It's a hot, sunny August morning and I've dragged my children out of the house early to take the heart-to-hub 8 am train to Boston. Less than a ten minute walk away from South Station, we arrive at the offices of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance. We're here to have an in-depth discussion with the Executive Director, Andre Leroux about the recent changes in Massachusetts zoning laws, new economic development legislation, the importance of mixed income neighborhoods and ways we can create vibrant urban spaces. As a Worcester native who spent his formative years in our city, Andre especially has some keen insights for us.
I first met Andre in 2007 when I traveled to Lawrence, Massachusetts for eighteen months of fieldwork. At the time, Andre was the Director of Policy and Planning for Lawrence Community Works, the group I was studying. He was coordinating the innovative Reviviendo Gateway Initiative and lobbying for two designated smart growth districts in Lawrence. His report, co-authored with MIT professor Lorlene Hoyt, Voices from Forgotten Cities: Innovative Revitalization Coalitions in America's Older Cities, brilliantly details the reasons for the historical decline and potential for revitalization of old, midsize industrial cities that have been hit hard by offshoring of industrial jobs in a globalized economy.
Now as the Executive Director of Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, Andre works on passing statewide legislation that will allow us to create livable cities and towns. What is "smart growth", you might ask. As an offspring of Jane Jacobs ideals, smart growth is an approach in planning that fosters development of dense, mixed use urban and town centers so that residents can easily arrive on foot, bike or public transportation to the places they want to be. In other words, smart growth is an antidote to the auto-centric suburban sprawl our country has promoted since the 1950s. Imagine being able to get to work,school, shopping, church, fun within a distance where you don't need a car. That is the smart growth ideal.
A special thank you to my fifteen year old daughter who shot and edited these film clips. I am biased and think all of Andre's words are fascinating. If time is short, at least hear Andre's advice for Worcester in the first video below. Enjoy!