A tale of two cities

The impact of agricultural and vocational schools on America’s metropolitan renaissance
By: | Issue: February, 2017,
January 13, 2017

In “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” Jane Jacobs reminds us that “Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves”.
Among both urban and exurban cities alike schools, colleges, and universities enjoy a time-honored, town-gown relationship where the sum of the synergy is way more than the constituent institutions for citizens, tourists and local business and industry. For these aspiring municipalities, this mutual growth dynamic yields jobs creation, cultural enrichment and lifelong learning opportunities.
Across the Nation, agricultural, technical and vocational schools have a significant positive impact on the transformation of classical cities into more sustainable, competitive, and desirable communities. In Massachusetts where there is no shortage of traditional college towns, consider the urban revitalization happening in Fall River on the South Coast, and the exurban transformation happening in Northampton – nestled in Western Massachusetts.
Leading by example, Fall River is experiencing an urban revival – reengineered by its municipal, economic development and civic thought leaders. Just start with a visit to historic Battleship Cove, then on to Lizzie Borden’s House, Narrows Center for the Arts, Maplecroft Mansion, and Fall River’s Marine and Children’s Museums. Next, walk along the vibrant downtown area to browse the shops, and try a taste of authentic Portuguese culinary delights. For business visitors and developers, take a spin by the new $1.2 million square foot Amazon Center— a marvel of contemporary digital retail distribution located in the South Coast Life Sciences and Technology Park.  It is no surprise Amazon is now in the process of hiring 500 smartcollar inventory distribution workers. Taken together, these several attractions position Fall River to host a new kind of CommUniversity Consortium—making Fall River the South Coast’s newest Collegetown.
Travel across town to visit the campus of Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School to observe a 21st Century career oriented campus—targeting the emergent Fall River workforce ecosystem. On a recent visit by the German Consul General, Diman showcased its state-of-the-art maker learning laboratories and leading-edge industrial shops – hosting a broad and varied spectrum of the trades.
Diman Superintendent Thomas Aubin takes considerable pride in the School’s close symbiotic relationship with the City of Fall River. Mr. Aubin put it nicely this way:
“For graduates going directly into the workforce, they will leave with trade credentialing that results in greater starting salaries and future possibilities for career verticality. For others going on to postsecondary education…, experiential learning… gives Diman students an advantage that is not readily available… This will factor heavily into the future urban Renaissance of the Greater Fall River area, as Diman graduates will be paramount in the physical and intellectual rebirth of our region”.
Traveling across the Commonwealth to the Baystate’s Golden West, the historic City of Northampton serves as a beacon for educational, agricultural, cultural, and recreational activities. Home to Smith College and closely located to Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke Colleges and the University of Massachusetts – residents benefit from close proximity to Colleges and Universities of choice, live performances, fine and visual arts, museums, and distinctive architecture. Northampton’s population includes a number of prominent research scientists, performing arts celebrities, and literary luminaries. In fact, Northampton was ranked by Money Magazine as one of the 25 best places to retire.
Among the many treasures of Northampton is another prominent Smith – that is Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School known in Western Massachusetts by many as Smith Aggie.  Proud of its agricultural roots, Smith provides its graduate with cutting edge skills and specialized knowledge serving farms and diversified agricultural business, manufacturers and other industries indigenous to Western Massachusetts. These career preparation programs are supported by strong industry advisory boards which provide invaluable guidance and insight on matters of curriculum and employer skills expectations. Beyond agriculture industry and business, Smith Aggie supports the City’s public works by refurbishing its municipal parking equipment, and hosting the Northampton Winter Farmers Market. Significantly, Smith provides midcareer learners with education and workforce development programs.
Focusing on its bright future, Smith Superintendent Kevin Farr shared a special perspective on the School’s future growth and development:  
“The vision for the future is to enhance the agricultural offerings and to expand environmental science and technology which focuses on water quality analysis, environmental systems, sustainability, pollution, ecosystems, and renewable energy systems. Within the horticultural framework… are several areas that can be expanded to provide a skilled workforce in… landscape contracting and floriculture with greenhouse management and a retail flower shop nursery operation”.
At the end of the day, Fall River and Northampton serve as prototype models for other agricultural, vocational, and technical schools in metropolitan communities. Through their intimate relationships with their host Cities, these Schools represent a new breed of strategic town-gown partnerships as key drivers in their urban and exurban reinvention.

—James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities: New Strategies for Higher Education Leaders (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.