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.

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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.

Census 2010

March 2, 2010

The census is coming! Forms should start arriving in your mailboxes in the next few weeks.  The Census is very important to this project (done a year too early and destined to be done over) and to the town of Randolph.  Randolph lacks representation in almost every conceivable way.  Having the best picture of Randolph’s demographics will be critically important to any efforts aimed at making it a better place.  With that in mind, I am copying some info about the census below.  Please share with your family and friends.

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Basics
Most residential addresses will receive a Census form in the mail between March 15th and 17th. One person at the residence should complete the form and return it in the postage-paid envelope. Households that don’t respond by April 15th will either get called, or the Census will send an employee to their door.

What’s on the form?
The form includes ten questions, you can look at it online. There is no “long form” this census, as it has been replaced by an ongoing survey (ACS).

Who should be counted?

From the official website: “The person filling out the questionnaire should include information about all household members (including him/herself) who live and sleep at the address most of the time. The person should also include people who are staying there on April 1, 2010, who have no permanent place to stay.  The Census Bureau is mandated by the Constitution to count everyone who lives in this country, regardless of immigration or citizenship status.”

What about noncitizens?
They are counted where the live most of the time on April 1.

What about people not registered or eligible to vote?
They are counted where the live most of the time on April 1.

What if my “legal” residence is California (or any other place)?

People should be counted where they are living April 1. The Census has their own definition of residence and it won’t affect tuition, voting, IRS, drivers licenses, etc etc.

What foreign language or telephone assistance is available?
Census forms are in English, except in some areas where bilingual English-Spanish forms are distributed. However, a variety of printed materials as well as hotlines are available for non-english speakers. Here are the numbers:

English 1-866-872-6868
Spanish 1-866-928-2010
Chinese 1-866-935-2010
Korean 1-866-955-2010
Vietnamese 1-866-945-2010
Russian 1-866-965-2010

The phone lines will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (your local time) seven days a week from February 25, 2010 through July 30, 2010. For the hearing-impaired, TDD 1-866-783-2010 (during the times noted above.)

Prior to April 22, 2010 – An agent can assist you with completing the form, but you must mail back the completed form in the envelope provided with the form. Between April 23-July 30, 2010 – An agent can take your information over the phone.

What about privacy?
Census data is protected by a special federal law, which is said to take precedence over even the PATRIOT Act.

Local Office
All activities in Massachustts will be coordinated through the Census Bureau’s office in downtown Boston:
Boston Regional Census Center (2010 Office)
http://www.census.gov/regions/boston/
One Beacon St., 7th floor
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 223-3700 or 1-866-861-2010
FAX: (617) 223-3675
E-mail: Boston.PDSP@census.gov

The Census 2010 website has lots more information, including an exhaustive FAQ of over 250 questions.

Passion

March 1, 2010

People must get sick of me talking about Randolph.  Ever since I was doing statewide student organizing as a high school senior, I’ve been trying to tell outside people about this place.  I usually g0t pretty excited about it because I felt something unique and important was happening in Randolph and I was proud to be part of it.  Even I thought I was crazy.

For this project, I have completed about 30 interviews with current and former residents and workers and have had dozens more informal conversations.  Every time I met with other Randolph people, I would be energized by their passion for the place, by their pride, by their strong opinions (good and bad).  So, it turns out either I am not crazy or we all are.

These passionate conversations were not just about Randolph but usually came to how we can do something for Randolph.  Last night, a diverse group of nine RHS alums held a brainstorming meeting to decide what we can do right now.  I wonder whether a similarly motivated group of young professionals would come together this way for another suburb.  To have passion for a place, you must have a sense of place.  Not everywhere is a place.  A place has strong and unique characteristics that bind people to the idea of it.  Randolph is most certainly a place – and probably is so because of the characteristics I use to define it as a gateway suburb.

After a great conversation in last night’s meeting, we settled on a community project that we can roll out quickly and complete the first phase of by the fall.  Details will come later this week.  Be excited.

Gateway Suburb

February 28, 2010

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?

Suburbs

February 25, 2010

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.

Film Premiere Friday

February 25, 2010

I spent the past week diving back into the tougher parts of my thesis writing, and I’ll have some new material for you to pore over soon.  In the meantime, this is much more interesting.

Children of Invention – a fantastic movie filmed in Randolph and Boston – finished winning awards on the festival circuit and is beginning a limited theatrical run.  The Boston premiere is Friday the 26th at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge to be followed by a premiere party with the director and Randolph native Tze Chun at Om Restaurant.  You can get tickets to the movie here http://www.brattlefilm.org/brattlefilm/movie_detail/100226.html#a.  More info on the film and the New York and LA premieres is here http://www.childrenofinvention.com/.

Eviction scene from Children of Invention on Christopher Rd