If you are interested in reading Randolph: Boston’s Gateway Suburb, here is a new pdf for download with a revised introduction. Randolph Boston’s Gateway Suburb 2012 The introduction highlights corrections and updates, especially regarding 2010 census numbers and redistricting.
I’ve been given the incredible honor of being invited to present Randolph: Boston’s Gateway Suburb and my own personal story at the town’s annual Martin Luther King Jr celebration. The No Place for Hate committee will host the event at Stetson Hall, 6 S. Main St, Randolph this Sunday, January 15th from 5-6pm.
Come if you can. Copies of the paper will be available with a new introduction including post-census and redistricting updates.
The thesis is long done, bound, and put on a shelf. I went to work on the (successful!) Campaign to Protect the Affordable Housing Law, and am now settled into another job. But, the data I’ve been waiting for for years is now arriving!
I will over the next couple weeks update maps, data, and opinions from the thesis to reflect these new, more accurate numbers. They will be posted here. For now, take a look at the NY Times racial dot map of Randolph. (These took me hours to build myself last year!)
One, very important initial conclusion from the 2010 census data on Randolph – RANDOLPH GREW!!
All of the ACS estimates from the census showed Randolph shrinking this decade. Those numbers confirmed popular impressions of a town in decline. In fact, the reality was that Randolph grew about 4% to reach an all-time population high of roughly 32,000 people.
Randolph Boston’s Gateway Suburb (.pdf, 6.3 MB)
Clicking on the above link will buy you a copy of my final, to-be-printed, will-live-in-a-dark-library-basement thesis. It was a long road to finish it, and I want to thank everyone who helped me along the way.
At about 55 pages of text, it is as lean as I could get it while still covering the breadth of issues important to understanding Randolph and the gateway suburb concept. I hope you enjoy it.
Apologies for the long absence. I was hesitant to post most of my recent work on Randolph’s issues and policy recommendations while I finished writing.
I will post my findings once they’ve been vetted a bit more and once my interviewees have approved their quotes.
But, I need some Randolph people to do that vetting! If you are interested in reading my first draft and acting as a bit of a BS detector, please let me know.
Few people in my interviews would openly cite Randolph’s racial and ethnic diversity as a reason for leaving the town. However, the fear of others and especially those others considered more dangerous or lower class is a constant undercurrent in conversations in and around Randolph. As one former resident said to me during an all-white social gathering in Randolph when asked why her family moved away, “It was getting a bit too dark here.” White flight – and I would add middle class flight of all races – is an issue for Randolph.
But, the idea of white flight does not really capture what is happening in Randolph. Worries about Randolph’s changing racial and ethnic demographics do not fall into the black/white dichotomy we usually think about. A fear was revealed in interviews with people of all races that emerging demographic trends might leave Randolph less diverse. The worry is that Randolph would come to be dominated by one or two ethnic groups, such as Haitians or Vietnamese which are currently thought to be the fastest growing groups in Randolph. The fear of Randolph becoming “another Dorchester/Mattapan” is apparent here because this image of a less diverse Randolph is a Randolph closer to the current demographics of those areas.
Property Value Fears
Interviewees cited fears over declining property values as another reason for leaving Randolph. In fact, median home sale prices increased every year from 1997 until a peak in 2005 and a subsequent decline. This trend mirrors the Boston metro area housing market as a whole. The decline in Randolph takes on a special social significance however.
Many of the families in Randolph moved there from Mattapan, Dorchester, and other neighborhoods during the era of white flight. Redlining and block busting in those neighborhoods coupled an influx of residents of color with rapidly declining property values and a concurrent increase in crime. The Randolph residents who experienced that or who have heard about it time and again from their parents can look at Randolph’s property value decline, demographic change, and a spike in crime and interpret these phenomena as a recurrence of the earlier experience. They fear the sudden loss of value that their families experienced four decades ago.
It should be noted that Randolph’s demographic shift has proceeded at a much slower pace than the changes in Mattapan. The growth of Randolph’s populations of color has occurred over several decades while Mattapan changed in the space of just several years. The policies and tactics that caused white flight and property value losses there – including redlining, blockbusting, and the practices of the infamous Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group (B-BURG) – are absent from Randolph. Yet, the memories of the Mattapan and Dorchester experiences are powerful influences on many residents choosing to leave Randolph. When interviewees were asked to articulate what they fear Randolph could become the phrases “another Mattapan” or “another Dorchester” were common responses.
These two charts give data on home prices over the last several years. Note that they are not directly comparable because the numbers are computed differently. Most importantly, the Boston metro data from Case Shiller is based on an index where the year 2000 was artificially set at “100” and this chart show the change since. The Randolph data shows actual prices, and it goes back further than 2000. I put them both here however to show that in terms of the trend, Randolph’s rise and fall is not so different from the region as a whole.
School quality is often cited as the most important determinant of a residential area’s competitiveness. Families choose towns and cities for their school systems. Randolph’s schools experienced a decade of decline before bottoming out in 2007. In that year, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges put Randolph High School on probation after its accreditation review. The failure to achieve accreditation for the high school was quickly followed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) declaration of the Randolph Public School system as “underperforming.” This official declaration was the result of several years of sub-standard scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests and an in depth analysis of the schools by DESE staff. The designation brings greater state involvement into the school system and provided an opportunity for a state takeover of the schools, which the state Board of Education declined to do. While these high profile failures made headlines, parents and students in Randolph suffered from a continuous decline in school services. Sports and extracurricular activities were cut back and eliminated. Arts and music in the schools were nearly extinct. Bus service was cut. The teaching staff declined and with it course offerings. People also began to regard the schools as unsafe environments. Randolph’s MCAS scores were ranked among the lowest of all districts in Massachusetts. All of this was heavily reported, and the Patriot Ledger created a special website “Randolph Schools in Crisis.” Today the school system suffers from a tremendously bad reputation despite the many improvements made since the rock bottom year of 2007. In a fuller discussion of the schools, I plan to highlight the progress made in the last three years and the work that remains to be done. But, until the reputation of the schools recovers the actual quality of the schools will matter less towards people’s choice to live in Randolph.
Now that we’ve explored some of the reasons people move to Randolph, it’s time to think about why some people leave. Understanding these issues will help us develop strategies to help maintain Randolph as a community of choice.
Suburbanization – a move for a larger house, yard, safety, and quiet – was one of the main reasons most families moved to Randolph in the first place. It has also become one of the main reasons cited by those who have left or plan to leave Randolph. The popular definition of “suburb” is relative. In the mid-twentieth century days of suburbanization, Randolph’s homes and amenities matched what the emerging market of suburbanites desired. Today however the suburbanite market desires larger homes, larger lots, and larger stores than Randolph can provide. A family from Boston may regard a move to Randolph as a move to the suburbs. But, a family from Randolph might regard a move to Bridgewater or Easton as a move to the suburbs.
It’s significant that suburbanization emerged in my interviews as both a reason people left Randolph and a reason they moved there in the first place. I believe it shows that Randolph functions as a gateway suburb. Randolph is often the first step into suburbia for the people that move there, but it is usually not the last step out into the suburbs that they or later generations of their families will take. It is important to recognize that to a large degree Randolph is a transitional community. It is a place where families can go as they move up the socio-economic ladder. Understanding that function should inform strategies for how to make Randolph a competitive town – and especially for which cities and towns it should compete against for residents and businesses.
Diversity is another feature that leads people to move to Randolph. It is also a reason cited by some to explain why they stay in Randolph, and for others why they left. Diversity is a rare feature among Boston suburbs, so it could have a strong impact on Randolph’s competitiveness as a community of choice. Whether it is an advantage or a detriment depends upon the target market’s interpretation of diversity as well as the manner in which it is presented to them.
Several of my interviewees initially chose to move to Randolph specifically for its racial and ethnic diversity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jewish families chose Randolph because of its openness to them and its position at the time as an up and coming Jewish community. Later on, people of color especially blacks found Randolph was more accepting and open to their families than were other Boston suburbs. One Vietnamese-American highlighted Randolph’s uniqueness in this respect by saying that Randolph is “smaller than other diverse places, but more diverse than other small places”
Randolph’s diversity transforms its residents. More interviewees cited diversity as a reason they enjoy living in Randolph and plan to stay than did those who say they initially moved to Randolph because of its diversity. Nearly all interviewees who graduated from Randolph High School talked at length about the positive impact that Randolph’s diversity had upon them and the advantages they discovered upon entering higher education and the working world.
The advantages of diversity have the potential to be marketed to the cohort of Boston metropolitan area residents who value them. Some of these people belong to ethnic groups that are more present in Randolph than in other communities and would like to live near their co-ethnics and their accompanying restaurants and shops. Another potential market however are the educated young professionals who value exposure to other cultures and the advantages of cosmopolitan living. Many of these people currently choose to live in Cambridge, Somerville, the South End, and Jamaica Plain. Often, these young professionals choose to move to more suburban settings after having children. Popular communities among this cohort include Arlington, Waltham, and Roslindale. These neighborhoods are in close proximity to the urban neighborhoods in which this market currently lives. They are more familiar to them. Randolph could market its diversity to these people to vie to be their top choice suburb. Of course, the quality of schools and other factors will impact Randolph’s competitiveness to this market.
Diversity is a delicate balance for a community to maintain. To remain diverse, Randolph must continue to attract the middle class White and Asian populations more likely to move to other suburbs while at the same time remaining welcoming and attractive to Blacks and Latinos as well as working class and lower income people of all ethnic groups. Diversity is endangered in other areas, such as Somerville, because the economic forces of gentrification are making those places less accessible to working and lower class people. Randolph’s diverse housing stock, its transportation access, and its distance from Boston’s universities make gentrification unlikely. Conversely, struggling cities like Lawrence become less diverse as they become dominated by one or two ethnic groups. Randolph’s diversity may come to an end if Randolph is no longer a community of choice.