City2City Offers Learning Experiences

City2City Pioneer Valley Editorial August 10, 2015

The City2City program, an initiative that has taken city business and nonprofit leaders and elected officials to a number of cities experiencing economic progress — in many different forms — has a new name and new focus.

Well, sort of. The name is somewhat new. Actually, it’s been expanded to ‘City2City Pioneer Valley.’ And that name hints broadly on the new focus that isn’t really new. Indeed, while these visits have always included individuals from across the region, it has been perceived as, well, a Springfield thing.

Before, during, and after the initial visits to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa. (the latter being home to a casino), the overarching question was, ‘what can Springfield learn from this community?’

Those trips, organized with support from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, were technically regional in nature, but Springfield tended to dominate the conversation. It will likely do so again, when City2City Pioneer Valley, now being overseen by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and supported by several area businesses and foundations, travels to Chattanooga, Tenn. on Oct. 26-28.

But there will be plenty that communities of all sizes can take away from this visit, and we strongly encourage planning officials, municipal leaders, bank officials, and economic-development administrators to be part of the travel party.

That’s because, while there has been progress recorded in many area cities and towns — in realms ranging from infrastructure to entrepreneurship; from the arts to education — there is considerable room for improvement. And while there is plenty of talent and many good ideas to be found in the Valley, it never hurts to see how others are tacking issues common to cities across the country.

During past trips, participants have seen how Greensboro took full advantage of a new minor-league baseball stadium; how Grand Rapids has revitalized its riverfront and created thousands of new jobs in education and healthcare; how Bethlehem has not only opened a new casino, but found many other uses for the massive steel mill that gave the city its identity.

But they’ve also seen how individual neighborhoods have been revitalized, how Grand Rapids has addressed the complex issue of racism, and how each community has prospered through strong leadership and effective public-private partnerships.

Some of the lessons are being directly applied — perhaps the most notable being the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, which grew from the Grand Rapids experience — but area communities have benefited indirectly from seeing not only that other cities have overcome extreme challenges, but how.

Thus we encourage participation in this year’s trip, especially when it comes to the region’s younger leaders — those who have chosen to launch or continue a career in this region and will likely play a big part in shaping its future course.

Many of these young leaders have been exposed to great learning experiences through participation with such groups as the young professionals’ societies and organizations such as Leadership Pioneer Valley. City2City can and will broaden their horizons in many different ways.

Continuing and expanding the City2City initiative can only help this region, and area communities and business leaders should take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

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