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:

Dick Howe wrote at a bit more length here:

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:

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:

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!