Sunday, March 30, 2014

Just the Answers, Nothing More

A UML student doing a research project about downtown just e-mailed me a '10 questions about downtown' survey.  I pasted in my answers below.  With most of the questions, you'll be able to figure out the question through context...with the rest, it's whatever you want it to be...your very own Rohrshach test.

1. I moved to downtown Lowell in March of 2008.  When I entered a teacher ed program back in 2002, I was initially planning to go into urban education as a History or Social Studies teacher.  I knew I didn't want Boston or Cambridge -- I knew I wouldn't be able to afford those places, and I felt they were already saturated with people like me.  I explored all the mid-sized cities outside Boston -- Worcester, Providence, and Lowell in particular -- and found that Lowell had the best mix of affordability and "up-and-coming-ness" [okay, I admit that's not a word].  I decided to move to Lowell and make that my place to put a stake in the ground...but then decided to join the active-duty military.  I joined the Navy in 2003, served on active duty for 5 years, and then finally made it back to the city that made such a big impression on me initially.

2. I always felt that once you walk up Merrimack St (towards UML), as soon as you pass the library, something changes.  You're not downtown anymore.  So I'd say that's a boundary.  But I'd also call the baseball stadium and the arena part of 'downtown.'  With Market St, it's literally a case of 'the other side of the tracks.'  I'd say once you cross the trolley tracks towards Salem St, that whole part of Market St is the Acre.  Going up Central/Gorham, I'd say that Bishop Markham is the dividing point between downtown and Back Central.

3.  Yes.  The beauty of the city really took me in.  I absolutely love the library, and I love City Hall (the building more than the politics, though).  When my parents come to town, we always take a pic by Page's Clock Tower (no relation).

4.  I'd say 200 Market St, because that encompasses Canal Place I, II, and III.  

5.  The big myth is the idea of the 'downtown yuppie.'  Ask people who actually live downtown -- lots of seniors on fixed incomes around here.  There are some yuppies, and they probably mostly live in my building (Canal Place I). Technically I'm one of them (young, urban, professional).  But the real dirty secret around downtown is that there aren't ENOUGH people spending disposable income in the businesses downtown.  We need more people like that here, and no one needs to be pushed out in order for that to happen.

6.  Single biggest thing is that there's no *draw* to really bring folks into the downtown, entertainment-wise.  A movie theater, bowling alley, or game-based place could do that.  The performing arts stuff is way too highbrow and expensive.  We're never going to solve the foot traffic problem just by exhorting people to come downtown -- they need a reason to be there in the first place, and then they can grab dinner or whatever else from the shops.

7.  Great question.  I'd follow up to #6 by saying I hope there's an entrepreneur who sees the possibility for an entertainment draw that appeals to regular people.  By that time, I will be long gone (hoping to make it out to the Upper Highlands in 2015 or 2016, before my daughter starts kindergarten).

8.  Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association.  It's a great group but sometimes just a forum for people to complain about noisy bars.  I'd say there's no neighborhood school that residents unify around; in fact, a lot of people don't refer to downtown as a 'neighborhood' -- they say 'downtown AND the neighborhoods.'  

9.  Kathleen Marcin -- no longer the LDNA leader but she still carries the informal respect/clout both inside and outside of the neighborhood.  Also, Franky Descoteaux.  A lot of downtowners were proud to have a downtowner city councilor and many admire her for being an entrepreneur. 

10. Brew'd Awakenings.  Pretty central spot for many downtown residents and appeals to lots of different people for different reasons.  Definitely the sort of place that downtowners would expect to bump into one another -- moreso than even a sitdown place like the Club Diner.