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Lowell, a creative model of urban revitalization

Lowell is an exemplar of urban revitalization, with museums, a music festival, and a thriving restaurant scene.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Lowell is an exemplar of urban revitalization, with museums, a music festival, and a thriving restaurant scene.

The logo of the Lowell Spinners, a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, features a baseball bat used as a spindle. It’s a nod to this river city’s historic industrial past. At one point, the mills contained more cotton spindles than all 11 Confederate states combined. Later, caught in the crosshairs of deindustrialization, however, Lowell suffered a rapid economic decline. It rebounded impressively during the “Massachusetts Miracle” in the 1980s, and its revitalization continues today.

Lowell is an exemplar of the “creative economy” model of urban revitalization, with museums and galleries, a popular summer music festival, a thriving restaurant scene, a commemorative sculpture park dedicated to native son Jack Kerouac, and a wave of attention from the motion picture “The Fighter,” based on the life of boxer Micky Ward .

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The University of Massachusetts Lowell, which is looking to expand its Tsongas arena downtown, boasts significant growth — both physical and academic: “Since 2007, the university has experienced a 45 percent increase in enrollment; opened eight new buildings; graduated record numbers of students; and has seen a three-year, 25-spot climb in U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Universities ranking that is the second-fasted in the nation.” The university broke ground for a new $40 million home for the Manning School of Business in May.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

By the numbers

1

The city’s rank among the nation’s industrial complexes during its textile manufacturing heyday in the 1850s

9

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Number of neighborhoods in the city: Downtown, Centralville, Pawtucketville, Lower Highlands, Highlands, Back Central (“The Flats”), Belvidere, The Acre, and South Lowell, (which is the collective name for several sections such as Ayer’s City, Sacred Heart, Riverside Park, Swede Village, the Bleachery, the Grove, and Wigginsville)

About 13%

Percentage of the population who identify as either born in Cambodia or of Cambodian descent, some 13,400 people, according to data from the Census Bureau’s 2008-2012 American Community Survey. Community leaders say that number is much higher. Lowell, once a heavily French-Canadian city, became a destination for refugees from Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

June 5, 1978

When the Lowell National Historical Park, honoring one of the earliest examples of a planned industrial city in the United States, was established. In addition to the typical national park mandates of preserving and interpreting a resource, the designation was also granted to protect and enhance cultural resources within the Lowell Historic Preservation District — a precursor to the current “creative economy” movement.

Pros & Cons

Pro

Culture: lots of it

The Lowell Summer Music Series, now in its 25th season, features big names such as Buddy Guy and Lucinda Williams. The Boott Cotton Mills Museum is the centerpiece of the Lowell National Historical Park, which helps make arts outreach such as the Music Series and the free Lowell Folk Festival possible through funding and partnerships. (“The park is the city, and the city is the park,” the National Park Service says.) The Whistler House Museum of Art is the birthplace of the painter James McNeill Whistler.

Con

Safety

Being one of the largest cities in the state and with an economically
diverse population, Lowell has struggled over the years with drug
trafficking and gang activity. When Lowell instituted a community policy program in the 1990s, the city saw a 60 percent reduction in crime. The program was revamped recently. The result? A 23 percent drop in the first six months of 2014.

Pro

Housing options

As an old mill town, Lowell has a remarkable number of old factory buildings that have been beautifully refurbished as luxury apartments and loft-style living alternatives. There are also pockets of historic homes sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods.

The sun sets over the city of Lowell on the Merrimack River.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The sun sets over the city of Lowell on the Merrimack River.

Grave site of Jack Kerouac in Edson Cemetery.

The Boston Globe

Grave site of Jack Kerouac in Edson Cemetery.

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Outside dining on Palmer Street.

The Boston Globe

Outside dining on Palmer Street.

LeLacheur Park.

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LeLacheur Park.

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Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church.

The Boston Globe

Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @sullivanjames.
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