What promises to be an important community conversation gathered steam last evening when more than 50 people gathered at Jack and Terry O’Connor’s big white house at the peak of Mansur Street in Belvidere to share views and ideas about how best to tell people in, around, and outside of Lowell that the city has much to offer. The meeting was spurred by cultural activists, who were joined by business, educational, political, media, and neighborhood leaders. My understanding is that City Councilor Bill Samaras and City Manager Kevin Murphy teamed up with the O’Connors and Nancy Donahue, noted arts advocates who are devoted to the vision of Lowell as a premier city, to organize the group discussion as the first step in a larger and long-term effort to heighten Lowell’s profile as a distinctive community. In attendance were Mayor Elliott and every other councilor, School Supt. Franco, Police Supt. Taylor, state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, and state Representatives Golden and Nangle, which constituted an impressive statement by the local government sector.
We heard brief remarks about marketing and Lowell’s heritage and culture to set up the conversation from Susan Halter of the City’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Superintendent Celeste Bernardo of the National Park Service, and Vice Chancellor of University Relations Patti McCafferty, representing Chancellor Marty Meehan (unavailable because he is traveling). From the staircase in the front hall, City Manager Murphy then moderated a 90-minute session in which people offered specific and general recommendations about what can be done to enhance Lowell’s message about its benefits and assets. The comments ranged from suggestions for street-level improvements to opinions about what geographic areas should be targeted for messaging. The Manager several times said that this was only a start and that the discussion will continue and be enriched by the many voices and interest groups in the city. I will follow up with more details about some of the comments as well as my thoughts about what might be done.
For now, we can be assured that the community is in for serious dialogue about a communication strategy that can help Lowell take a step up. Not lost on those in attendance was the fresh news about the overnight shooting and the multiple victims of that act of violence. We can all agree that Lowell should not be defined by the crimes that will occur in a city of more than 100,000 residents. The planning for last night’s gathering began well before that shooting incident, of course, but the gun shots served to underline the urgency of speaking out more loudly about the good in our community.