Monday, February 15, 2010

A 'Little Cambodia' in the Lower Highlands?

The Globe ran this piece today about efforts to designate the area near Pailin Plaza as "Little Cambodia." There are several quotes from the City Manager and a variety of views about the merits behind the idea.

For what it's worth, I would say that the Pailin Plaza/Clemente Park area *already is*, for all intents and purposes, a "Little Cambodia." If a designation can put it on the map as such, why not? It might steer a few visitors towards the shops and restaurants who otherwise wouldn't have known to go there.

Marking an arched entrance or spiffying up some street signs wouldn't exactly turn that area into EPCOT Center.


kad barma said...

The very thing that drew me most to Lowell is how there is no little ANYTHING here--despite it being perhaps the most culturally diverse city in the Commonwealth, or maybe even the nation. (Check out the knots of high school kids as they spill out all over downtown in the afternoon, and try to find any that aren't mixed by almost every cultural yardstick you can think of). My concern would be to preserve the footprints of EVERYONE who has chosen this city for all that it is, and not put a sign on a spot that's been a bunch of little everythings before, and, hopefully, will continue to be again and again.

Renee said...

We get to live in a city where I go to the supermarket with two ladies, one a customer another a cashier, conversing in Greek and call over a bagger to know if they know his mother. We live in a city, where Mass is biligual, to serve the community and spelled out phonetically so English speaking people can follow along. We live in a city, where campaign meetings can even go biligual, to help those who first language is Khmer.

It's not a selling point, but rather just what it is. My complaint is seeing this as a consumer product. We're not here to be cute. I know I sound a bit bitter, always have, but I do see it as a potential problem. Tourism can be a part of the city, but it can not sustain itself without being soul being ripped out of it. It really has to be a secondary means of a city's identity.

You can see how new apartments are being marketed to a niche demographic in downtown...

'Urban playground' 'Yoga rooms' and don't forget the artists too. Sold as a cheap alternative to Boston and Cambridge, that's only 27 miles away.

If that's your cup of tea, it's a free country.


What we have now is a sense of cultural elitism that can easily make others marketed as primitives who don't engage in such high-brow activities. I want my way of life to be sustained independently, not reliant on selling myself out to observers, who probably think little of me to begin with.

The New Englander said...

Guys, thanks for adding those points. Looking at the comments, I can see the concern about balkanization and kitschy-ness (if that's a word). The only thing I want to emphasize is that there are a lot of ways you can do something like this, and some of them could be pretty subtle.

As one of the people quoted said, there are those signs as you're coming into the city that direct you towards Tsongas, Wannalancit Mills, the theater, etc. Maybe there could be some direction towards Pai-Lin Plaza, or whatever it'd be called.

There's a lot of room for middle ground.

Renee said...

Signage for the neighborhoods off the exits wouldn't be a bad idea in general.

In past experience I've had out of town visitors completely lost coming off the connector. The extended in-laws stopped in a Dunkin Donuts to call saying they were lost, it was hard to help considering we couldn't figure out which DD they were at. I would propose a large map of Lowell (outside enclosed) at each and everyone of Lowell's 14 Dunkin Donuts (Thank You Corey!) with a 'You are here'. Not everyone has GPS. That would help, so people won't get so frustrated.

The New Englander said...

..And I know that could be the lead-in to a joke about giving directions in Greater Boston (it's across from the Dunkin' Donuts, just past the package store...a block away from CVS). Seriously, using the different DDs as a landmark is not a bad idea. And each one in town has its own character and flavor..

But back to the signage and neighborhoods, there are so many ways you could do it. You could have a certain thing that marks your entrance into a neighborhood, street signs that mark the area as distinct in some way, etc. I agree with a lot of the concerns ESPECIALLY (as one commenter noted) if it's being done in a totally tone-deaf way towards the people who live in a place. Someone's resume bullet or their thesis project shouldn't come at the expense of someone else's auto body business.

All that said, I still believe designating a neighborhood a certain way could be done in a tasteful way that doesn't necessarily have to even carry the "Little ____" the North End in the Boston, which definitely doesn't exclude persons who aren't of Italian descent... at the end of the day, I just think there's a lot of 'room' on this one..