Publications by Barbara Ray

As owner of HiredPen, Barbara specializes in social media and strategic communications for nonprofits and research organizations.

Are the suburbs walkable enough for aging Boomers?

Friday, January 11th, 2013

1.11.2013 | Are the suburbs changing fast enough to keep up with a rapidly aging population? Are they building in ways that are sustainable and walkable to attract both young adults and support those aging in place? According to December 2012 report by the Urban Land Institute, they’re not there yet, but things are beginning to change. (more…)

Responding to Hurricane Sandy Needs More than Engineering, It Needs Social Capital

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

1.8.2013 |  A belated happy new year to BRR readers. Hope your holiday break was a restful one. While on break, I caught up on some reading, including a fantastic article by Eric Klinenberg in the New Yorker on Hurricane Sandy’s effects. The story caught my eye because of its focus on an aspect of disasters (and resilience to them) that is often overlooked: social capital.  It is that set of connections in neighborhoods, Klinenberg, a sociologist by trade, argues, that make or break a community’s response to a disaster.  (more…)

Can Cutting Traffic Congestion Help Prevent Premature Births?

Friday, December 21st, 2012

12.21.2102 | As you blast through the E-ZPass tollbooths this holiday travel season on our way to friends and family, you can be thankful not only that the little electronic eye makes the trip a little faster–no more fumbling for that dropped quarter, no more inching forward in an unending line– but also for its role in helping kids stay healthier.

A new study finds that among roughly 30,000 births within 2 kilometers of a toll plaza in a recent study, 255 premature births and 275 low birth weigh births were averted because of the installation of an E-ZPass. (more…)

Innovative ideas to rescue communities with high foreclosure rates

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

12.18.2012 | The housing market is showing signs of recovery.  Home prices have have stabilized since their 2009 low point and have even made small gains in recent months. Investors are beginning to sniff around again in the market. All good signs for metro areas (except maybe the sniffing around for more exotic investments redux).

However, we can’t forget the devastation that remains from the wave of foreclosures, particularly in lower-income city neighborhoods. A recent policy brief by the Brookings Institution reminds us of this hardship and calls for a federal lifeline in the form of municipal bonds and tax incentives for these neighborhoods. Other initiatives are also underway locally. But is it enough?  (more…)

Quality of Life Beyond Downtown

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

12.11.2012 | Years of cut-backs are ahead for the nation’s metro areas. “Doing more with less” will be the new mantra for city leaders–that was the message at the opening sessions of the 2012 Urban Forum on metropolitan resilience held at the University of Illinois, Chicago last week. Opening speakers talked of the need for new regional partnerships, of no more politics as usual, of the need to deal now with the stifling legacy of prior, free-spending, fiscally irresponsible administrations. The tone was sobering.

There was also, however, an underlying message of  optimism. Mayors of some of the most hard-hit cities of recent years–Columbus, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas–talked of meeting the day of reckoning and moving beyond it to rebuild vibrant cities that will attract young people and innovators.

But amid all the cheering and huzzahs about vibrant downtowns from people like Mayor Coleman of Columbus and Mayor Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh, one couldn’t quite shake the poignant video short produced by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. The voices in that video and the voices on the stage could not have been farther apart. That gap speaks volumes. (more…)

Must Local Governments Choose between Growth and Safety Nets?

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

12.5.2012 | Local municipalities face a mixed bag of incentives in serving the most vulnerable families in their community.  In many respects, local governments would much rather use their clout and funds to support broader economic development, in hopes the new jobs created will negate the need for a safety net altogether. As Network chair Margaret Weir notes in her recent paper, “Building the Local Social Safety Net in an Era of Fiscal Constraint,”

“local governments possess strong political and economic incentives to ensure a high quality of life that will attract and retain prosperous residents and businesses. Moreover, local governments have little fiscal incentive to support redistribution to lower income residents, even when they face political pressure to do so.”

So are the more vulnerable families left out in the cold?


New data track the housing collapse’s effects on net worth

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

11.27.2012 | A new study by New York University’s Edward Wolff traces the fluctuating fortunes of Americans from 1962 to 2010. Among other things, the findings in the paper, “The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class,” underscore just how much of our wealth is concentrated in our homes, and consequently, the pain a decline in housing values inflicts. We’ve written before on the impact of the foreclosure crisis (here and here) on communities. This paper brings the impact home, so to speak.  (more…)

A New Form of Cluster Development Emerges in Pittsburgh Centered on Kids and Innovation

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

11.13.2012 | An innovative example of cluster development is underway in Pittsburgh (aka Kidsburgh). But unlike more traditional cluster development, such as “eds and meds” or high-tech manufacturing, that focus on sparking new industry, this cluster is banking on the future by sparking and feeding the curiosity of future innovators–kids. (more…)

Regional Growth Depends on Improving Immigrant Education

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

11.6.2012 |  A recent series of reports on immigration all point to one essential element. Providing opportunities for upward mobility through education is a key not only to immigrants’ well-being but the well-being of America’s future.

Immigrants today make up nearly 16% of the U.S. workforce (even though their share of the population is only 13%). Their share of the working population has grown from 5% in 1970.

In an opinion piece in September in the National Journal, Brookings Institution scholars noted that the future of jobs in America is a future of higher-skilled jobs. The majority will require some form of education and training beyond high school. An aging society and retiring Baby Boomers will only add to the shortage of skilled workers.

Yet, immigrants—particularly those in the lower-skilled jobs—lag behind U.S. citizens in their educational attainment. (more…)

A “How-To” Workbook for Regional Actors

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

10.30.2012 | A new publication takes planners through the steps to achieving regional development goals. In Getting Things Done Together: A Workbook for Achieving Regional Goals Getting Things Done Together, BRR and the National League of Cities offer step-by-step exercises for groups to frame a coherent agenda for your work, decide who should be involved, and identify what resources, information, and connections will be needed to succeed.