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 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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
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

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.

Monday, June 6, 2011

That House on Livingston...

Anybody who reads The Sun is well aware of the stink being raised about a house being "shoehorned" in on Livingston Ave. Essentially, under the state's Approval Not Required (ANR) permitting under the Subdivision Control Law, it is legal to subdivide a lot without the municipality needing to approve it as long as the new lots meet the town's zoning requirements and the homes will be on an existing public way. What is happening is that a large home with a large side-lot was bought by a developer, who is using ANR to cut the small side lot out and is squeezing in a small house. This is allowable because the zoning for Livingston Ave is Traditional Single-Family (TSF), allowing a house on a lot of the size in question. It just happens that the lots that exist on this stretch of the street tend to be far larger than TSF calls for. It's worth noting that a more restrictive zoning type exists, that being Suburban Single Family (SSF), which is what much of the Tyler Park neighborhood and essentially all of Belvidere east of Rogers/Nesmith is zoned as. This subdivided lot would be too small, was the neighborhood SSF.

To understand some of the issues, a little history is called for. This section of the Highlands was part of Lowell's original 1826 grant and part of Lowell's 1874 annexation of Chelmsford's Middlesex Village section. By 1879, we see that streets were being laid out in and around the estate of William E. Livingston. Improvements to transportation, namely street railways, were making the Outer Highlands/Middlesex Village a suburb of the smoky city a mile and change away.

By 1896, we see that street railways (black and white blocked lines) ran down Middlesex Street and Westford Street. In this period, contemporary to the new Lowell City Hall and Library (a very good economic time, as the architecture attests), the Victorians on the Princeton Boulevard end of Livingston and Harvard Streets had been constructed on large lots. The subdivision in question today is happening on the lot labeled as belonging to W.H. Bent and against the Swan house.

By 1924, we see something interesting happen: Many of the lots in the Livingston plan had been subdivided further, some new streets have been put in, and the denser middle-income Highlands neighborhood that we know today has leapfrogged over this area and marched straight towards Black Brook, bringing some industrial concerns with it. In fact, the new lot in question, part of property belonging to a Dixon in 1924, will be of a fairly typical size for the neighborhood. This period just before the Depression was approximately the apex of Lowell's 100-year population and industrial growth, and this small enclave of stately Victorian mansions was already becoming boxed in by a decidedly middle-class neighborhood. The trend must've continued up to and through World War II as the empty lots labelled as belonging to the U.S. Housing Corp are built on today (of course) with everything from fairly modest pre-war homes to post-war ranches (which, I feel, in an old city like Lowell, are an eyesore due to their lack of verticality).

This pattern of trendy neighborhoods being eclipsed by other neighborhoods is not unusual in Lowell or anywhere. Development pressure and changing economics ensures that - just look at some of the beautiful homes along Pawtucket Street and its side streets or along North and South Common. It's very easy to look through the three atlases I presented and watch the city march right into and through neighborhoods that were originally for the city's elite.

That said, of course this issue is more complex than I just made it sound. If it were easy to come down on one side of the debate or the other, I would've posted on this last week or ignored it completely. I'm going to jump here so I don't run over the front page.