It means looking at the big picture — adopting policies today that will serve you well into the next year, decade, century. It means a better today, and a better tomorrow.
On a practical level for a city like Lowell, sustainability means: efficient, renewable energy; walkable neighborhoods; affordable lifetime housing; efficient transportation systems; cultural, educational and business opportunities that attract visitors and attract and retain residents; and a whole lot more.
For more than a year the city’s Department of Planning and Development has been collecting information from other city departments, institutions and businesses and residents through visioning sessions, telephone surveys and online to put together an updated version of the city’s 2003 Comprehensive Master Plan.
The result: Sustainable Lowell 2025, a blueprint to guide the city through the remainder of the first quarter of the century. Monday night a public session was held at Alumni Hall at UMass Lowell to discuss the draft plan and gather further input to be used to craft the final plan, which is expected to be presented to the City Council and Planning Board later this winter.
“This wasn’t a plan created by a handful of people in the Planning Department throwing ideas around,” said Neighborhood Planner Allegra Williams, who along with Senior Planner Aaron Clausen hosted the session, which was attended by more than 60 people.
The plan is broken into eight action areas:
- Sustainable Neighborhoods: Williams said one of the primary ideas the city is looking at is finding was to use school buildings during non-school hours as community centers, a place to hold classes, events and gatherings to build community in every neighborhood. Sustainable neighborhoods are created when initiatives are put into place to make the best use of the enclave’s natural resources such as waterfront areas and recreational areas, as well as planning policies that preserve the already rich character of each neighborhood and make each area easily accessible to business districts and other amenities. It also includes an initiative already on a roll in Lowell — community gardening and urban agriculture, which some are hoping will soon include the legalization of backyard chickens, modeled after the regulations put into place last year in Somerville.
- Housing Choice: The goal is for Lowell to be a place that offers a
wide range of safe, quality housing options in a wide range of prices: rental apartments and condos, artist lofts, multi-family and multi-generational homes, up to the large Victorian mansions of Belvidere and single-family capes in the Highlands.
Part of that goal includes increasing and being vigilant with code enforcement and working closely with neighborhood groups to squash problems before they get out of control, as well as encouraging owner-occupancy and finding the right balance between development and open space.
- Mobility and Access: City Engineer Lisa DeMeo said the city is starting to look at street development in a new way. Where previously, everything was developed with the mindset that the “car is king,” today pedestrian and bicycle safety and ease of use are taken into account. A large part of that is education for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians to make sure everyone is able to use the roads safely. The city is also looking at increasing the use of public transportation to decrease traffic congestion, as well as implement some of the street changes recommended in Jeff Speck’s Downtown Evolution Plan.
- Vibrant and Unique Urban Hub: One of the top priorities in this
realm is to bring more hotel rooms into the downtown, as well as to work with downtown businesses to expand their hours to keep the downtown a vibrant, lively place on evenings and weekends for more than just the bar crowd. The city is also continuing to cultivate its relationship with UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College to promote the city and bring people and businesses into the downtown and out into the neighborhoods. It also includes the continued and increased support of artists, encouraging them to both live and work in the city.
- Healthy and Sustainable Local Economy: This goal includes a range of activities including supporting job training programs, as well as working with businesses to recreate vacant spaces to house new businesses and pop-up galleries to eliminate blight. The city also strives to assist existing businesses through energy efficiency programs, business assistance programs and by bringing in more business to keep the commercial tax rate steady.
- Environmental Resilience: This goal includes educating the public about how to increase how much they recycle and make it easier for those who live in apartments to do so, as well as look at other waste-reduction strategies such as composting at large institutions like schools and restaurants. The city is also encouraging the use of electric cars by purchasing more of them for the city’s fleet, as well as installing electric car charging stations for the public to use. The city is also looking to promote urban forestry, with a goal of planting 2,000 more trees by 2025 and encouraging the planting of urban orchards where appropriate.
- Effective Operations, Infrastructure and Technology: It’s about
working smarter. . . providing professional development and training to city employees, as well as offer competitive salary and benefit packages to attract and retain talented people. This also includes improving communication within city operations and with the public, as well as using data to better utilize personnel and financial resources. There is also a desire to look at the regionalization of services where appropriate.
- Sustained Public Engagement: If the people of the city are not on board with the goals and policies the city is implementing they will fail. An engaged, outspoken and informed citizenry is vital to the city’s continued success. This includes working with a variety of groups throughout the city to draw a diverse group of people from various ethnic groups, economic and occupational backgrounds and ages to let their voices be heard.
Comments on the plan will be accepted through January 15 and can be sent to Allegra Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.