position with NBCCC, which is affiliated with United Way of Greater New Bedford. “Under the direction and supervision of NBCCC’s Executive Director, the Administrative Assistant is responsible for the coordination and implementation of all administrative support functions and related office operations for New Bedford Community Connections Coalition and its initiatives.” All potential candidates should send a cover letter and resume to: veronica.ortiz@nbcommunityconnections.org by July 8. For more details, read the full job description here.

2) Women’s Fund of Southeastern MA seeks LifeWork Project Coordinator

We shared this opportunity in the past, but it’s important to note that the job description has since been revised. So if it didn’t look like a good fit then, look again!

“The LifeWork Project (LWP) is an innovative three-year pilot program … to be carried out by a community collaborative of service providers managed by the LifeWork Project Coordinator. Designed to assist up to 130 women to reach their goals of education, career mobility, and economic independence, the program combines participant-driven supportive services and coaching, mentoring, and cash incentives to lead families to obtaining self-sufficient wages and assets.” More information is available at this link.

3) Women’s Fund of Southeastern MA seeks Executive Director

The Women’s Fund is also hiring an Executive Director. “The Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation is responsible for overseeing and managing all activities, staff and volunteers in the work of raising money to fund programs that will advance the educational attainment and economic security of women and girls. The Executive Director will focus on building and enriching an organizational culture of diversity and inclusion guided by the vision, mission and strategic plan of the organization. The ability to refine, expand, implement and evaluate strategic and successful resource development is critical to this position.” Learn more about the position and how to apply at this link.

Masi Faroqui, MPP ’13, reflects on college access research experience

Note: The Urban Initiative often looks for opportunities to work with classes or students on projects that do three things: support the mission of the UI, address a need in the community, and, most importantly, capture the interest of the student. During the Spring 2013 semester, we worked with Masi Faroqui, MPP ’13, on a project related to college access in urban SouthCoast for his capstone course, Applied Policy Research. We asked him to reflect on his project and experience by answering the questions posed below. All responses are Masi’s.

(Professor Chad McGuire & Masi Faroqui, MPP ’13. Photo credit: UMass Dartmouth MPP Program Facebook page.)

1.     Why did the topic of college access appeal to you?

College access is defined as “a field dedicated to the idea of all students graduating from high school and able to attain a college degree.”[1] However, being a first generation American minority, I struggled with the transition from high school to college and had very little insight into what these barriers actually were.  Therefore, I choose to select the topic of college access so that hopefully my policy findings can help identify, innovate, and promote better tools/ methods for improving college access for underserved minorities.

2.     What was the purpose of mapping assets?

The purpose of Asset Mapping is to appeal to neighborhood stakeholders creating collaborative opportunities that can help sustain and further assist the South Coast community. The ultimate goal was to develop a regional asset map that appealed to  parents, college access program directors, and school administrators, by mapping organizations programs and services that currently exist to support college access. Most importantly, this research will hopefully help assist the New Bedford and Fall River communities in achieving prosperous economic and educational attainment by highlighting what is going on inside and outside area high schools.

3.     How did this project challenge you?

This project challenged me in various ways such as overcoming bureaucratic blockages, survey design problems, and limited research on college access best practices involving parent/families.

4.     How did this project help build your skill set?

This research project on college access allowed me to take the different elements of my developed public policy framework and incorporate it all into one. This framework is comprised of identifying theoretical concepts and policy principles, analyzing these policy issues through learned research tools and methods, and making practical policy based solutions

5.     How did this project influence your thinking about education?

This project allowed me to delve into education policy using my expansive public policy framework which increased my thinking and problem solving effectiveness.  I was able to take theoretical concepts developed through my own personal experiences in education which helped me strengthen the understanding of learned policy principles. Additionally, I was able to use research method  to recognize problematic gaps to eventually suggest grounded policy based solutions.

 6.     In one sentence, what is the takeaway of your research?

 A paradigm shift is occurring in America and the minority is becoming the majority; for this purpose re-modeling college access best practices to be more parent/family focused is necessary in order to adequately and equitably meet the economic and academic demands of the 21st century.

 7.     What should the Urban Initiative do next when it comes to college access?

The Urban Initiative should utilize the community contacts established by this research to continue Asset Mapping college access programs in Fall River and New Bedford. Also, Urban Initiative should expand upon this research by using it as a base line for supporting the re-modeling of college access best practice models to be more parent/family centered by looking into other states for support. The hope is that vital community based organizations such as the Urban Initiative can use some piece of the college access research done to improve to the overall economic and academic well-being of the Fall River and New Bedford communities.

[1]Root Cause 2010

The Rich Are Different From You and Me: They Have More Parking

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative

On Thursday, June 13, while this season’s never-ending rain poured down, an outdoor auction was held in an alley off Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay. The owner of two private, off-street parking spaces had run afoul of the IRS to the tune of $600,000 in back taxes, and so his lots were being auctioned to help settle accounts. The lots were two dark gray patches of asphalt marked by white lines. They were not even positioned side by side; one space sits behind the other space, relative to street access. Steven Cohen, a real estate broker who witnessed the sale, did not expect that the winning bid would be particularly high, since the car closest to the street would have to be moved in order to use a car parked further in.

But Steven Cohen was wrong. The bidding started at $42,000 and, fifteen minutes later, concluded with the sale of the tandem lots for a whopping $560,000. The new owner, Lisa Blumenthal, admitted in a New York Times article that the bidding was “a little more heated than I thought it would have been.” Steven Cohen, the broker, cited supply and demand as the fundamental factor on display in this transaction, just like I learned in my Microeconomics class at UMass Dartmouth, but Cohen also noted, “It’s hard for most of us to get our brains around this. This is a portal into the world of people who are playing by different rules than most of us.”

In order to better understand this world, I reviewed recent public records which indicate that the Blumenthal property, valued in excess of $4 million and located among buildings that have mostly gone condo, is still listed as a single family residence. The 14-room, 4-story edifice with full basement boasts 4 bedrooms, 4 full bathrooms and two half-baths. There is a slate roof, and three parking spaces…

Wait a minute. There are already three parking spaces? Yes, and after a payment of $560,000 is made to the IRS their number will increase to five spaces. Ms. Blumenthal explained that the original three spaces were entirely sufficient for family use. The additional spaces are intended for the use of “friends and workers.”

I think this is what bugs me about the story: the bidding war to acquire the parking spaces was won by someone who spent $560,000 not out of necessity, but merely as a desirable amenity for visitors. On average, each parking space is worth $280,000. In Fall River, the estimated median house or condo value is $246,500; in New Bedford, it’s $232,600. Actual home sales figures are probably quite a bit lower than those numbers.

Intellectually, I understand that a Boston parking space can be worth significantly more money than a South Coast home; it’s only another example of the logical relationship between supply and demand. I imagine that additional property taxes paid on the two new parking spaces might perhaps be invested in transportation services and infrastructure that will benefit us all. Nevertheless, a microeconomic analysis of the situation fails to fully satisfy me.

I am typing this essay at about 2:30 am at my home in New Bedford. The rain is still pouring down. My recycling bin is on the curb, ready for city pick-up tomorrow morning. The window is open, so I can hear the metallic rattle of a shopping cart being pushed along the street. In another minute I will hear small clinking sounds as a rain-soaked man picks through my recycled materials for cans or metal that he can sell.

I am warm and comfortable, typing on my laptop. The anonymous man is cold and wet, picking through my trash. I am to him as Lisa Blumenthal is to me.

It all reminds me of the famous quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 short story “Rich Boy”: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” I am also reminded of how Fitzgerald’s sentiment was mocked by Ernest Hemingway in the original 1936 draft of his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”; Hemingway answered: “Yes, they have more money.”

Meet Mike, new research assistant

When I graduated from New Bedford High School in 2004, the city was undergoing a transformation. I watched as the plywood boards came down from shops that had been closed since downtown New Bedford dried up in the 1980s. I saw new, exciting things happening in business district that, for as long as I could remember, had been a barren ghost town. The hollow shell that had served only as monument New Bedford’s successful past was being refitted and repurposed. Empty storefronts were populated with window displays, the chimneys of art students’ kilns began to protrude from the Star Store’s roof, and the vacant floors of textile warehouses were divided into housing. People were out on the streets, interacting and exchanging ideas, this long dormant sector of the city began again to teem with life and energy.
I witnessed the downtown renaissance because I chose to forgo college immediately after high school. Whether this was due to a need to satisfy wanderlust, my own insecurities about my ability to meet new academic standards, or just plain laziness is debatable (and was debated at length whenever I was found at home and jobless). After floundering in menial jobs for a couple of years, I returned to UMass Dartmouth, which I had attended for just under a semester following high school, to pursue an English degree. In the intervening time, fellow NBHS graduates had attended colleges outside of the area. Friends I had stayed in touch with flourished in cities like Boston and Providence, where there is a multitude of employment opportunities for young professionals. Due to this, many lifelong New Bedford residents, the people intimately familiar with the problems facing this region, choose not return after completing college. This is only one of the reasons why the SouthCoast lags behind the rest of the Commonwealth in terms adults with college degrees.
This is why I am eager to join the Urban Initiative as a research assistant this summer and work with high school interns to address the issue of college access in the SouthCoast. New Bedford and Fall River have large populations of students graduating from high school every year. It is crucial that these youths have the tools they need to overcome the barriers between them and a college degree, and that they are aware of the post-college employment opportunities the region has to offer. The cities of the SouthCoast can only tackle the issues they face if they maintain an educated, motivated population. I am looking forward to finding ways in which we can foster the next generation of urban problem solvers.

June project update

The arrival of summer means that things at our university generally slow down, but that’s never the case at the Urban Initiative. While our team will do our best to get out of the office and enjoy what’s arguably the SouthCoast’s best season, we’ll still have the following projects on our plate. Thankfully, we’ll also have a bigger team: seven high school students will join us as interns, and we may look to add a UMass Dartmouth graduate or undergraduate student to the mix. Stay tuned for a blog post introducing you to our summer staff!

1) The SouthCoast Urban Indicators Project (SCUIP)

  • Responding to a need expressed by our cities’ grant writers, we’ve added a section called ‘City Profiles‘ to characterize the populations of Fall River and New Bedford by size, age, race/ethnicity, and immigration/ancestry.
  • Last month’s photo contest, organized and led by our team of Leadership SouthCoast students, garnered a 168% increase in site visits!

2) Taunton HOPE VI evaluation

  • We have  just three more interviews to go before wrapping up this component of our evaluation.
  • Three focus groups were concluded in May on topics related to health/wellness, early childhood, and workforce development, respectively. The key takeaway is that in small city like Taunton, the lack of personal transportation is a major obstacle to accessing services and opportunities that promote well-being and self-sufficiency because the bus runs to infrequently and/or doesn’t go where people need to get. For example, one focus group participant had a child care slot lined up for her daughter, but she has no car and is unable to drop off and pick up her daughter (never mind get to work after that).

3) College access

  • A total of seven high school students have signed on as summer interns and will be working together to determine how to tackle the issue of college access in the SouthCoast.
  • We’re particularly excited that two students will join us through UMass Dartmouth’s Upward Bound program, which is itself a mechanism for promoting college access for students in our cities.

4) LifeWork Project

  • We just met with the Director of Research and Evaluation at Boston’s Crittenton Women’s Union, which has a program after which LifeWork is modeled. CWU has been and continues to be a tremendous resource for the UI and the other LifeWork partners, sharing their ideas, lessons learned, and even evaluation tools so that we’re not reinventing the wheel.

5) Small business technical assistance evaluation

  • The UI has been contracted by New Bedford’s Community Economic Development Center (CEDC) to evaluate its small business technical assistance program funded by the MA Growth Capital Corporation. We’ll be conducting as many as 35 interviews with entrepreneurs in New Bedford and beyond to learn about the ways in which the CEDC’s support influenced outcomes for businesses and their owners.

Dead Reckoning

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative

No one ever curls up on the sofa with a cup of coffee for a little light reading of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If anything, the publication prompts you to swiftly uncurl, sit up straight, and make sure that you’re able to wiggle your fingers and toes, all the while trying desperately to remember whether the latest study concluded that coffee is supposed to be good for you, or bad for you.

So whenever I read MMWR, I’m on a mission. Such was the case recently, as I studied a report titled, “Suicide Among Adults Aged 35-64 Years – United States, 1999-2010.” I was particularly focused on my reading because it turns out that I, as a baby boomer, am sitting precisely in the middle of an inconvenient demographic.

In 2009, deaths by suicide surpassed the number of deaths due to motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. While suicide concerns and prevention efforts have traditionally been directed at youths and the elderly, the CDC’s analysis of mortality data showed that the annual, age-adjusted suicide rate for persons aged 35-64 years increased 28.4% during the first decade of the 21st century. The rate for white men, such as myself, rose by nearly 40%. During this same period, changes in suicide rates for persons aged 10-34 years, and those aged 65 years or more, varied so little as to be statistically insignificant.

A month has gone by since the CDC issued its report, and still the story is being retold in daily newspapers such as the Washington Post, under this week’s breathless headline, “Baby Boomers Killing Themselves at an Alarming Rate.” No one knows the reason for these elevated rates, but despite the lack of data everyone blames the recent economic downturn, and the unmet expectations of aging white boomers still mired after several decades in their youth-oriented culture. Apparently this is our comeuppance for enjoying the sexual revolution, becoming civil rights activists or war protestors, and occasionally stringing together a few years in which we earned more than one quarter of one percent on our savings accounts. “Perhaps a little more adversity in youth could have helped prepare them,” opines the Post, which notes that lower suicide rates among African-Americans and Hispanics could be due to their “lower expectations.” One is left to wonder whether African-Americans and Hispanics truly appreciate the character-building benefits of unremitting economic marginalization and social prejudice.

I’d like to see data on suicide rates among public policy students and professionals. I’d be willing to bet that we’re among the least susceptible groups, because we always want to know what’s going to happen next, and death abruptly ends our quest for the one last data point that just might make sense of it all. I suspect that the greatest fear of most policy professionals in America is not dying per se, but dying before finding out who will be the next President. As policy wonks and data junkies, we can’t bear to tear ourselves away from the world around us. We’ll stay awake long after midnight to watch the latest news reports of closely fought elections. Off duty, we’re suckers for cliffhanger endings on television, sequels at the movies, and books written as trilogies. At work, we want to develop one more survey question, interview one more respondent, teach or take one more course – endlessly, and forever – because of our fascination with people and society, and the joy of using policy studies as a means of understanding and interpreting the world.