Just to follow up on Marie’s observations about the Lowell Plan breakfast this morning, I want to mention that the Lowell Plan is a membership organzation if anyone is wondering. The LP is the living breathing example of an action strategy that Lowell calls “public-private partnership,” which is a way of describing how people in business collaborate with people in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community institutions. In practice, it means banks, companies, corporations, and small businesses contributing private dollars for projects that advance economic development and enhance the public good. The business sector’s counterpart is made of entities like City Hall, UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College, the National Park, Lowell General Hospital, and others. Together, the LP members pursue their mission to make Lowell the best city of its size in the country.
Each time the Lowell Plan convenes its members, usually every other year now, there is a centerpiece media production. In the old days, late 1970s, you could count on a multi-image slide show. Producer Fred Woods created several back when the breakfast was an annual affair. Presentation technology changed, and Page One Productions of Lowell and later Chelmsford produced more than a few videos in the middle years. Lowell Telecommunications Corp. (LTC) delivered a popular marketing video about Lowell a few years ago. More recently, the technology changed again and we had PowerPoint to make the point. This year, Neoscape of Boston kicked the media piece up a notch with computer-generated graphics that showed buildings rising and streetscapes evolving as the audience watched: the parking lot of Middlesex Community College on East Merrimack Street turned into a small park with trees; the steel-and-glass edifice of University Crossing (former St. Joe’s Hospital) materialized on screen; and the Judicial Center at the west end of the Hamilton Canal District took form in seconds, giving everyone a sense of what it will be like driving from Thorndike toward Dutton Street. The music stopped, the credits rolled, and the media production was finished in the room. Everyone applauded, and within an hour “Lowell: A 2020 Vision” was viral on the net. Facebook. YouTube. Websites. This never happened before with a Lowell Plan media production. A few years ago, the LTC marketing video went into heavy rotation on local cable TV and was on the web, but social media took this media piece and spun it into space. I was most impressed by the comments of young people around the city who watched it and Shared it with pride and enthusiasm.
Guest speaker Carol Coletta of ArtPlace, a national group that helps people create special places in their cities, worked in Memphis, Tenn., in the late 1970s. She said in those days she and others like her were in awe of what the Lowell community had done by bringing a national park to the city. She was full of praise for Lowell as an early adopter of the pro-city attitude that is gaining momentum. She said that young adults today are four times as likely to want to live in a city than their predecessors in 1970 (survey figures went from 10 percent to 40 percent). Among college-educated young adults the figure is twice that or more. She talked about three factors determining the success of cities: quality of talent, quality of place, and quality of opportunity. In all three areas, Lowell people have much to be encouraged about.
There was a palpable boost of spirit in the ballroom at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center as the crowd moved toward the doors. It had been an unusual morning. We had seen the future in the transformations on screen. This was different than looking at blueprints and conceptual drawings. It was computer animation of a kind. You saw the Richard P. Howe Sr. Bridge span the Merrimack; one minute it was not there, the next minute it was joining Pawtucket Street to the VFW Highway. You saw the South Common change into a beautiful park with a trolley line running from the train station on Thorndike Street to Gorham Street. Seeing these things in place made them seem all the more possible. I think most people left the room believing everything they saw would happen.