The Boston Globe yesterday in “A tale of two cities, and both of them are Lowell,” examined the competing views of what Lowell should look like moving into the future. The in-depth article, with quotes from former Mayor Bud Caulfield to recent Lowell High graduate Elmer Martinez, and many in between, declared the city to be at a crossroads with minority residents soon to be the majority.
Appropriately, the story fixes on whether the city council is truly representative of all who live in the city with those in the story from the minority community saying it is not. It quotes Daniel Uk, one of the plaintiffs in the pending federal lawsuit that alleges the city’s method of electing city councilors violates the federal Voting Rights Act, as saying “We don’t seem to have a voice on the City Council and whenever we try to express concerns that are relevant and specific to our communities, it seems we are brushed off and sort of neglected.”
(On a related note, the council’s Ad Hoc Charter Review/Voting District Representation Subcommittee, according to its chair, Council Jim Leary, will next meet on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at the Lowell Senior Center, presumably in the evening, but not yet sure of the time).
One comment I’ve heard locally is that the story never once mentioned the Lowell High issue. That omission was not accidental because the same reporter who wrote yesterday’s story, Catie Edmondson, also covered the June 21, 2017 marathon Lowell City Council meeting that made the fateful 5 to 4 vote in favor of the Cawley Stadium site (see “After vote to move high school, Lowell faces lingering divisions”).
As brutal as the high school fight has been and continues to be, the Globe seemed to recognize that it is just another battle in this ongoing fight about what Lowell wants to be. It’s better that this article focused on the city’s big picture rather than getting bogged down in the high school fight. Too bad more people in the city fail to adopt this same attitude.
Overall, I thought this was a great article that raised many issues that should be more deeply explored by all who live in Lowell. But the article does seem to draw a sharp divide between a city focused on affordable housing and social service programs, and one focused on attracting affluent, established citizens as the key to future economic growth.
Everyone wants economic growth. The question is how best to achieve it in an equitable and inclusive manner. Politicians often say, correctly, that small businesses are the engine that drive the local economy. I suspect that if you check with the city’s Department of Planning and Development, a majority of the new businesses started in Lowell over the past decade were founded by immigrants or those descended from recent immigrants. Helping new arrivals get settled, educated and started fuels future growth; it’s just a hard, complicated thing to do, but that’s not a reason to not try. Unfortunately, too many in Lowell aren’t willing to take on that complex task. Instead, they see the path to Lowell’s economic success as one lined by a fence that keeps out immigrants and poor people. That kind of thinking is short-sighted, unjust, and ignores our history.