Glass Half-Full and Filling Up

For those able to attend the Lowell Plan’s annual breakfast yesterday at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, a person would have to be pretty hard-hearted not to have come away feeling better about the city and more optimistic about what’s over the wooded horizon. The 300 people in the room heard two young bankers, graduates of the Public Matters leadership program, describe why they feel good about living and working in the city—the comments kept coming around to the high quality of community engagement they see every day. They care about Lowell because they see other people so invested in making this city a good place to be. They feel the energy that comes from people working the city like people work the land to make a garden. They take advantage of opportunities to enjoy being in the city, whether that is going to a baseball game or singing in a play. And then one of our most enthusiastic businessmen shared a big idea that has the potential to lift a lot of spirits this winter. He said, Why don’t we take the wonderful example of the giant Christmas tree that strings out from the towering smokestack at Wannalancit Mills each holiday season and replicate the tree on smokestacks at all the mill complexes? He showed an artist’s conception of what it could look like. Somebody said it looked like the line of mountaintop beacon fires in a scene from “The Lord of the Rings.” Brilliant. And earlier, the retiring long-time president of our downtown community college got a standing ovation for all she has contributed. She walked everyone down memory lane with before-and-after pictures of all the building projects that had borne success in 25 years or so. She gave a virtual tour of the new fine arts center coming at the old Boston and Maine Railroad depot on Central Street, and then let everyone know that she has another $10 million to spend on one more building for the downtown campus. The City Manager announced three big business developments that will bring scores of jobs to the city, including a medical devices company and an expansion restaurant with a familiar Merrimack Valley name. Finally, an acclaimed urban planner who has been helping to re-boot the city’s downtown spoke in-depth about strategies designed to set the city on a course of greater vitality and stronger appeal as a distinctive American city. He said, There’s no city like Lowell in the country. He said, You have something special here. It’s handsome, and a little rugged, and full of surprising special places and structures. He said, Lowell is poised to attract more people to live and work in the city, especially “the millenials,” those up and coming women and men with the kind of talent, ambition, and imagination that every city in Lowell’s category wants to keep (among its own residents) and also pull in from the outside. He talked about the Downtown Evolution Plan and urged everyone to stick with it. So far, so good. Things are moving. Constructive changes are happening. Be positive. This was coming from someone from away, somebody who works all over the country and travels across the globe doing the business of city planning. He knows what’s out there, and he  knows how Lowell compares. And he’s feeling good about Lowell. Which is just what one elected official said to me today after thinking about what he had seen and heard yesterday. He said, I’m definitely feeling like the glass is half-full and filling up.