Acushnet Ave Economic Impact Project Update

After the first meeting of the steering committee, we are moving on to the next phase in our study of Acushnet Avenue’s economy. For early September, our research team is drafting a survey to be distributed to business owners in the Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor. After incorporating helpful comments from our colleagues at the CEDC, who have extensive knowledge of the Avenue’s business climate, we will begin surveying business owners. A major challenge is keeping the survey brief enough to be manageable for busy owners to complete in a short time, but also extensive enough to get an understanding of the challenges facing businesses in the area, where they get materials and employees, their working capital, earnings, access to technology, and opportunities for growth and future investment. Hoping both for a large response rate and meaningful answers from those who do respond, we will open the survey period later this month and conclude in mid-October. 

Since the report will also examine the role place plays in the Acushnet Avenue economy, we have contacted New Bedford’s Office Housing and Community Development. Eddie Bates is hard at work analyzing GIS information so we can have better understanding of the physical and built environment of the Avenue and it’s side streets. The data we receive from Housing and Community Development will show the location of trees, street lighting, public spaces, benches, and give us a detailed look at the housing density surrounding the commercial corridor. The office will also be aiding us as we investigate occupancy and vacancy rates. I’m very interested to see if we can determine vacancy by floor, as well as by building. Although getting street level space occupied is still a challenge for building owners along the Avenue, upper level tenants (whether mixed-income residential or commercial) will be key in securing long-term vitality for the neighborhood.

As the survey period wraps up, I will be going over Census and business records for the study area. With this analysis, I am hoping to show how the make up of the neighborhood’s residents and businesses has changed over time. Culling through the wealth of information we obtained from the ReferenceUSA historical business database, I have already noticed an increase over the last five years in grocery stores serving the needs of Central and Latin American immigrants.

Check back in for updates on the survey process and on our one-on-one discussions with steering committee members.

Jason Wright, 2014-15 Graduate Research Assistant

By Jason Wright, Graduate Research Assistant, UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

I graduated from William and Mary in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology.  My background is in psychological research, and I have served as a research assistant and research coordinator at both the state and federal level. Through these positions I had the opportunity to work on a number of projects dealing with intimate partner violence, PTSD, and substance use. I am passionate about efforts to reduce poverty. This interest has developed as a result of personal experiences as well as exposure to vulnerable populations and data suggesting socioeconomic status as a risk factor for things like PTSD and intimate partner violence.

This is my first semester in the MPP program, and I am looking forward to learning more about the policymaking process, expanding my set of research skills, and narrowing my research interests. Furthermore, I am excited to be involved with the Urban Initiative working on meaningful projects that benefit the residents of the Southcoast and our Commonwealth. The team here has been friendly and welcoming, and I look forward to our journey together.

Acushnet Ave Steering Committee Recap

Yesterday evening the Urban Initiative held the first meeting for the Acushnet Avenue Economic Impact Study’s Steering Committee. The Community Economic Development Center on the Avenue was gracious enough to host the event at their offices located near the center of the International Marketplace.

Although not all committee members were able to attend, those who did contributed to a robust discussion about the Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor and offered insight on how we should direct our research efforts to best engage with the business community. The meeting covered the following topics:

Commercial Boundaries

Acushnet Ave is probably one of the most heavily traveled streets in the city. Technically it extends from New Bedford’s northern border with the town of Acushnet to the peninsula in the south (with small detour along Route 18 before it reemerges downtown as an official street intersecting with Elm). For the purpose of community development bloInternational Marketplaceck grants, the city has defined the “International Marketplace” to include the Census tract 6507 and four blocks from the tract to the south. This area is pictured here, with the Avenue highlighted. But most city residents have their own definitions of what constitutes “the Ave.”

Seeking more clarity, we asked committee members to define where the commercial district ends. Members suggested the boundaries for the research area include the walkable portions of the Avenue, side streets along the Avenue extending as far east as Belleville Avenue and as far west in some points as Purchase and Church Streets. The northern boundary was agreed to be Brooklawn Park, as the break in commercial activity offered by the park and the church across the street presents a clear delineation. Interstate 195 was the obvious southern boundary line. While gathering statistics and data for our research we will no doubt have to deal with more cut and dry boundary lines adhering to Census tracts and block groups, the area the committee agreed upon is outlined below.

 Research area

 

Study Benchmarks

One of the core ideas behind convening a steering committee for this project was to give the study community ownership from the start. Therefore, we looked forward to committee members reviewing our proposed metrics and offering suggestions as to what they would use to measure improved economic conditions in the neighborhood.

 It was generally agreed that the indicators identified in our grant proposal would be good metrics to gauge economic success for the area. These included various socioeconomic demographics on neighborhood residents (annual household income, employment, race/ethnicity, etc.) and information on area businesses (sales and employment figures, product/service diversity, lending, and tax generated). We also hope to investigate the role played by place in the economy by looking at the occupancy rates, density, and age of the neighborhood’s housing stock.

 Committee members expressed interest in seeing the change in commercial vacancy rates over time. This would not only show the temporary occupancy of business real estate but also demonstrate which types of businesses had the most success in the commercial corridor and what the market was lacking.

 

Disseminating Results

Committee members were very excited about exploring new means of sharing our research with the community. In the past, reports such as this have been shared via open forums, onetime events that rely on incentives like free food to increase attendance. In lieu of this, the committee suggested a visually stimulating presentation that could be aired on local cable access, and then shared with city officials, local advocacy groups and other stakeholders to use as they choose. It was also suggested that slides or stills from the presentation could be printed as posters and displayed in vacant storefronts, as a way to show passersby that efforts were underway to revitalize the neighborhood. It was agreed this approach would be versatile and allow for maximum exposure.

 

Next Steps

The meeting was adjourned and the committee agreed to reconvene in the early fall, when our survey to area business owners would be nearing completion. Members were open to reviewing drafts of the survey before it was sent out, and many pledged support to help drum up involvement in the survey. Lastly, members agreed to set up one-on-one meetings with our research team to further explore their areas of expertise on neighborhood economic activity.

Summer Intern Work Update: Survey of Elected Officials

Hi! It’s your summer interns: Emma and Ellie!

We are thrilled to announce that we recently completed our survey of elected officials gender, age, race, language, educational attainment, annual income, and geographical location in Fall River and New Bedford. We received our first response today and hope to receive many more in the coming weeks. We expect to be able to share our results with the online community in mid-August, so keep your eyes peeled!

Happy reading!

July project update

Here’s a rundown of our projects and tasks for July:

1. Friends Academy/Center for Education Innovation (CEI) evaluation

We recently wrapped up a survey of elementary school teachers across the New Bedford Public Schools in order to determine the degree to which their feedback about things like technology, collaboration, professional development, and instruction is different than their peers who are working with CEI. We’re also crunching numbers to learn about the impact of CEI’s program on the performance of the students of participating teachers.

2. LifeWork Project

We’ll be writing the first year evaluation report at the end of this month, a report that will document the impact this program has had on participants’ academic performance, career paths, finances, and well-being.

3. New Bedford Regeneration Committee

We’re also approaching the report-writing stage of this project. The report will outline a set of action steps recommended by committee members for regenerating the economy of the city and the region.

4. Health Data SouthCoast

The network of organizations that supported our development of a website that provides easy access to regional and municipal health data is getting ready to publicly launch the site, so we won’t preclude their efforts here. All we’ll say is that it’s ready to go!

5. Taunton HOPE VI

We’re conducting our third and final resident focus group tonight, with the goal of learning about how the program has impacted residents’ abilities to enroll in job training programs and access employment opportunities. Next, we’ll go about updating data to compare current metrics to 2012 baselines in the areas of housing, economy, socioeconomic status, and demographics.

6. NEW: Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor study

Thanks to a just-awarded grant from the Garfield Foundation, we’ll be spending the next six months studying New Bedford’s Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor and the degree to which it influences the local economy. This project will involve data collection and analysis, survey research, and engaging with neighborhood stakeholders to obtain objective information with which to advance the neighborhood’s revitalization.

 

Adam Vieira reflects on his past & future as UI summer intern

My name is Adam Vieira, and I am a returning intern for the Urban Initiative program here at UMass Dartmouth.  I have had the privilege of serving as a Summer intern for the past two years at the Urban Initiative, working on various projects which have focused on public policies and public data regarding gateway cities in Massachusetts.

My first summer with the Urban Initiative in 2012 provided me with the opportunity to develop involvement in the South Coast Urban Indicators Project (SCUIP), a sweeping research-based report on Fall River and New Bedford that examines urban success factors, including safety, education, and cultural engagement, amongst many others. Finding the topic of education particularly interesting and pressing for gateway cities as a whole, the summer high school internship program researched the topic of college accessibility for youth in Massachusetts gateway cities for the summer of 2013, culminating in a final report on the financial, academic, and cultural barriers to college-attendance which was released in the fall of 2013.

Coming back to the Urban Initiative for the last time as a high school intern, it is my hope to continue the mission to highlight and incite discourse on the various issues pertinent to our local urban communities, their residents, and those who possess the power to direct decision-making through research rooted in quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Through research and discussion, resolution to public issues germane to our local municipalities can be reached. A proud citizen of New Bedford, I graduated from New Bedford High School last month (Go Whalers!)  and have a consecrated interest in aiding our gateway cities through the creation of data. Come September, I will be attending Brown University, where I intend to concentrate in Public Policy—a discipline of study that I was attracted to in great part due to my experience interning here at the Urban Initiative for these past few Summers. Upon my entrance to college in September, I am going to deeply miss the Summer afternoons spent in the cool Chase Road office, scribbling ideas on the conference room whiteboard and “nerding-out” with tons of public data. That said, It is my hope to continue working with public issues, particularly those relevant to urban centers, as policy stands to unlock incalculable potential.  In the meantime, in conjunction with the Urban Initiative, I look forward to providing insight on all things relevant to our gateway cities throughout the Summer.

Happy Reading!

Welcome returning intern Emma York

Hello again! This summer I am thrilled to continue collaborating with fellow interns at the Urban Initiative to discuss a myriad of local issues including…..

Religion in New Bedford, purportedly the most godless city in America according to a recent article in Time Magazine which cited statistics from the American Bible Society http://time.com/1541/godless-cities-in-america/

Racial, Age, Gender, and Geographic Representation in Our Elected Officials and its effect on voting habits and funding allocation in New Bedford and Fall River, areas with recent influxes of immigrant populations

And any other issues that spark our interest over the summer!

I will be entering my senior year at New Bedford High School and recently completed an Advanced Placement Statistics course in my Junior Year in which we chose to survey students at New Bedford High School to answer the inquiry: Does race effect our perception of beauty? My results, a resounding yes, have certainly influenced my interests this summer and hopefully the course has honed my skills as a statistician and I hope that I can bring all of that enthusiasm to the urban initiative page over the summer so stay tuned!

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