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Ten years ago, as America stood at the threshold of a new millennium, we were worried about Y2K and hanging chads. Here in Somerville, the big local debate was about how best to take advantage of the tremendous economic development opportunity represented by the 145 acres of the Assembly Square development district.
This year, as we enter the teens of the 21st Century, our problems at the national level seem even more challenging than they were a decade ago. With a badly shaken economy, two wars, a deepening environmental crisis, an ongoing threat of violence fueled by religious extremism - and a political system that is deeply divided by region, culture and ideology - what American wouldn't want a chance at a do-over for the past decade? (Okay, Dick Cheney. But who else?) Time Magazine's November 24th cover story went so far as to label the 2000s as "the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade." Just this week, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman suggested the past decade be called "the Big Zero."
But in Somerville's municipal history, the past ten years will be remembered very differently. Our city is finishing this decade with fewer divisions, a more vibrant local economy, stronger municipal finances, better schools and - best of all - a clear vision of where we're going and how to get there.
Of course, we've had plenty of bumps and bottlenecks along the way - and some of the most jarring came in 2009. A brutal state fiscal crisis cut our local aid budget by over 20 percent, leading directly to cuts in staffing, payroll and operating budgets (not to mention increases in fees and fines).
Two years after it was so badly damaged by fire, we struggled in 2009 to come to an agreement with the Massachusetts Building Authority on a budget for the rebuilding of the East Somerville Community School. We had to put on hold the plans we had to refurbish and expand Central Hill Park and we fought, unfortunately with little success, to reduce the surging levels of jet noise from Logan Airport's Runway 33L.
On the other hand, 2009 was the year we learned that we would be receiving $65 million in Governor's Development Initiative (GDI) and federal stimulus (ARRA) money to jumpstart the public infrastructure needed to keep Assembly Square moving ahead. It was a year in which we continued to see progress on the Green Line Extension - including the welcome news that the MBTA was willing to consider multiple locations and configurations for a Green Line maintenance facility. This was also the year in which we saw approvals of stimulus funding for the Magoun Square intersection redesign project ($2.5 million), the Minuteman Bike Path Connector from Davis Square to Alewife ($3.6 million); and the long-promised - and long-delayed - repaving of Washington Street in East Somerville ($1.75 million).
Best of all, 2009 was the year that Somerville took home an All America City Award for the first time since 1972.
Overall, Somerville as emerged over the past ten years as a city that knows how to flourish even in tough times - and I think it's clear that one of the reasons we have been able to win awards, grants, and economic investment is that we have worked to develop a shared version of what our city can and should be.
The credit for developing and refining that shared vision of a thriving, sustainable, accessible, sophisticated, arts-friendly, densely urban and richly diverse community belongs to multiple generations, multiple sectors, and multiple administrations. It belongs to enlightened leaders at the state and federal level - including Congressman and former Mayor Michael Capuano, Senator John Kerry, the late great Senator Ted Kennedy, and Governor Deval Patrick, who has repeatedly responded to and rewarded Somerville's willingness to take charge of its own future. Credit also belongs to our state delegation, our courageous and far-sighted Board of Aldermen and our dedicated School Committee. But by far the greatest share of the credit belongs to the people of this city, who have worked (and sometimes fought) steadily and successfully to map out a way forward.
We have come to the end of a decade in which many American communities and institutions seemed to have lost their way - but Somerville has, at least so far, moved toward consensus and cooperation in imagining and building a future that can work for all of us.
As we enter a new decade, the challenge for many communities in Massachusetts will be to make up the ground they lost in the past ten years. For Somerville, the challenge will be to keep our current momentum. With just a little participation and input from every resident and business owner, and with the continued support of our state and federal officials, I have no doubt that we will be able to do just that.