On the Farm
Jane Katz's "Farming in the Shadow of Suburbia" (Spring 1997) is a good overview of the economic pressures that confront farmers and threaten farmland. I am pleased that she downplayed the old saw that farmers fled New England because the soil is no good; acre for acre, New England's cropland is more productive than the Midwest's for many crops. But economies of scale and land scarcity work against the region's agriculture.
I wish to correct one inaccuracy. Ms. Katz writes "...in the southern New England states, especially Connecticut, almost all the remaining open land is farmland." In truth, privately owned, undeveloped land in Connecticut is overwhelmingly forested. Farmland accounts for less than 400,000 acres (13 percent of the landscape), of which half is cropland.
Karl J. Wagener
Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality
In Jane Katz's review of programs to preserve land in farming, she did not note a relatively new program which we believe deals effectively with this issue. Conceived by the Qroe Companies in New Hampshire, this approach addresses farming's decline in a sustainable fashion and is aimed at preserving farming, not just farmland.
In Qroe Farm's approach, farmland is protected by an easement which prevents conversion to other uses, but also explicitly grants farmers the right to farm as they see fit, in the face of any neighborly objections. "Greenbelt" land is protected to ensure its natural state. Low-density housing is scattered in a way that prevents intrusion on these uses and adds value to the homes by putting them in a protected environment. Because Qroe marries open space, farming, and housing in an integrated manner, it assures the farmer's long-term financial viability and allows "suburban" growth to combine all uses, rather than letting housing push both open space and farming far from the people who sustain and enjoy them.
James P. Batchelor,
Environmental Design Group
In considering the issue of open space, it is important to note that our nation's forests not only provide beauty, recreation, jobs and natural resources, and subsidies to municipal tax bills, but also are a primary source of clean water. Forest land is a much more efficient cleaner and filter of water than farmland.
Southern New England Forest Consortium
Ed Glaeser's article, "Ghettos The Changing Consequences of Ethnic Isolation" (Spring 1997), is correct in highlighting the economic potential of cities and the need to break through the artificial walls that separate low-income populations from mainstream jobs and opportunities. However, Glaeser's emphasis on the deconcentration of low-income areas is problematic. We believe that the reverse strategy, that is, capitalizing on the untapped economic potential of inner cities, attracting business investment, jobs, and ultimately middle-class residents back to inner cities, will be more effective.
Glaeser's viewpoint presumes that lower-income inner-city areas are devoid of economic activity and lack assets upon which to build an economic strategy. It takes as a given the so-called spatial mismatch between jobs and workers. It sees the "ghetto" as both inevitable and the source of artificial barriers.
The lack of business and jobs in inner cities is by no means inevitable. Inner cities offer a number of competitive advantages as business locations due to their central location, access to transportation systems, large underserved markets, ability to link into the regional economy, and, importantly, a loyal and dependable work force. In Boston, for example, there are more than 4,000 businesses located in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods, many of which hire from the community and are owned by local entrepreneurs.
Inner-city companies do face a number of competitive disadvantages. However, these are not inevitable, but rather the result of old attitudes and decades of ineffective policies. In inner cities, taxes have risen while infrastructure has been neglected. The quality of government services has badly deteriorated, and a regulatory morass has been created which is unparalleled in the rest of the country. The isolation of the inner cities has, in many cases, been accentuated by well-intentioned policies. The popular strategy to move people to jobs in the suburbs, however, is impractical and only partially addresses these wider underlying problems. A more sustainable strategy depends upon integrating distressed communities into the mainstream economy, removing barriers to job and business growth, and building on competitive advantages.
Michael E. Porter
Harvard Business School
Anne S. Habiby
Initiative for a Competitive Inner City
Yes, we do know where East Boston and South Boston are located. But in the past issue, a map with the article, "Ghettos The Changing Consequences of Ethnic Isolation," mistakenly labeled Southie as East Boston. Our apologies to the residents of both neighborhoods.
We welcome your letters. Send them to:
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston,
P.O. Box 2076,
Boston, MA 02210