Contributing Editors

Jerome Lyle Rappaport

Jerome Lyle Rappaport
Founder and Board Member
Read Bio

Edward Glaeser

Edward Glaeser
Professor of Economics at Harvard University
Read Bio

Stephen P. Johnson

Stephen P. Johnson
Executive Director of Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation
Read Bio

Greg Massing

Greg Massing
Executive Director for the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service
Read Bio

Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts
Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School
Read Bio

Joseph Curtatone

Joseph Curtatone
Mayor, City of Somerville
Read Bio

Tim H. Davis

Tim H. Davis
Independent Research Consultant
Read Bio

Scott Harshbarger

Scott Harshbarger
Senior Counsel, Proskauer Rose LLP
Read Bio

Vivien Li

Vivien Li
Executive Director of The Boston Harbor Association
Read Bio

Guest contributors

Monika Bandyopadhyay
Suffolk University Law Student

David Barron
Harvard Law School and former Deputy Counsel for the Office of Legal Counsel in the US Department of Justice

Linda Bilmes
Senior lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Assistant Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton Administration.

Brandy H.M. Brooks
Director, Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, Bruner Foundation

Felicia Cote
Rappaport Fellow, Harvard Law School/Harvard Kennedy School.

Amanda Eden
Suffolk University Law School student

Sara Farnum
Student, Suffolk Univ. Law School

Kristin Faucette
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Benjamin Forman
Research Director, MassINC

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday
JD/MBA student at Suffolk University Law School and the Sawyer School of Business

Theodore Kalivas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

David Linhart
Student, Boston University School of Law

Antoniya Owens
Research Analyst, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Susan Prosnitz
Senior Advisor, TSA, Washington, DC

Ben Thomas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

Matthew Todaro
Student at Boston College Law School

Alexander von Hoffman
Senior Researcher, Joint Center for Housing Studies

Brett Walker
Student, Boston College Law School

Margarita Warren
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Behind Census Numbers

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
By Edward Glaeser

We have known since December that Massachusetts' population grew by an anemic 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, but this week the census released data that demonstrate the diversity within the state. Outlying areas, like the Berkshires and the Cape, lost population, while Boston and Worcester County grew. These patterns remind us that the state's future is a battle between great economic energy and profound opposition to new construction, especially in areas around Boston.

As you move away from Boston, there is a strange pattern of growth, stagnation, growth, stagnation. For the first time in 130 years, the city of Boston has grown more quickly than the state; Cambridge also grew faster than the state. Growth was more limited within the inner ring suburbs of Middlesex County, which grew by 2.6 percent, less than the state average. Growth then picks up in Worcester County and falls off in outlying areas, like the Berkshires and the Cape.

Population growth in any place reflects both the demand to live there, based on income and quality of life, and the supply of livable space. Some places don't grow because of weak demand, while other areas stagnate because regulations restrict new supply.

Housing prices announce whether slow growth reflects limited demand or limited supply. Detroit lost one-quarter of its population over the past decade, and the census reports median home values of $85,000. That means low demand. The census also shows population loss in Lincoln, Mass., but housing prices are over 10 times higher than Detroit, and that means restricted supply. More generally, the high prices in Eastern Massachusetts belie the view that tough winters make living here unattractive.

This undulating pattern within Massachusetts reflects the fact that housing demand falls and housing supply increases with distance to Boston. Greater Boston's economic vitality has made Massachusetts one of the three richest states in the nation, with average incomes about 25 percent above the national average. The concentration of human capital in Greater Boston has turned the region from a decaying industrial has-been to a capital of the information age that attracts talent.

Boston's growth also reflects an appeal to recent immigrants, who can get around Boston without owning a fleet of Fords. Boston's overall population increased by 28,000; its Hispanic and Latino population grew by 23,000.

The Menino administration also deserves some of the credit for Boston's state-surpassing growthrate. Cities need good government to fight the demons of density, like congestion and crime, and to provide pleasant public spaces. When local governments do that, urban competition can provide as muchpleasure as productivity and that boosts demand for Boston. Just as importantly, the Menino administration has permittednew construction, which has helped the city's housing stock to grow by 8.2 percent, providing homes for new Bostonians.

Outside Boston, population growth tails off in Middlesex County, because even robust housing demand can't defeat that region's rigorous restrictions on supply. Per capita incomes are over 30 percent higher and housing prices are almost 50 percent higher in Middlesex County than in Worcester County, but Middlesex's housing stock grew significantly less than Worcester's County's housing stock. The maze of local land use restrictions explain why, despite high prices, Middlesex County's population grew by only 2.6 percent, less than the state average and less than half the rate of Worcester County.

Worcester County's substantially lower prices suggest that demand for homes there is weaker, but as long as they supply more housing, the area will grow. Worcester provides affordable housing for people who want an urban life and much of its growth reflects increasing numbers of Hispanics and Latinos.

In western Massachusetts, supply of housing is even more abundant but demand is also weak. The census reports median housing values in Berkshire county to be around $200,000. The area is pretty — but vacation homes don't lead to population growth either there or on the Cape — and the economic heart of the state is in Boston's urban core.

The shape of our state and the nation is now formed by the most parochial local land use policies that make it impossible for the new building that would allow the state to grow in the areas where people most want to live. We should rethink the local regulations that push growth to other states. 


No comments have been added.

(required, but never shown publicly)

» Show all posts

U.S. Representative Barney Frank speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School, cosponsored by the Rappaport Institute.
Triumph of the City: Ed Glaeser talks about his new book on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
HKS Professor Jeffrey Liebman (left) spoke about new ways to spur policy innovation at a State House briefing sponsored by State Representative (and former Rappaport Urban Scholar) Charles Murphy (right).
 MA Attorney General Martha Coakley Hearing on Sexual Exploitation Online
Gov. Deval Patrick speaking at the Rappaport Center's Gubernatorial Speakers Series
Arianna Huffington and Alan Khazei speaking at the Rappaport Center
Statnet panel of current and former heads of local performance management programs including Stephanie Hirsch (far right), former head of SomerStat and Devin Lyons-Quirk, third from right.
Former Lt. Governor Kerry Healey speaks about political parity at the Rappaport Center
Mayor Menino attends Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Course for high school students

News and Events

Add your Event

Word Cloud