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You might have been sensing a theme rising in our small city community lately. It’s a theme that is spreading out across the country, but it has special significance to Lowell. Call it the DIY movement. Or self-sufficiency. Or making things.
There may at first glance not seem a specific link between groups like Mill City Grows, small local businesses like Sweet Lydia’s, and “makerspace” groups which are also becoming the buzz around here, but in effect, it’s about people in a community doing for themselves. Whether that’s sustainable gardening, using Kickstarter to raise enough funds to open your own sweets shop, or sharing incubator or machine space with others, it’s about innovating ways at the grassroots level to do for yourself, alongside a community of people, what cannot be accomplished alone.
It’s a movement that asks, what if we could feed ourselves with safe, locally grown food, even in the city? What if I could learn to machine my own parts? What if I could start a business in such a way that causes the community to have a stake with me?
That it’s happening so much in Lowell is a product of several things converging…first, the energy of new, young, professionals engaging in their community. Also, an emphasis on the new economy and innovative economic ideas by the city and its Planning Department, and the doubling of that by a University which is expanding by building such things as the Nerve Center. Lastly, Lowell’s unique history of industry and innovation creates a narrative that is a good foundation for a new wave of doers.
I’ll even admit to being infected myself. I might not be interested in a community garden space with one of Mill City Grow’s new gardens (after all, I do have a half decent backyard much closer to home) but I’ve been inspired by them to really up the ante this year in producing my own veggies. I’ve started collecting ideas on Pinterest and even am cataloging my own journey with DIY projects to make urban gardening easier and more productive (and woodchuck proof). I’ve always had an interest in planting since I was a kid, but now I mean business. (Well, not literally, since I won’t be selling anything, but I hope to have enough excess to give to family and friends, and even to make regular trips to the MV Food Bank). My goal is not to go pretty, but utilitarian, with sub-irrigated DIY buckets, towers, and some indoor growing (since I have this amazing, largely unused, southern-exposure windowed four-season room in my house going to waste).
Yeah, it’s getting that crazy. There’s just something in the air in Lowell these days. A doing thing. Stay tuned. (And our new show, Threads, will definitely be talking to some of Lowell’s new makers too!)
Friend of the blog (and good friend) Cliff Krieger has been nominated by CM Lynch for the License Commission, as Jen Myers writes at the official blog of the Mayor. You might recall, the License Commission had been under fire for sitting on its hands after the downtown rioting at the club at Fortunato’s and other violence and vandalism issues stemming from bars and clubs. Since then, both Bayliss and Weicker have resigned. (Not without a bit of a fuss.)
As Jen says, Cliff had been planning to run for the Lowell School Committee, and though I’m not sure what this does to those plans, you couldn’t get a better person to oversee a very sticky and previously controversial situation. Cliff will listen to the recommendations of the police chief, of residents, businesses…and of the club owners themselves, too, but in a proportional way. He is a conservative in the truest sense of that word - he wants our city to be welcoming, and remain so, for the many people who coexist downtown, like residents, consumers, and the non-club business owners who are the ones who find the aftermath of overserved drunkards at their doorstep on Monday mornings.
Contrary to (some) popular rumor, Cliff and I (and Jack, and whoever) are not all big giant conspirators with Lynch behind the scenes, and this took me by surprise, albeit a pleasant one. According to Jen, this spot had to go to a Republican, and I can’t think of a better person to help clean up the mess.
Also being appointed, to the LHA, is Samkhann Khoeun. I don’t know Samkhann, but Jen has more bio info at her blog post and he seems to be a community leader with some gravitas, and it’s great to see some diversity on our boards. Good luck to both!
In a full, regular session CM Bernie Lynch made his case for what he views as the most fiscally prudent way forward, taking into account the $6.4Million the Commonwealth has certified as Free Cash. The CM presented a detailed slide presentation in an effort to convince a majority of the City Council to support his fiscal sensibilities. Your mileage may vary, but Lowell is doing swell on so many fronts. Shouldn’t we just follow along?
A lazy man may say “Yes.” But, we have a Plan E Charter and our Council cannot, in good faith, simply roll over should this manager, or any manager, wink. Fortunately, CM Lynch presents a very solid case for the fine shape we are in. That fact makes it that much tougher to recklessly bat at his logic.
Below we find two of Lynch’s favorite metrics: Cash Reserves & Excess Levy Capacity
These metrics are measures of frugality. We don’t blow our budget and we don’t, contrary to popular myth, tax Lowellelians to death. (The last point drives UTL President Paul Georges nuts.) The take away here is that it is good to build up a rainy day fund, while concurrently leaving money in folks pockets. Some may argue that raising taxes EVER is a torrential downpour. They are full of crap, imho. Next…
Thanks to Corey S, I found my way onto a photo gallery on Facebook by the Lowell Historical Society. As a “nouveau townie” (let’s do away with blow-in, please), I was fascinated to see what Lowell looked like as it widened Pawtucket Blvd, built the Wang Towers and the Rourke bridge, and before the tear-down and rebuilding of large areas of downtown Lowell. This early-80s set of photos (donated anonymously) is a great walk down memory lane for some, and a fascinating look at old Lowell for those who have more recently made it their home.
In other great Lowellcentric things to browse on a Sunday afternoon, I again came across the Rourke Bridge replacement study website, which has lots and lots of great information on the public meetings, studies that have been done, and more. As project websites go, it’s a really good one. If you, like me, missed the public meetings, I highly recommend reading through some of the material!
I could not, alas, make it to the Tanner St public meeting last night due to another obligation, but Dick Howe has a post with a report.
This is my neck of the woods, so I’m keenly interested in things like proposed realignments for the south end of Tanner St, and the different ideas for connecting the Connector better to the district. The first addresses the major problem of bottleneck at the Connector exit; it’s a nightmare sometimes to try to get onto Tanner St which abuts real close to, but does not align with, the Connector exits and entrances, with the light at Target being right afterwards. Then you add all the 18-wheeler, tow truck, and truck traffic trying to get access from Plain to the industrial end of Tanner, and you can well imagine that something like a Connector exit/entrance at Howard St (the left-turn at the north end of Tanner) would allow the truck traffic more direct access, alleviating that problem as well. I’m not sure that can be done, but if it can, it’d be a significant improvement for both area residents trying to get home as well as attractive to potential new industrial companies who would have direct truck access without tangling with much city traffic.
Anyway, there’s lots of talk about a trail along the River Meadow Brook, which is cool, and trying to figure out how to allow access to and use of East Pond, another natural asset. Also discussion about improvements to Tanner like good sidewalks (boy would that be welcome) and trees, land use studies to figure out any zoning changes, and how to fluff up the pretty dismal entrances into the district.
The big problem with long term plans for an area such as this is that what might be judged to be attractive to businesses now may not in the future. However, I feel that the folks behind this plan have taken a realistic and balanced approach - noting that grandiose, single-company large-scale buildings are not the way to go, but to create a place where small and medium sized industrial companies can buy or lease subdivisions, while making sure to accommodate existing businesses, of which there are many.
More information on Tanner is on the City’s webpage, including maps, meeting materials, and hopefully soon, the draft proposal.
But I had a great time at the City of Lights parade. If you can believe it, the first time I’ve stayed for the parade. I met new people, made some friends, and saw lots and lots and lots of old ones. Old friends, I mean, the friends weren’t necessarily old. Some of them were very young.
Some tweets + photos from the event I did:
The bandstand at the City of Lights parade! twitter.com/leftinlowell/s…— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) November 24, 2012
Oh yeah, I remember freezing my butt off doing these things with an out of tune horn. twitter.com/leftinlowell/s…— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) November 24, 2012
I added an addendum to the above, as I didn’t mean to imply anything bad about the LHS band in particular: “(The being out of tune was inevitable in the freezing cold.)”
City Hall was just lit. Official start of the holiday season! twitter.com/leftinlowell/s…— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) November 24, 2012
Also, I checked out Sweet Lydia’s new place at 160 Merrimack St. It was hoppin’, with lots of people coming in and buying her yummy goods while I was there. I was so pleased by that! She’s a great addition to Lowell’s downtown and, if you are stuck for a gift for someone, consider giving them some marshmallow goodness (or peanut butter and jelly candy bars, or jelly candies, or other stuff). You can’t go wrong with marshmallows and sweets! I nearly fainted with delight at the gourmet jelly candies I got. (One type has mango in it. That’s one of the magic words! The other, if you must know, is “maple.” As in syrup, candy, taffy, sugar, etc.)
I hope to god LiL readers are not out there in the mobs at big box stores fighting for the last blu-ray player on the shelf. Not only would I find standing in long lines frustrating, but I also find that the pushing back of “Black Friday” into what for me is a sacred family day, Thanksgiving, is appalling. I have a relative that had to report in to her job at midnight, dictating how long she could really stay at our gathering. We should draw some lines on days that everyone gets off…too few holidays are left where retail workers get a day off. Also, big box stores…yuck.
But if you are like me, and try to do as much of your gift shopping with local businesses first (there are some relatives who are impossible to shop for, so it’s not a strict rule but a stern guideline), Howl in Lowell has a really nice guide to locally owned Greater Lowell businesses where you can feel good about your purchases (note: there are some big box stores listed as well). Locally owned businesses keep almost twice as much money in the economy as big box stores, and while it’s not a guarantee, generally they treat their employees better. Especially when you compare them to WalMart or other similar big box stores.
Go check out that Howl link - there were businesses familiar to me, but a bunch I didn’t know about as well. Of course, tomorrow is the City of Lights parade so you can come down, enjoy the festivities, and get a bunch of gift shopping from local stores done all at the same time!
Normally I don’t push too hard on Facebook likes, but sometimes I get in the mood. This is one of those moods. So, if you are a Facebook user and wanna catch our feed, it’s here.
I post lots of stuff on Facebook that I don’t get to here, tidbits that I find on subjects political, cultural, and community-based, most often very local. Some days I post more than others, but it’s never more than 3-5 items per day on average. Some of my tweets from @leftinlowell.com make it there as well, when I remember to check off the box to send them (I most often tweet from my phone). But often you’ll find stuff there that you’ll find no where else, like my most recent post on non-chemical agriculture, or sharing an article from Howl about the chicken movement in Lowell. Yes, chickens! If that intrigues you then go hit the LiL FB page.
I also try to remember (with varying success) to post a link when I create a new blog post here, so it can be convenient for knowing when LiL has new content. Jack and Mimi also have admin access to the FB page though they don’t use it very often (though, hint hint, feel free to).
If you find something of particular interest, you can always hit the share button on Facebook to publish something of ours into your own feed. We’re only as good as the community who spreads the word! And if you like our feed, then share our page with others!
Now, back to your regularly scheduled program. Whatever that was.
I just returned from a roundtable event with Elizabeth Warren here in Lowell at Mambo Grill, focused on women-owned small businesses, where I got to both be at the table, and also tweet my little heart out. (Dick Howe Jr, sitting nearby, was likely feeling a bit smug over that.) If you happened to catch my Twitter stream this afternoon, you would have been treated to quotes and photos from the event.
The local visit is part of the rolling out of the latest Warren endorsement - not only was Elizabeth joined by first-Congressperson-to-endorse Rep. Niki Tsongas, but also by Sheila Bair, former chair of the FDIC, a Republican who has never endorsed or campaigned for a Democrat but has decided to wade into this race. A G.W. Bush appointee, Bair worked with Warren on issues of stopping foreclosures and helping consumers during the financial meltdown, then also when Warren had oversight of the TARP program and the formation of the CFPB.
In the toss-around that is the rather tired old “bipartisan endorsement” game in the Commonwealth these days, why should you care about Sheila Bair’s? Because unlike other endorsements, this one has gravitas. It might not be a recognizable name to you, but in terms of really knowing Warren and her work, in places where it matters to average people, you can’t beat this former Chair of the FDIC.
It was great to hear Bair in person, and her reasons for endorsing Warren that go beyond party lines. For her, it’s about Warren’s real, tangible work on behalf of consumers, the middle class, homeowners, and squaring the financial system so that it’s fair for all. She said, specifically, that Warren is not anti-bank or anti-business, but rather is for an equal playing field for citizens and businesses alike.
Oh hell, I was on fire on my smartphone, I’m just going to include my own tweets here:
— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) October 17, 2012
[Apologies, previous Tweet has a smartphone-induced typo in Bair’s name.]
Bair: “Until we end ‘too big to fail,’ we won’t have a stable financial system…that’s why I have endorsed @elizabethforma.”— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) October 17, 2012
When a reporter asked the obligatory question about bipartisaniness, Bair responded with concrete examples of why Elizabeth Warren was the one who would do the real work:
— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) October 17, 2012
Two things of gleeful personal note: the silly press people had to ask Warren about the asbestos lawsuit thing, again, which I imagine has to be tiresome beyond belief, but in her response, Warren cited the asbestos union, the many victims, and the victims’ lawyers who’ve expressed dismay over Brown’s lies about the case. Glad to have helped with that.
Second, I got to ask a roundtable question, and I was debating talking about DBE issues (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a designation for federal DOT work as a women- or minority-owned business, for which my business was certified for several years) but…I decided to air out a long-standing frustration I have with a simple and obvious way that Dems can combat the “deregulate and untax businesses and they’ll grow!” idiocy from Republicans. I mentioned my own personal experience - that it’s the DEMAND from customers, not taxes, which are the arbiters of whether or not I expand as a business. If I have more work than I can handle, I hire. If it dries up, I shrink. Taxes and regulation have very little to do with it. If I can make money by expanding, of course I will!
This has been annoying the hell out of me - it’s such a simple, easily understood concept Dems could use to whack their Ayn Randian Republican opponents over the head with in debates and on the stump. Warren was all over it - citing the jobs bills that Brown voted against and helped to kill, which would have increased spending money in the hands of the employed, indirectly helping even my B-to-B business, nevermind the construction and infrastructure jobs bill which, as a WBE/DBE at the time, might have helped me land some really big contracts. Which would have forced me to hire, in all likelihood.
[Note to LiL readers: if this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve said it before, and certainly the Mr. has said it before, to whom I give original credit.]
Anyway, I was grateful to finally get that little gem out in a meaningful way. I hope it is useful to her and she uses it! Now I just need to find a roundtable with Obama that I can crash…
I am bummed that I am already booked at the exact same time as this great event which I found on Facebook thanks to LDNA’s posting. Please have another tour sometime?
Ethnic Market Tour II
Saturday , Oct 13 2012, 2:00pm
Touring Central Market, East West Foods, African Central Market. Meet at the Parks Visitor Center, 246 Market St…space is limited on the bus, reservations are required. Call 978-970-5000 or 978-275-1719. Parking available at the Visitor Center lot, 304 Dutton St.
“Come join us on a tour of some of Greater Lowell’s ethnic markets…three local markets specializing in Portuguese, Indian, and African foods. You will have a chance to meet with proprietors, hear family stories, taste a sample, and buy specialty foods. FREE EVENT!”
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