Thanks once again to RichardHowe.com for tipping me in on a series The Globe will be running on Sundays about Massachusetts' Gateway Cities. The first article is up already here.
While it's nice to see the article's photo be of Lowell and to hear us mentioned as a "more successful" city, the article's point is clear: The state's smaller cities (as in, not Boston), have been left behind by the capital and the suburbs in the new economy, and much of it was deliberate, or full of good intentions gone wrong. Some of the more interesting points made in the article or the comments ask why these cities must take on the brunt of their regional problems via government housing and welfare programs instead of "right-sizing" themselves in relationship to their lost industrial advantages. Others talk about NIMBYism (Not in my backyard!) and the advantages the wealthier suburbs and cities have with regard to it - not needing government carrots to stay solvent. Others talk about the hard do-not-cross line drawn between the suburbs and the cities.
As for solutions... If I had my way? Organizations like the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments would have some teeth. In most of the US, government bodies much larger than New England towns have the real power. It's not uncommon in the US or other parts of the world for cities to merge with growing suburbs (look at London!). The fact that this practice began stopping in the United States in the late 19th century (and in Lowell around 1910), I feel has added to the issues we see today by creating an Us and Them mentality between cities and outlying areas.