Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's the Matter with Downtown?

Last night at UML, Karon Bergeron of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce spoke about ways that the downtown can be better linked with the university in order to serve UML students, downtown business owners, residents, and everyone in between.

I thought one of the best points brought up was the issue of incentive for students (one of the Audiopark guys said it and so did Brett Cromwell, among others). For the crowd of people old enough to be out on their own after dark (say, 14 and up) but too young to legally get into any of the bars, it just seems like there isn't much to do downtown. Even if the transportation piece were perfect, there's only so many times you can go out and spin your wheels while being barred entry to most of the places everyone else seems to be going.

I know I've written about how great a comedy club would be (and yes, I know Mickey's is doing Wednesday comedy starting next week, and I'm lamenting that Wednesday is the single toughest weeknight for me because of a Thursday morning brief). But that would still have to be all ages, or at least 18+ to accomodate college students, and that wouldn't fly for a bar.

Another idea I've heard is a pool hall. I remember doing that back in high school when there was, well, nothing else to do.

A movie theater seems even better, as it could literally attract ALL ages for various types of entertainment. Of course, the tricky part there is where the heck can you do it, and where the heck can you handle parking. A couple places come to mind, but they're, uh...spoken for already.

Probably the best idea is that of a mixed-use large art/music space modeled after Providence's AS 220 ( That could bring large numbers of young people from this and surrounding communities together, give them something constructive/creative to do, and get them (and their dollars!) into downtown eating establishments and other stores.

Now comes the part where I have to admit how much easier it is to talk about these types of things than to try to bring them to fruition, what with the risks that whatever entrepreneurs/sponsors would be taking.

In the meantime, I guess I'll use the blog to cheerlead other peoples' good ideas and see what else comes up at places like LDNA meetings and events like this. Last I heard, we might be on tap for an all-expenses paid trip overseas in Fiscal Year 2011, so with any luck I'll come back with enough money to possibly invest in someone else's great idea and actually help it off the ground.

Oh, and for the record, next Tuesday's talk at UML is going to be led by Victoria Fahlberg of One Lowell. It concerns Proportional Representation (PR) voting systems (like the one they have in Cambridge) and the way that helps give a voice to minority interest groups in a way that a first-nine-past-the-post system does not.

I'm sure there are many great points behind the argument for switching, but I think there might even be a more obvious and immediate solution to diversifying the field of the city's elected officials -- get more candidates of color to run.

Take a look around at your Governor and your President. Their victories should show you that old canards about white voters being unwilling to support candidates of color needs to go out the window. I'm sure that PR and districting come with their own sets of advantages, but I think back to my post about why my friend got elected to the Oregon State House (because he ran!) and honestly think things could change in 2009 if we see a ballot that includes more candidates of color.


Anne said...

Amen! Wish I could've been in two places at once!! Thanks for sharing your report and opinions! Every little bit helps!

The New Englander said...


Glad you liked it -- too bad I can't somehow make a living being a blogger! (and with the death of print journalism I think my other dream job -- freelance writer -- may be unattainable). Anyway this was a good session, hope you can make the next one..


Matt said...

Amazing you mentioned AS220 -- Andrea and I used to go there all the time when we were in Providence. It was a great place: not only a space for shows, music, performance, but also low cost studios for artists. It was disappointing to me how little NEA/arts funding increases there were in the stimulus, because AS220 shows that a little arts space/collective can really revitalize a downtown...

The New Englander said...


Thanks for throwing in the first-hand AS 220 testimonial..I'll stay tuned to how this thing develops with Audio Park and might try to hit you up for more specs on what made AS 220 so great..