At the Front Lines of the Global Transition

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Worcester Redevelopment in the New York Times

A generation ago Worcester’s weary downtown served as an impediment to attracting students, said college administrators. Today, the city’s sidewalks and stories are alive with shoppers, office workers, and students.

A generation ago Worcester’s weary downtown served as an impediment to attracting students. Today, the city’s sidewalks and stories are alive with shoppers, office workers, and students.

WORCESTER, Mass. — Though College of the Holy Cross was founded here in 1843, and eight other prominent institutions of higher learning followed, it’s taken most of the last two centuries for this sizable New England city to consider itself a college town.

It does so now. From one end of the city’s 245-acre central core to the other, Worcester’s primary boulevards are steadily filling up with the civic equipment that is attracting new residents, and keeps the 35,000 college students who study and live here satisfied. They include a busy public transit hub, comfortable and affordable housing, new restaurants and watering holes, computer stores and coffee shops, a world class performing arts theater, state-of-the-art biotech research facilities, incubators and office space for start-up companies, and renovated parks, including one alongside City Hall with an ice rink larger than the one in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.

Today the New York Times published my article on Worcester’s redevelopment. I am familiar with the city. A long time ago I dated a young woman who attended Clark University, one of the city’s fine colleges. Worcester was a beat up place at the time, certainly not the kind of city smart new college graduates thought they’d settle in. Worcester is no longer that city and it shows.

The newest project in Worcester’s revitalization portfolio is CitySquare, a $565 million, 12-acre mixed use development just east of City Hall. It replaces a two-story, 1 million square-foot downtown shopping mall that took up almost 10 percent of Worcester’s central business district.

The former Worcester Center Galleria, built at a cost of $127 million, thrived for a decade after it opened in 1971, and then went dark by the turn of the century. The mall was demolished in 2012. In the two years since, Worcester spent $59 million burying utilities, preparing building sites for new construction, and reconstructing and connecting four streets in the district to the city’s street grid.

Market interest in CitySquare has been strong, according to city data. In 2013, Unum, a Tennessee-based insurer, opened a $76 million, 214,000-square-foot, seven-story office tower alongside an 860-space parking garage. The St. Vincent Cancer and Wellness Center finished a $30 million, 66,000-square-foot treatment facility.

Across the street, the Worcester Regional Transit Authority built a $14 million, 14,000-square-foot bus transit hub that is alongside the city’s 103-year-old Union Station that was reopened in 2000 after a $32 million renovation. The station is a stop on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Chicago, and hosts 20 commuter trains daily to and from Boston that serve 1,500 passengers.

In 2014, the city and The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc., the primary landholder and CitySquare development manager, finished agreements with Roseland Property Company to build 370 market rate rental apartments in a cluster of five-story residential buildings at a cost of $90 million. The first 263,479-square-foot building will hold 239 apartments. The second 142,130-square-foot building will hold 131 apartments.

Next door to the apartments will be a $36 million, six-story, 126,000-square-foot, 150-room Marriott hotel.  The hotel sits atop a two-level, 243,000-square-foot parking deck large enough for 550 vehicles. Construction of the parking deck is underway. Construction of the residential project is scheduled to start in the spring of 2015. The hotel construction follows.
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U.S.-China Climate Agreement a Circle of Blue High Point

In an open pit coal mine east of Baotou, Inner Mongolia the economically and ecologically disruptive confrontation over water and energy are on full display. China's desperate focus on economic growth pushes men and machines to their limit in one of the driest regions on Earth. Photo/Keith Schneider

In an open pit coal mine east of Baotou, Inner Mongolia the economically and ecologically disruptive confrontation over water and energy are on full display. China’s desperate focus on economic growth pushes men and machines to their limit in one of the driest regions on Earth. Photo/Keith Schneider

There’s no pretending that providing secure stores of fresh water, and producing adequate supplies of energy and food is confounding the nations of Earth. In the era of climate change most of the world’s prominent energy and food producing regions are either getting dryer or more hydrologically unstable.

The consequence Is a growing list of global choke points – the economically and ecologically disruptive confrontations over water, energy, and agricultural resources that Circle of Blue and the Wilson Center, our project partner, are describing all over the world.

For five years the two organizations have documented the world’s urgent resource choke points with uncommon depth, skill, and on-the-ground expertise. From Mongolia to China, India to Qatar, Palestine to Peru, and all across the United States and Canada, our Global Choke Point project is helping the world understand the urgency of the contest for water, energy, and food. Just as importantly, our work is identifying opportunities to build international momentum for political and pragmatic solutions.

Never was the influence of our work more apparent than in 2014.

After briefing Congressional staffers about energy and water the Global Choke Point team marks the moment. From left - J. Carl Ganter, Nadya Ivanova, Jennifer Turner, Keith Schneider, Peter Marsters.

After briefing Congressional staffers about energy and water the Global Choke Point team marks the moment. From left – J. Carl Ganter, Nadya Ivanova, Jennifer Turner, Keith Schneider, Peter Marsters.

A Climate Breakthrough
In November, the United States and China reached agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and take other measures to limit the stresses of industrialization on the planet’s ecosystems. Two of the six major provisions in the pact — one measure to spend $50 million to better understand the ties between energy production and water supply, and a second to treat and recycle wastewater from storing carbon in deep geological formations — are the direct result of Choke Point: China, one of our Global Choke Point reports.

This is no small accomplishment. The U.S.-China climate agreement was widely regarded during the U.N. climate summit, held in December in Lima, Peru, as the breakthrough political step that could lead to a binding global climate agreement later this year in Paris.

Mismanagement, corruption, lack of enforcement, and population growth that adds 25 million new mouths a year hinders India's progress and is wrecking its landscape. Here a swarm of residents live along the train tracks in Guwahati. Photo/Keith Schneider

Mismanagement, corruption, lack of enforcement, and population growth that adds 25 million new mouths a year hinders India’s progress and is wrecking its landscape. Here a swarm of residents live along the train tracks in Guwahati. Photo/Keith Schneider

The U.S. – China climate agreement also is a singular success for a distinctive online communications and policy development model that marries frontline data gathering to international networking and dialogue and is making a proven difference in the world.

That five-year-old Global Choke Point model was developed by Circle of Blue, and by Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center, a think tank  that fosters international scholarship and dialogue. Essentially, the two organizations wedded their strengths. Circle of Blue counted on Jennifer and her colleagues to provide context, and Jennifer’s wondrous directory of personal contacts in and outside China. Jennifer relied on Circle of Blue to dig out the new facts, interview the key players, travel to the resource choke points, and tell a new story of the confrontation between diminishing freshwater supplies and rising demand for energy and food, China’s two biggest water consumers.

Among our big findings in China: Unless energy production and water consumption trends changed quickly in a drying nation, China would run out of water to meet its energy demands by the end of this decade.
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Gabrielle Gray Shifts Over to Weave A New Story in American Bluegrass Music

Gabrielle Gray, an icon in American bluegrass music and founder of the ROMP festival in Owensboro, KY., today turned over command of the International Bluegrass Music Museum to Carly Smith (r), who serves as interim director pending appointment of a new executive director. Photo/Keith Schneider

Gabrielle Gray, an icon in American bluegrass music and founder of the ROMP festival in Owensboro, KY., today turned over command of the International Bluegrass Music Museum to Carly Smith (r), who serves as interim director pending appointment of a new executive director. Photo/Keith Schneider

OWENSBORO, KY — There was a big change today in American bluegrass music here in this Ohio River city, which over the last decade has established itself as a global center of the quintessential American music born in western Kentucky. The board of trustees of the International Bluegrass Music Museum announced that Gabrielle M. Gray,  the museum’s chief executive, ends her exceptional 12-year tenure as the museum’s capable and creative leader and steps down as executive director overseeing all museum campus operations.

Gabrielle retains her position as executive producer of ROMP, the signature bluegrass music festival she founded in 2004.  Gray also remains the museum’s grant writer. These two sources of income — ROMP proceeds and grant awards — produce most of the museum’s annual revenue, making it possible for the museum to preserve, exhibit, catalog and archive the artifacts and collections of bluegrass music internationally, as well as host many ambitious programs and events throughout the year.

Carly Smith, a staff member since May 2011 and the museum’s capable assistant director since 2014, steps into a new role as interim director. The museum’s board, chaired by Peter Salovey, the president of Yale University, is conducting a nationwide search for a new executive director. The new director is expected to be in place in the spring or summer of 2015.

Gabrielle Gray, great woman of Kentucky, will continue to lead ROMP, the bluegrass festival she founded in 2004 in Owensboro, KY. Photo/Keith Schneider

Gabrielle Gray, great woman of Kentucky, will continue to lead ROMP, the bluegrass festival she founded in 2004 in Owensboro, KY. Photo/Keith Schneider

The announcement was greeted as big news in this river city of 58,000 residents, in large part because Gabrielle, her staff, her board, and city and Daviess county officials collaborated over the last decade to establish bluegrass music as an economic and cultural priority. The city is working with the museum to build a $15.5 million Bluegrass Music Center on a choice downtown lot along the Ohio that was formerly the site of a state office building. The ROMP festival, held annually over the last weekend of June, now attracts the finest bands in bluegrass and over 20,000 attendees annually. In other words, bluegrass is as important to Owensboro as the blues are to Memphis and Chicago, country music is to Nashville, jazz is to New Orleans, and rock and roll is to Cleveland.

Ron Payne, Owensboro’s progressive Republican mayor, who’s led a $250 million downtown redevelopment campaign that includes the new Bluegrass Music Center, commended Gabrielle’s tenure. “I’m tickled to death that Gabrielle is going to stay on and help us with ROMP,” Payne told the Messenger-Inquirer, the city’s daily newspaper. “She’s done an outstanding job. Bluegrass is where it is today, partly because of the work she’s done.”
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Dream Big — Why Ohio River Valley Resurgence is Nationally and Globally Significant

After GE closed its factories, and put 6,000 people out of work in the late 20th century, Owensboro was forced to develop new economic ideas. The city is now the center of bluegrass music in the world. The 23 String Band performs at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in September 2014. Photo\Keith Schneider

After GE closed its factories, and put 6,000 people out of work in the late 20th century, Owensboro was forced to develop new economic ideas. The city is now the center of bluegrass music in the world. The 23 String Band performs at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in September 2014. Photo\Keith Schneider

OWENSBORO, KY — More than three years ago, while writing a study that suggested several new 21st century development ideas for this old river city, I discovered the mysteries of the Ohio River Valley.

The region’s natural beauty is immediately striking. The recovering economies of cities and counties, once described as the Rust Belt, impress me. The unexpected governing approaches — cities passing new taxes as a development tool, and seeking consolidation with their surrounding counties — is out of step with what I knew about a region that wholly embraces the no-new-taxes, era of austerity, big government-hating rhetoric of conservative dogma.

My thinking has evolved over the last several years and is now influenced by what I see during the global reporting I’m undertaking for Circle of Blue. What’s plain to me is that the six states of the Ohio River Valley are providing powerful lessons for the country — in local and state governance, energy use, demography, tax investments, business technology, and government\industry collaboration.

My research needs to be deeper on these points, and I’m gathering string for my first book. But my instinct is that a persuasive case can be made that the region that produced the 50-year (1940-1990) American era of industrial innovation and working man prosperity is again forming the foundations of a new and purely American era of economic well-being and ecological recovery.

The Ohio River in Newburgh, Indiana. Photo\KeithSchneider

The Ohio River in Newburgh, Indiana. Photo\KeithSchneider


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This Is India — “Maybe Tomorrow”

Much of the world's tea is raised in northeast India. Workers pick tea leaves in a tea garden in Assam. Photo/Keith Schneider

Much of the world’s tea is raised in northeast India. Workers pick tea leaves in a tea garden in Assam. Photo/Keith Schneider

GUWAHATI, India — Beggars prowl the sidewalks of every city I’ve visited — American, Scandinavian, Arabian, Australian, Asian.

Still, there may be no more organized, encompassing, creative, and pathetic beggar culture in the world today than the one that operates in New Delhi, India’s capital.

With 25 million residents, New Delhi is the world’s second largest city behind Tokyo, according to the United Nations. Seven years ago Delhi’s Social Welfare Department reported that nearly 59,000 beggars roamed the city’s streets. More recent unofficial estimates puts the number at four times that figure or more.

By day, beggars work the city’s traffic-swarmed intersections in teams delineated by age, sex, physical infirmity, dress, and territory. At one corner beautiful little girls sweep through the traffic lanes, their eyes sad pools of practiced lamentation, beseeching drivers and passengers for coins. At another it’s little boys squirting through stopped traffic. Young mothers holding infants and wearing street-soiled saris of orange chiffon are common.

So are hijras, India’s transgender third sex. They are castrated men that dress and adorn themselves like women in makeup and jewelry. They shimmy and shake, bat their eyes, and extend large thick-veined hands, the grip of theatrical desperation.

When night descends, a different choreography unfolds. Beggar groups and families recede to their camps in parks, on the medians of busy boulevards, and underneath highway bridges. Mobile shelters made of tree limbs and plastic are erected. Cooking stoves are lit. Children are bathed and fed. Then Delhi’s dark places flicker on, one after another like a ground level constellation. The stars are the blue and white hues of tablet screens. Adults and children, sitting on blankets, gather in sizable circles to watch the digitized flames of their video campfires. TII. This Is India.

Orange producers in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo/Keith Schneider

Orange producers in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo/Keith Schneider


During 17 days spent in India — my fourth trip in two years — I noted other intriguing colors and distinctive textures that describe this great banquet of bedlam and paradox. I call it TII — This Is India. Enjoy.

Much of India's highway network is constructed by hand. Workers in Meghalaya use steel bars to break up the pavement, pounding the black top like warriors with pointed lances. Photo/Keith Schneider

Much of India’s highway network is constructed by hand. Workers in Meghalaya use steel bars to break up the pavement, pounding the black top like warriors with pointed lances. Photo/Keith Schneider

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