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Monday, January 30, 2012

Ward 5 Online Poll: Voters Skeptical after Curtatone’s State of the City

Always taking an unbiased (on most topics) and positive approach to this website made honoring the results of my most recent online poll difficult…and writing about it about it damn near impossible because part of me agrees with the results.

Putting up online polls both answers trivial questions I have and want others’ opinion on and allow me to gain feedback from my readers with most of the time, predicting the outcome correctly.

After the Mayor’s State of the City Address at this year’s inauguration, I asked: “How did Mayor Joe’s address make you feel about Somerville’s Future?” The options were the following:
• Excited About the Future
• Skeptical
• The same
• Who is Mayor Joe?

After the usual one vote for “Who is Mayor Joe,” “Excited about the Future” began its steady incline racking up a couple votes a day. As the closing of the poll approached, however, “Skeptical” tied and eventually passed the more optimistic choice, eventually beating it out by one vote.

Although repetitive of previously published Op-Eds, I thought Curtatone’s State of the City was well done, but did lack concrete ideas on how the city can continue its improvement based on the examples that he mentioned including park openings, initiated energy programs and city-wide events. He did tout the release of the Comprehensive Plan, construction on the T station at Assembly Square, and research on the feasibility of a YMCA at Foss Park.

Was the lack of concrete ideas or the constant mention of only specific parts in Somerville the cause of the skepticism? I ask because that’s my biggest criticism of the current administration. They know exactly what needs to be done, but never gives the specifics on how they plan to do it on top of the Assembly this, Assembly that fatigue that a lot of Somerville is feeling right now.

Did you vote in this poll? What sparked your skepticism?

Here is the text of Mayor Curtatone’s address for your reference:

Good evening and Happy New Year!

Members of the state delegation; Register Brune; President Taylor, Vice President White, Chairperson Bockelman and Vice Chairperson Rossetti: Honorable Members of the Board of Aldermen and School Committee; Superintendent Pierantozzi; Justice Coven; Father Carr; Reverend Raymond; Mr. Horton;
Honored Guests, Friends, Family, fellow public servants and fellow residents of Somerville:

I am deeply grateful to all of you - and to all of the people of this amazing community - for the opportunity to stand before you tonight on the threshold of a fifth term as your mayor.

Above all, and as always, I am most grateful to my wife, Nancy, to our sons, Cosmo, Joey, Patrick, and James, to my mother and to all of my extended family.

Their love, care and support make it possible for me to do this job. It isn't easy to have a mayor in the family.
I love my job, but I know all too well that it places just as many demands on my family as it does on me.

I am awed and humbled by their cheerful willingness to put up with me and my professional obligations - and I thank them for everything.

And tonight, I am also more than a little awed by the knowledge that - as Howard has already observed - I am one of only three mayors in the history of our city to serve more than four full terms in office.

It's an inspiration to me - as it should be to all of us - that the two distinguished public servants that preceded me to this milestone continue to this day as elected officials, still providing invaluable service to the people of Somerville.

Congressman Capuano has fought for us in Washington with skill, tenacity and passion - and we salute him.

And no one - no one - has done more for Somerville's reputation, well-being and prosperity than the other five-term mayor here tonight: our distinguished Register of Deeds, the Honorable Eugene C. Brune.
As I have been more than happy to acknowledge since my first day on the job, the work we do today has been made possible by the vision and achievements of the great reform mayors of our city's recent past.

Thank you both, Mike and Gene, for helping to shape the vision and the institutions that are moving us with unity, purpose and energy into a new millennium.

And thanks also to all of our aldermen and school committee members, past and present - who have given so selflessly of their time and energy to make Somerville a community that we can all be proud to call home.
And, Howard thanks for taking on the emcee chores yet again.

For me, your story has been always been inspirational - someone who came to Somerville as a young professional, liked what he saw, and went on to serve his community both in and out of government.
You embody the spirit of civic engagement that is so essential to the success of any democratic community.
I also want to offer a warm welcome to our new Ward 4 Alderman, Tony LaFuente.

Tony, I know the entire Board - and the entire city - joins me in congratulating you and wishing you well as you embark on your career as an elected official.

And I cannot close out my recognition of the Board of Aldermen without a special word of appreciation for this year's Board President, Ward 3 Alderman Tom Taylor.

Tom has never let a personal challenge deter him from serving his constituents with dedication and honor.
His devotion to his constituents, and his true grit, are an example to us all.

Tom: Thank you for your leadership, and your courageous heart - and thank you too, Celia, for your service as an educator, and for representing Tom this evening with grace and dignity.

With such partners and such leaders - and with the boundless energy and goodwill of all our residents - how can Somerville fail to achieve great things?

And it cannot be denied that, together, we have achieved great things in the year just past.

At a time when the national political dialogue has been as poisonous as any of us can recall, the people of Somerville have engaged in a healthy and productive dialogue about the kind of future we want to build - and the kind of city we are going to be.

Early in this new year, we will publish the blueprint for that shared future.

It's a comprehensive plan we've called SomerVision - and it couldn't have been developed without the participation of stakeholders from every neighborhood and walk of life across our city.

SomerVision has created citywide consensus around our development agenda - a consensus that's deeply rooted in the shared values and priorities of all our people.

But perhaps its most important effect is that it has raised our aspirations and helped us think deeply and proactively about the city our children will call home.

Through this process, our residents have encouraged us to think big - to plan and invest for the long term.
It's not all that different from the advice our parents gave us when we were growing up - and it's just as wise, as relevant and as valuable for a city as it is for a family.

SomerVision has reaffirmed a number of other crucial values as well, calling upon us to preserve the diversity of our people, cultures, housing stock and businesses - and to preserve and foster the unique character of our neighborhoods and squares.

SomerVision calls upon us to promote a sustainable, transit-oriented economy that generates a wide variety of job opportunities, fosters a vibrant daytime business scene and enhances our city's growing reputation as a dining and entertainment destination;

SomerVision calls upon us to focus on the aspects of city life that really make a difference in how people feel about their city:
• open space and recreational opportunities;
• cleanliness, public health, environmental excellence and public safety;
• the convenience of multiple transportation alternatives, and - because it determines our ability to survive and flourish in the long haul -
• excellence in public education and the provision of opportunities to young people.

In the end, these shared values - and the action agenda they have inspired - come down to one overarching purpose: to make Somerville a great place to live, work, play and raise a family,

And to achieve that purpose, all of us in city government must operate every day under a single, defining principle: to govern in the present with an eye toward the future.

That is the principle that drives us to pursue rigorous performance management and service standards through our SomerStat and 311 systems.

That is the principle that requires us to make prudent investments in the 21st Century infrastructure so necessary to a 21st Century economy - and to remind state and federal officials of their urgent responsibility to do the same.

And, over the past year, our devotion to that principle has yielded impressive results.

In May, our Board of Alderman voted to approve 25 million dollars in bonding for the Assembly Square District Improvement Fund.

As a direct result, construction on the first round of new residential, retail and commercial buildings at Assembly Square will begin this year.

The new DIF funding is the final element in a federal, state and local funding package that totals 130 million dollars for roadway, utility and transit infrastructure at Assembly Square.

That timely public support has, in turn, unlocked 1.5 billion dollars in private investment that will bring our city thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in future tax revenues.

Assembly Square remains the largest project of its kind in the Northeast.

It exemplifies the type of job-creating, revenue-generating public investment that we should be seeing throughout the Commonwealth and across the nation.

It is a model of cost-effective economic recovery.

Here in Somerville, we stand ready to make such an investment precisely because we have worked together to forge a consensus on our shared values and priorities -and because we understand that the private sector simply cannot put a project like this together on its own.

And make no mistake about it: Assembly Square's most valuable and defining feature is that it will be a Somerville neighborhood: a diverse blend of housing, retail, entertainment, dining, office and commercial uses, all bound together in a walkable, sustainable environment.

Ultimately, Assembly Square will succeed not because it is a clone of other smart-growth projects around the country, but because it will become another one of the dynamic, engaging, diverse and magnificent neighborhoods that are the strength and pride of our special city.

Visitors may come for the shopping, dining and entertainment: but employers and residents will come to Assembly Square because it is a Somerville neighborhood - and Somerville is on the cutting edge of America's Urban Renaissance.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Christopher B. Leinberger, a specialist in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan, points out that Somerville, and cities like it, are now the most desirable places to live for Americans from a wide variety of differing age and income groups.

Leinberger notes that, "Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift - a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered."

Today, as he observes - and as we know from market studies here in Somerville - our housing stock is a better investment, and in greater demand, than homes in more sterile fringe suburbs.

Leinberger concludes that, "It is time to build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs."
Do those words describe a place you recognize?

This past year, as construction moved ahead on the MaxPak residential development site, we have seen these market trends in action.

Now known as Maxwell's Green, this 199-unit development is selling its phase one condos as fast as they are built - a powerful reminder of the strength of our city's housing market and a good omen for the hundred units of new housing of all types now in development across the city.

The fact that Somerville retains its desirability as a long-term location for residential investment - as a community in which the national real estate slump had less impact than in the suburbs - has also been good for our bond rating.

In May, Standard and Poor's raised our rating to its highest level in the city's history.

This upgrade means that the investments we make in our future will cost millions of dollars less in interest charges, and that we will have good access to financing even in the tightest credit markets.

In raising our grade, the rating agencies have offered a ringing endorsement not only for our future economic prospects but also for the care we've taken in managing the taxpayers' dollar.

The rating agencies are recognizing us for the things we have done, including a rigorous performance management program - SomerStat - that continues to be a national model.

They are recognizing us for our embrace of the health cost savings offered by enrollment in the state's Group Insurance Commission and for the establishment of rainy day funds.

And they are also recognizing us for the things we haven't done.

We haven't over-leveraged our resources with ill-considered borrowing - and we haven't squandered our financial reserves to pay for current operating expenses - nor will we.

When it comes to fiscal responsibility and protecting the public purse, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Board of Aldermen.

They have been - and I know they will continue to be - steadfast guardians of our fiduciary future.

And so, thanks to the vision of our residents and the wisdom of our fiscal guardians, we enter 2012 with every confidence that - so long as we continue to exercise careful and prudent management - we can afford to maintain current levels of service while promoting future economic growth.

Yet we must never allow that confidence to become complacency.

We must never mortgage our future for the sake of short-term interests.

And we must continue to be vigilant not only in protecting our own budget priorities, but also in insisting that state and federal governments honor the commitments they've made to our city and our people.

If there's one thing we know for certain about Somerville, it's that we have to fight for everything we get: even the things we've been promised.

We were reminded of that hard truth once again in 2011, when we discovered that we can never let down our guard when it comes to the ongoing effort to bring Somerville the transit service it needs and deserves.
It's true that, because of steady work by transit advocates and city officials, the coming year will, at long last, mark the construction of the Assembly Square Orange Line stop - the first new MBTA transit station to be built in a quarter century. And it will be built right here in Somerville.

Work will also continue on the Green Line Extension with two new stations, at Washington St and Union Square, slated to open in November of 2016.

But despite the state's legal requirement to fulfill this long-awaited, long-delayed promise, it's clear that every member of our community and every elected official will have to keep up the pressure to get this project finished in a timely fashion.

The Green Line will get done, but we will have to fight for it, advocate for it and push for it - every single day.
Still, even if 2011 brought fresh reminders of the dangers of complacency, it also brought recognition for recent achievements and pointed the way toward future innovations.

It was a year in which Somerville received national recognition on several public policy fronts.

First Lady Michelle Obama cited Shape Up Somerville as a model for key elements in her "Let's Move" initiative to combat childhood obesity; Somerville was named the tenth most walkable city in America by - the ninth most bike-able city in America - and for the fourth year in a row, Somerville was named by the America's Promise Alliance as one of America's 100 Best Communities for Young People.
And we also received considerable media attention, both locally and nationally, for our Happiness Survey.

I have already mentioned that the orienting goal of our city government is to make Somerville a great place to live, work, play and raise a family - and that this goal requires us to govern today with an eye on tomorrow.
The Happiness Survey was designed to set a benchmark for our performance in meeting both of these standards.

And what we learned from the Happiness Survey - and through our ongoing ResiStat meetings - has been invaluable in helping us shape our services and programs.

For example, one of the lessons from the Happiness Survey is that residents in Ward 5, where we had been piloting our zero-sort recycling program, were - on average - noticeably happier than other neighborhoods about trash collection and recycling services.

That finding confirmed the idea that Somerville residents were ready to embrace the zero-sort model, and was one of the factors in our decision to expand the program citywide this past fall.

I'm very pleased to report, by the way, that - as a direct result - recycling has already increased across the city by forty percent.

That's a very, very strong start.

As we work to correlate the findings of our Happiness Survey to the environment and resources of each neighborhood, we're finding a number of common themes that will guide our agenda for years to come.

The survey confirms that residents are genuinely happier about their city when they enjoy a range of transportation alternatives. Transit is important, of course, but so is a neighborhood's walkability and bike-friendliness.

That's why we enthusiastically welcome the regional Hubway bike-sharing program coming to Somerville this spring - and why we will continue to add bicycle lanes and corrals at locations across the city.
That's why we will continue in 2012 to enhance the visual appeal and pedestrian flow of our urban streetscapes, beginning with East Broadway, where construction will soon start on a major upgrade to the roadways, sidewalks, street furniture and landscaping in one of our most energetic and popular business districts.

The survey confirms that there is a correlation between trees and happiness, which is why we continue to plant thousands more trees and continue to open more and better parks across the city.

Even the most densely populated city can be a green city - and now we have the data to justify the effort.
And the survey confirmed another fundamental truth about our community: residents are significantly happier when they have easy access to healthy recreational opportunities.

That's been one of the guiding principles behind the ongoing expansion of Shape Up Somerville - and it's the reason that we have worked with the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation to take over management of the Dilboy recreation complex and Veterans Memorial Rink.

As a matter of public health, and public happiness, we are determined to continue to provide more and better opportunities for our residents to get outdoors, play hard and live well.

That's why we intend in the coming year to work with DCR to assume management of Foss Park - and why we plan to renovate and upgrade the Blessings of the Bay Boathouse.

And it's the reason we will be working with the YMCA to explore the possibility of a major new multi-service recreational facility on the grounds at Foss Park.

All of these initiatives spring directly from our effort to engage our residents in sharing and ranking their priorities.

We can embrace them because we know they are exactly what our residents need and expect from their city - and because we know that happier communities are healthier and more productive communities.

Perhaps the most important finding of the Happiness Survey, however, is that it confirms the truth of the observation made by Christopher Leinberger in his Times op ed:
People like living in the urban core.
They like living here.
Somerville isn't just a place to live.
Somerville is the place to be.

But even as we recognize our unique advantages, and how to build on them, we must also acknowledge the areas where we need to improve.

Here in Somerville, we must recognize that in one crucial respect, the image of the urban core hasn't caught up to its vibrant and engaging reality.

And that area is public education.

In some ways, this is a problem of perception. But despite the very real educational progress we've made in recent years, there are valid concerns underlying that perception.

In recent weeks, a healthy debate over a proposal to create a new charter school in Somerville has brought public education into sharper focus for our entire community.

Whatever the outcome of that specific proposal, it has served the very valuable service of reminding us that, while Somerville has made steady progress in improving the range and quality of its public education services and the performance of its public school students, we can and must do even better.

In an era when many cities and towns have been forced to lay off teachers, reduce electives and after-school programs, raise fees, and increase class size, we have been able to expand our offerings and enrich the educational experience for all our students.

Yet the current charter discussion has sharpened our city's focus on how best to address the continuing achievement gap in the Somerville Public Schools, where almost half of all students still struggle with proficiency at grade level.

Fortunately, the work and advocacy of parent groups engaged in this discussion has also reminded us of the community resources and energy available to our schools as they seek innovative solutions to the challenge of improving performance and enhancing life outcomes for all our students.

We start from a position of strength: the Somerville Public Schools already do an extraordinary job.
Our teachers, our School Committee, our Superintendent and his administrative team can take pride in our rising MCAS scores, in Standard and Poor's rating of Somerville as a top-performing urban school district, and in the improved English skills of our ELL students, whose performance is significantly better than the state average.

But we can do much, much more.

And one of the best ways to accelerate our school's performance is for all of us - schools, city government, parents, business leadership, residents of all backgrounds - to form a united front in tackling the challenges our children face.

One of the more exciting developments of the current charter school debate has been the emergence of a new, grass-roots group of parents called Progress Together for Somerville.

Although this group was developed in part to oppose the current charter proposal, I know that many of the Progress Together parents are prepared to roll up their sleeves and use their energy and expertise to help the Schools make more exponential leaps in achievement.

Leaders like Ruth Ronen, Meghan Bouchard, and Michael Chiu have shown us the energy and passion that exists in the City.

We need to tap into their energy and creativity in order to move beyond the steady, incremental success of the past decade, and to embark upon a far more ambitious and aggressive education agenda.
We also need to tap the potential of the Artists Asylum, Sprout, Parts & Crafts and other innovative educational initiatives in Somerville to make our schools more potent and more stimulating environments for learning.

I am prepared to offer City resources to work more closely with the School Department, with parent groups like Progress Together and with families throughout the City to help define and make the tough decisions that will enable the Somerville Public Schools to achieve more dramatic successes.

It requires the same kind of broad-based civic engagement and partnership that we strive for in every area of Somerville life.

At every grade level and for every group of students we serve, our goal must be not just to improve, but to transform - not just to carry on, but to lead.

We also need to enlist additional and more intensive support from our valued partners in academia: Tufts and Lesley Universities, Harvard, MIT and Bunker Hill Community College.

Somerville is at the nexus of some of the nation's most advanced research and development in the field of education.

There is no reason we shouldn't participate in, and benefit from, that work.

Indeed, we have already laid the groundwork for this kind of citywide and regional collaboration through our SomerPromise initiative.

Next week, in an unprecedented collaborative effort of the City, the Schools, Tufts, and more than 15 other partners, SomerPromise will enter its implementation phase.

And, just as I am asking our school officials and parents to work more closely to develop bold plans for transforming our schools, I call tonight on residents and businesses throughout the City to participate in SomerPromise and in the efforts to accelerate performance in our schools.

In the coming year, we will be sharing the stories of young people who need help in Somerville and asking for your time, your donations and your creativity in unlocking the tremendous promise of our city's youth.
But tonight, let me note just one of those stories: my own.

I am a product of our city's public schools, and English was not my first language.

Like me, my sister struggled to learn English at a time when the schools had no programs for Italian-speaking students.

As she taught herself, she also taught me.

And together, we found that this city's schools could put us on the road to a successful future.

My wife Nancy and I feel so strongly about the power and promise of our schools that we have three sons in the system now and one more on the way.

But my story is by no means special.

This audience and this city are full of similar stories - stories of hope and promise fulfilled through education - and the encouragement of a supportive community.

So my message to every resident and business owner, every advocate and community leader is a simple one: if you don't think you have a direct personal stake in the quality of our schools and the life outcomes of our young people - then think again.

We are all accountable on this issue.

Our children are our future skilled workers, our future leaders and managers, our future customers and our future neighbors.

Their success touches every aspect of our lives, from economic growth to property values to residential quality of life.

So get involved and stay involved: the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher - for all of us.
I know we can achieve these goals - because I have seen us pull together in so many ways, large and small, over the past eight years.

Both physically and spiritually, Somerville is a tightly knit community: our houses are so close together that we can smell the seasoning in our neighbor's dinner - and hear their phones ringing.

That closeness - that unavoidable and richly rewarding sense of community engagement - is one of the big reasons that I begin my fifth term as mayor with even more excitement, energy and optimism than I began my first term in 2004.

I continue to be astonished and delighted every day by the creativity, spirit and decency of our people.

I continue to be inspired by their practical approach to problem-solving and their willingness to work together.
Here in Somerville, we enjoy a sophisticated urban lifestyle, but a small-town sense of community.

We demand and receive the services that can only be provided by a large-scale municipal administration, but we insist on a government that is accessible and participatory.

Where once we sought to adopt the best practices of others, Somerville has become a leader - a community that others look to for ideas and energy.

Where once we struggled to protect and reclaim the vitality of our residential neighborhoods and business districts, now those same neighborhoods have become models for the sophisticated and stimulating future of urban America.

After years of migration to sterile suburbs characterized by isolation and sprawl, Americans are rediscovering the rewards of urban life - and finding that Somerville is the kind of place they want to live, to work to play and raise their families.

And, at a time when so many voices on the national stage are raised in opposition to the very idea that government can be an effective tool in service to the shared hopes and values of the people it serves, Somerville is a shining example of the way that government can improve the lives of its citizens and create a firm educational and economic foundation for future generations.

Earlier this evening, Howard Horton reminded us that 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of our high school's anthem, "Somerville Leads the Way."

In the term that lies before us, let us embrace that anthem as our own.

Let us continue to adopt, develop and apply the best ideas, technologies and institutional practices - in government, in education and in urban living;

Let us continue to nurture the closeness and embrace the diversity that enriches our community life;

Let us continue to listen to the wisdom and creativity of our fellow residents and recognize how deeply we are connected;

And, above all, let us continue to work together, in mutual recognition and support, to build a prosperous, healthy and sustainable future based on shared values;

So that it will be said of our city, in this time and for all the years to come, that
Somerville Leads the Way.

Thank you all very much.

1 comment:

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