WILL FRAMINGHAM BECOME A CITY ?

Framingham

^ the nine City Council districts proposed by Framingham’s charter commission. (there will also be two councillors elected at large.) Voting on whether to approve Framingham as a city takes place on April 4th.

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20 miles west of Boston, bisected by the traffic swarms on Route 9, lies the town of Framingham. The 2010 census found 68,318 people living within its 26.41 square miles. That’s a lot of people for a town government to handle, and Framingham leaders, understanding this, are moving to change it from town to city.

Will Framingham become a city ? Tuesday, April 4th is the day the voters decide. A “yes” vote is not a slam-dunk. Eight of the nine charter commission members voted “yes” to present a charter to the voters, but the lone “no” vote — Teri Banerjee — has presented a written dissent.

How does the town moderator feel ? In the town meeting system provided by Massachusetts law, town moderators have tremendous power. They run the annual town meeting; they set its agenda; they can move decisions on town meeting items. Teri Banerjee is the Framingham’s town moderator.

I will discuss the charter proposal next; but before I do, it will be helpful to read the commission’s full website information here : http://www.framinghamma.gov/2067/Charter-Commission and here :  http://www.framinghamma.gov/2069/Charter-Commission-Documents

You should also read the final charter report here : http://www.framinghamma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/25515 as well as commission member Teri Banerjee’s Minority report here : http://www.framinghamma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/25516

And now to my discussion of the decision to be made by Framingham voters:

I do not live in Framingham, but I know it well. I’ve worked Framingham political campaigns, have socialized in Framingham, shopped there, and — as have most of my readers — driven within and through Framingham quite often. A quick glance at a map of Massachusetts shows that Framingham isn’t just any large community. It is the very heart of “Metro West,” the halfway point between Boston and Worcester and connected economically to each. Yet today, Framingham hasn’t the degree of control over its centrality that it should have. It was once a thriving mill community, back when the road from Boston to Worcester was much smaller and distances much harder to negotiate; but those days are long gone; the Framingham we know today feels overpowered by through-way traffic, a community that still behaves like a suburb of commuters who sleep there, and maybe go to school there, but don’t do much else there.

This must change. It is already changing. As ambitious people move to the central parts of bustling commercial cities, Framingham’s service as a bedroom suburb lacks muscle. To cut to the chase: Framingham’s size and location demand that it become a central Downtown, like Boston and like Worcester; a community with a thriving, center core-based technology, an enterprise district. The town meeting form of government contravenes this purpose. Strong central cities need a strong central government. The charter’s strong Mayor and district council proposal meets that need.

Teri Banerjee’s Minority report complains that elections for the charter’s nine district council seats will be expensive; that the volunteer participation that fuels the town meeting system will give way to professional campaigns and big=ticket politicians. She complains even more about the proposed strong Mayor. She is right. That will happen. To me, it’s a good thing; it’s what is needed.

Entrepreneurs and developers shy away from dealing with cumbersome approval processes and their unpredictability. Who wants to spend millions of dollars and years of effort preparing a zoning change, or a large development, only to have it come before a 200 member town meeting peopled by extremely local particularisms ? The process is difficult even in a strong Mayor city. Far more efficient to have a zoning board and a City Council representing entire districts, or the entire city — the big picture gets a fair shot to make its case against 200 tiny snapshots.

The big picture is crucial. Neighborhoods aren’t limited only to their residents. People who work in a neighborhood,k who shop there, who visit there, and those who will do so when the neighborhood changes, are all just as much a part of a neighborhood as those who reside within it.

This, at least, is how city neighborhoods live, and it is WHY they prosper.

The proposed strong mayor and elected council system also has political consequences. People with serious political ambition will run for these larger, more singular offices. Their serious campaigns will draw serious media attention and thus serious political attention. Whoever becomes the Mayor of Framingham will instantly be a major figure of political influence. Inevitably his or her election will make the entire political and economic community take notice. At which point Framingham’s 68,318 people — probably many more by now — will maximize their political and economic clout.

One last consequence of Framingham being a city : its drawing power will extend the Boston economic boom west to Worcester and beyond. Bringing the “Boston miracle” to points west has been a pre-occupation of the Baker administration since he was first elected. It’s a vital goal for the city of Worcester too. Baker and Worcester’s Mayor Joe Petty have established non-stop Boston to Worcester train service; but it’s still a long way — economically and socially –from one city to the other. Creating a Framingham business city will shore up the distance and help to forge a continuous Boston – Framingham – Worcester business corridor. All the communities that border this corridor will perk up when that happens.

Framingham is not broken. Teri Banerjee is right to point that out. But it is far from being what it can be, should be, and will be, because change is coming, whether the community approves it or not. The campaign for change is hotting up. In  our next report we will let you know how things look for voting day.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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