Nearly 50 people gathered last night at the Lowell Senior Center to participate in a community “visioning session” conducted by staff of the Department of Planning and Development. The topics for discussion were housing and public services. Here’s how it worked:
There were four table groupings in the big hall of the Senior Center. Upon arrival, you signed in and were given a patch of small green stickers which would be used later in the evening. Attendees self-selected which group to sit at. After a brief introduction of the topic and the process, four teams of two DPD staffers each fanned out to the tables. The DPD teams would be the facilitators and recorders of the discussion. Each DPD team was in charge of a single topic which was discussed in the group for about 15 minutes. When that time was up, the facilitators rotated to the next group. That way, each group got to work with each facilitator/recorder team, and each of those teams got to hear each group’s thoughts on their particular topic. As soon as this rotation ended, the facilitators consolidated the input of the four work groups on a single poster page for each topic. The final step was that all participants wandered by the easel-mounted poster pages and affixed a small green sticker (we were given a total of eight stickers) to the topics we each thought most important. I didn’t stick around for the vote tallying – I’m not sure anyone did – so I hope that’s publicized or at least distributed to those who attended.
That was the process (which was interesting and well organized). My notes (and memory) are a little sketchy but I believe the four topics were (1) quality of housing; (2) availability of housing; (3) green building; and (4) city services. In the group of which I was part, we had interesting discussions on each topic although the topics were so broad we could have discussed any one of them for the entire night and still not covered everything. Just as a football coach has to wait to see the game film to figure out what really happened during the game, I need to see the collected topics to be able to provide a substantive account of what was discussed.
Two related observations: The opportunity to sit down with a group of fellow residents and discuss a wide array of community-related topics was extremely valuable and rewarding quite apart from its role in updating the city’s master plan. This kind of gathering and discussion is a great exercise in community building and we ought to look for more opportunities like that. My other observation is that during the intro, the DPD staff (Allison Lamy was the main speaker) shared some statistics about the city that I found fascinating. For example, 33% of those who own homes in Lowell are paying more than 35% of their monthly income on their mortgages. Fifty percent of the housing in Lowell was constructed before 1939. The city has a 93% occupancy rate, with 54% of those occupants renters and 46% owners. Our vacancy rate for rentals is 1.3%. There were many other such statistics cited, but I wasn’t able to record them all. A suggestion for DPD: Periodically publish fact sheets on the city’s website that contain these kind of statistics so that they’re easily available in one place for citizens who are interested in thinking about issues like housing and city services.
The schedule for future visioning sessions, all of which run from 6 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lowell Senior Center at 276 Broadway: On July 19, Transportation and mobility; On July 25, Economic Development, Workforce Investment, and Institutional Partnerships; on July 28, Community Character, engagement and identity; on August 3, Open Space and Natural Resources. Final note – public officials and candidates I saw in attendance were City Councilor Patrick Murphy and candidates John MacDonald and Paul Belley.