On Lowell Live Feed, an April [2016!] article from Jeff Speck, a highly respected professional city planner who was brought to Lowell to help build long term plans for Lowell’s development, has raised a brouhaha once again. While some off-my-lawn codgers are arguing against bike lanes (especially on Chelmsford St, where not only was that space wasted on the super-wide road, but it’s also the main thoroughfare from the Bruce Freeman Trail into the city), I was especially disgusted by the dismissal of Speck, who again, is a well known city planning expert, by none other than current councilor Dan Rourke, who said, “At least he doesn’t hide his love from the non-profit that paid him huge money to say what they want him to.”
As you might recall, Mr. Rourke lost his reelection bid and will no longer be a city councilor. But it struck me hard, that his dismissal of Lynch-era city planning, and of Speck and the Lowell Plan who brought him in, is an awful lot like the knee jerk reactions that appears to lead the current resident of the White House to undo all the things Obama ever did, from renewable energy initiatives, to education (who is for letting men get away with rape in colleges?? I mean what?), to anything that science says, ever, about anything.
Jeff Speck is an expert in his field. Dan Rourke has zero experience in city planning. So naturally let’s not listen to a word the expert says, because heaven forbid we ever use facts, science, or expertise to determine anything. This strain of anti-intellectualism isn’t new in Lowell, of course. And for now thankfully, the anti-intellectuals are going to be in a small minority. But whether it’s Rita Mercier crying “kids on bikes dealing drugs!” to attempt to remove Father Morissette Boulevard bike lanes (at great expense to the city of course) or Rourke dismissing one of the country’s premiere experts on city planning because it’s part of that “other” faction of Lowell leadership (whether or not you love the Lowell Plan all the time, this is also about the Lynch era of city government), Lowell is constantly caught in the crossfire between people who want facts, expertise, and knowledge to inform our future, and people like Mercier and Rourke (add Elliott and often Belanger in that too) for whom facts be damned.
With such whiplash between smart thinking and thoughtless reactionary grandstanding, Lowell’s progress goes in fits and starts. Friends, this is why local elections matter. Do you have any idea how much further along Lowell would be if we had not had this interim Council of naysayers trying to undo the Lynch era? Have you been counting the number of really great city employees, particularly in the Planning Department, that we’ve lost since Murphy took over? I have, and it’s devastating, the amount of expertise we lost.
It’s great that we had a change election. Obviously this turnover is a side effect of the high school debate, but I’ll take what I can get. But if we constantly go in one direction for 4-7 years, and then backwards for another 4-7 years, as we did going from Cox to Lynch to Murphy, our progress will remain elusive and transitory. Every election should be about striving to keep Lowell moving forward. Complacency is not an option. We might have flipped the City Council (and added a construction project manager, Karen Cirillo, to our roster! go us!), but are you going to be there in two years, and four years, to keep this progress going? Or are we going to let the Merciers and Rourkes undo any progress in the next City Council?
Humans get lazy, I know that. But when it comes to local government, we have an obligation to stick to a vision to see it through, for the future of our lives together here in this city.
PS: can we revisit backyard chickens with this new City Council? Pretty please?
PPS: if you missed this blog in the last little while, a few things happened…some files got deleted somehow and I couldn’t post til my host fixed things, and I had a nasty cold and all my spare time was used up in prepping my house to host a big Thanksgiving gathering. So, hence, no blogging. Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving, whatever you were doing!