State Capital: Government Center vs Distributed Offices

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
Selling off the Hurley got me thinking:
Does Massachusetts need an Administrative Capital that isn't at Government Center?

Beacon Hill has the Capitol--the head building where the seat & offices of most of its Constitutional leadership "sits"

Boston is the state Capital -- the head city and usually identified as where the Capitol is. (Fun fact: Rhode Island rotated the seat of its legislature between its 5 county seat cities from the mid 1700s until 1854 when it was narrowed to two (Newport & Providence), and PVD didn't become sole Capital City until 1900)

Government Center is a mashup of
  • Boston Municipal,
  • Suffolk Judicial
  • Massachusetts State
  • US Federal
Originally, reasons to put Capital functions in a Capital City included:
  • Communication (mail & physical) with political bosses
  • Availability of infrastructure & talent
  • Access by constituents
How many of these still have power in a networked, suburbanized, virtual world?

At some point the Feds realized they needed to be near, but not necessarily "in" Boston Proper, and so we get the FBI in Chelsea, the courts in what was originally the polity of South Boston, and the IRS in Andover.

At what point should the State of Massachusetts put major ADMINISTRATIVE functions outside of Boston, its political capital?

Examples: States like NY, MD, and IL all have "small town" capitals (Albany, Annapolis, and Springfield) with a "big city" that ends up getting many state offices (NYC, Baltimore, & Chicago).

Reasons to move government functions out of the Boston include:
  • The space in the city would be more profitable/productive for "commerce" instead of "office corridors"
  • The function might be more accessible elsewhere
  • The function might be more secure elsewhere (eg the FBI)
  • Inter-regional equity might favor spreading these jobs around (similar to putting UMass hospital in Worcester)
I have some suggestions, but I'll wait until anyone takes me up on this.
 

jklo

Active Member
Joined
Feb 8, 2015
Messages
417
Reaction score
15
If you want to hire millenials, just from a logistical standpoint you need to be in the City, be it private industry or government. There's a Department that's in (I think) Braintree that wants to move back into the city because even Braintree is too far out. You could move some jobs to other parts of Boston, but since you have the space already you may as well use it. The North Station area for instance could use more jobs.
 

George_Apley

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
4,033
Reaction score
308
I think it makes sense at the federal level to distribute some departments and agencies outside of the Washington D.C. area. It would make a lot of sense for the Depts of Agriculture and Interior (for example) to be HQ'd in or closer to regions of the country most affected by those dept's policies. I think stimulus effects at the state level would be pretty muted, especially because there would need to be redundant offices left in Boston to service the population core. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the state isn't as big a driver of employment patterns like the feds are.

The whole "move the capital" argument was really big at the tail-end of the 18th century, after Shay's Rebellion and the powerful proto-populist arguments of rural farmers against the merchant elites of the coastal cities. Albany ended up "winning out" over New York City in 1797 to balance upstate agricultural interests with downstate financial and maritime interests. There may have been an argument for MA's capital to be in Worcester before the communication and transportation revolution in the mid-19th Century, but MA is so small that it doesn't strike me as a worthwhile investment to physically relocate state agencies and government functions beyond Boston. Better to invest in physical or digital tools to expand government access and modern utilities to residents outside Boston metro.

I think the best way to jump-start MA's struggling regions is not to relocate government services as a growth driver, but rather to improve the goddamned transportation system across the state.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
State Center of population in 2010 was a little bit west of Natick
 

George_Apley

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
4,033
Reaction score
308
State Center of population in 2010 was a little bit west of Natick
I don't that stat is enough impetus to shift the capital from Boston.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
I think it suggests an administrative center (bureaucracy) at a RUR/GL hub near 90&128

Or at a RUR@128 hub anywhere between Needham/Dedham and Waltham, particularly if you are wondering how to "seed" TOD on a site that is midway on a line, rather than at the BOS hub.

Unlike Amazon or Fidelity or Wayfair (with "global" customers), State of Mass offices have customers specifically confined to Massachusetts--per capita centered on West Natick, and per $GDP maybe centered on Newton.

In this, a state office has "retail" considerations.

If we had frequent, higher-speed SPG-WOR-FRA-BOS, a stop between Framingham and Boston Landing would make a good State Administative center (new MassDOT hq?)

The FBI field office also had a "retail territory"--it needed a different relationship given its geographic jurisdiction than, say, the Volpe as a National Lab.
 
Last edited:

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
MEMA (Massachusetts emergency Management) is correctly located in Framingham: disasters matter mostly with respect to people, and they are cited near the center of population (and away from coastal storms and rising seas)
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
The 100-year vision for Massachusetts has got to include more assets being farther from the sea, and the emergence of a White Plains or Stamford (or revitalization of Worcester)
 

Equilibria

Senior Member
Joined
May 6, 2007
Messages
4,046
Reaction score
285
The 100-year vision for Massachusetts has got to include more assets being farther from the sea, and the emergence of a White Plains or Stamford (or revitalization of Worcester)
Let's not overstate the risk there. Sea level rise is a reason not to put these things in the Seaport or on the Eastie waterfront, but I think Beacon Hill is pretty safe.

MEMA (Massachusetts emergency Management) is correctly located in Framingham: disasters matter mostly with respect to people, and they are cited near the center of population (and away from coastal storms and rising seas)
MEMA travels almost entirely by road and there isn't much need for residents without cars to reach it. Even if an exterior location is "reachable" by transit, that doesn't compare to Downtown locations reachable by every rail line. Even a larger rail network won't fix that problem.
 

Shepard

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
3,489
Reaction score
24
I think that concentrating state offices in a single location - whether that's Boston or Worcester - is an outdated idea. My (totally presumptuous) guess is that many state offices work on an increasingly obsolete 9-5-show-up-at-your-desk model. How many jobs could be easily moved into a telecommute model? How many offices can be switched into a "hotelling" format?
 

jklo

Active Member
Joined
Feb 8, 2015
Messages
417
Reaction score
15
I think that concentrating state offices in a single location - whether that's Boston or Worcester - is an outdated idea. My (totally presumptuous) guess is that many state offices work on an increasingly obsolete 9-5-show-up-at-your-desk model. How many jobs could be easily moved into a telecommute model? How many offices can be switched into a "hotelling" format?
The last thing the State should be doing is encouraging telecommuting.
 

George_Apley

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
4,033
Reaction score
308
I think it suggests an administrative center (bureaucracy) at a RUR/GL hub near 90&128

Or at a RUR@128 hub anywhere between Needham/Dedham and Waltham, particularly if you are wondering how to "seed" TOD on a site that is midway on a line, rather than at the BOS hub.

Unlike Amazon or Fidelity or Wayfair (with "global" customers), State of Mass offices have customers specifically confined to Massachusetts--per capita centered on West Natick, and per $GDP maybe centered on Newton.

In this, a state office has "retail" considerations.
I guess I'm wondering what services you're specifically talking about here and whether they would need redundant offices in the city if they were moved.


If we had frequent, higher-speed SPG-WOR-FRA-BOS, a stop between Framingham and Boston Landing would make a good State Administative center (new MassDOT hq?)
This is related to my question above. Are we talking about administrative services that the public interacts with on a frequent basis? I might be way off, but I don't think MassDOT is a very interactive agency. It's a planning and management agency. Its "retail" service (the RMV) is already distributed broadly across the state.

Let's hammer out your purpose. Do you want to move these offices to make them more accessible to the public (whether or not the public ever actually interacts with the specific agency)? Do you want to move these offices to get them out of the city for the purposes of redevelopment? Do you want to move them as a form of economic stimulus for "not Boston" parts of the state?

The FBI field office also had a "retail territory"--it needed a different relationship given its geographic jurisdiction than, say, the Volpe as a National Lab.
The FBI offices are geographically *very* inconvenient. Probably more so than offices in the city itself. The FBI is where it is because the land was open and relatively easy to secure compared to a facility in the middle of the city.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
From a "constituent services" perspective....
  • If no constituents ever visit, it doesn't need to be in the city
  • If constituents sometimes visit, it should be in a "transit possible" locaton
  • If constituents frequently visit, it should be in a TOD location
From a spread-the-pork / access-to-talent perspective
  • It should be in a place that has access to a "big enough" talent pool
  • It should spread state jobs across the state population
From a taxpayer perspective
  • It is probably worth selling prime core Boston real estate and freeing up the capital and returning the buildings to the tax rolls of Boston (and asking boston to use it well)
  • It is probably more capital-efficient to move to a TOD location in the middle of an RUR line, and at the terminus of a HRT/LRT transit line.
 

Semass

Active Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2012
Messages
690
Reaction score
9
MEMA (Massachusetts emergency Management) is correctly located in Framingham: disasters matter mostly with respect to people, and they are cited near the center of population (and away from coastal storms and rising seas)
MEMA is in Framingham because it is where the doomsday bunker was located during the cold war. It has nothing to do with population centers. Proximity to the Pike was probably the primary selection criteria then.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
3,912
Reaction score
175
MEMA is in Framingham because it is where the doomsday bunker was located during the cold war. It has nothing to do with population centers. Proximity to the Pike was probably the primary selection criteria then.
It may have had nothing to do with population centers, but Framingham and the Pike are nonetheless (by my metrics) "correctly located"

{EDIT} Looking at Mass' historical centers of population the population center for the last 130 years has been located in a rectangle roughly defined by Rt 20 (Sudbury-Wayland) on the North and Rt 135 Framingham-Natick on the South. I think it quite possible that Center-of-Population was also a criteria for the Cold War bunker siting.
 
Last edited:

WormtownNative

Active Member
Joined
Dec 7, 2014
Messages
347
Reaction score
5
MEMA is in Framingham (and in Tewksbury and Agawam) because that's where there was room for them (grounds of the MSP academy at the time) and it was in the sweet spot of being close enough to Boston for access and far enough to survive. Space is also the same reason why the State Police Academy was moved to New Braintree - there was plenty of land for them to build to their needs after running out of room in Framingham.

Other state agencies are already outside of Boston. The state 911 department is headquartered in Middleborough, with satellite offices in Maynard and Springfield to serve the entire state. The Department of Fire Services is based out of Stow, with additional offices and fire academies in Springfield (grounds of Springfield's former academy that the state purchased and built a building and more training assets to suit their needs), & Bridgewater (offices being moved as we speak, and a new academy being planned for construction).

Cannabis Control Commission is based out of Worcester, moving into office space in Union Station previously occupied by the Central Mass Regional Planning Commission.

Depending on the needs of the citizens to meet at the office/agency in question (e.g. MEMA is a secure facility while the RMV is not), it should just go to whatever is the best deal for the state that's appropriate. Let's not forget the horrible flop that was shuttering the Southbridge RMV office and moving it to the Charlton rest stop on the Mass Pike.
 

Top