OF THE CITY SPEECH
Joseph A. Curtatone
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
We will build America's greatest urban
living experience-- Somerville, Massachusetts.