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...

4 comments:

  1. When I look at what my bro pays for taxes (close to 3x what I do) living in Westford I find myself wondering why the city is so hesitant to bump up taxes.

    I'm not a fan of taxes, but I really feel like I should be paying more for all that Lowell offers to me in terms of quality of life and services.

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  2. That's the thing: nobody *likes* paying taxes. Everybody *likes* getting services. As long as we can say we have a reasonably transparent government spending our money reasonably efficiently (and I'm going to let that statement lay), we need to be mindful of what it costs to actually *do* things.

    If you told me my taxes were going up for more cops, better parks, to attract more businesses, I'd be all for it. My taxes right now, in my opinion and based on what they'd be in other towns, are so low that any increase that improves quality-of-life is a no-brainer. Many people in the report seem to say, when given the option, they'd rather just do with the LOS we have now. I know people are hard-up right now, but really...the city has cut so much in the past few years.

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  3. I have just skimmed the summary but was pretty excited to see this: Prioritize Bike and Pedestrian Access - While traffic flow is a concern, the majority of participants (54%) would rather create ways for bikes and pedestrians to share roads than make it easier for cars to move through the city (42%).

    I don't think that sharing the road and good traffic flow are mutually exclusive because, duh, more bikes = fewer cars = less traffic on the roads and more parking spaces but I think it's often difficult for people who are stuck in the 'roads are for cars' mentality to understand.

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  4. Marianne, you're definitely right on anti-bike being a mentality issue. However, there is this tradeoff question presented, with unencouraging data (people are more car-focused than in 2002). Especially when it is noted that people over 50 were the ones least likely to fall on the "roads are for cars" side:

    Transportation & Mobility % 2011, % 2002

    Making it easier for cars to move through
    the city
    42%, 19%
    Making it easier and safer for bicycles and
    pedestrians to share streets and protect
    quiet neighborhoods
    54%, 77%


    One thing I did like, but again, goes at odds with all the complaints about traffic and parking, is people want more downtown.

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