Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saint Joseph's Hospital Demolition

I was coming across the University Ave bridge this afternoon and noticed that the demolition work on the old Saint Joseph's Hospital building - to make way for University Crossing - was progressing rather quickly. Since we have pretty good light today and this is a weekend day when nothing is going on, I ran home for my  camera and came back to shoot a few photos before the whole thing is gone.

Pawtucket Street side.
Stair tower, Merrimack Street.
Salem Street entrance.
I have very few memories of the inside of this building, save my mom working there for a few years when i was a kid, and that was in the back of the building which still stands. However, I know a lot of people have happy and sad memories of this place. I was unaware when the University bought it that it was going to be demolished - I've heard there were structural issues. Either way, the wings coming down were built in the 1950s. The later additions to the back will remain standing.

Maternity ward?

Note the map of the hospital still on the wall.
I have written a bit about the hospital before, but honestly, I don't know all that much. This page covers the history up until the merger with Saint Jospeh's in 1992 forming Saint's Memorial Medical Center.

Rest of the photos:

St Joseph's Hospital Demolition - Aug '12

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Long Time, No Posts

I've certainly been running out of steam with this blog.

When I started out in 2006, I was new to Lowell and was sharing a lot of what I was learning about the city as I went. A few years ago, I moved over to Blogger and the topics moved from Lowell "As It Is and As It Was" to broader issues with a local focus. At this point, I feel that many other, exponentially more popular blogs, cover this stuff really well. What they don't cover is often available on Facebook, where numerous Lowell groups and pages have sprung up. For example, I helped found the Innovative Cities: Lowell, Massachusetts group, and am an admin/content creator on the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association and Lowell Historical Society pages. Both of these pages also have blogs. I almost never use it, but I'm also on Twitter. You'll see that I updated my reading list panel with a few blogs that weren't there before. I've also set up my Facebook for public subscribing. I'll give that a try, if I can remember to post publicly: (Well that didn't work out - didn't realize that not only is the post itself public, but all the comments on it! I don't want my friend's posts to me nor my replies back being public. Too bad. Maybe I need to learn to love Twitter.)

I've also been really busy. In addition to my Facebook work, I have a new Real Job and have been involved in various other things. I've become more involved with Mill City Grows recently, and I also am now a graduate of The Lowell Plan's Public Matters program.

I was invited to speak to the City Manager on Channel 99 last week with members of the mainstream media and fellow bloggers. Mimi over at Left In Lowell, has a post linking to all the other posts about the Round-table discussion. I think it went really well - the questions were excellent and the members of the Lynch Administration (now completing six years!) who were present did a great job answering our questions. There was a lot of buzz of course about the license commission, but other great questions asked the administration why there are few or no women/minorities on the various city boards and why Lowell has one of the highest commercial tax rates in the Commonwealth. Lowell CFO Tom Moses explained that land values in Lowell tend to be lower so overall tax burden is fairly average. Furthermore, compared to other expenses, property tax burden tends to be a non-issue, especially when compared to the major reasons a company may choose to locate in a particular community (things like infrastructure and available workforce). Of course, questions on what the administration has done a great and a poor job of came up, as did schools, etc.

I don't exactly see a replay of the Round-table on 99, and I don't see it available for steaming - but if it's out there, give it a viewing.

That all said, I do plan to still post, so continue to follow me on Blogger, or subscribe to me on Facebook. I've been keeping an eye on the developments along Tanner Street and the Rourke Bridge and have tried to make the meetings when I can. The Hamilton Canal District is still progressing. 110 Canal Street and the new  Canal Street bridge are the next steps in the project - the bridge is complete and the groundbreaking of the 110 Canal Street groundbreaking is imminent. I've included some photos from Craig Thomas, our new Urban Renewal Project Manager (taking over from James Errickson), of the progress at the bridge over the past few years. What a change!

Until next time...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Could Greater Lowell Feed Itself?

There is a lot of interest in sustainability, local agriculture, and permaculture these days. I had a discussion with a friend tonight: Could Greater Lowell grow its own food? It's sort of an artificial question as the area that comprises Greater Lowell is physically quite small - much smaller than you'd really want to count as hinterlands, but I'm always up for a little number crunching, so here's my (completely non-scientific) stab at it:

How many people in Greater Lowell and how much land?

This was by far the easiest part, and the only part with good, hard numbers. Wikipedia provides this data for recent years. Now, of course, much of the land is already built on and much of it is probably non-arable. Back to that later.

MunicipalityLand area, in square milesPopulation
Lowell 13.8 106519
Chelmsford 22.7 33802
Dracut 20.9 29457
Tewksbury 20.7 28961
Tyngsboro 16.9 11292
Billerica 25.9 40243
Westford 30.6 21951
Dunstable 16.6 3179

Total Population: 275,404
Total Land (In acres [1 square mile=640 acres]):107,584. This works out to be a circle with a radius of about 7 miles. Again, compare to the concept of the 100-mile diet - a circle of over 20 million acres! Again, the Lowell Food Security Coalition seems to be looking at a 30-mile radius, and their goal doesn't seem to be total self-sufficiency.

How much land does it take to feed a person?

This was a lot harder as the answer is heavily dependent on numerous factors. One major factor of course is the type of diet a person eats. Beef, for example, takes a huge amount of land to raise compared to chickens compared to a vegetarian diet. That said, grazing animals can take advantage of land that vegetable farming cannot, so again, not that simple.

So, after spending some time on Google, I came across a Cornell study from the last five years that figured a series of diets using foods local to New York and how much land they would take. New York is at our latitude and has similar soil and rainfall numbers, so I figure it's a fair starting point. As I really only read this person's analysis (Can New York State Feed Itself?), it is not clear on how intensive the farming here discussed is - or how sustainable the practices are. Clearly, if the numbers don't factor in crop rotation or heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, more land would be needed to replenish the exhausted land over time. Either way, the studies for many diets came out between about half an acre and an acre per person. These numbers appear throughout many estimates on traditional agricultural methods I found online, so let's split the difference and say .75 acres will feed a person a reasonable and sustainable diet.

So how many people will that feed? How much land is there per person?

107,584 acres will feed 80,688 people, or under 1/3 of Greater Lowell. Remove Dunstable from the equation and a net 5,000 more would go hungry.

Not great numbers.

Now, we could all eat if we could sustainably eat on .39 acres of land a head. Of course, we don't have houses in this model yet. Let's all live at the average population density of Lowell: 7,500 people per square mile. That's 36.7 square miles given over to housing. Add in a few roads, schools, businesses and other non-agricultural uses ... call if 50 square miles, and that seems low. Remember that we should be feeding people out of their own yards when possible though and the 50 seems more fair. That's 32,000 acres taken off of potential food production either way.

Now we need to feed 275,404 people on .27 acres each. Would it be possible in any situation? Well, potatoes can produce somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million calories per acre (Google around - I saw estimates from six to 17 million!). So, on a quarter acre that's about 2.5 million calories / 365 days =  6,849 calories per day per acre. A person really only needs 2,500. So, if you could really live on just potatoes, and could grow them in the same soil year after year, it'd be no problem at all. My guess is that on any realistic diet it would be quite difficult for us to grow enough varied foods to feed ourselves. Probably impossible in reality.

How much food do we even produce today?

Well, according to the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, there are under 6,500 acres listed as agricultural today in the seven towns I used (they also track Pepperell while I did not). Assuming that this farmland was split up in a way that represented complete diets instead of a heavy emphasis on say, dairy, and was always producing all the time, at half an acre required to feed a person, that's a mere 13,000 people fed.

I guess the answer is we have a long, long way to go if we wanted to be self-sufficient for food as a region. Again, the region we're talking about here is very artificially small. Even still, more carefully and scientifically gathered numbers are probably even worse: If the Cornell study said that the 35 million acres in New York State were not arable enough to feed 19 million New Yorkers, than the 6.7 million acres of land in Massachusetts couldn't possibly feed 6.5 million Bay Staters. The 275,000 Greater Lowellians - a densely urbanized area - have zero chance under any current farming model of feeding us on 100,000 acres.

I know this was sloppy - Thoughts?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Photo Tour - Lowell City Hall

As I've mentioned before, back in my grade school days, I went to the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro.  The building was already nearly 70 years old, and even as a young child, I was fascinated by the architectural detail of the mid-20s Collegiate Gothic building. The floors were marble, the granite entranceway lead to a grand cast-iron staircase; the ceilings were 15 feet high. There were huge oak windows, massive transoms, push-button light-switches, and opulent entertaining rooms. The building had gone through a host of renovations, leaving clues of prior uses in certain rooms. My first-grade classroom was once a chapel; the spaces for the statues were still there. My 7th grade classroom had five doors - from when it was a series of small bedrooms and closets for live-in nuns.

Even in its old age, it was a beautiful structure - built with pride and intended to instill that pride in those who were students there (originally boarding students actually). I used to love exploring whenever I could - it would take hours to find every nook and cranny and there were a lot of doors that were always locked with those old skeleton keys. I managed to sneak up into the attic one night - not really much up there. Years later, I'd learn that there used to be a massive bell-tower above that, even in the 90s long gone. I never snuck into the tunnels to the outbuildings, but I knew where they were. A lot of my interest in architecture and urban exploration can certainly be traced to my nine years in that massive old school.

There was one other building I saw frequently that I was that impressed by - Lowell City Hall. Even though I was quite used to the sight of the building and had been inside it for various things over the years, I had never really taken a good look around. Recently, I attended the special meeting regarding late-night downtown disorder. Even though I actually didn't get any closer to the chamber than the hallway, I was really amazed at how detailed the council chamber was - I'd never bothered going to a meeting there before! This is clearly a building designed to instill pride in the citizenry - and they just don't make them like they used to. I contacted fellow Lowell Historical Society board member and city Historic Board employee Kim Zunino, looking for some sort of photo documentation of the building and a history. I got something far better - a guided tour! So, on a beautifully sunny and warm day in March, I snuck off for a few hours to look around from the cellar to the clocktower.

More after the jump.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tanner Street Economic Development Plan

Got an email about an interesting community workshop coming up in a few weeks:
The first Community Workshop for the Tanner Street District Economic Development Plan is scheduled for Monday, January 23, 2012 at 6:00PM at the LRTA Building - 100 Hale Street.  Click here for the meeting flyer.  All are welcome!!
More information here:

The Tanner Street corridor is a great opportunity for Lowell to do some very interesting work; hope to see you there!