On Saturday, April 18, 1998, about 100 people attended a “town meeting” called “What Does the Internet Mean for Lowell?” at the O’Leary Library of UMass Lowell. The gathering was sponsored by the UMass Lowell Psychology Dept. Community Outreach Laboratory, Flowering City Steering Committee, New England Foundation for the Arts (Building Communities Through Culture Program), and Human Services Corp. of Lowell.
The “reveal” of the morning meeting was the launch of a new website called “Flowering City Forum,” a new tool for sharing ideas and creative expression. The site components included Lowell’s Flowering City Project information plus a discussion forum and a new online, bioregional magazine, “The Bridge Review: Merrimack Valley Culture,” which ran for five issues (it was revived in 2012 for a special issue coinciding with the Bread & Roses Strike Centennial). The forum and magazine offered an opening to a larger discussion about how a city, a community, could harness the power of the web and what this might mean socially for the life of the city. That’s why the psychologists had jumped in. A few of the faculty in UMass Lowell’s highly respected master’s program in community social psychology were thought leaders in this area. The impetus on the community side was (1) to find a way keep the connection lively among the people who had attended a weekend charrette in 1996 to shape the Flowering City plan and (2) to experiment with the web as means of publishing cultural material. Here’s a link to the Flowering City plan, posted on a Google site by Corey Sciuto.
The Flowering City Forum was an attempt to connect people in Lowell at the dawn of the Internet era. This was before social media and Facebook and Twitter. The new Lowell “greening” plan was the medium for what was expected to be a vigorous and ongoing public conversation, in a way anticipating the local blogs, Lowell Live Feed Forum, You Know You’re From Lowell When…, the Lowell Bike Coalition page, and more. The online cultural magazine was an experiment in using the web for creative purposes at the hyper-local level. In keeping with the green theme, the magazine was conceived as being bioregional, taking the Merrimack River watershed for its territorial limits.
Participants in the town meeting included UMass Lowell faculty and students, City of Lowell officials, staff from the New England Foundation for the Arts, the coordinator of trAce International Online Writing Community in England, Lowell Telecommunications Corp. staff, and others affiliated with cultural organizations, neighborhood groups, businesses, and the Flowering City Project.
The town meeting organizers were professors Charles Nikitopoulos and Dave Landrigan of UMass Lowell and Clementine Alexis and me from the Human Services Corp. of Lowell and FC committee.
The Flowering City Forum was a limited success. It never took off the way we hoped it would, but the online forum did provide a useful tool at a time when lots of people were fascinated by the new widespread availability of the web and trying to figure out what could be done with the powerful new resource.