Today, Dick Howe and I were at Brew'd Awakening talking about (among other interesting things in the world) New England's small cities.
It's a common theme among many small cities here in Massachusetts -- blighted, under-served downtowns that were once vibrant and still maintain some of their physical beauty (if you can look past the vacant buildings and some of the urban decay). The story is usually the same, and it involves a lost prosperity after [insert name of industry] left town.
Dick made a great point about how geography plays a big role in how cities are coping with change. And by geography he meant more than its proximity to other things (i.e. Boston) but the actual layout and physical size of the city.
Because Lowell has a large downtown AND several middle-class neighborhoods AND a couple neighborhoods with beautiful Victorian homes worth close to a million bucks, it's a great long-term option for a lot of different types of folks. As a result, you've got a strong core of people who stay in the city (for good reason) for years and years -- these people have a vision for the city's future, a clear stake in its success, and they've got civic pride. They also maintain their "street cred" as decisionmakers in the city by maintaining a residence within the city limits.
Other, comparable Bay State small cities, on the other hand, are far more limited in actual space. So, when you've got your Acre but without your Belvidere and Upper Highlands, or even a Pawtucketville thrown in there, it's less likely that residents will stay as their families and incomes expand. Their equivalent of a Belvidere probably falls within the limits of an entirely different municipality.
I've driven around Lowell's nicer neighborhoods and some of the properties up there are as breathtaking as any I've seen in places like Bergen or Westchester counties.
This seems like a great selling point for the city, and I'm not sure how many Bay Staters who sneer at Lowell realize that you can essentially buy a mansion here for what a townhouse might cost you in Cambridge.