Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Patrick's Point -- Whither the Other Neighborhoods?

I caught most of tonight's Council meeting via Streaming Video. I had thought there was going to be more discussion about the move of retired city employees over to Medicare, but as far as heated back-and-forth went, the bigger topic tonight was performance-based budgeting, and whether other cities "doing it better" was a result of, or was caused by, their relative affluence.

Anyway, one point that stood out for me tonight was Patrick Murphy's questioning of the downtown focus of iShopLowell 2010. To be clear, he wasn't questioning the program itself, or the public money used (roughly $1500 total, said CM Lynch), but the focus. He seemed to be saying, "There's a lot more to Lowell than just one neighborhood, so why does an initiative like this seem to ignore the great shops and restaurants outside of downtown?"

As a downtowner with an admittedly downtown-centric cityview, it definitely gave me pause, because it's not something that had even occurred to me before. I had even seen people on Twitter wondering why such-and-such a restaurant wasn't involved with it, or with Great Plates, but nothing questioning the geographical focus of either program itself.

Everyone in the room seemed to acknowledge the point to some degree, and CM Lynch said he would take it back for consideration.

9 comments:

kad barma said...

We get screwed on the trash pickup, and, last time I checked, the Beer Works wasn't a downtown restaurant. They're spending huge bucks over in Centralville on that neighborhood thingy over there--why get stingy with $1500? (Though I don't see a problem with cutting a few more businesses in on the program).

The New Englander said...

Yup, that was his point...the $1500
wasn't an issue, and there wasn't anything saying the downtown doesn't pay for certain things disproportionately, etc.

The idea was just the same thing you wrote in your last sentence -- if the city is going to do a promtional campaign for city shops and restaurants, they ought to look beyond just the downtown..

Murph said...

Greg--Thanks for this post. It's dead-on. Patrick's point was about how this minor issue illustrates a larger one--a trend of marginalization of some of the other neighborhoods. Patrick had a previous motion and discussions with the city administration pushing for further outreach to the neighborhoods in current and future programs that aid in economic development and growth of an appropriate scale. The response back was something to the effect of "yeah, yeah we're doing that where possible." Clearly, there's a cognitive dissonance if what results from that urging is the continuance a downtown-centric approach.

To KB's point about getting screwed with the new trash system--Patrick made a motion about this in late January. In the case of his agitation as a whole, I think you'll see in his motions thus far, and over the course of his tenure, a motivation to address and correct wrongs in the city, regardless of where they manifest or whom they most directly affect.

Dan

The New Englander said...

And Dan, the "yeah, good point, we'll consider it" is sort of what the response was Tuesday night -- as if no one had thought of it or heard it before..I noticed that after CM Lynch said he'd look into it, refer it back, etc. the rejoinder from Patrick was that this had already been brought up, and apparently to no avail..

Corey said...

I've been feeling that the downtown focus is a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Again, I too live downtown, but would like to stay in Lowell once I outgrow my tiny little condo. Where will I move to? Patrick's frustration I think is real. South Lowell doesn't seem to be what it was when I spent a lot of time there as a kid 15 years ago (I was a Sacred Heart parishioner growing up).

Will a better downtown attract more concerned residents to Lowell's currently underrepresented neighborhoods? Or will better neighborhoods lead to more demand for a better downtown? Does this city have to be as Balkanized as it is?

The New Englander said...

Corey -- great questions. As to the balkanization, as I heard Patrick say recently, the roads in downtown go two ways...but as we both know, many people who complain about other people not going downtown wouldn't do the reverse.

The chicken-or-the-egg thing is a good point too. I am what Jack Mitchell calls a "grow-in." I was attracted to all the great things about Lowell back when I was looking for the right community to teach in (yes, that was Plan A for me) back in 2002-03. After a 5 year detour, I am here in downtown now, but like you will probably move out to another neighborhood eventually.

A condo downtown was a good logical starting place for me as a single person looking to put his stake in the ground, so to speak. And a lot of the downtown buildup made that an attractive, palatable option...now that I'm here to stay, and about to get married and (hopefully) start a family, I'll continue to pay taxes and be involved wherever else I wind up..

I just think the key is balance, and if it takes a Councilor bringing this stuff up in meetings to get people talking about it, that can only be a good thing overall.

By the way, I noticed this line from your site:
"I want to live in a place that has a strong sense of place, a respect for its history, and a great sense of Something Cool Is Happening Here."

I was just talking to someone last night who came here around the same time as I did...that line perfectly summarized our thought processes regarding the decision to move here..

Corey said...

"Corey -- great questions. As to the balkanization, as I heard Patrick say recently, the roads in downtown go two ways...but as we both know, many people who complain about other people not going downtown wouldn't do the reverse."

Oh, of course. Then again, there are two types of younger "new residents" downtown as far as I can tell: there are those of us that came to Lowell for Lowell, and those who came here cause somebody convinced them it was going to be the new South End and they were getting in on the ground floor of the next Greater Boston funky neighborhood investment. Those people are highly disappointed today I can imagine, and probably a lot less interested in the surivability of another generation of Lowell's neighborhoods - especially the inner ring around downtown. Then again, this Balkanization thing is not new. Lowell, like Boston, derives a lot of its charm from being a city of neighborhoods. Sticking to your own here is not new. It's just that us downtowners have the City Council sticking up for us a lot more than the other sections, where most people, especially those with deep roots and investments here, live. I mean, I love Cavaleiro's in Back Central, but I can almost see Friend's from my house. The Eggroll Cafe in Pawtucketville is significantly tasty, but I have multiple Asian restaurants in my own section of the city. I usually get my pizza from Broadway, but that's only because we don't have a better option in our own little section of town. At least for me, it has nothing to do with thinking those people on the other side of our little yuppie moats are the unwashed masses or anything.

"I just think the key is balance, and if it takes a Councilor bringing this stuff up in meetings to get people talking about it, that can only be a good thing overall."

Totally agree. There are a lot of very real problems plaguing huge sections of Lowell right now. But then again, it's not as if there aren't plans that have or will make huge improvements to some of the more struggling sections of Lowell. I would've much rather have had Target come to that eyesore called Central Plaza instead of the Highlands. There have been some nice rehabilitions in the Acre in the last few years.

There are some sizable national issues as well that affect us heavily. Lowell, in exchange for state funds, has become the dumping ground for concentrating poverty and the industries built around it for the entirety of Northern Middlesex. That's going to bring crime and disinvestment with it. Sure, a lot of that is natural due to the age and quality of the housing stock, but it's a little ridiculous to look at the average Lowellian versus the average Chelmsfordite, especially when you take into account how many of those low wage jobs (and their tax dollars) have left Lowell for the suburbs...yet those towns have provided no places where these people could afford to live. Lowell's daytime population loss is about 40,000. One of the largest cities in Massachusetts is a bedroom community. As the Highlands can attest to, they don't want things like Lowe's, whereas downtown, we could support and appreciate more businesses...if only we had the infrastructure...without destroying the city's character.

"By the way, I noticed this line from your site: "I want to live in a place that has a strong sense of place, a respect for its history, and a great sense of Something Cool Is Happening Here." I was just talking to someone last night who came here around the same time as I did...that line perfectly summarized our thought processes regarding the decision to move here.."

Glad I'm not alone there ;-) Of course I'm not - I firmly believe the reason Lowell is still on the map after all the crap we've been through is the determination of the residents, old and new.

Progressive Veterans said...

I've heard this discussion before, related to state tax $$ being disproportionally allocated to The Hub, arguably at the expense of that part of MA, west of Worcester; or as I like to call it, East NY.

It makes sense that the "cobble stoners" are looking to fullfill their dreams of "mills to martinis." And the downtown is the heart of the city.

That said, on balance, I'm with Murphy on this.

It will take several years to shift the status quo. We should start "talking the talk", so the walking will not be deferred in perpetuity.

-Jack Mitchell

Renee said...

Great post Corey, concerning Lowell being a bedroom community. My in-laws and my parents all worked in Lowell. 10 minute commute, while my in-laws were a public school teacher and UMass Lowell professor, my parents worked in private industry.

It's hard to work and calculate daycare/school with an hour commute or more with one's job some where off a suburban industrial park 25 miles away. A single relative currently living in Lowell, but works in Boston has no desire to commute and rather pay the price to move closer to work.

Sure I would like to have seen the Target in downtown also, it would of made a great retail anchor. I do hope Target can build up Industrial Ave though back to a good capacity for jobs, but I realize that may all be wishful thinking.