Dispatches from the road: Boston

Well, folks, I’m in Boston with the family mixing a little biz and pleasure. So, I’ll try and post a few from the road.

I was reading about Devens in the local paper. Devens is a suburb of Boston that historically was dominated by the military. The military moved out in the 1990s and local residents got together with the economic development agency, MassDevelopment, and developed a strategy to literally convert the military area into a town with its own economic base and infrastructure. Here’s a few excerpts from the article:

One-third of the way through a 40-year time frame sketched out in 1993 legislation, Devens has 85 businesses employing 4,200 people, 250 residents, a ZIP code, a town common, a hotel, transitional housing programs for homeless veterans and women and children, a job training center, schools, a satellite college campus, a police force, a fire department, a recreation program, and public utilities: virtually all the major attributes of a New England town. Devens pumps an estimated annual payroll of nearly $220 million into the regional economy, a figure that would have appeared improbable in 1996 when the Army moved out and eliminated 7,000 civilian and military jobs.

Proponents argue that Devens, a free-standing regional economic development zone run by MassDevelopment, should become its own town. Others contend that Devens should remain in limbo for now or be split among its neighbors. All agree that the strategically placed, 7-square-mile tract is a national model for redeveloping a closed military base.

Now, a number of you will say “yadda, yadda, yadda – this is Boston no applicability to New Brunswick”.

But I think you are wrong. Here’s why it’s relevant:

First, a 40 year plan. I love this. I am sick of the ‘nanosecond 90s’ which killed long term planning. When you are talking about community development and municipal planning, you need to have a long time horizon – you need short term targets – even yearly – but a long term vision for recreating the economic base.

Second, I think this is a great example of what you can do if you deliberately put your mind to it. The state of Massachusetts (and the Feds) put big bucks into redevelopment. The question I have is why do we wait until full collapse (i.e. a military base closures)? Why can’t we see that New Brunswick, as an entity, is a military base closure in progress? I have no doubt that if the province and the Feds looked at NB the way that MA and the US feds looked at Devens, we could see great results.

Third, it takes money to make money. If you want to revitalize economies, you have to make strategic investments. That’s a historical reality around the world. For those who say the government has no business getting involved in the economy….

Poppycock.

Now, I’m off to the Children’s Museum or the Aquarium or some such family stuff. $20US just to park. Wish me luck.