Friday, December 23, 2011

Lowell Cultural Resources Inventory

A crosspost from the Lowell Historical Society blog at http://www.lowellhistoricalsociety.org/blog/2011/12/23/lowell-cultural-resources-inventory/:


From Lowell Historical Society board member and Director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Lowell History Martha Mayo:
The first batch of Lowell Cultural Inventory Reports of Buildings in Downtown Lowell [369] are available on the UML Digital Commons site. They can be viewed here. They can be viewed here –http://digitalscholarship.uml.edu/cri.
Please share this effort was part of an Mass Bureau of Library Council Grant for digital preservation. Please share with others interested in Lowell History through email, blogs, facebook, and other social media.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Update on Lowell's Master Planning Process

I received the following email today from Allegra Williams, Lowell's Neighborhood Planner, today:
As a follow up to your participation in the Master Planning process this past Summer, we wanted to let you know that a Public Opinion Report (http://www.lowellma.gov/depts/dpd/master_plan/complete_masterplan/master-plan-update/reports) had been completed and was now available online. For those who are interested, the report provides an overview and analysis of the data that was collected through the telephone survey, visioning sessions, and online participatory planning tool. From here, you can also access the 2011 Existing Conditions Report, which provides a snapshot of Lowell today and highlights data trends over time.

For those who have not yet had a chance to view the award winning photographs from the Sustainability Snapshots Contest (http://www.lowellma.gov/depts/dpd/master_plan/complete_masterplan/master-plan-update/Sustainability_Snapshots), those are up on the website and will be showcased in the finalized Master Plan document.

Again, we truly appreciate your involvement throughout this planning process and we hope you will continue to work alongside us in shaping a vision for Lowell's future, as there will be opportunities to provide comment on a draft document in the coming months. We will continue to keep you apprised of our progress moving forward.

As always, feel free to be in touch with questions or concerns.
There are about 300 pages here total - I haven't finished reading over all of it myself, yet. I have finished reading the Public Opinion Report, and generally speaking, I didn't find any huge surprises. Some highlights from the Highlights section:
  • Slightly more than half of the survey participants (55%) rated Lowell highly as a place to live (8, 9 or 10 on a 10 point scale), and 75% rated Lowell a 7 or higher. Survey results in 2002 were nearly identical. On average, as the age of participants increased, so did the participants’ rating of the city. Caucasian and Latino residents rated the city more favorably than Africans, African-Americans, and Asians. Those earning between $30,000 and $74,999 rated the city better than residents with either lower or higher incomes. 
  • Understandably, given the recent reductions in State and Federal aid and consequent cuts to local government operations, there has been an increased importance placed on maintaining city services, as noted by survey participants. However, the simultaneously high prioritization of city services and property tax reduction poses a challenge for Lowell at a time when municipal resources are diminishing, as it is difficult to deliver public services of a high caliber without sufficient tax revenue, particularly as costs of service delivery continue to increase. 
The last point worries me a bit. Following last week's announcement in The Sun that the council voted to shift as much of the tax burden from the Residential to Business sector as state law allows, and in a city with a comparatively low tax rate, I do wonder how we are supposed to maintain services, attract businesses, and keep taxes low. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. Do that many people really feel they're overtaxed and don't get what they pay for? This isn't simply about income, because households making over $100k a year were actually the most likely to complain property taxes were too high. These people would be paying considerably more in the suburbs...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Looking for writers and photographers for blog.culturehive.com

Getting the word out for a friend at culturehive.com. I'm also adding blog.culturehive.com to my blogroll:
Are you a creative person looking for more publicity? If so,
recommend someone as a contributor to blog.culturehive.com. Are you a
supporter of the creative community? Then, contribute to
blog.culturehive.com
culturehive.com is a site about bringing together creative people and
their supporters. That’s why culturehive.com has just launched
blog.culturehive.com - to do just that. 
culturehive.com is looking to bring together writers and photographers
to contribute to blog.culturehive.com. Writers will contribute
articles about events in the Lowell/Boston area, profiles on
interesting people and other topics which relate to the cultural
scene. Photographers will contribute photos of events in the area,
take photos to support writers’ articles and photograph creative and
cultural scenes. Contributors can choose to cover a topic from a list
of suggested topics or feel free to submit content based on original
ideas. 
Contributors of accepted articles or photos will be paid $5 per post
in which the content is used to cover expenses incurred while creating
the content. 
If you or someone you know are interested in being a content
contributor, please email justin@culturehive.com.

Friday, December 9, 2011

WCAP and Salvation Army Radiothon



On this Saturday Morning, December 10th, WCAP will be holding a Radiothon to benefit the Salvation Army. If you would like to participate, please call 978-454-4980 to make a donation. LTC channel 8 will be broadcasting and live streaming the items available for people to call and make a bid. http://ltc.org/content/ltc-8.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Downtown fire - 1904

Thanks for Lowell Firefighting and Michelle for linking to this excellent post on a fire at
the O’Donnell and Gilbride Department Store one January night over 100 years ago:


It appears that Forgotten New England is doing a series of posts on fires here in Lowell.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jevons Paradox

I post with some frequency about Peak Oil, walkable neighborhoods, etc. However, I'm living in a contradiction because I drive a car that averages in the low 20 MPGs for fuel efficiency. I also drive a fairly typical 15,000 miles a year or so. Not exactly eco-friendly.

One point I like to bring up when justifying this to myself is the concept of the Jevons Paradox, or the Jevons Effect. Deferring to Wikipedia:
In economics, the Jevons paradox (sometimes Jevons effect) is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.
The idea is fairly simple: let's assume we can bring coal to the market for $1/lb. We can use that coal to make $2 worth of widgets. Now, let's say we can use that same amount of coal sold at the same price, through technological advancement, to produce $4 worth of widgets instead. Assuming the demand for the widgets is there at that price, we haven't actually used any less coal. In fact, profits are now way up. We might even want to buy even more coal for a higher cost (if we need so much it can no longer be sold as low as $1/lb) to make yet more widgets. On the other hand, maybe we start producing widgets for the discount market worth $1 per pound of coal, which would've been unprofitable with our older, inefficient system. We just created a whole new market segment that didn't exist before! Either way, we are using more coal than we used before the improvements, and we've enlarged the total size of the economy.

Of course, not everyone thinks this is sound economics and I would tend to agree that it's probably too simplistic to be a general law for a variety of reasons. It's still an interesting concept. To my original point about cars, you can argue that people will only drive a certain number of miles a year because of the cost of gas. In this case, I think it's fair to say that if fuel economy goes up, people will drive somewhat more. I don't think it's fair to say somebody changing to a more efficient car is going to strive to keep their gas budget the same by driving more. If it was that simple, we could mandate 1970s Cadillacs for all to control sprawl.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Downtown Summit Presentation

Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling well during the Downtown Summit last week and missed most of the presentation and all of the breakout groups. However, the slides are available here:

http://www.lowell.org/Pages/DowntownSummit.aspx

Dick Howe wrote at a bit more length here:

http://www.richardhowe.com/2011/11/17/city-of-lowell-downtown-summit/

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Neighborhood Innovation Grant Program

What could your neighborhood do for itself with $1,500?

DPD  is looking for grant applicants in neighborhoods that meet certain income criteria (and it looks like Downtown, where I live, does!). I'm going to give this some thought, seems like a great idea.

Lowell’s residents and neighborhoods are some of the city’s greatest assets. The Lowell Neighborhood Innovation Grant Program, administered by the Department of Planning and Development, provides small-scale funds of up to $1,500 per project to help resident and community leaders improve the quality of life in the places where they live and work.
Full details here:

http://www.lowellma.gov/depts/dpd/services/planning/neighborhoodinnovationgrant

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lowell wins "Leading by Example" award

On a roll with posts tonight! That's ok I guess because I haven't posted much at all in the last month or two.

I came across this item while cleaning out my inbox and thought it was interesting:
The City of Lowell was one of four municipalities recognized by Governor Deval Patrick’s 5th Annual “Leading by Example Program” for successfully reducing energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and taking other steps to improve overall environmental quality at public facilities at a ceremony at the State House on Wednesday.
Full article here:

http://lowellma.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/city-of-lowell-garners-recognition-for-leading-by-example/

Is This What Happened to Cities?

Back in August in did a post on the historical populations of cities in Massachusetts. The data showed that after World War II, cities in the Commonwealth faced heavy declines in population as people moved to the new automobile suburbs. Last December I had done a few posts on the future - and past - of the "Gateway Cities" in the state. That is, Massachusetts' traditional manufacturing cities that still take in a large proportion of our immigrant population. The articles linked, in addition to discussing the effects of the automobile, also talked about public policy that has hurt our cities.

Tonight, I was reading up on Alaska as I have a friend who might be moving there soon. Anchorage contains 40% of the population of the state, which is the second most-concentrated population in America. What is number one? New York City. 42% of the people in New York State live in New York City. At one point, this number was over 50%! For comparison, Boston has never contained over 20% of Bay Staters, and today, contains under 10%.

In a democracy, and one where governments allocate funds and other resources based on what will get them the most votes, there must be political consequences to figures like these. It would stand that only in a state with a large urban population, are urban issues foremost in people's minds, and governments. While even New York City, (population eight million), had a few bad decades, losing the equivalent of the populations of eight Lowells just between 1970 and 1980 for example, its continued success stands in stark contrast to basically every other city in the Empire State and certainly against many cities in our state. There have been discussions for many, many years of splitting New York into two states for this reason. When 40% of your citizens care largely about what happens in one tiny area, how would you allocate resources? Add in the NYC commuter suburbs, and if I lived in very much struggling Buffalo, I'd feel I wasn't being heard, too.

How bad is the situation in Massachusetts? I made this graph off of the populations of all the cities in my August post, and took them as a percentage of the population of the entire state at the time. While this is clearly not *every* urban area in the state, and contains a few suburban areas that happen to be in incorporated cities as well, I would guess a more carefully constructed graph would look similar:

Click for a larger version
As you can see, from the first U.S. Government census up until 1890, urban population grew rapidly, especially as the Industrial Revolution got underway. I would guess streetcars were responsible for the modest drop from 1890 to 1930. The sharp decline really begins in 1950, and the automobile and related policies can be blamed there. Note the drop accelerated again in the past 10 years. Is this a sign of the current (horribly burst) housing bubble?

It gets worse: there is certainly a chicken-and-the-egg question about if people fled cities because suburbs were intrinsically much more attractive, or if broad policies and subsequent financial and communal disinvestment made cities bad enough to make suburbs more attractive. Either way, it's certainly a feedback loop at this point and has been for a long time.

Combine the snob-zoning regulations in many home-rule Massachusetts suburbs (that still like to think they're quaint, rural, New England towns) with the low education levels and financial resources our policies have concentrated in our urban municipalities, and the 25% of potential urban votes we still carry are worth even less than their gross numbers would imply. Don't forget: poorer, less educated people tend to vote less and contribute less to campaigns as well.

The end result is policies that continue to reinforce the patterns we've been seeing for the past 50+ years. In a period of energy uncertainty, an aging population, shrinking family sizes, growing financial disparities, etc, etc, etc, are we wise to continue to turn our backs on sustainable, denser, more integrated, lower-energy communities? Are our politicians failing to support cities because that's what is best for everyone in the long term and what people truly want, or ... is it all about a vicious cycle of votes and money?

This is clearly a very non-scientific post, but something to think about...

Downtown Summit this Wednesday

This Wednesday, the city is hosting a Downtown Summit at the Auditorium from 8-10 AM this Wednesday, November 16th. I plan to go, but I need to get myself out of bed that early first!

The description of the event is:
Please join the city for the Downtown Summit. This will be an open discussion between city officials and downtown residents, business owners, employees, and commercial property owners. It is open to the general public.
The event is free, but registration is required in event. Go here to sign up, and see you there!

http://downtownsummit.eventbrite.com/

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Press Release: City of Lowell, Partnership to End Homelessness


Homelessness in Lowell is a serious and visible problem. The following press release is regarding a conference, the fifth in a series, that aims to address the challenges the homeless face. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Linda King         
Title: Community Development Specialist
Phone: 978-674-4252
Email: lking@lowellma.gov

City of Lowell, Partnership to End Homelessness
Keys to Ending Homelessness Conference Series - Conference 5: Criminal Justice Reentry Strategies
October 28, 2011 – Holiday Inn, Tewksbury, MA

Lowell, MA, October 28, 2011— The City of Lowell will hold the fifth conference of its Keys to Ending Homeless Conference Series on October 28, 2011 from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm at the Holiday Inn in Tewksbury, MA.  

Conference 5: Criminal Justice Reentry Strategies is being held in partnership with the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, Lowell Police Department, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance and the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Foundation. The MA Department of Corrections and the Hampden, Norfolk and Suffolk County Sheriffs' Offices are also participating.  Philip Mangano, President and CEO of the American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness and the former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is the keynote speaker.

Background:
The City of Lowell's Keys to Ending Homelessness Conference Series is a product of the City's Partnership for Change Initiative to End Homelessness in 10 Years.  Partners for the Series have included University of Massachusetts Lowell, U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development, MA Departments of Housing and Community Development and Public Health, U.S. Social Security Administration, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, MA Executive Office of Community Colleges, Paul and Phyllis Fireman Foundation and many others. 

Its mission is to engage the community, partners, homeless housing and services managers and front-line staff in a discussion of innovative programs and key funding opportunities that may be available to address homelessness; provide overviews of comprehensive local and national strategies, and offer workshops and follow-up onsite training programs for local agencies on the issues discussed at each of the 8 conferences.  

Conferences in the Series include: Social Security, October 2009;  Education, Employment & Business Incentives, March 2010; Housing, June 2010; Behavioral Health & Trauma Informed Care, October 2010; Criminal Justice October 28, 2011;  Seniors, Veterans and Food Security (2012 TBD)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saints to be acquired by LGH

Saint's plan to be acquired by Steward is dead - they are now (again) looking at being bought by Lowell General Hospital.

This is great news from my point of view. Keeping Lowell institutions run locally is something we should work towards. If we are to remain a separate and proud entity from Boston or wherever, we need things like this to happen. In a day and age where healthcare is a big part of our economy, this is huge.

See Marie Sweeney's take for more, and the Lowell Sun from there:

http://www.richardhowe.com/2011/10/06/a-shocker-saints-medical-center-agrees-to-lowell-general-acquisition/

Sunday, September 25, 2011

University Ave Bridge

I've known for years that the University Ave Bridge is coming down. In fact, I wrote about it when I started this bloggy thing back in 2006. I also knew the replacement bridge would be built at the foot of Merrimack Street, taking a few buildings with it.

I didn't know that demolition happened yesterday. I'm a good week behind on the local news!

I learnt about that from Michelle, who also linked to an excellent article about the CMAC building that was one of two structures demolished for this.

As for the current bridge, I've photographed the underside of it in the past, and, well, we all know it is in really rough shape. To the point that it's not safe for cars anymore. Besides, the bizarre double-light intersection it creates at Pawtucket St to the jog at Merrimack Street (being that its original route down Moody St is now a dead end) is not good for cars. A direct connection to Merrimack Street, our main street, and becoming even more important now that UML owns the old St. Joseph's Hospital (now University Crossing) is desirable. Let's put a light at the foot of Fletcher Street - the most direct route to the interstates - while we're at it. With the current configuration, three lights for three T-intersections in a row would be plain crazy. But a T and a four-way? Let's do it!

This leaves one question: what to do with the old bridge? Many Lowellians want to save "Kerouac's Bridge" ... I don't. To understand why, we need to look at the preservation movement as a whole: The goal should be to preserve the character of an area, and preserve the history. Lowell, it has often been said, does pretty well for itself because it cares about local history. However, Lowell is a still-functioning city of over 100,000 residents - it is not a museum. History is made here every day. Things change. Would the loss of this fairly ordinary bridge, with a one paragraph tie to a writer, no matter how great he was, really, truly change the character of Lowell for the worse? Would that outweigh the potential gains we could have by not keeping two bridges there? Can the money we'd be spending to maintain both give us a better single bridge?

I feel that the Lowellian fear of demolition has far more to do with the way we've "renewed" our city in the past, be it individual buildings, or entire neighborhoods. It's been the exception rather than the rule that we've put up something as distinguished as what we tore down...never mind something that was truly an improvement. I read a great piece on the Greek Acre demolition today. Nobody looks kindly on that. Maybe if we hadn't torn down those old flats and there had been large, fatal fires...we'd feel differently. But still, what was built there instead wasn't just safer: it robbed a neighborhood of its feel and its character. Right idea...horrible execution. The city lost something quite tangible. Conversely, nobody would say the new Jeanne D'arc headquarters isn't an improvement over what was there before...that being the charred remnants of an ancient textile mill. And, in that case, we did save the historic turbine pits underneath the new building...like something excavated in ancient Rome.

I guess my overall rule is: if it's going to be a parking lot, or a boulevard, or some So Cal style suburban development...no. If there's a chance for us to improve the built environment in Lowell for future generations, at the expense of something that is no longer working for the modern city...let it go. There are even a few buildings right downtown that I wouldn't weep about if they were replaced with something truly better.

Keeping both bridges would create a very strange, massive-expanse-of-pavement intersection at the University end. Having both bridges would certainly prevent us from building any sort of park, or buildings to replace the ones we just tore down, where the old bridge was. It would also destroy the view from either bridge to the rapids below - because you'd now be looking at just another bridge a few feet away. A bridge that's not too visually captivating at that! Just look at what the temporary Tyngsboro Bridge has done to the feel of the paved-over remnants of Tyngsboro Center.

Instead, let's build something impressive, and built to last. This, after-all, is supposed to be the Textile Memorial Bridge. I've always said, if I do something truly awful in my life, name an overpass after me or something equally mundane. The current University Ave Bridge is frankly, quite dull. Especially given the amount of pedestrian traffic over it the University is generating, with more to come, we should make it a pleasant and informative walk. Where is the information on who or what it is a memorial to?!

We have a chance to maybe put aside a piece of the modular old bridge on dry land as some sort of monument to Kerouac if we so choose, or some other art installation purpose...or maybe put part of it over a brook or something. The underside of it is kinda cool. The new bridge could have an impressive superstructure and broad sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides. I'm thinking something like the beautiful lampposts on the French King Bridge and/or the interesting carvings on the Calvin Coolidge Bridge - both Massachusetts bridges from the Depression over the Connecticut River. We could have plaques at different lengths along it talking about the history of the University, that being the North Campus, as Lowell Textile Institute. We could talk about Pawtucketville, and Little Canada...and why French-Canadian Kerouac was there to see that man with the watermelon in the first place.

We can't - and shouldn't try - to save everything. Sometimes, doing so can get in the way of us moving forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where do we go from here?

Things are not OK in the world right now.

The economy is in shambles. Governments at all levels are cutting back services. Vast numbers of people are out of work, and industries are dying. Energy prices are rising; investments and retirements are going sour. Credit is hard to come by. The income gap is widening and the population is aging rapidly. The housing market collapse is causing people to lose their homes, or preventing them from selling, and speculative development is at a near-halt. Young people are graduating college - the price of which is rising far faster than any inflation we might be seeing - with crippling loan debt and poor job prospects. There are major concerns about the environment.

And these are national or even international problems. What does a small "Gateway City" like Lowell, where many people are socioeconomically quite vulnerable, do to keep moving forward?

I've been meeting up with quite a few people over the past few months, trading ideas and identifying problems here at home. How do these huge questions affect our small corner of the world? I've been asked a few times, "what is it I think we should do"?

Well...I don't know. Too open-ended; that's not how I think. I read a book, Being Geek, about a year ago, which is subtitled "The Software Developer's Career Handbook". While it's a trove of interesting anecdotes and all-around good ideas, one section stuck with me: Engineers love puzzles and games. They'll go after a challenge when they understand the rules - that is, when they can define a space around a problem. So, before I can offer any Big Ideas on how to keep the momentum here in Lowell going, I need to understand the problem. It's been said that cities are the most complex machines man builds, and I'd tend to agree.

So, let's break it down:

Good:

  • There has been a lot of momentum with residential and retail development downtown. Even today, new places to live and new retail/restaurant establishments are opening with reasonable regularity.
  • Today's youth is more environmentally conscious and interested in urban areas than at any time in decades.
  • We have a University and a Community College looking to expand, especially in directions that seem to be part of the "New Economy".
  • We have a huge chunk of the regional cultural institutions, and quite a few people who are part of the related (but larger than just arts) "Creative Economy".
  • Lowell's classical strength in well-connected, concerned, and engaged residents is still there. Our strong neighborhoods are reasonably stable.
Bad:
  • Demographically, we're in a position where economic challenges will be strongly felt. Foreclosure, unemployment, crime, etc are bigger concerns here than in many suburban communities.
  • Our educational system has a lot of room for improvement. Again, this is a demographic-based reality. However, a major reason for people to move to a community is the quality of the school system.
  • What is the New Economy, and what will it mean in a time of prolonged economic retraction? Lowell's traditional manufacturing base is still long gone. I would argue the service and retail industries are not good bets right now. Large, private industries in Lowell are not nearly as common as they once were.
  • We lose a lot of our best and brightest to the cultural and employment magnet that is Boston, or places outside of New England that often have a much lower cost of living.
  • Even after decades of investment and re-invigoration, we still have a stigma to overcome in the eyes of many.
Well, that's ten bullets. It'd be fairly trivial to come up with quite a few more or subdivide and elaborate on these. That doesn't answer the fundamental question: what does it mean and how do we act?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tanner Street Urban Renewal

The City Manager's blog put up a post about the planning process for Tanner Street today. This is a great opportunity to increase our share of the regional (automotive-based) economy while leaving much of the "old" Lowell intact:

http://lowellma.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/urban-renewal-next-stop-tanner-street/

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene's Aftermath

As I had mentioned the predictions were yesterday in my last post, Irene came through as a tropical storm and not a hurricane. A few trees are down around town, and my ceiling collapsed a bit from water damage due to a bad window seal. Power stayed on. All-in-all, more or less what I've been expecting to happen since yesterday. Here are some pictures of a tree down on Market Street. I had just been thinking, were these planted in the 1980s? How big were they then? Sad either way. Green is good. Shade is good.

2011-08-28

I watch almost no TV, so I didn't catch too many of the incessant discussions about this storm. I watched the weather maps online and read the direct National Weather Service bulletins. Facts and spin are different. Part of me, like many people, is a bit angry at the media for blowing this up so big. While it's pretty hard to over-prepare, I bet a lot of people are feeling kind of silly right now, hence the anger.

The other part of me says that although it was rapidly becoming clear this was not going to be the storm of the century, trees are down, power lines are down, water isn't running for people, and at least one person in Connecticut is dead. Is simply saying: "Bring your stuff inside, stay safe in your home, have food and water for your family for a day or so, and stay away from any downed lines if you must go out" scary enough to get your average American to not harm themselves? Considering people are dead in Virginia from deciding to go swimming...and it was a much larger storm down there...I'm not so sure. Here in New England, we know what to do about a Nor-Easter, we are much less used to hurricanes.

The other part I wonder about is how do you convey different messages to different people in an era of global media? I live in a massive brick building that survived the '38 hurricane, Carol, Gloria, and Bob. There is nothing nearby not made of brick to come flying through my windows. Irene was going to be a relative breeze no matter what (no pun intended), after the predictions changed through Friday and Saturday morning. If I lived in Rhode Island near the coast, or way up in the woods somewhere, I would've taken "Tropical Storm Warning" very, very differently.

As it stands, there was a Nor-Easter in April 2007 - the last time it rained sideways -which blew water in through my window seals. Therefore, I was prepared to handle that today. The Weather Channel isn't going to inform you about that stupid, localized risk, due to the construction of this building and the wind tunnel caused by the ones around it. On the other hand, if downtown Lowell is without electricity for more than a few hours and nobody can get in and out to somewhere that does have electricity...something really, really bad happened. I just don't have the same set of concerns that the media is screaming at us to have. Yet, people left cars parked under trees around here, and now they're crushed. You'll never get everybody to react appropriately.

Mainstream media aside, how has social media changed how we look at this? Does a few people freaking out - often appropriately - cause everybody to freak out - sometimes illogically? Do circulating half-truths online spur the mainstream media to quicken the drumbeat to continue whipping people into a frenzy? While it was interesting to watch - in real time - my friends up and down the Atlantic coast post how the storm was treating them (and in the age of smart phones that don't need electricity to post to Facebook, that's pretty incredible), it was also interesting to watch arguments begin over how people were reacting to the storm...and bizarrely, splitting down political lines.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene

We all know we're getting a hurricane this weekend. My first reaction was "what do I care, I live in a sturdy building with nothing nearby that could fall on me." Then, I remembered the stories of the Hurricane of '38, which killed hundreds of New Englanders.

While most deaths were in Rhode Island, nearly 100 died in Massachusetts. The Merrimack River at Lowell suffered one of its worst floods in history - worse than 2006 or 2007. The storm passed over on September 21st, with the Merrimack cresting on the 23rd. At the time however, something protected the center of the city (where I live) from the flooding: The Francis Gate.

According to http://www.nps.gov/lowe/historyculture/upload/JB%20Francis_%20Lowell%20Notes.pdf
Eighty-four years after the gate first plunged it was dropped again in the year 1936. The gate remained down in the canal for fourteen years before being raised again in 1950. During this time the gate protected the city during the flood of 1936 and the hurricane of 1938.
The gate is currently not down.

To be fair however, the '38 Hurricane was a Category 3 whereas Irene is supposed to be a 2. This is sounding a bit more like Hurricane Bob, which didn't even make the top 58 flood events for Lowell.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Letters of Note

Back in June I decided to give a full page of text in longhand a go. Today, I stumbled upon a blog via Facebook that is composed of letters to and from famous people. It's really cool - check it out!

http://www.lettersofnote.com

Friday, August 19, 2011

Historical Populations of Massachusetts Cities

I was discussing with someone recently the rankings in population of various cities in Massachusetts. This is fun for me. I recalled that a few years ago, when Lowell fell behind Cambridge for a bit, I had graphed the populations of the top 10 cities in the state, and a few other interesting ones (the data came from Wikipedia, which took it from the US Census). Having not kept the graph, I decided to recreate it. I actually needed two, because Massachusetts has a few different classes of city sizes and I don't know how to play with axes in Excel well enough to get them all on one graph. Besides, the second one is ridiculously crowded as it is:



The first graph is on a scale Boston can dominate. It was, at its peak, a magnitude larger than many of the other cities in the top 10, so it requires a separate scale. Starting at the first US Census in 1790, this graphs the population of Boston against Worcester and Springfield, then starting with its first appearance in the Census in 1830 (founded 1826), is Lowell.

Lowell spent from almost its founding until the Civil War as the second city in Massachusetts, but by a small margin. However, starting around 1870, the second wave of industrialization in Massachusetts, that tied to coal as an industrial fuel and industries outside of textiles, quickly eclipsed Lowell. In fact, Lowell ceased growing by 1920 and has had an essentially stagnant population ever since.

Worcester and Springfield - both physically large regional cities (Central and Western Massachusetts respectively) with diverse economies - were essentially lockstep in growth, although slowing in 1920, until after World War II. At that point, their populations drop a little, with Worcester's beginning to reverse the trend about 1980.

Boston hit a population stagnation around 1920 as well, followed by a dive after World War II and a resurgence in the 1980s.

The post World War II decline seen in the three largest cities is likely due to deindustrialization, urban strife, and the automobile. The resurgence in Worcester, Boston, and to an extent Lowell, is timed with the Massachusetts Miracle. Lowell's early stagnation is a clear byproduct of it being essentially a single-industry, company town. Had Lowell's borders contained only the built-on areas in 1920, and the introduction of the interstates hadn't made it convenient to other industries out of town, it would be a much smaller city today. This is probably true of Worcester and Springfield as well, whereas I would bet (but don't know for sure) that highly urbanized Boston didn't have any more land to allow suburbanization in.



Again, I apologize for how busy this graph is! It begins with Lowell, ranks the next largest cities in the top 10 (Cambridge, New Bedford, Brockton, Quincy, Lynn, Fall River), and then adds in Lawrence, Haverhill, Salem, Fitchburg, and Holyoke for some perspective.

Little Salem is included because until the dawn of the industrial era, Salem's maritime industry made it Massachusetts' second city. In fact, it was the second municipality in the state granted a city charter in 1835, about a decade after Boston, and mere months before Lowell's explosive growth granted it the third city charter in the state. However, while Salem was a boom town itself, the shallowness of its harbor reduced its rate of population growth early. While it eventually diversified its economy and continued growing, the same industrial slowdown that hit every other city in the state right before the depression froze its growth rate again. Its location probably saved it from deep decline.

Holyoke and Lawrence are the next logical grouping of cities here. Like Lowell, they are first-generation textile cities, beginning explosive growth rates shortly after their foundings around 1845. Their growth rates match Lowell until 1920, when they both experienced stagnation and deep decline after World War II, like the cities in graph one. There is a brighter spot for Lawrence, as part of that decline was reversed, again, around 1980, probably due to the same Massachusetts Miracle that saved the rest. Holyoke, much, much further from Boston than Lawrence, even with an abundance of open land Lawrence has never had, never recovered.

The third grouping is Fall River, New Bedford, and Lynn. All three are coastal cities with traditional maritime economies, especially ancient New Bedford. However, the strong textile economy after the Civil War and these cities' location on deep water, made coal-powered factories extremely attractive, after the absence of the rivers driving growth in the grouping above stopped being a retardant. Both New Bedford and Fall River passed Lowell in size by 1920 (being physically larger and more successful), but their distance from Boston (about as far as Worcester is), as we've seen repeatedly, could not reverse the post-war population declines. Lynn was not as unlucky: it actually very closely resembles Lawrence. This is sort of expected with its heavy industrial history, but for some reason, perhaps proximity to Boston, never quite was hit as hard. In fact, during the "dark" years for Lowell, Lynn actually had slightly more people.

Cambridge and Quincy are all very close to Boston and should be the next group. Being commuter suburbs of Boston well before the automobile, they are sort of an odd-man out grouping here, perhaps more resembling Newton and Somerville, which would be in the top 15 cities. Cambridge is very close to downtown Boston, and therefore was almost always a fairly large community. Mid 19th-century urban expansion and the streetcar made it urbanize quickly. The same post-war trends we saw in all cities is here as well. Quincy is a little further out, and its growth seems to have happened after 1900, with the same growth drivers as Cambridge, but on a smaller scale. It too saw a post-war slowdown.

Brockton and Haverhill form a group as they are both very physically large cities without good rivers for power, but are reasonably close to Boston. Both have history in the shoe-making industry, which held on longer than textiles (I believe this was Lynn as well...). Brockton, it is obvious is much closer to Boston, as after the standard 1920s slowdown, grew by an atypically large amount after World War II. In exchange, Haverhill's old history as being located on a navigable part of the Merrimack for early ships, was (hard to see at this scale) but a large town very early on, beginning its industrial growth around the Civil War, a few decades before Brockton.

That leaves Fitchburg. I actually expected Fitchburg to resemble Holyoke due to its distance from large cities and poor location in general, but instead we see late 19th-century industrial growth, and the typical stagnation without a drop. It is also geographically large. Perhaps the location isn't as bad as I'd like to think!

There are a couple of easy trends I've mentioned repeatedly: The oceanside cities grew first. Then the powerful river cities, then the coal-based cities. Growth stopped abruptly right around 1920, beating the Great Depression by 10 years (a relation would be nice). Nothing much good happened during the Depression or World War II. After World War II the dense industrial cities suffered tremendously, whereas the commutable-to-Boston group saw a resurgence with the Massachusetts Miracle. Of course, I'm basing all of this off of a single demographic trend. It would be interesting to get income and population age in here as well, but I'm not up for that.

Well, I hope that was fun!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Oil Drum

When researching my last post on the Bakken Formation, I pulled some information from The Oil Drum (http://www.theoildrum.com). According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oil_Drum),

The Oil Drum is a web-based, interactive energy, peak oil and sustainability think tank and community devoted to the discussion of energy issues and their impact on society.

It then goes on to say British band Radiohead are a fan, so why not follow it as well?

I've been reading off and on for a few years, and today's article, about the potential consequences of trying to run an economy based on endless growth in a finite world, was a good one: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8268. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Bakken Formation

There was a letter to the editor to The Sun on Saturday that essentially reproduced a chain letter that has been going around for a few years, discussing how the US Government is working to leave us dependent on foreign oil when we are just sitting on trillions of barrels of oil. This isn't exactly true so I couldn't let it lay. However, since they really want letters to be under 250 words and mine hit 500, I'll post it here as well:

An August 6th letter to the editor asked why, on the basis of an article in Forbes, the US is not exploiting oil in the Bakken Formation for $16 a barrel. Unfortunately, no such Forbes article exists – its origin is a chain letter (http://www.snopes.com/politics/gasoline/bakken.asp). Like many email chains, this one is only partially true.
The Bakken and the Green River formations are real, and they hold an incredible amount of fossil fuel. The first factual error is that what we actually have in these places is not what you’d call oil, but oil shale. This is rock that will generate less than a barrel of oil per ton of rock. Like the Canadian Oil Sands, it is very difficult to extract and refine, and it is located in a remote area. It takes an incredible amount of water, infrastructure, and heat to produce. This heat must come from other non-renewables like natural gas. Furthermore, the 500 billion barrels cited is oil shale in place. This is different from technically recoverable oil (oil we can get at any cost) and oil that can be recovered at a reasonable price.  According to a 2008 USGS report (http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=1911), fewer than 4 billion barrels of that oil is even technically recoverable.
Since the US uses 20 million barrels of oil each day, we would use all the oil in the Bakken in under a year, if we could produce it that fast. While the Green River formation is in fact orders of magnitude larger (800 billion barrels of recoverable oil, or 100 years’ worth), not even the most optimistic reports (http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG414.pdf) suggest that we could be covering even a quarter of our today’s energy demands from this source within 30 years, and not for less than $30/barrel, and likely more. Unlike the Bakken, no commercial exploration of these fields has taken place, so there are quite a few unknowns.
Essentially, shale oil is not a magic bullet. We have known about these oil formations for decades, and they weren’t considered economically worth looking at until now. The fact remains that oil is getting harder to find and refine every year as more of the “easy” oil runs dry. Yet, world oil demand, especially in China and India, keeps growing. Eventually, the cost of oil will become prohibitive and demand will reverse and begin to fall. This is Peak Oil, and it will take the world economy down with it as modern life depends on huge quantities of energy.
The real question should be not why aren’t we developing our domestic oil sources – because we should be and are – but what can we do as a nation to reduce our demand while still maintaining a high standard of living? In Europe, where gas prices are much higher than here, people are much more reliant on mass transit. Perhaps instead of driving a private electric car from Chelmsford to Cambridge for work, one should be able to take transit from Chelmsford to new commercial developments in Lowell, or mixed-use village centers in Chelmsford.

Monday, August 8, 2011

You Know You're From Lowell When...

Over the past week or so, the changes in Facebook Groups has caused a flurry of activity in an old group "You Know You're From Lowell When..." There is a wonderful series of photos here, old postcards, etc. You might even recognize many of the photos from another site ;-) Check it out!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/242361685323/

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Life at 3.5 MPH

I did something I've wanted to do for a while on Saturday: I walked from my house in downtown Lowell to my family's house on the far end of Tyngsboro. Considering I've done the 20-mile Walk for Hunger a few times, this 10 mile "suburban hike" was a time sink without too clear of a purpose, but not a particularly challenging exercise physically. I had also considered walking to Lowell from Boston one day to mimic the path of Lowell's original Irish canal workers, but that'll have to wait...until likely never.

It took me about three hours and 15 minutes on a fairly good day weather wise, and I only stopped to sit down once for lunch (and another stop for coffee to go of course!) I figure then I actually walked for 2 hours and 45 minutes, or, I made a bit better than 3.5 MPH on average. Google's walking directions seem to estimate time based on a pace of 3 MPH, so, it is true: us New Englanders walk fast!

However, I did it, aside from "just because", because I wanted to look at a few things. Primarily, I wanted to see how safe the route was on foot, how bikeable it'd be (I just got a bike!), and how many of these places I'd never been on foot looked at 1/10 the normal speed. I also wanted to check out the time/space compression caused by the automobile: how far apart are things *really*?

Jump...

Friday, August 5, 2011

ComeToLowell.com

George DeLuca used to have a blog at ComeToLowell.com which has since been cancelled. However, it remains an excellent source for information otherwise. Recently, I caught up on his WCAP segments "The Lowell Connection", which are, fantastically, available on his site at http://www.cometolowell.com/980WCAP.htm. I haven't listened to WCAP since my dad co-hosted The Computer Report back in the 1990s!

One great bit of information I learnt from these segments is that the train from New Hampshire to Lowell is planned to continue to Boston, express. It's possible that that ride might take what, 30 minutes?

Update 9/13: The blog is back! http://cometolowell.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Master Plan Update Vision Sessions and a crazy idea...

First off, if you've been missing the Vision Sessions at the Senior Center, you're missing out on a great opportunity to help shape Lowell's Master Plan. Details are here: (http://www.lowellma.gov/depts/dpd/master_plan/complete_masterplan/master-plan-update/Meetings). Don't miss that the past presentations are posted, along with images of how the community has voted!


So, the last session was on economic development. I personally feel nothing is more important to a city's very existence than its economy, as I discussed here (http://coreysciuto.blogspot.com/2010/10/what-is-city.html) and here (http://coreysciuto.blogspot.com/2010/04/smart-growth.html) and here (http://coreysciuto.blogspot.com/2010/10/lowell-downtown-evolution-plan-full.html). Lowell, as I mentioned in those past posts, is often blessed and cursed by its proximity to Boston. While it provides a regional economy, it robs us of many of our jobs. While it makes us an attractive cheaper alternative to Boston while still being city living, it robs us of many of our younger best-and-brightest. Like many city issues, feedback loops abound. People want to live and work where the action is...which causes the action to be there.

I've been thinking: what can we do to actively improve our economic situation, when so many issues seem to be regional and national in scope? I seem to end up on the unpopular side of this one a lot, but as I mentioned in the Downtown Evolution Plan post above (and at the transit Vision Session), I think our parking rate structures, especially on weekends when perversely the streets are full and the garages are empty, are completely crazy and outside of the norm for similar sized cities in the region. But that's probably small potatoes.

As one of those Peak Oil people (I discussed this here: http://coreysciuto.blogspot.com/2010/11/long-emergency.html), I believe that sustainability - the underlying topic of the Vision Sessions, is intimately tied to, amongst other things, the ability to live with less oil. One great way to do this is to improve mass transit. Even without the sustainability angle, the current reality is gas prices are rising, and many demographic groups, young and old, are more into mass transit than at any time in the past 50 years for various reasons.

I've written before that I'm no fan of the LRTA's service, and I'm just going to let that lay. It's too complex to talk about now and pretty hopeless. I'm more interested in the train. It's often mentioned that the MBTA transit hub is a great asset to Lowell; however, it's undeniable that the station's location well outside of downtown Lowell, away from Merrimack Street, away from the Tsongas Center and the ballpark, is holding us back. Many other cities, like Haverhill, do quite well having their station right downtown. Lowell is discussing an expensive trolley system through the Hamilton Canal District to help alleviate this, as well as re-invigorated plans to help out the Hale/Howard and especially the Tanner Street areas by rebuilding around Transit-Oriented Development (as they basically abut the train station).

To this, people often say, "can Lowell really handle that much pull away from downtown?" I think it's a great question. We need history here. Why is Lowell's main station so far out? Well, I can't find a picture, but Lowell's original station was on the corner of Dutton and Merrimack Streets, dead downtown Lowell. Today, there is only that brick archway that echoes the old building on that site. I can only imagine that as one of the first locomotive lines in America, that the fact that a train that stopped at that depot could be no longer than the distance from Merrimack to Market Street without closing a major street down wasn't an issue. It didn't take long for the "main" station to locate essentially to where the current station is, while the older station did remain open. Also, a competing line with a long barn opened to Central Street, in the building that is slated to be MCC's dance studio. My crazy suggestion is bring the train back to Merrimack Street.

Here is a picture of the train in Wilmington:


And here is that same train superimposed in front of Lowell High School, along the existing old tracks:


Totally fits.

This wouldn't be the only place on the line where gates have to go down across roads temporarily to let a train pass, we'd live. Now, obviously the high school isn't the best location for a train station. However, some people have suggested that the massive Lowell High School be split in two. While I don't think it's the best idea, maybe with something like this added in, it'd become more palatable. The new building to the school would make a great office building. The old building could be turned into almost an indoor mall with an atrium and small shops as well as offices. Maybe residential goes in somewhere as well. There already is a parking garage right there. It's right next to the arena and right on Merrimack Street. Now, ideally, we'd keep the old station open as well because it's far more convenient for car commuters. Maybe only every other train comes all the way downtown or something, especially if the line ever gets extended to Nashua as downtown is no longer "on the way". Maybe in that case, the downtown station gets built in the parking lot of the office building next door and the high school stays put, I don't know.

Just an overly expensive idea that probably makes no real sense. I'd like it, though.


Also, if you missed the news, the little post office on the corner of Central and Market may be closing due to lack of business and the Postal Service's budgetary issues.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Appleton Mill, July 2011

People are really starting to move into the Appleton Mill project now. It looks like much of the major work is done, so here are a few new pictures, then all the series I've taken:






Rest:

Appleton Mills - July 2011

And the whole series from


to:




Appleton Mill, November '09-January '10

Appleton Mill, February-March '10

Appleton Mill, April-August 2010

Appleton Mill, September 2010 - December 2010

Appleton Mill, Jan-May 2011

I have some even older ones buried on my old site, for example at http://home.comcast.net/~corey.sciuto/lowell2.htm.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Google+

So, earlier in the week I got my invitation to Google+. Always a fan of the mantra "don't fix what isn't broken" I was far from convinced that it had any chance to make any real inroads against Facebook. My impressions so far:

Good

  • Integration with existing Google technologies.
    • I already use PicasaWeb because I use Blogger. I use Blogger and GChat because I use Gmail. It's easy to see integration with Google Calendar and Blogger itself in the pipeline. 
    • Google+ also integrates iGoogle's +1 search functionality, but I don't find it all that interesting. 
    • The iGoogle user bar at the top of the page now directly lists your Google+ updates, etc and has a "share" button that feels half-implemented as you can paste a link into it, but not directly click on a link and share it. 
    • Google Maps is at least somewhat integrated as when you upload a photo via an Android, it tags it with your current location. However, this too, is only half-implemented. If you leave your Android GPS off (as many do since it's a huge battery drain) the photo is tagged based off of cell-tower triangulation. Trying this out tonight, I found that standing on the East Campus end of the University Ave bridge, I was assumed to be somewhere I had never heard of in Dracut. Good rule of thumb: wrong information is worse than no information!
  • Easier security. The lack of a "Wall" allows you to control exactly what people who can see your profile see. The straightforward "Circles" friend-grouping concept makes it easy to limit who gets to see what. This is a must for public, semi-public, teenage, and alcoholic social networking users.
  • No ads. Yet. Very little requests for personal information for your profile.
  • New.
    • It's generating buzz. No pun intended.
    • The years of Facebook "technical debt" doesn't exist in a product that has been just started from scratch. For example, the Facebook Wall concept is outdated. It has become a place for people to post stuff to your profile you don't want your other friends reading (from inappropriate personal information to stupid requests to run chores). However, since Facebook started as a college networking tool well before the Newsfeed was born, the "Wall" concept grew directly out of those whiteboards those of us in the collegiate world had physically hung to our dorm-room doors. Oh, and networks like MySpace worked that way, too. The Newsfeed, in hindsight, was one of the killer apps in Facebook that killed MySpace.
  • Don't be Evil is Google's Mantra. In addition to being a product from a company we already know a lot about and are interested in, Facebook's repeated (and they aren't dumb, this is on purpose) failures to protect our personal information has turned a lot of people off.
    • The best way to protect your own data is to forsake the Cloud and use something like Diaspora
    • For those people who are not technically inclined and interested in running their own server (or dealing with the TOS violations and addressing complexities in running a webserver out of the home), or for those of us who want to talk to people not so inclined, we have to come to accept the Cloud...with as little evil tied in as possible.
Bad
  • Nobody is on it. This will likely change, but, for example, I only have a few connections on Google+ that I don't already have on Facebook. Therefore, it is rare that I'll want to go through the trouble of posting something twice for the benefit of a few. Facebook is already one-stop for my photo uploads, link-sharing, etc. So far, my Google+ posts have mostly been about...Google+. Without a mass-migration for reasons I don't see yet, I will still be spending far more time on Facebook than Google+
  • It's in Beta. There are important functions, like event invitations, that Google+ doesn't seem to have yet, even though other Google technologies already support this. The lack of an ability to search Google+ posts from an interface fails to fix a chief complaint I have with Facebook and Google's search is their core business!
  • As nice as it is to have all my Google technologies tied together, there is a downside to this. Like the failure that was Google Buzz, sometimes unexpected things happen. I posted a new PicasaWeb album to "Everyone" for my last post on Wamesit Canal, and the photos went straight to Google+! I don't remember seeing an option to not do that.
How-To

Since a chief complaint of Facebook is the lack of ability to control data via Circles, here is how to do it in Facebook. Yes, it's far more complex.

Go to your Friend List.



Click Create a List.


Give it a name, select the relevant people, and save it.



The list will now show up in the left-hand pane of your Edit Friends page where it can be edited. Whenever you add new friends, you can add that person to one or many lists, directly from the accept friend request interface.

Now, back on the main page, we'll post some content. Note the pad-lock button.






You'll see you can make posts visible to friends, friends of friends, the obsolete "Networks" concept from the college-only days, and "customize." Click that.











You'll get the following page, where in addition to excluding certain people or lists of people, you can include certain people or groups:












This concept extends beyond the newsfeed, once you have your friends lists set up. Let's do our profile. Click "Privacy Settings":


Click "Custom"



From here, you can do things like prevent anybody (not people or lists) from posting on your wall or from Friends or Friend Lists being able to see photos others tagged you in:


Finally, when you add photo albums, you can include and exclude certain groups from seeing it.


So yeah, more work, but doable!


I guess in closing, I don't dislike Google+, but I also don't see it taking off without some sort of "killer app" Facebook doesn't have. Facebook tends to move quickly with features, which in this case, may be a good thing. It's often a bad thing because over the years, it's required people to learn how to use an increasingly complex system piece-by-piece as new features come out and old ones get deprecated.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wamesit Canal / River Meadow Brook

I've been delaying finishing this one for months, so here it goes...

During Doors Open Lowell weekend, I went with fellow Lowell Historical Society board member Gray Fitzsimons down to the Wamesit Canal / River Meadow Brook area. He has been doing research on the district, in part with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust due to its association with the Concord River Greenway. History of industrial operations along the Concord River are here: http://lowelllandtrust.org/greenwayclassroom/history/industrialization.htm/. One of the reasons it took me so long to get this post up is I needed to take time to research the history of this area, which is as old as the rest of Lowell, although it is in some ways it is only tangentially connected to downtown's history.

I have a hard time knowing what to call this section of the city, honestly. The Wamesit canal runs from a dam on the Concord River just below Lawrence Street in South Lowell to the end of River Meadow Brook in a section of town that may be partially in either or all of South Lowell, or Sacred Heart, or the Bleachery, or The Flats, or even the beginnings of Back Central - depending on who you ask, where they grew up, and when they lived there. I would love to know what people consider what down here. All I know is the street patterns around this final stretch of River Meadow Brook (beyond where it turns away from where it is channelized along the Connector), the various waterways themselves, and the huge industrial complexes (I'd imagine other than downtown, this is Lowell's largest single concentration of red brick) divide this area into a series of subsections that seem hardly related and frequently off the beaten path.

I guess the real answer is this section of town is everywhere and nowhere all at once. It's a border, not a center. For that reason, and the historical value this part of town contains, an extension along the greenway, linking these little pockets by the waterways they owe their existences to, would be pretty cool.

Before we go any further, here is an areal screenshot, courtesy of maps.bing.com, and a map from 1924. If you're a Google Maps user and haven't checked out the 3/4 view areals that Microsoft has put up on Bing, you're really missing out. Without this, I would've never been able to re-associate the photos I took with here I took them!

Area today

Same area, 1924. Note that the canal, and the number of factories along it, used to be far more extensive.

History (Briefly)


In the 1790s, the same decade that the Pawtucket Canal was dug and 30 years before the first large textile mills went up downtown, Moses Hale bought land and water rights to River Meadow Brook. For this reason, it is alternatively known as Hale's Brook. On this stream, he built a fulling and carding mill. Depending on the source, he later built a sawmill, and/or then, where the old Prince Spaghetti plant now stands, he built a grist mill. The 1897 Illustrated History of Lowell also credits him with building the cartridge factory usually credited to its later owner, his son-in-law, Oliver Whipple. Charles Cowley places Hale's fulling mill along the brook, near Gorham Street.

Over the years, many other operations were built near here, leasing power from the Wamesit Power Company. The Lowell Bleachery, US Bunting Company, the Sterling Mills, etc. Generally speaking, these were people not connected to the Boston-based manufactories running off the canal system owned by Locks and Canals. Even today, there are generally many small, seemingly local operations running out of these buildings, as opposed to the condo developments downtown.

Cop-out

Well...overall, I was unhappy with the photographs I took, and I don't know as much as I would like to about the area, so I'm going to defer back to the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust website link I posted earlier. There is a great series of PDFs about these buildings, but the link can be hard to find, so I'll supply it directly here: http://lowelllandtrust.org/greenwayclassroom/history/industrialization-casestudies.htm.

My photos:

Wamesit Canal

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An experiment

I've been thinking a lot about the side-effects of technology lately - what we've lost for what we've gained. I'm having trouble sleeping, so could I still write a single-sided letter in cursive? Has my handwriting atrophied to the point where nobody but me can read it?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Blog in Blogroll

Marc Belanger, a prolific and talented photographer from the South Coast mill city of Fall River has a blog at http://viewfromboglehill.blogspot.com/. Marc and I have bumped into each other a few timess over the years online, especially on Wikipedia. In addition to his photography skills, he is very well versed in the history of the mill towns he photographs. Also, amazingly, he has nearly completed something I toyed with over a decade ago: Visit every town in the Bay State and take a picture there.

Make sure to check out Marc's blog and his Flickr and Picasa accounts that are linked from there as well.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cape Ann Fresh Catch and Lowell Sustainability Week

Back in May, the as-of-recently wonderfully active City Manager's blog mentioned that a sustainable fishing CSA out of Cape Ann was looking to distribute in Lowell if interest was high enough. The original post was here.

Well, I emailed them to complain that the hours were very unfortunate for those of us who work outside of the city (a weekday, 4-6), and the automated email system considered that an "interested" vote. So...the good news is I got an email today saying it's on!

Hi there,
First and foremost, thank you for expressing interest in a Cape Ann Fresh Catch (www.capeannfreshcatch.org) distribution site in Lowell.
We're psyched to say your feedback has been great and the Lowell CAFC CSF distribution site is on!
Starting on Friday July 8th, we'll have our first delivery at the Lowell Farmer's Market at City Hall Plaza, 375 Merrimack St.
Depending on the share type you select, there will be either eight weekly or four bi-weekly deliveries starting on Friday July 8th from 4–6pm for the remainder of our Summer 2011 season. We hope to continue delivering to Lowell with our Fall 2011 season starting in September.
Our delivery calendar (www.capeannfreshcatch.org/calendar.html) is a great resource to track what was distributed and as a timetable for current and future seasons.
So, curious in supporting our local fishermen through our Community Supported Fishery?
Please visit our website (www.capeannfreshcatch.org/join.html) to learn how to join CAFC.
And please, take some time to explore our website further. There's a "boatload" of info on our website that will hopefully answer any questions you may have about Cape Ann Fresh Catch. If not, please feel free to contact us at info@capeannfreshcatch.org
Also, please forward this email to anyone you know who may also be interested in supporting our local fishermen by receiving a weekly or bi-weekly share of "day boat" fresh fish delivered to Lowell through CAFC.
Again, thank you for your interest in keeping your food dollars local through your support of the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community Supported Fishery.
All the best,
Your CAFC CSF Staff
www.capeannfreshcatch.org

So... while we are on the topic of  sustainability and we're working off of news on the City Manager's blog, just a reminder that Lowell Sustainability Week begins June 20th. I'm looking forward to the presentation on the Monday the most, which, again, got a separate write-up on the Manager's blog. The presentation, "Envisioning a Sustainable Lowell", is to discuss updates to the city's Master Plan based on sustainable development. This is a topic that should interest everyone - Lowell has some unique benefits and challenges with regard to sustainability that we need to fully explore.