Suburbs

I put this question to you last week.  Is Randolph a city?  A town?  Urban?  Suburban?

My advisor Tunney Lee said, “The problem is suburb”  When we say city, people more or less know that New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Brockton are all cities but are all different.  Now, think of a suburb.  Do you see the lawns, single family homes, and picket fences?  Leave it to Beaver and American Beauty?  There are hundreds of different kinds of places that are suburbs, yet our culture is enamored with this stereotypical white bread image of a suburb.

This is a real problem for Randolph – for the way people in Randolph see themselves and in the ways they are seen by others.

Socially and culturally, it’s a problem for our young people who are trying to figure out and express their identity.  They (we?)  resist being labeled suburban because we know we are different from the suburbia we all think of when we think suburb – all those places that call Randolph “Mattapan-dolph.”  Yet at the same time, there is a reason some people in Hyde Park and Mattapan call Randolph “Scram-dolph.”  In comparison to dense city neighborhoods, Randolph really is suburban.

Politically, this is a problem because nobody knows what to do with a place like Randolph.  Eight years ago, Randolph was not even on the map for most state policy makers.  I know because I was one.  Most of the kinds of programs, grants, initiatives, and services that typically help with the kinds of social and economic issues that Randolph faces would pass over Randolph because of its size and location.  Randolph is a suburb of only about 30,000 people, which is too small to get it noticed for many forms of aid.  Randolph is a suburb on the edge of not only the Boston metro area but also the smaller Brockton metro.  Randolph is a suburb, but it faces most of the typical “urban” issues.  By and large, no one really knows how to handle “urban” issues outside of a city setting.

More attention is being paid to Randolph since it bottomed out in many ways in 2007.  The school turnaround has been impressive.  The state now pays attention to Randolph from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s help on the turnaround to the Department of Housing and Community Development’s grants for foreclosure prevention.  All the same, there is a long way to go.  As Superintendent Silverman noted in an interview with me, Randolph still falls into a strange no-man’s land on the edges of catchment areas for many services such as the YMCA, community health centers, state legislative districts and other things.

Randolph – and other places like it around the country – will be hard to handle until we can work with some reasonable definition of what it is.  We can’t just label it city or suburb because the categories as commonly defined just don’t fit right.  In my thesis (and this blog!) I plan to propose a new framework for thinking about what kind of place Randolph is.  I am going to call it a gateway suburb.

Stay tuned to find out what the hell that is.

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One Response to “Suburbs”

  1. Michele MacDonald Says:

    I have worked in Randolph for over 30 years, 25 of those working with the youth of Randolph. I remember working at Fernandes Supermarket and cleaning the kosher slicer in the deli, which could only be used for meats that were kosher. Later, in college I was a hostess at Goody’s Pub. I have always been facinated by family cultures. Back then, the Jewish families impressed me because of the parent’s close relationships with their children. They seemed to absolutely adore their children.

    I was brought up in Brockton and am old enough to have been inadvertantly locked in a girls bathroom for 3 hours during a race riot. At age six, my best friend and I concocted potions to either turn me black, or her white, so we could be sisters. We used lemon juice, tartar sauce, root beer and ketchup. No luck. We grew up in a housing project, saw a lot of violence and ran from more than a few fights. I am bringing my children up in Hanover. I have two girls. biologically, and two boys I adopted from Randolph. Although my kids haave never had to run from violence, I can’t help but feel that I’ve short changed them in terms of the white bread, North Face-Uggs culture I’ve immersed them in.

    In my work, I have been able to capitolize on Randolph’s unique identity. We have said in many grant requests that Randolph has big city choices with small town resources. Randolph has been blessed by really good people in position to make postive change. These are dedicated and determined people; Dr. Silverman, John Sheehan, Dr. Conard, Paul Meoni, Paul Fernandes, Ray CArson, and so many more. Not ever having lived in Randolph, I still feel very much a part of it all. Jamie Madden, I read this blog, sent to me by Donna C., and I am filled with pride at who you’ve become.

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