Lowell Then: Model Cities Program (1968-72)

From 1968 to 1972, Lowell participated in a new urban redevelopment program that had been launched as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” legislative broadside. The federal programs were intended to lift up the many Americans facing dire economic and social challenges. Lowell Mayor Edward J. Early, Jr., moved to explore the new source of funding at the behest of Lowell City Councilor George F. O’Meara, a long-time supporter of the Kennedy political clan in Massachusetts with contacts in the Johnson administration. The mayor appointed a committee to follow up: city planner Jack Tavares, John Mahoney of Community Teamwork Inc., George Flanagan of the Lowell Housing Authority, William Kealy of the Lowell Redevelopment Authority, and Patrick J. Mogan, then assistant superintendent of the Lowell School Department.

Parts of Lowell ranked high on the “misery index” in that period, but there were some inventive development plans being put forward by community activists. The city easily qualified in the first round of funding. By 1973, the local Model Cities group had made progress with initiatives in public safety, housing, education, culture, recreation, health care, elder and youth services, neighborhood infrastructure, traffic, information networks, and environmental quality–75 programs, small and large, aimed at improving day to day life, primarily in the Acre neighborhood. In a report published in 1972, the Lowell Model Cities leadership expressed its progressive theory of urban living.

Through the centuries, man’s basic needs have been intimately tied to the happiness and fulfillment he seeks from life. The complexities of present-day urban environments haven’t changed this, for our aspirations are, in essence, as timeless as the natural cycle of birth and death. We seek adequate food and shelter. Outlets for our skills and our inborn creative talents. Health. Safety. Stimuli for learning and self-expression. The presence of open space—of sky above us, grass at our feet, and sunshine’s warm embrace. Because we are interrelating creatures, we also seek the companionship, compassion, and understanding of our fellow human beings. The fundamental reason for a city’s existence is to foster those human values.

(Thanks to Gray Fitzsimons and Mehmed Ali for their diligent research on Lowell’s recent past, which helped inform this nugget of history.)