May 2015 Newsletter
June 17, 2015

We've been talking a lot about moving "from assessment to action" in the neighborhood. This event we'll talk about the ways in which we will do that:

* Upcoming workgroups: How can you help the ReImagine Team move the needle in the neighborhoods?
* Outcomes What does success look like to the team?* Formalizing our partnership:
What does it mean to be a member?
It Case You Missed It. 
Wong & Antonucci Introduce the Team to the Region in Guest Column
Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong and Fitchburg State University President Robert Antonucci kicked off a series of guest columns that will be published in the Sentinel & Enterprise in the upcoming months. The co-authored column introduced the Re-Imagine Team to the region through a brief history and next steps.
Since we've already had some great publicity lately with  our funding from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts and our first ever Neighbor Summit, we thought people should know what we are all about. Read the column here. If you are interested in 
co-authoring a column, email Tom Skwierawski, Project Coordinator.  

Event connects 200+ residents to police, politicians, businesses
Our  first ever  Neighbor Summit   was held at the end of March and connected nearly
200 residents to  local businesses, municipal leadership, city officials and, more importantly,  each other as we shared some key data (that you'll read about below) about the place they call home. While the event was a great opportunity to share our work with guests, we were most interested in hearing what residents had to say. From recommendations to insights to concerns, residents sat among peers and officials to tackle some of the neighborhood's biggest issues.  Mayor Lisa Wong Chief Ernie Martinea u   and  State Representative Steve DiNatale   shared their vision for the neighborhood, but it was what was unspoken that was heard the loudest. 

There was a spark in the room. A recognition that this project is different. A room filled with passionate people building momentum to make change together. The momentum we had going into the event was nothing compared to how we left it. Thank you to all who provided support to make the Summit a huge success. Read the press coverage of the event here.
We  learned . We  shared . We  listened . Now we  act
What we've learned about the North of Main
Over the course of the past six months, we have had the privilege of learning about the neighborhood from area experts -- North of Main residents.  They were willing to share with their habits, beliefs and views on the place they call home. That data is what has helped shape the work we are doing and our plans for a successful action phase of the initiative.


Identified as the highest priority among those surveyed, one of the biggest things affecting quality of life is crime, and the perception of it. There's no denying that the North of Main's crime rates are concerning, but residents know that there is more to their home than crime, which has actually dropped 19% since 2011.  Almost all those surveyed, 92%, feel safe on the street during the day but that drops to 51% at night. We need to find ways to close that gap: residents in the North of Main should always feel safe, 

not just in the daytime. 




There's good reason income and unemployment ranked as the second highest priority area among surveyed residents. The median household income in the North of Main is just $22,000, less than half of the City average ($47,000), and far below that of the  Commonwealth ($67,000). The rate of unemployment was similarly unbalanced: as of the 2010 census its 14% rate was far above those of the City and Commonwealth, which both hovered around 8%.  


Supporting local business could help bring those numbers up, but this is also an area that is suffering with more than three quarters of the survey participants admitting that they never support local businesses.  We think this is the result of a cycle that remains unbroken. Main Street is overloaded with vacant storefronts, likely due to the poor quality of the buildings and infrastructure. But the level of foot traffic on the street isn't enough for small businesses to set up shop. But if they did, it would attract more foot traffic. Because really, where are they walking to if there isn't anything there?



With a 60% drop in median sales prices since 2004 and a $170,000+ differential between Fitchburg and Boston's housing values, the area is having a difficult time appealing to new buyers--especially in the North of Main neighborhood, where vacancies have increased by over 20% between 2008 and 2012. Lower housing costs should be seen as an asset that gives us an advantage over the pricey Boston market, but at the moment prices are too low to stimulate necessary investments in the housing stock. Moving forward, we need to look at strategies that help spur growth in quality and diverse array of housing in the North of Main. 


Want to see more data? See that and more at our new website.