Written by Austin Nijhuis, ICIC, and Zach Nieder, The American City Coalition.
In recent years, Boston has experienced a period of strong economic growth and prosperity, due in part to the city’s innovation economy, highly educated workforce and world-class universities and hospitals. While the city as a whole has enjoyed this period of economic growth, increased prosperity has not benefited all of Boston’s residents equitably. Recent research by the Brookings Institution identified Boston as the city with the highest income inequality in the U.S. and found that the income gap between Boston’s rich and poor is widening. Poverty and unemployment remain concentrated in Boston’s inner city neighborhoods, including Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park. ICIC’s own research shows that Boston’s inner city experienced increases in both poverty and unemployment rates between 2000 and 2013.
What can Boston do to address rising income inequality and increase economic opportunities for its inner city residents? One potential solution may come from increasing leverage of the Fairmount Indigo Line, a nine-mile commuter transit line that runs through Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park. The transit line recently expanded into these neighborhoods, enhancing transit equity, promoting transit-oriented development and increasing residents’ access to jobs both along the transit line and in other parts of the city. Recognizing the potential of the Fairmount Indigo Commuter Line to drive economic growth, the Boston Redevelopment Authority recently completed the Fairmount Corridor Planning Initiative, a three-year planning study that identified opportunities along the Fairmount Corridor—the half-mile radius surrounding the Fairmount Indigo Line—for commercial and residential development, transit access, public realm enhancements and community building initiatives.
The Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative identified the need to strengthen connections between regional and local employers and residents and to enhance the Corridor’s reputation as a great place for businesses that want to invest in the Corridor’s residents. The Fairmount Indigo Line provides an opportunity to expand the Corridor’s commercial and industrial jobs, which often provide living wages with low barriers for inner city residents. ICIC’s research has found that inner city firms hire three times as many local inner city residents as the regional average.
Local advocacy, community and non-profit organizations, along with the City of Boston, continue to work to support tangible economic benefits for Fairmount Corridor residents, but there remains the need for a strong effort to increase local jobs in the Corridor. In July 2015, ICIC, in partnership with The American City Coalition (TACC) and Boston Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), began work to identify a strategy for increasing jobs for local residents by attracting, retaining and expanding businesses within the Corridor. This work, which is being completed in collaboration with a group of community organizations, businesses, trade and industry groups, and city and state officials, seeks to identify and promote a strategy of incentives, investments and programs that will result in new and expanded businesses in the Fairmount Corridor, while creating high-quality, household-sustaining jobs for its residents.
Through this process, we have worked with local businesses and organizations to identify barriers that may prevent businesses from moving to or remaining in the Fairmount Corridor. The barriers that we have uncovered include a lack of local amenities, such as restaurants and bars; higher expansion and relocation costs compared to surrounding areas; and an information gap about available commercial and industrial properties in the Fairmount Corridor. Many of these barriers are common challenges faced by inner cities across the U.S. and will need to be addressed in order to attract and retain businesses.
At its core, our work, which will be released in the coming months, will chart a path that can increase the number of jobs for Boston residents who need them most. The recommendations will reinforce the strong connections between transit equity and economic development, while supporting existing initiatives aimed at building the Corridor’s economic assets.
Additional information about our work can be found on the Job Attraction and Retention for the Fairmount Indigo Corridor website.