Nearly 200 people last night gathered for the opening dinner of the Innovative Cities Conference at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. In a video message, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas emphasized that older, mid-sized industrial (or post-industrial) cities have a particular set of challenges and assets that must be addressed in the overall design of federal urban policy. Keynote speaker Adolfo Carrion, Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs reminded the audience that the vast majority of Americans live in cities and metropolitan areas and that demographers predict that by 2050 nearly 75 percent of the world’s population will be composed of city dwellers. If we in the United States don’t make our cities healthy, energy efficient, economically productive, and places that provide opportunities for people to live fulfilled lives in every sense, he said, then we will not succeed as a nation. Closer to home, he said the fates of Lowell and Lawrence are not unrelated and that places like Lawrence that are in fragile economic and social conditions need to be pulled into the spheres of places like Lowell that are enjoying more prosperity by comparison.
President Carole Cowan of Middlesex Community College underscored the commitment to “community” at the heart of the mission of community colleges and noted that each of the six cities being featured at the conference has a strong community college. Noting the collaborative sponsorship and presentation of the conference, she said no institution or agency or organization in Lowell works alone—and that the partnership ethic is vigorous in the city. Taking a broad view, Chancellor Marty Meehan of UMass Lowell called for Lowell as a whole to embrace the concept of the city as a “college town,” which it has been in fact since the middle 1890s, but which it has not been in reality. Going forward, the higher education engine in Lowell, community college combined with university, can drive the city’s economic and social fortunes for the next 100 years, he said. The whole region will benefit if this vision is realized.
Conference sessions continue today with in-depth looks at Ann Arbor, Asheville, Belfast, Lowell, Milwaukee, and Portland. Walk-up registration is available for last-minute deciders. The lunch speaker is the Director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, whom Lowell is honored to be hosting today. For all details, visit www.innovativecitiesconference.com