Friday, May 30, 2008

Musings on redistricting, part 1

In a recent article in the Boston Phoenix, writer David Bernstein pointed out that Massachusetts faces three possible political upheavals in the very near future -- the likely loss of Ted Kennedy because of his recent cancer diagnosis, the distinct possibility of John Kerry receiving a post in an Obama cabinet, and the likelihood of Massachusetts losing yet another congressional district after the 2010 census. It's worth noting that Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, way back in the colonial days, was the man responsible for creating the infamous "Gerrymander" district in Essex County. In the next few posts I'm going to offer a few thoughts on removing the politics from congressional representation. I'm going to start with a rough breakdown on some of the major areas in Massachusetts, and a few choice comments on the relevance of the current county divisions.

The reason I'm making this list is as background. Massachusetts, like its capital Boston, is divided into a number of "neighborhoods" that have their own cohesive regional identities, many of which carve up towns so that someone living in one part of, say, Boston will have a different congressman than another part. I live in Bill Delahunt's district, which stretches from Quincy to Provincetown. The logic of this district somewhat escapes me, as frankly the South Shore and the Cape have very little in common. The South Shore is relatively affluent and mostly serves as bedroom communities for Boston and Cambridge; the Cape is geographically isolated, with a wildly variable seasonal population and an economy almost solely based on service industries. While Bourne, Plymouth, and Wareham tend to be rather transitional between the two regions, they have a somewhat different identity to themselves. How these two areas relate when the only thing they have in common is lots of beach land escapes me. So let's begin.

  • Metro Boston and the inner suburbs. Major communities: Boston, Newton, Cambridge, Somerville, Waltham. The capital of the state, and one of the few urban areas in the state that doesn't suffer from chronic and pervasive economic depression. Out of the last five governors, three of them have been from this area (Weld, Cambridge; Romney, Belmont, Patrick, Milton). The area is particularly known for its educational opportunities, as well as the high-tech industries along the Route 128 corridor and the biotech companies based in Boston and Cambridge.
  • Cape Cod and the Islands. Formerly very rural, over the 20th century the Cape and Islands became a fairly populous exurban area with a huge seasonal population change and a very strong dependence on tourism and medical-oriented service jobs. The Cape is one of the more conservative areas of the state (I've often called it "Blue Massachusetts' Magenta Tail") and as such is politically very unlike Massachusetts as a whole; the entire area suffers from widespread income disparities and, lacking even a four-year college or significant industry outside service sectors, few opportunities for young adults entering or leaving college and setting out into the world.
  • South Coast. Major communities: Fall River, New Bedford, and arguably Attleboro, Middleboro, and Taunton. During the whaling era, this was the richest part of the state, but this area is now mostly known as a somewhat depressed, blue collar/industrial area. The Massachusetts cranberry industry is centered here, mostly in Plymouth, Carver, and Wareham, with significant numbers of growers on Cape Cod as well.
  • South Shore. Major communities: Plymouth, Quincy, Marshfield, Weymouth, Braintree. A relatively affluent area that is mostly a mix of suburban and rural.
  • North Shore. Major communities: Saugus, Chelsea, Newburyport, Salem, Peabody, Gloucester. Generally thought of as working class, though the areas from Cape Ann north to the New Hampshire border are often quite affluent.
  • Merrimack Valley. Major communities: Lowell, Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill. Once a major industrial area, the Merrimack Valley has struggled to reinvent itself after all the mills closed, and Lawrence in particular is notoriously poor and rough. A very large immigrant population, mostly Caribbean Hispanic and southeast Asian.
  • Metro West. Major communities: Depends on who you talk to, but Natick and Framingham are pretty universally agreed to be among the most important, along with places like Wellesley and Weston. Essentially defined as "somewhere between Newton and Worcester", Metro West is a mix of poor and wealthy with a lot of commercial activity concentrated around Route 9, with a large Brazilian immigrant population. The Hudson/Franklin/Hopkinton area is the fastest-growing area in the state in terms of population.
  • Worcester and surrounding area: Worcester is far from the wealthiest place in the state, but it vies with Providence for the second largest city in New England, and has quite a lot of civic pride as Eastern Massachusetts' second city. Like Boston, Worcester is very much a college town.
  • Central and Northern Worcester county: Worcester county is the largest county in Massachusetts in terms of land area, and the central and northern areas are largely rural, with the largest population center in the area being Fitchburg.
  • Pioneer Valley: This part of Central Massachusetts includes the Connecticut River and the college towns of Amherst and Northampton as well as the Metro Springfield area. Much of it is rural in character, but the Metro Springfield area is heavily urbanized and in fact blends into the Hartford and New Haven metro areas to the south. Springfield itself is considered something of a synonym (along with Lawrence) for urban decay in Massachusetts.
  • The Berkshires: Like the Cape and Islands, Berkshire County has its own regional identity somewhat separate from the state (indeed, many of the television and radio stations in this area are considered part of the Albany, NY market). The Berkshires are also a rather touristy area, strongly associated with the arts (most notably Norman Rockwell and, on Thanksgiving, Arlo Guthrie), and often have very little to do with Boston at all.
In the next post, I'll try to sift through some of this information and see how it meshes with the current congressional districts in the state.

Friday, May 2, 2008

New Chick Tract... "oy vey" doesn't begin to cover it

Moving On Up

Jack Chick has, apparently, enthusiastically endorsed the "Evolution->Hitler" meme that the cdesign proponentsists have been using since Expelled came out. I'm not really that surprised, but what's amusing is that as laughable as Chick's tracts have already been, this thing is as insulting to the choir as the people it's trying to convert.