Archive for March, 2010

Why some people leave Randolph: Part 4 Race

March 29, 2010

Race

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.

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Why some leave Randolph: Part 3 Property Value Fears

March 28, 2010

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.

Why some leave Randolph: Part 2 Schools

March 28, 2010

Schools

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.

Why some leave Randolph: Part 1 Suburbanization

March 27, 2010

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

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.

Why move to Randolph Part 4: Diversity

March 25, 2010

Diversity

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.

Why move to Randolph Part 3: Location

March 24, 2010

Location

Randolph’s location is another feature that makes the town competitive and is a common reason for residents’ choice to live there.  The town lies along Routes 128 and 24 and is close to Route 3.  These highways provide quick and easy access to the employment centers in Boston, Quincy, and the Route 128 suburbs as well as to the cities, towns, and beaches of southeastern Massachusetts.  Randolph’s main street is Route 28, which provides easy access to Dorchester and Brockton.  The 240 bus runs through Randolph along Route 28 to the Ashmont red line terminal.  The 238 bus also runs through Randolph, providing access to the Quincy Center and Quincy Adams red line stops, the South Shore Plaza, and the Holbrook/Randolph commuter rail stop.  This access to employment, shopping, and recreation is an attractive feature for a suburban community.  Additionally, the easy access to the urban neighborhoods from which many first generation suburbanites come is also a reason Randolph functions well as a gateway suburb.

Location cannot be taken away.  In extreme cases however, its effect can be nullified.  For example, Chester PA lies along Interstates 95 and 476, has a SEPTA train station, bus routes, easy access to Philadelphia and the Delaware County suburbs, and a river port.  Yet, Chester is a depressed community where few choose to live.

Why move to Randolph Part 2: Housing

March 24, 2010

Housing

The second most common motive for choosing Randolph among my interview sample was homeownership.  Roughly a quarter of interviewees said their families chose to live in Randolph because it provided the best homeownership value to them.  Value is defined as the quality obtained for the price paid.  Randolph’s housing stock includes homes that are affordable to first-time homebuyers while also being of decent size and condition with large enough lots and access to community facilities.  (check median home price against region).  Homeownership was also commonly mentioned in my interviews as a reason why people chose to remain in Randolph.

Less common in my interviews, but plain from data on Randolph’s housing stock and my own personal experience is that Randolph is also an accessible place for families needing affordable homes and apartments for rent.  Families looking for subsidized housing have much less choice than homebuyers about where to live.  They spend long times on multiple waiting lists for subsidized units.  However, Randolph’s subsidized units are a better alternative for many families than the older, poorer quality, less safe public housing units available in nearby cities.

The types of housing available in Randolph also make the community attractive to a variety of families.  In addition to the single-family home types and apartment complexes common in other suburbs, Randolph has a significant number of duplexes.  This housing style is attractive to large extended families who want to balance the benefits of suburban single-family housing with the benefits of sharing housing with family.  It is also attractive to people who wish to use the rental income from one half of the home to help pay the mortgage on the entire building.  Filmmaker Tze Chun prominently featured Randolph’s duplexes in two films, Windowbreaker and Children of Invention.  In a conversation with Chun, who himself grew up in a duplex in Randolph, the filmmaker described the aesthetic image of the blocks of duplexes as something uniquely Randolph that he wished to capture on film.

Why move to Randolph? Part 1 Suburbanization

March 23, 2010

The central question for Randolph – and perhaps for any residential community – is how to remain a community of choice.  A community of choice is one where people with the economic means to have a free choice about where to live will want to live.  A community of choice is competitive for new residents.  Randolph has been a community of choice at various times for various peoples.  Over the next few days, I will suggest some of the reasons families have chosen to move to and to stay in Randolph over the last sixty years. Afterwords, I will address why people choose to leave Randolph.  Together, these discussions highlight which qualities have the potential to make Randolph competitive and remain a community of choice.

Suburbanizing

Slightly more than half of the families included in my interviews cited the desire to move to the suburbs as their primary reason for initially moving to Randolph.  They expressed this desire in several ways.  Some said that their families wanted to be able to live in a house with a yard because they had small children.  Some wanted a safe environment.  Some said better schools.  Some said trees or quiet.  Families looking at Randolph from Mattapan, Dorchester, Brockton, and other places viewed Randolph as a place that could provide all of these archetypical suburban qualities.  Remarkably Randolph’s attractiveness as a place for suburban living appears persistent over time.  The interviewees who cited suburbanization as the prime motive for moving to Randolph include families who arrived in the late 1950s, the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.  The suburbanizing motive was also consistent across racial and ethnic groups.  The interviewees citing suburbanization motives included Jewish, Bengali, Irish, French-Canadian, German, Polish, Eritrean, English, Vietnamese, African-American, Chinese, and Haitian families.

A little history

March 22, 2010

In order to explore what Randolph is now and might become, it’s useful to look back at how it got here (look to some of the older entries to see just what this ‘here’ consists of).  The following is a brief (well, brief for a thesis not so much for a blog) history of Randolph up through the 20th century.  Let me know what you think.  What am I failing to point out?  What did I get wrong?

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For most of its history, Randolph has been a fairly typical small New England town.  The land just south of the Blue Hills that would become Randolph was a part of Braintree during colonial times.  Randolph was incorporated in 1793 at the same time that Holbrook and Quincy broke away from Braintree to form independent towns.  Residents in the farming village supplemented their incomes with shoe cobbling because the soil was too poor for successful farming.  In the early 1800s, bootmaking factories opened in Randolph.  The population quadrupled in the first half of the century with industrialization, but Randolph’s small bootmaking industry was quickly overshadowed by the larger bootmakers in the city of Brockton to the south.  Population was stagnant, hovering around 4,000 people until highway construction transformed Randolph forever.

Route 128, Boston’s circumferential highway, opened on Randolph’s northern border in 1927.  This first highway transformed Randolph into a true suburb. After 70 years of stagnation, the population grew 38% to 6,553 persons between the 1920 and 1930 censes.  Randolph, like most American suburbs, then experienced a population explosion in the post-war era.  Additional highways made the town even more attractive for suburbanization. Route 24 opened on Randolph’s western border in 1951.  The Southeast Expressway created a much faster connection to downtown Boston in 1957.  The town’s close proximity to Dorchester and Mattapan made it especially attractive to the suburbanizing Irish and Jewish communities from those neighborhoods.  Randolph was a place where people leaving those Boston neighborhoods could buy a single-family home, commute easily to employment downtown or along Route 128, and remain close enough to the old neighborhood to maintain their social ties.  By 1970, the town had grown to 27,000 persons and population growth stabilized.

The arrival of the Jewish population marked the first time Randolph’s demographics differed from the typical suburban Boston community.  For several decades, Randolph replaced Mattapan as the Jewish hub south of Boston.  Jews in Randolph organized Conservative, Orthodox, and Liberal temples and built a Jewish cemetery.  The Conservative Temple Beth-Am dominates a prominent intersection on North Main Street with its 50 foot stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

Housing construction predictably lagged behind population growth. The largest boom in building, especially in the building of more affordable multi-family apartment complexes came during the 1980s.  By the end of the 1980s, Randolph could boast a diverse housing stock including large lot single-family homes, duplexes, small lot single- and multi-family houses, and larger three- and four-story apartment complexes.

Randolph’s population grew modestly after 1970, but significant changes began to take place in the population through the 1980s and 1990s.  Randolph continued to be a gateway to suburban living for former residents of Dorchester, Mattapan, and other Boston neighborhoods.  But, new groups started to join the suburbanizing ethnic whites.  Randolph’s Black, Asian, and Latino populations began to grow during this period including African-Americans, Caribbean peoples, Cape Verdeans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans and many others.  Randolph became the most open destination for this diverse group of people to seek out suburban living.  According to my interviews, these people moved to Randolph for the same reasons that ethnic whites had in the previous couple decades – better schools, better housing, some green space, and easy access to the communities they left in Boston’s neighborhoods as well as the job centers downtown and along Route 128.

A new phenomenon began in the last two decades of the twentieth century.  Randolph had long been a second step move for immigrants who first settled in the city.  But, by the 1990s enough potential immigration sponsors had made the move to Randolph that their families joined them in the suburb, bypassing the city altogether.  One Chinese-American I interviewed typified this group, “My aunt sponsored my family to the US and rented out her house [in Randolph] to us in 1990.”

By the mid to late 1990s, Randolph had become Boston’s most diverse suburb.  The many different groups who call Randolph home live throughout the town rather than clustering in small neighborhoods. For this reason, the Boston Globe recognized Randolph as “the most integrated municipality in the Commonwealth.”

Back From China

March 16, 2010

Apologies for the lack of posts.  I was delivering a paper on the history of Boston’s development at the International Laboratory for Architecture and Urban Design conference in Guangzhou and then traveling a little bit.  The Great Firewall blocks blog sites (as well as facebook, youtube, and most anything else web 2.oish).  We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming of undermining the Chinese state.