– Photos by Harry Kane
STATE OF THE CITY SPEECH
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone
January 7, 2013
Good evening and Happy New Year!
Members of the state delegation; Former Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay; Register Curtatone; President White, Vice President Connolly, Chairperson Rossetti and Vice Chairperson Rafal; Honorable Members of the Board of Aldermen and School Committee; Superintendent Pierantozzi. Honored guests, friends, family, fellow public servants and residents of Somerville.
I am deeply grateful to all of you – and to all of the people of Somerville – for the opportunity to still be doing this incredibly meaningful and fulfilling job. I have a precious gift: I get out of bed every morning excited to go to work. I’m entering my tenth year in office and I’m proud to say I truly love my job.
And as always, I want to thank my wife, Nancy and our sons Cosmo, Joey, Patrick, and James, my mother and all of my extended family.
I know all too well the demands my job places on my family and I know I couldn’t do it without their love, care and support, so I am deeply grateful to them.
I also want to acknowledge our now former Register of Deeds and former Mayor of Somerville, the Honorable Eugene C. Brune.
Thank you for more than 30 years of incredibly distinguished service to the city of Somerville and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
And thanks also to all of our aldermen and school committee members, past and present – who have given so selflessly to our city. And a very a special thanks tonight to former Ward 1 Alderman Bill Roche, who has served the city so well over the past 17 years.
It was hard to find a worthy successor but I think we may have managed to do so. Welcome, Ward 1 Alderman Maureen Bastardi. You have served with such distinction on the School Committee and we’re thankful for your new service on the board.
I also want to say a few words about the loss of a great citizen of Somerville, Bob Publicover. Probably most everyone in this room knew Bob. Smart, funny, loyal, opinionated and, yes, even stubborn and difficult at times, Bob was truly a Somerville original and a very decent man. He fought a heroic fight, keeping a terrible disease at bay for more than 25 years – a battle I think few of us can imagine waging, especially with the humor and grace Bob displayed. He was one of my earliest supporters and I am thinking of him tonight. We thank him for his service to the community, his friendship to all of us and, quite simply, for the life he led.
Before we start tonight, I want to talk briefly about the events of last month at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
All of us – especially those of us with small children – have not only been saddened by this event but shocked, stunned, and shaken.
As guardians of this community, we grieve for these kids and parents and we know, in our hearts, that it could happen here – anywhere. And we grieve because Newtown is part of our larger national community. We know their tragedy is our tragedy.
We, too, live in this broader culture that glorifies violence.
We, too, live in a nation that often fails those with mental health problems.
We, too, live in a nation that refuses to take the simple step of eliminating assault weapons from our streets.
Sandy Hook’s heartbreak is our heartbreak. And so before we begin tonight, I’d like to take a moment of silence for the people of Newtown and the brave adults and innocent children they lost.
Life has its tragedies and sadness but it surely has its triumphs and joys. And we have much to celebrate tonight.
One year ago we finished our ambitious, community-led SomerVision blueprint, which laid down six important tenets we strive to meet every day:
First, to celebrate our diversity.
Second, to foster the uniqueness of our neighborhoods and community.
Third, to invest in a resilient and diverse economic base, with an eye toward the future
Fourth, to promote dynamic urban streetscapes – bikable, walkable, accessible, vibrant.
Fifth, to pursue a truly sustainable future, marked by strong environmental leadership.
And sixth, to promote innovation in our government, our schools and our economy – including our thriving creative economy.
I believe we can say, without reservation, we’ve embraced these core principles enthusiastically and, in so doing, achieved great success.
Let’s reflect on what we have achieved together.
We broke ground on the Orange Line station – the first new T station in the Commonwealth in 25 years – and, as a result the first new city blocks of the Assembly Row project are emerging.
We brought the IKEA story to a successful conclusion and, today, we’re beginning the work of combining those 12 acres with the mix of homes, shops, and offices already under construction that will become Somerville’s newest neighborhood.
We completed the Union Square Revitalization Plan, and, after decades of effort, we broke ground on the first phase of the Green Line. Not coincidentally, Union Square and East Somerville saw a new jolt of restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques.
We balanced the budget despite continued fiscal squeezes from the state.
We retained our historically high bond rating, allowing us to borrow money to rebuild the East Somerville Community School, reconstruct the East Broadway Streetscape and rebuild our precious parks and open space.
We continued to spend less per capita than any city in the state, allowing us to get the most out of your tax dollars.
We were voted the country’s 10th most walkable city and the 8th most bikable. We heartily welcomed Hubway bike sharing to our community, allowing tourists, business patrons, and commuters to travel over our 30 miles of bike networks.
Boston Magazine declared us one of the state’s ten best places to live; the Phoenix declared us number one. We won plaudits from news outlets as diverse as the Guardian in the UK, LeMonde in France and the Washington Post.
And news of our innovative practices is rapidly making national and international headlines, thanks to our ever-expanding social media presence.
We are remaking Somerville at a stunningly fast pace, achieving at a rate most of us would not have predicted.
I can say, without hesitation, we have created something truly special — a mix of young and old, hip and old-fashioned, well-to-do and middle class, straight and gay, longtime Somervillians and fresh new immigrants — that is unmatched in its diversity and its ability to make that diversity enrich our community. And we have created a responsive, imaginative government that befits such a dynamic city.
We have achieved this because we’ve taken the long view and avoided quick fixes; we’re acting decisively today while keeping one eye squarely on the future.
It is precisely because of this discipline and the principles articulated in SomerVision that we have once again rejected the idea of a casino here in Somerville, even as other communities open their doors to billionaire casino moguls.
For some cities, casinos seem like a quick fix — easy tax revenues, easy job creation, easy notoriety. Yet I challenge them to go to the downtowns of Atlantic City or Reno, Nevada, and ask themselves: Is this the kind of city you want? Are those good places to raise a family? To live a full, interesting life?
Casinos are engines of urban decay, not urban renewal. It’s a losing bet. As Robert DeNiro said in the movie “Casino,” “remember, the house always wins.” Not the community.
We are not betting on such quick fixes; the wagers we make are on the long-term. We bet on the ingenuity and hard work of our people. We put our chips on real economic development, fueled by public transportation and imaginative approaches to creating thriving, mixed-use neighborhoods, like Union Square and Assembly Row.
We will not turn our backs on our long-term vision, not when we’ve put so many pieces in place.
Thanks to the hard work of the Union Square community and the historic vote taken by the Board of Aldermen, we have that revitalization plan on the books.
As chairman of the Metropolitan Mayor’s coalition, I will continue to work with our delegation to fight for statewide transportation finance reform.
We know later this month, the Governor will announce his comprehensive transportation plan.
At long last, Massachusetts will have the makings of a transit roadmap for the future– and a plan for how to pay for it. If the legislature enacts this plan, it will ensure the continued extension of the Green Line.
We’ve already seen where the mere hint of the Green Line is prompting an economic renaissance.
We believe the Green Line extension will help unleash hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment and provide us with tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues. East Somerville will become an economic engine.
As a result, we’ll create new jobs, a more dynamic street life, and better schools, starting with the grand re-opening of the East Somerville Community School and the opening of the new Chuckie Harris Park, both slated for later this year.
For years, we’ve invested heavily in West Somerville while the eastern part of our city soldiered on as a great but underfunded neighborhood. I am here tonight to declare quite unequivocally, it’s East Somerville’s turn.
But this is about something even more important: We’re really repainting the canvas that was Somerville, finally bringing together East and West as they were before the state’s highways and overpasses divided us.
In fact, later this year we’ll begin the process of bringing down the notorious McGrath and O’Brien highway overpass.
And we will finally take down the reviled waste Transfer Station.
This will pave the way to revitalizing Brickbottom and Innerbelt, 130 acres of underutilized land sitting squarely between us and Cambridge’s innovation hub, Kendall Square.
Of course, Assembly Row is part of this fresh new picture. Already, three new buildings are under construction, three new restaurants are opening, and we’ll break ground on the first office building in the next several months.
After more than a decade of planning, we’re seeing this new neighborhood come alive – one that will bridge the gap between Ten Hills and the East Broadway neighborhood, which in turn will connect more easily to Brickbottom, the Innerbelt, and Union Square.
We pursue all these exciting plans knowing full well that all great cities must have quality schools. Everyone here tonight is committed to social justice. We’ll talk about it, march for it, campaign for it. But let’s be clear — real social justice begins with our schools. That’s where kids are either given an equal opportunity to thrive or are left behind; either enjoy the fruits of an equitable community or are denied a fair shake; can either get on a track to a prosperous life or find themselves living in the margins.
We know our schools as a whole have made steady progress over the past several years. Test scores are rising steadily and last year we made an additional $3 million investment in our kids’ futures, unleashing innovative new programs like the El Sistema music program, the middle school foreign language initiative, and expanded enrichment programs.
Our job is not just to make sure our median test scores improve, for a fixation on median scores allows for a system in which some are succeeding while others are failing. Our job is to make sure every child gets a chance to succeed.
As most of you know, Nancy and I have four lively, energetic, often-rambunctious boys in the Somerville schools. They have every advantage they need: a stable household, three good meals a day (and snacks whenever they can get their hands on them), help with their homework, stories read every night, active social and sports lives, with coaches who teach them teamwork and fair play.
Now consider the lives of other, less fortunate children: surviving in struggling households, some below the poverty line; exposed to violence or drugs; plagued by below-average nutrition; saddled with circumstances where parents either don’t know how or don’t have the time to help with homework and reading.
What chance do those children have compared to other kids in far better circumstances?
Our job – our number one job, our commitment to social justice – is to make sure each and every child has an equitable chance to reach their full potential.
Each and every child. And today, unfortunately, that’s not true.
That’s why we launched the SomerPromise initiative at the Healy School, a traditionally underperforming school.
When we look at the Healy School’s problems, we don’t assign blame. Instead, we attack problems – systemic problems.
Do we provide tutors and after-school programs? Yes. But just as we know you can’t arrest your way out of criminal behavior, so to, we can’t simply tutor our way out of this challenge.
Instead, we are reaching down into the community to instill a sense of pride and responsibility with parents, teachers, coaches – everyone who comes in contact with these children.
We’re teaching parents about the importance of home learning support. We’re training those same parents in proper nutrition. We’re instilling a sense of togetherness and responsibility in the community that in turn will give children a sense of place and stability. And, yes, we’re expanding school-based programs, from longer school days to summer sessions.
We’re making sure these children have the same opportunities that their more fortunate peers already receive.
Our approach at the Healy School builds off our overall approach to governing. We’re not just managing budgets and bond ratings – though they are essential. We’re attacking problems from all angles, and by so doing, creating a livelier and more livable community.
In the coming year, we will use this broad-based approach — the approach embodied in SomerVision — to continue building our innovative, diverse, sustainable community.
For all our focus on economic growth, we never lose sight of the importance of building a sustainable economy.
From the earliest days of this administration – when smart cars replaced bulky sedans; when trash compactors replaced overflowing barrels — we sent a strong signal that cities, which for much of last century were the epicenters of industrial pollution, could today be the engines of environmental protection and energy solutions.
That’s why our development is driven first and foremost by transit – when the Orange Line station and Green Line extension are complete, 85 percent of our residents will be within a half mile of public transportation – making Somerville the envy of even the greatest cities of the world.
And sustainability is why we’re redoubling our efforts to fortify our green program, planting more than 300 new trees, renovating three more parks and opening two brand new ones. We’re promoting even greater use of zero-sort recycling; increasing the number of environmentally sound city vehicles; expanding our use of smart trash compacting for our public streets; and continuing to make both our homes and city buildings energy efficient.
In the next 30 days, I will file an ordinance to begin implementation of the Community Preservation Act we passed last November – passed, by the way by a forty-point margin, one of the largest CPA wins in state history. This new ordinance gives us the resources to create new green spaces, preserve our historic character, and build new affordable housing – with matching contributions from the state.
The CPA is just another step in creating a livable, walkable, green city – one that will be augmented by our pedestrian-friendly overhauls of Somerville Avenue, East Broadway, and Beacon Street in our plan to extend the Community Path to Lowell Street, East Somerville, and Boston.
Let’s become the most walkable, bikable city in America.
Our environmental commitment is real, which is why we’ve received accolades for our green approach and that matters, not just as a source of pride but as source of momentum for our city. Time and again, we’ve seen the ripple effect of our successes.
Take, for example, Shape Up Somerville. We’ve helped our children eat better in school, expanded their recreational opportunities, and taught them and their parents about better home nutrition. In so doing, we’ve become a national model, embraced by First Lady Michelle Obama.
With the Happiness Survey, we thought outside the box, went beyond usual government approaches to think about what a livable, fulfilling city really looks like – and what we need to do to reach that goal. As a result, media, researchers, and other cities across the country and around the world have taken notice.
The success of these programs – and others like them – has resulted in Somerville gaining widespread recognition as one of the healthiest and most innovative communities in America, a serial winner of one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People. These accolades fuel more activity in our city squares and improve the local business climate. And when our local business climate thrives, we have money to fix our streets and sidewalks, to ensure first class public safety, and to make Somerville a cleaner, greener community.
Our original vision when we started almost a decade ago was to institute programs, like Somerstat and 311, that would address the nuts and bolts problems – how to make sure trash was picked up, potholes filled, public places beautified, high crime areas targeted. And our system became a national model for city management.
But today we think more broadly. We no longer just consider how to make government work better; we focus on how to make our community work better. We think about how to use our tools to reinvent the city again, to attack and solve stubborn, lingering problems and, in so doing, open new opportunities.
This is already the hottest, greatest urban environment in Greater Boston – a place you can truly live, work, play, and raise a family. What we’ve done here – together – I believe is remarkable. But we’re not done.
Let’s continue to work together.
We will give every kid a chance.
We will make poor neighborhoods richer, without pushing out our hardworking neighbors.
We will create real community life in every corner of the city.
We will stoke our broader economy while preserving our critical creative economy.
We will become even more walkable, more bikable, more livable.
We will build America’s greatest urban living experience– Somerville, Massachusetts.