Lowell: The Flowering City

In 1996-97, there was a lot of activity in Lowell around a concept called “Lowell: The Flowering City.” At the Gorham Street/Back Central branch of Enterprise Bank you can see a tall sign with the logo from the project, a gesture meant to help shift the nickname of the city from The Spindle City (old) to The Flowering City (new)—or at least to introduce an alernate nickname. It seems that “The Mill City” has stuck longer than “The Spindle City,” however, there are too many nineteenth-century factory cities around to distinguish one of them with “mill city.” Which gets us back to the Flowering City. The concept “blossomed” from an innovative community planning forum that drew more than 150 people to Lowell High School one weekend in 1996. Here’s my post from last June:

In 1996, an illustrated article on the front page of the SUN followed by a community planning workshop involving more than 150 people at Lowell High School brought the concept of a greener Lowell to the front of the city’s brain. The gathering was called the Project Anthopolis Charrette—anthopolis is a neologism that means “flowering city.” The late Peter Stamas coined the term. The purpose of the project was to move Lowell beyond a bricks-and-mortar revitalization, which was well along the way to fulfillment, to a sustainable community development initiative rooted in the distinctive natural and cultural heritage resources of Lowell—those assets that could be cultivated in every sense by the community for all their value. A lavishly illustrated report and plan for achieving the Flowering City vision was produced in 1997 by the Human Services Corp. of Lowell. A few years later, George Duncan of Enterprise Bank raised the Flowering City logo in the Back Central neighborhood with a permanent sign over a new branch bank on Gorham Street.

Much has been accomplished in the past 15 years, some of it inspired by the vision of The Flowering City and more of it the result of hundreds and thousands of decisions made by people at their homes and businesses, by organizations and institutions, and by public agencies whose work affects the natural resources of the city.

Fifteen years later, please share with us what you’ve done, what you see, and how the city looks to you in pictures. We’re past the early spring blossom season, but flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, landscapes, the urban forest, street trees, and more will be at their peak in the next several months. Let’s celebrate and document the season in pictures and words. Lowell has moved beyond the factory town reputation while remaining faithful to its important heritage. The Flowering City vision was meant in part to put forward a new paradigm for the city in an attempt to encourage people to see beyond the flat red surfaces and right angles of the mill-scape and notice more colors, the organic lines, and vitality of the “green-ways and blue-ways” described in the 25-year plan for The Flowering City.

7 Responses to Lowell: The Flowering City

  1. Kosta says:

    Thinking of it – it is now 15 years since the charette in 1996 – time for a review of the original vision and re-thinking new ones.

  2. George DeLuca says:

    PARADIGM SHIFT, June 26, 2011


    150 people out of 100,000 isn’t really a great turnout when you think about it. If you were to stand on a corner downtown and ask people if they ever heard the term “Flowering City” what would the response be?

    I noticed you didn’t provide much in the way of details and don’t know who your target reader is, or even what your point is. In 2009, MIT did a study involving the Lower Highlands that included a segment encouraging a “Green Streets” initiative that we need to be thinking about and implementing as a population.

    Ironically, the Waste Water Treatment Plant over on Rt. 110 is setting a great example, including experimenting with porous pavement, rooftop gardens, basins for catching and recycling rain water and solar panels; not to mention processing the sewage and storm drainage of Lowell and surrounding Towns. And yes, they’re working on reducing the smell.

    Where is this “Flowering City” document of which you speak? Let’s get it in front of 106,000, not just 150.

    Paul, you’ve been involved in some admirable intitiatives in the past, and you’re currently in a position to make a difference in the City on several fronts. But coming off sustainability week in Lowell, we have a long ways to go. Let’s find out exactly who we are as a City before we start labeling.

    I cringed every time I heard the phrase “Little Cambodia” recently. That term has quickly evolved to “Cambodia Cultural Center” or Cambodia Cultural Village”. Kudos to the Southeast Asian Community for gearing up for the future and connecting on the issues they face here in Lowell in true grass roots style.

    If anything, we should take another hard look at the City seal. A cornucopia filling up with the exhaust and pollution of the old mills, with the inscription “Art is the Handmade of Human Good”. Apparently, Lowell started the greenhouse gas problem. Do we really want to celebrate that? Although the City is to be admired for not trying to hide it. Lowell indeed has a strong character, but doesn’t always see the whole picture.

    As for Lowell’s future, we need to get more people involved that have a stake, especially those with children. As CSNY said “Teach Your Children”. I’m sorry, but your post is a bit cryptic for my tastes in an age where sustainability is as glaring and crucial a topic as ever.

    Better to just say, “Attend the Master Plan update meetings!” and work towards getting the best turnout possible. The fact that about 50 people turned out for the opening “visioning session” is appalling at best. However, the diversity of the turnout was impressive if not telling, with over a dozen from the Southeast Asian Community, and several from the African and Latinos cultures. Even more poignant was the contingent of youths, and of course, “Climate Summer”. Of course Patrick Murphy was there. Where was the rest of the City Council and this year’s challengers?

    There’s a new paradigm coming, whether we want it or know it or not. Lowell has a phenomenal opportunity to emerge as a leader, but only if 106,000 tune in, join up and help out. 150 people cannot build a sustainable vision for the City. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long ways to go, my friend, as we stand here at a fork in the road.

    The best place to start is by fostering a goverment that reflects the demographics; and, to continue to grow as a City, so we can lead the urban world in sustainability practices and build our capability to compete in the world economy. These initiatives are underway but the bottom line continues to be economic growth and job creation.

    Tune in to what the neighborhood leaders and their stallwart volunteers are doing. The answer lies there. Tune in and join up.

    To find out more about “Green Lowell” please use this link: http://www.cometolowell.com/Orgs.htm#Green. These are the people we need to step up now more than ever. There’s an army to build.

  3. PaulM says:

    George: First off, your book is on the way for the FB quiz the other day. Second, the Flowering City Committee was an active group until about two years ago, when it merged with the Lowell Heritage Partnership, the 20-plus member board whose mission is “caring for architecture, nature, and culture.” The website for Flowering City has been done for a while, but the information will be re-loaded onto the LHP website within a couple of weeks. There, you can see the details of the effort. It’s a vision statement with a lot of detail about prospective developments related to the citiy’s natural resources. We thought 150 people at a community planning session was an accomplishment in 1996. Nobody said the group had the power to speak for the entire city, but the people there shaped a consensus about how to move forward with green initiatives, conservation, tree planting, building preservation, celebration of the city’s inherent diversity as a natural resource in human form, improved use of waterways, etc. I can send you a hard copy of the plan. There are a few left if others are interested. As I said, it should be on the web some time in July. Cheers.

  4. Marie says:

    George – I’m scratching my head over your anti-Flowering City rant – especially since you don’t seem to have a clue of what it’s about. I hope you will review the material Paul plans to post about the “Lowell: the Flowering City” charrette – an event that took years to plan… please look at the list of participants and let me note for you the many follow-up gatherings – large and small that followed. The “fall-out” from those events and vision-sharing is seen thoughout the city today in green and flowering spaces large and small, care of and along the waterways and preservation and stewardship our natural and man-made resources. The impact can’t be fully expressed in a few words – much of it was experienced. I’m proud to have been a part of the process right from the beginning with such Lowell stalwarts as Peter Stamas and Mary Bacigalupo and so many, many others. I’m surprised that to boost a current plan you feel the need to denigrate a honest and worthwhile effort from the past.

  5. PaulM says:

    In my post, that should say “down for a while,” referring to the Flowering City website. The web presence lapsed when the committee evolved into a new form as it joined the Lowell Heritage Partnership, which does have a website.

  6. Joe S says:

    I perceive George’s post as a “call to action” rather than a “rant”, but it seems to be directed at the wrong people. Maybe it is the 106,000 less 150 that should be the targets? But they are probably mostly obliivious to the discussion. In any case many others continue on, as I am sure Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust is a much more effective partner today. And to have Sustainability as a key part of the updated Master Plan speaks well of the City and Councilor Murphy who continues to push that agenda.

    There is an artiicle in today’s Globe about the need to have urban green space to curb the foul moods of the urban dwellers – it seems that could calm the waters here.

    Although old Lowell featured many smokestacks, its primary engine was waterpower – so “green” was our valley.

  7. George DeLuca says:

    Paul, thank you for responding to my post. You and I have traded articles recently, and we share an understanding of the seriousness of the issue of sustainability. I look forward to continued collaboration in this area, as well as with other team oriented individuals and groups.

    I’d like to take you up on your offer of forwarding a hard copy of the plan. If you’d like to rendevous so that we can chat for a moment that would be great. I’m downtown quite a bit.

    To others who may be tuning in to this post I ask that you spread the word about the 2012 Master Plan Update visioning sessions. The schedule is located at http://www.lowellma.gov/depts/dpd/master_plan/complete_masterplan/master-plan-update/Meetings .

    For the record, “Lowell: The Flowering Ciy” is acknowledged in the 2003 Master Plan, ironically under the category “Neighborhood Groups” (see my comments above, towards the end). Paul Marion was also on the “Citizens Advisory Committee”.

    Thank you to Kosta and Joe S who offered constructive input in this thread, as did I.