Gateway Suburb

I propose thinking of Randolph – and other places like it –  as a “gateway suburb”.  These places are post-WWII suburbs that allow people to take their first step into suburban America.  They are gateways both to the suburbs and to the nation.  In the interviews I completed for this project and in all the conversations I have had over the years, it struck me how almost every family has the same story about how they first came to Randolph.  Randolph has offered an opportunity for upward mobility for Irish and Jewish families in the 50s and 60s to Vietnamese and Haitian families in the 1990s and everyone in between.  In the last couple decades, it has also provided a place to first land in America for many immigrant families whose relatives were already in Randolph.  This suburban immigration is a growing trend across the country, and more immigrants in America now live in suburbs than in the traditional urban ethnic enclaves.

These are the characteristics that I believe make a place a gateway suburb.  The combination of these physical and social characteristics are what make these places special, and what necessitates new approaches for managing and aiding them.

  • Physical characteristics: middle suburban location, reliance on auto with some public transit options, largest period of growth in mid-20th century, diversity of housing stock
  • Governmental characteristics: independent of central city, often struggling municipal services
  • Demographic characteristics: broad diversity of ethnic groups, racial diversity, significant percentage of foreign born, economic diversity but especially presence of low- and moderate-income families, constantly changing ethnic demographics

The concept is related to but distinct from several other recently defined places.  It is like the ‘gateway city’ (think Lawrence, Brockton, Fall River), but suburban and often more multi-ethnic.  It is like the ‘first suburbs’ or ‘inner suburbs’ (think Somerville, Chelsea, Roslindale) but newer and farther from the city core.  It is like the ‘edge gateway’ (think… well MA doesn’t really have any but if you’ve been some of the outer suburbs of DC) but acts not just as a gateway for immigrants but as a gateway to the suburbs for people from the city.

Other than Randolph, few gateway suburbs are currently in Massachusetts.  However, several Massachusetts towns may be posed to become gateway suburbs in the future.  For example, Framingham and Waltham already match many of the characteristics of a gateway suburb.  The same groups that initially moved from Mattapan and Dorchester to make Randolph a gateway suburb have now moved on to other further out suburbs.  Do Easton, Sharon, Canton, or Bridgewater – each of which house many former Randolph and Brockton residents – hold the potential to be tomorrow’s gateway?  Do other current gateway suburbs or potential future ones have anything to learn from Randolph’s experiences?


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