New England News
6:29 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Competition Encourages Collaboration to Revitalize Small Cities in Mass.

A statewide competition in Massachusetts hopes to help up to 20 small cities find ways to solve major problems through collaborations.

A view of downtown Springfield.
A view of downtown Springfield.

The Working Cities Challenge, which will launch on Friday, intends to revitalize small and medium sized post-industrial cities in the commonwealth by bringing together leadership from the public and private sectors to brainstorm and initiate their own solutions. Eligible cities in Western Massachusetts include Pittsfield, Westfield, Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee. 

The Working Cities Challenge is an idea that came from the Boston Federal Reserve. Prabal Chakrabarti of the Boston Fed explains how the program got its start.

“The Boston Fed undertook a research study that looked at small cities, many of whom were struggling with the effects of de-industrialization and manufacturing job loss, and looked to see if there were any cities that were doing well across in the country over the last couple decades," said Chakrabarti.

Chakrabarti said that in its research, the Fed realized that a shared vision among the public and private sector often was at the center of positive growth.

"The key ingredient was collaboration and leadership," said Chakrabarti," and the interesting thing was that the leadership could come from any sector. In some cases it was an energetic mayor but in other cases it was a private sector leader or philanthropy. The point was there was leadership but also this cross-sector collaboration for a common vision."

The Federal Reserve is partnering with several agencies to launch the program, including Living Cities, a philanthropic collaborative of 22 foundations and corporations that seeks to assist underserved urban centers.

Living Cities has been working with cities across the United States over the past three years on its Integration Initiative, which sought to help cities solve problems through effective investment. Large cities including  Newark, Baltimore, Cleveland, the Twin Cities, and Detroit were all involved in the multi-year effort.

Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, said the Integration Initiative model, which provided funding to the cities, is flexible to help a city meet its unique needs.

"Each of them came to us with their own big problem they wanted to solve, using an array of different capital - loans, grants, and very flexible debt," said Hecht. "We awarded almost $100 million of loans, grants and flexible debt to these five cities so they could attack these problems."

Hecht said that the Working Cities Challenge program, which has received letters of intent to participate from all 20 eligible communities, many classified by the state as Gateway Cities, will not award funding to specific projects.

"Unlike other requests for proposals, usually the government or philanthropy will tell you the ideas that they're interested in funding. Here, we're not dictating what has to be funded," said Hecht. "Get the local leaders together, tell us what really matters to you, and why you believe this group of leaders together is going to be able to solve this identified problem."

Workshops will be held in the eligible cities where the parties will come together to being work on their proposals. After a series of visits and a final review, the Working Cities Challenge plans to award three multi-year implementation awards ranging from $150k to $700k. 3 to 5 seed awards up to $80k will also be awarded.   

Though every participating community will not be awarded funding, Prabal Chakrabarti of the Boston Federal Reserve hopes that the collaborations made in the communities will serve the cities even after the competition is over.

"We hope that the group that gets put together around these efforts, stays together," said Chakrabarti.

Other partners in the Working Cities Challenge include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Mass Competitive Partnership, and other groups.

Cities participating in the competition include:

Brockton

Chelsea

Chicopee

Everett

Fall River

Fitchburg

Haverhill

Holyoke

Lawrence

Lowell

Lynn

Malden

New Bedford

Pittsfield

Revere

Salem

Somerville

Springfield

Taunton

Worcester

For more information visit: http://www.bos.frb.org/workingcities/index.htm

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