Entries by Andrew Mikula

Should Boston want to be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters?

Amazon is the kind of company whose mere presence is enough to transform a city. Billions of dollars in investment, tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, and a major impact on transportation and land use have characterized Amazon’s relationship with its primary home of Seattle. As the company continues to grow, its process to determine the location for its second headquarters has attracted momentous attention. Amazon finished site visits of proposed locations in May, and the so-called “HQ2” project continues to garner media attention from both local outlets and nationally renowned think tanks. At first glance, whichever city Amazon chooses seems to have won a kind of lottery. Infrastructure upgrades, all-but-guaranteed job growth, and a stage for international connections all […]

Is local government in Massachusetts too pervasive?

In a country as culturally and politically diverse as the United States, vastly different political systems have come to serve local populations in various states. Certain regions of the nation have far-reaching and invasive local government systems, while others have large swaths of the population that don’t have any sub-county government at all. A typical Greater Boston town has about 25,000 people, while urban conglomerations out west often consist mostly of unincorporated communities. Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, has well over 2 million residents but only 5 municipal governments. Meanwhile, Cumming, Georgia is a city of 6,000 people whose mailing address serves over 100,000 people. Cumming is the only incorporated community in its county. At the opposite extreme, […]

Investing in commercial development may ease fiscal woes without affecting crime

Bedford, Massachusetts is a suburban town of about 14,000 in the heart of Middlesex County. Its Wikipedia page boasts a charming picture of a historic train depot engulfed in fiery fall foliage. Driving through Bedford at night, you would hardly notice the slew of tech companies and manufacturing operations tucked into a corner of the town next to Route 3, the numerous hotels and motels that dot Route 4, or the community college that cozies up to the Billerica town line. During the day, however, Bedford’s population more than doubles because of people who are employed at all these establishments. The town’s employment/residence ratio is 3.44, almost twice that of Boston.   “Daytime population,” essentially a measure of population that […]

Boston’s housing boom needs a region-level response

In 1912 – the same year the Titanic sank and William Howard Taft was elected president – a Brookline lawyer, Daniel J. Kiley, wrote a bill for the Massachusetts state legislature that would have annexed 32 cities and towns – including such disparate communities as Lynn, Wellesley, and Weymouth – to the City of Boston. Kiley was part of an entire movement of urban policymakers who thought it was imperative to the Boston region’s economy to facilitate the coordination of each town’s government institutions. At an extreme, this meant annexation.   Boston’s (short) annexation history is quite unique in the context of older American cities. As a result, the region is well-connected economically, but divided into far more individual municipalities […]

Boston is a global city. Here’s why that status is threatened

Boston is often touted as a “global city.” A quick Google search will tell you that Boston is one of the best cities in the world for everything from quality of life to tech startups to commercial real estate investment. While traditionally an economic indicator, there’s now a general understanding that global cities have certain social and cultural institutions by definition. A smattering of global city rankings place Boston at 15th, 24th, 25th, and 46th. Others define a global city as having at least a million residents, under which parameter Boston doesn’t even qualify. Any index that tries to encapsulate dozens of indicators will miss some important nuances. Even if everyone suddenly agreed on the definition of a global city, […]

Has UMass used financial aid packages to favor out-of-state students?

A recent Pioneer Institute report concluded that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has more stringent admissions standards for Bay State students than it does for out-of-state students. Given that UMass is heavily funded by state residents’ tax dollars, some experts have questioned whether UMass is favoring out-of-state students and their tuition revenue rather than serving the broader interests of the Commonwealth. Despite the scrutiny over admissions, UMass has the ability to tip the scales towards out-of-state students in another way: merit-based financial aid.   UMass students have access to both state and UMass institutional programs for financial aid, both of which ultimately are funded partly by taxpayers. UMass may claim that state funding doesn’t directly contribute to financial aid […]

Massachusetts needs the 2020 Census to be accurate and adequately funded

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Massachusetts’ population grew at an almost unprecedented rate in the late 1990s, gaining nearly 200,000 residents between 1999 and 2000 alone. If Massachusetts had kept up this pace of growth, it would have over 10.8 million residents in 2018, as opposed to the more modest 6.8 million we actually see today.   Where did this astounding rate of population growth come from? An economic boom? An aggressive housing creation initiative? An influx of immigrants or refugees? None of the above. To put it bluntly, the St. Louis Fed’s data is misleading at best.     The problem is that their intercensal population figures for the 1990s come from an initial Census […]

New taxable land parcels are getting very scarce in urban Massachusetts

Plymouth – the oldest town in Massachusetts – has an incredible 2,685 unoccupied plots of taxable land. Meanwhile, Cambridge – a city nearly twice as populous as Plymouth – has just 150. If you know anything about Cambridge and Plymouth, this shouldn’t be surprising. Plymouth is a sprawling coastal suburb with a small, historic downtown. Cambridge is a densely populated urban hub of innovative start-ups, world-class universities, and young professionals with close proximity to Boston.   In creating new development, knocking down trees is a lot easier than knocking down old buildings, and redeveloping old buildings to fit modern uses is especially difficult when there are many other occupied buildings nearby. These realities are clearly reflected in a nationwide pattern […]

Long-term decline in area Catholic high school enrollment is likely to continue

Over a dozen Catholic schools affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston are governed by independent boards of trustees. Most of these schools offer programs to students in grades 9-12 (Figure 1). However, as private schools compete to attract talented students and, increasingly, traditional and charter public schools do the same, many Catholic schools are struggling to boost enrollment. Catholic school closings in Massachusetts have received significant media attention, but even those that have stayed open are challenged to generate sufficient tuition revenue and donations. With financial pressure to pay teachers, improve the infrastructure of aging buildings, and update technology and lab equipment, many parochial schools face major long-term obstacles.   Figure 1: Boston Archdiocese-affiliated co-ed high schools and the grade […]

Many Massachusetts towns choosing to forego marijuana tax revenue

Local officials, health advocates, and neighborhood group leaders in Massachusetts have long been wary of July 1st, 2018, the day marijuana enterprises will begin selling their products statewide. Drug deals will take place over retail countertops, not in back alleys. Home cultivators will be subject to safety inspections, not arrests.   That is true, of course, unless your local government has anything to say about it. As reported by The Boston Globe in March, 130 out of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns have imposed moratoriums on marijuana establishments, essentially banning them until local governments can find a more effective way to regulate the industry (Figure 1). At least 59 more municipalities have banned marijuana enterprises indefinitely. Despite passing question #4 […]

The role of old industrial districts in residential suburbs

The City of Waltham was once an aging mill town. Its flagship industrial corporation, the Waltham Watch Company, closed in 1957. The 1970s and 80s saw a decline in the industrial sector for the region as a whole.   Then, the tech companies came. Waltham has recently become a regional hub for biopharmaceuticals and therapeutic science alongside Cambridge. The western edge of the city is home to a momentous number of industrial firms that hug several bends in Interstate 95, towering over the Cambridge Reservoir.   All the same, Waltham’s proximity to Boston gives its revitalization a different flavor than that of, say, Worcester or Lowell. As regional urban centers, Worcester and Lowell demand more diverse, service-based economies. Waltham retains […]

Education spending influences demographic trends at even the smallest scale

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has a habit of solving identity crises for Massachusetts towns. Operating chiefly in Greater Boston, the MAPC uses 5 broad “community types” (and 9 subtypes) to classify municipalities statewide based on criteria such as housing density, proximity to Boston, historical character, and capacity to develop further.   All of this information is readily visible on Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis database, which provides an interactive map of the MAPC community subtypes under the Metrics tab (Figure 1).         Figure 1:   The type “inner core,” further divided into “metropolitan core communities” and “streetcar suburbs” is the only MAPC community type that is geographically contiguous. That is, inner core communities are always adjacent to at least one […]

Can Cape Cod’s economy rely on tourism forever?

Cape Cod’s character has long been dependent on the season. As the leaves change colors in October and November, bustling summer colonies quickly transform into sleepy New England towns. This dichotomy has heightened in recent decades, and depopulation in the region has raised concerns about the economic sustainability of the Cape and the well-being of its all-season residents.   Barnstable County’s year-round population has generally declined since around 2003, stabilizing only very recently. Even then, there’s reason to believe that future population trends on the Cape (and throughout Massachusetts) are highly dependent on economic conditions. This insight may prove daunting for towns that are heavily reliant on a single industry: tourism, in the Cape’s case.   Furthermore, aging populations have […]