Category Archives: Current Events

South Common Improvement Plan

I walked our dog on the South Common this morning. The grass had turned green seemingly overnight, a refreshing sight after the long winter. Fat-chested robins in their red bibs poked at the defrosted ground on the sports field. In the high fir trees invisible birds called and sang brightly. A man in a Red Sox cap and ballplayer’s jacket strode with purpose toward the train station, no doubt on his way to the early-starting Patriots Day game. Basketball kids had already occupied the courts. The empty light-blue pool held a residue of rain water. A few older folks from Bishop Markham Village walked the oval for their daily exercise.

The South Common improvement plan below is the one that I recall the community endorsing as part of an extensive public process coordinated by the City’s Planning & Development staff as part of the City’s contract with highly respected landscape architects Brown, Richardson and Rowe of Boston. The design project cost money. We had community-input meetings at the Pollard Memorial Library and elsewhere. (The landscape architecture firm,  by the way, is the same one that did the design for award-winning Boarding House Park and Kerouac Park on Bridge Street.) My understanding is that funding for the execution of the plan has been on hold for several years while the City obtained the needed state funding to complete the Concord River Greenway, and that the South Common is next in line for the request for state funding for parks. If it isn’t, it should be next in line. With these improvements shown below, the big park could be a beautiful natural treasure at an important gateway to Lowell. Are we really going to go from a public policy position of enhancing the value of the South Common to a position of removing it from the city map?

Click on the image to see it larger.

South Common Plan

Dennis Lehane Making Sense

“As a country, we used to respect knowledge that was earned over knowledge that was cherry picked.”

—Dennis Lehane, Boston Globe,4/1/9/14

In today’s Boston Globe, author Dennis Lehane thinks aloud about the Boston Marathon Bombing, knowledge vs. opinion, intellectual relativism, bad narratives, and his belief that good ideas will prevail. Read his essay here, and get the Globe if you want more of this kind of writing.

Sustainability Conference

Sustainability: Systems and Solutions

The 4th Massachusetts Sustainable Communities and the 3rd Massachusetts Sustainable Campus Conferences came together yesterday at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center with hundreds of representatives of government, education, business, nonprofits and grassroots organizations coming together for a full day of listening, learning and discussing sustainability practices and resources.

NU Dean Joan Fitzgerald, Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan

The conference began with a keynote panel moderated by Joan Fitzgerald, the interim Dean of the Northeastern University School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs with panel members Mayor Donna Holaday of Newburyport, Mayor Rodney Elliott of Lowell, and Chancellor Marty Meehan of UMass Lowell.
Mayor Holaday said that in Newburyport, citizens acting collectively have driven institutions like town government and schools to embrace sustainability. She said that one of the biggest challenges in the public sector is for elected officials to look at the long term and not just at the next election. She said that instituting sustainability practices has been made especially difficult by the recession and the resulting cuts in government resources. Despite this, it’s critically important that government not take short cuts in this area.

Mayor Elliott cited Lowell’s successful transition to single stream recycling as a big accomplishment that has reduced trash tonnage and increased recycling rates. He also pointed to a 2008 technical audit of all city owned buildings that yielded a comprehensive approach that has resulted in the delivery of services such as heating and electricity at lower costs. He said that in 2010, Lowell was officially designated a Green Community, that energy conservation is now a factor in permitting, and that the city’s master plan which was adopted last year by the city council embraces the concept of sustainability.

Chancellor Meehan welcomed everyone to the Inn and Conference Center saying that one of the primary reasons the University purchased the facility was that it was a way to house 500 students at one-third of the cost of building a traditional dormitory. Another reason for the purchase was to attract cutting edge conferences such as this one. Meehan said that universities have a unique role because academic departments lead the way on developing policies and also scientific techniques that are central to protecting the environment. But as a large institution, universities must also put into practice the policies they advocate. Meehan told a story about a welcome to the campus cookout held in his honor the summer he became chancellor. At the event, he grabbed a can of Diet Pepsi, consumed its contents, and then began searching for a recycling bin in which to deposit the empty can. Finding none, he put the empty can in his coat pocket and left it there until the next morning’s staff meeting when he pulled it out and plopped it on the table, dramatically making the point that while the University did have a recycling program, it was not being pursued aggressively enough. A big challenge for schools like UMass Lowell is the density of older buildings. He told how he cringes in the wintertime when he passes by the school’s oldest building, Coburn Hall, and sees windows open in the freezing cold weather because the elderly heating system can’t be regulated properly. Meehan went on to say that transportation is a huge issue for UMass Lowell. He would have preferred not building the two parking garages that were just constructed but they are necessary for car-bound students needing to get to class. He acknowledged that the university’s various campuses are somewhat spread out, but suggested that they are no further apart than the buildings within the huge UMass Amherst campus. Students there walk everywhere; why can’t they do the same at UMass Lowell he asked rhetorically. He said the challenge is to change the culture to get more people walking between the various campuses.

Near the end of this segment, Dean Fitzgerald commended the two communities and the university for the work they are doing but asserted that “buildings and transportation” are the biggest contributors to our environmental problem and urged everyone to tackle those issues along with recycling which, while important, does not have the impact of the other two.

Marathon musing: who is a hero? by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Don’t read this if you’re tired of the non-stop coverage of the Marathon bombing.  Don’t read it if you’re not touched in some way by the tragedy that befell individual runners and bystanders or disturbed by the assault on our community.  Have there been efforts to capitalize on the grief and memorialization of the event?  The profit center that Boston Strong tee shirts and other memorabilia have become?  The media efforts to outdraw the competition? Yes, yes and yes. Obviously.

But count me among those townies who, since childhood, have gone to the running route, cheered on the travails and triumphs of the winners and the struggling also-rans, felt the communal experience of an event drawing people from around the world (back then, it was the Finnish and Japanese who came to best the American runners) and, without being able to put it into words, thrilled to the experience of a sharing and upbeat crowd. Last year it was: how could they do that to our town?

Randomness heightens the sense of horror.  Being in the right place at the wrong time. But are these victims heroes?  They don’t think so. Jeff Bowman had both his legs blown off a year ago.  He told WBUR he is not a hero, that he is an ordinary guy. Other victims have echoed his sentiments. They are overcoming adversity, clenching their teeth, battling their pain,  showing resilience, and moving forward. It’s what my father did when he lost his leg decades ago. The survivors will be in recovery for a long time, perhaps forever.

Are the police, firefighters and other responders heroes?  Or are they just doing what their jobs require?  They, too, are often dismissive of the term hero.  Even Lt. Ed Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy would probably have said they were just doing their jobs when they perished in the recent Beacon Street fire.  Perhaps their heroism shone when they decided to become firefighters in the first place.  Or police officers. Or soldiers, at least some of them.

Hero, to me, implies acting on behalf of others with disregard for one’s own well-being. Such were the people who ran toward the explosions last year, rather than trying to flee the scene (which is what I probably would have done.) Carlos Arredondo, the man in the cowboy hat, is such a hero.    He had tried to kill himself years before when his son Alexander, a Marine, was killed in Iraq.  His youngest son Brian did commit suicide three years ago.   The senior Arredondo lived and happened to be near the finish line. Disregarding his own safety, he helped to save Jeff Bowman’s life.  He reached beyond the burden of his own familial losses and has become a symbol of courage and resilience.

But what does “Boston Strong” symbolize?  Again, for some, it’s blatant commercialization.   Others deride it as a cover for increased security regulations that undermine the very peace and freedom that are other core traditions of Patriots Day. But, for me, it validates some of the good things about our community, including a commitment to pull together, to restore the sense of who we are or at least aspire to be. Resilience. Generosity. Courage. Determination. Are we all capable of those characteristics all of the time?  Of course not.  But it’s what we hope to pull out from deep within ourselves when circumstances call upon us to do so.  When tragedy befalls us, we hope we can measure up.  Events like the one-year anniversary or the evocation of Boston Strong give voice to the ideals that we hope to realize.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Boott Mills

3rd District Day: The Massachusetts Economy

Ted Leonsis

Ted Leonsis – Mom and dad natives of Lowell but then moved to Brooklyn, NY. They all returned to Lowell when Ted was a junior in high school. They lived at 185 Trull Lane East. He was a C student at Lowell High. His guidance counselor, Beatrice Hoar, once told his parents that he was not college material and that he should go into one of the trades. He started college at Lowell State Teachers College. He worked as a volunteer on Paul Tsongas’s congressional campaign. When Tsongas one, Ted transferred to Georgetown and spent three years as an intern in Tsongas’s DC office.
Today, he said he is part of Washington but also tries to stay apart from Washington. He’s part of a group of corporate leaders who value “the double bottom line.” By that, he meant a company can do really well by doing good. He learned that when working at Wang. He said Wang was the first populist technology company. Its mission was to liberate women from typing and filing. That was the higher calling of Wang.

In 1978, Ted was at a trade show for Wang and met Steve Jobs. As a result of that encounter he bought his first personal computer. He then mentioned the day the Wang Writer was launched. It was also the day John Lennon was killed which made for a marketing challenge.

Another movement Ted is involved with is called “the rise of the rest”. He said this year for the first time more than 50% of investment capital in high tech will be done east of the Mississippi because of angel investors, great colleges, and high schools pushing kids into STEM.

Lowell and Lawrence have a history of being industrial. They were the first generation of globalization. That is our only advantage today as a country. The greatest thing we did was for the government to create the web and the internet. DARPA as established by the defense department in the early 1990s propelled this effort. When AOL first went on the web, it was deemed to be hacking of a government resource. But someone had the vision to open it to entrepreneurs. In the 1970s, Boston and vicinity was looking like the next phase of innovation. Wang was the biggest employer in Lowell. Lowell Tech was a great name. Missed a terrific branding opportunity by not keeping it. Had praise for Lowell and friends from Lowell (mentioned Steve Panagiotakos). Leonsis closed by saying “All the things I believe in harken back to Lowell”).

Ed Markey

Ed Markey remembered serving with Paul Tsongas forty years ago and is pleased to be serving now with Niki. He said Massachusetts has a history of being an innovation economy. It’s what drew people to the state and it continues to do so. He described a three part business plan for Massachusetts. 1. We educate at the world’s best universities and keep many of the graduates in the state. 2. We give them access to capital they need to create jobs. 3. We provide a world class workforce. Ten percent of the students at MIT come from Massachusetts but 38% of the students stay here after graduation. In response to a question, he talked of his experience with his mother contracting Alzheimers and said finding cures for these brain diseases is critical to our country’s future. It should be treated as the new mission to the moon. He called it a “mission to the mind.”

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren was introduced as the senior Senator from Massachusetts. She started with an example of Congress getting something done and that was on flood insurance. She said it will be more market based but will also provide fairer rates. There will also be new flood maps. If you challenge your inclusion on the map and prevail, the government must reimburse you your costs. The thinking is with that potential liability, the government will be more judicious in selecting which properties to include.

In May and June, there should be some progress on outstanding student debt. Those with debt might be able to refinance to lower rates. Also, there should be signs of greater Federal support for education. Finally, she spoke of the importance of increasing grant amounts for NIH. This would affect everyone in Massachusetts. More research into the diseases of aging “is the best way to build an economy in an aging country.
Regarding the cost of college, Warren reminded us that at the end of the 19th century, our society decided that a high school education was the minimum each young person needed to be a successful contributor to society (which in turn provided that education for free). At the end of the 20th century, everyone agrees that a post-secondary degree is the minimum needed to ensure entry to the middle class, but when it comes to paying for it, you’re on your own. It used to be that kids could go to state colleges and get an affordable education but state governments have cut so much support from higher education that colleges have had to increase tuition and fees. The result is $1.2 trillion in student debt that affects 40 million people.

In response to a question about the high cost of housing, Warren said we have to decrease the out-migration of residents. You can’t build more land. You have to invest in infrastructure like better roads and trains to make it easier and faster to get around. Massachusetts is a great place to live and work but investing in infrastructure, the ability to quickly move people around, is vital to the state’s economy. For decades, the US government invested in infrastructure but today’s budget craziness is just about cut, cut, cut. If we had better Federal support of education, infrastructure and research, the Massachusetts economy would be “off the charts.”

Richard Neal – Your committee assignment in Congress is your destiny; it’s where you make your mark. You want people to say “he/she knows what he’s talking about.” Talks about a proposal to revive the tax code developed by Chairman Camp (Republican). He brought all the players into a room, turned off the cameras, and asked them to defend their deductions. The result is more Democratic in its leaning and it’s not getting support from Republicans. The Bush tax cuts, two wars and the recession have put us in a precarious position. You can’t cut your way out but you also can’t tax your way out.

Neal said the challenge is how to get all the money corporations are sitting on back to work for the economy. He said growth remains tepid; demand is weak.” There’s better news for homeowners but not that much. There is some improvement in credit card debt. When Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling, Speaker Boehner said he wanted it to pass but only 27 Republicans voted with him. In the old days, those not doing so would have been stripped of committee chairmanships. This is unheard of in Congress. It shows the threat that the primary now poses in American politics.

Joe Kennedy made only brief remarks. He praised Niki and her staff for assisting him in getting settled into Congress. He mainly spoke about the importance of government funding for research and development. He said corporations don’t spend money on it because they need faster returns. They can’t wait 15 years. If you give a corporation a tax cut, it’s likely to use it to buy another company rather than to invest in R&D.

Local Businessman John McDonough Honored with Elizabeth Seton Award for Community Service

Congratulations to our friend John McDonough – local businessman  and owner of the McDonough Funeral Home – where five generations of McDonough’s have served the Lowell community since the late 1880′s.  John was recently honored by the Sisters of Charity of Halifax with the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for Community Service. Honorees  are selected as individuals who exemplify the spirit and values of Elizabeth Ann Seton, and who have made a significant contribution to the community. John was recognized for his involvement with community and service organizations throughout  Lowell and for his embrace of modern communications systems as valuable tools in the funeral service industry. John produces and co-hosts “City Life” – a local, live week-day cable access community program broadcast by Lowell Telecommunications Corp.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Dr. Ellen McDonough and honoree John McDonough at Lantana’s in Randolph (photo  from J. McDonough’s Facebook page)

The Sisters of Charity of Halifax – founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – taught for many years at St. Peter’s school in Lowell – founded in 1913. John was raised next door to their convent on Highland Street. John has supported the work of the Sisters of Charity since he himself was a student at St. Peter’s School in Lowell. The parking lot of McDonough’s Funeral home was the former site of the sisters’ convent. It’s clearly recognized surrounded by the Stations of the Cross.

Dick Howe and I are regular guests of John and George Anthes on “City Life” and will return on Tuesday April 22 from 6am – 8am. Catch the show on LTC ~ There is a re-broadcast from 4-6pm.


3rd District Day: National Security Issues

Of the many speakers at Congresswoman Niki Tsongas‘ recent Third District Day, two spoke about national security issues. They were General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps; and Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Here is what they said:

Gen James Amos

General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also spoke. He said he works with Niki Tsongas throughout the year. He said she’s always thoughtful and prepared and never backs away from tough issues. “When she asks a question, you know you’re in the no BS zone.”

General Amos praised our accomplishments in Afghanistan, mentioning that the Marine commander there, General Joe Dunford, is a native of South Boston. Last week Afghanistan held an election and had 62% turnout which General Amos said was greater than in most US elections “and we don’t have people trying to kill us.” He said we should feel good about Afghanistan; that things have changed dramatically there and “it’s about as good as it can get.”

Reviewing the security environment around the world, General Amos said that the USMC is reorienting on the Pacific and that North Korea is his greatest concern. “You have a 30 year old ruler who is unstable, can’t be trusted, and requires our close attention.” Other areas of concern around the globe are Syria, Libya, Mali and the Ukraine. None of these, as he put it, “have played out yet.” China, on the other hand, is of less concern. General Amos said we must pay close attention to China but “it’s in all of our best interests to have good relations with China.” He said he was “pretty optimistic” about China and “doesn’t sense any peril” from there although he said it is very important for us to keep US military forces in the Western Pacific “to encourage good behavior.”

General Amos closed by asking rhetorically “what should America do with its military?” He acknowledged that the country is weary of war but that it continues to be very important for us to “find the right balance of forward deployed forces not to pick fights but to encourage good behavior.” He said “we’re still a maritime nation with 90% of our goods arriving by sea which makes freedom of navigation and stability in the global economy” critically important to America’s well being.

Congressman Adam Smith

Adam Smith represents the 9th Congressional District in Washington State and is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Smith, whose district is home to thousands of Microsoft workers, said that technology and innovation are hugely important to the military and to a democracy. The biggest challenge facing national security now is the effects of sequestration because the law that established those automatic cuts extends out for eight more years and the resulting cuts will “devastate” the military as well as America’s ability to finance infrastructure repairs, innovation and research. Smith acknowledged that the military could cut 10% and perhaps be even more efficient, but because of the bureaucracy it is impossible to cut the right 10%. He also called discretionary spending the “seed corn of our society” and eliminating such spending seriously hurts our future prospects. He acknowledged concerns about the deficit but said we’ve had $7 trillion in tax cuts since George W. Bush became president so he thinks it’s time to restore tax rates to the Clinton era which he said “worked pretty well.”

Congressman Smith then focused on the military. He said America needs to be actively engaged around the world but shouldn’t be the world’s police force. Referring to Iraq and perhaps Afghanistan as well, Smith said “putting 100,000 troops on the ground with the plan being to stay there for as long as needed is not a good strategy.” He said militarily we’re at a point best illustrated by a quote from Winston Churchill who said “gentlemen, we are out of money; we have to start to think.” Smith assured everyone that the Armed Services Committee is “the most bipartisan committee in Congress” and that its members from both parties work together closely to solve these issues. The primary goal is to protect “readiness” which combines training, equipment and maintenance. When all the favored projects and programs are protected, readiness is the last thing standing and therefore the easiest to cut. For every cut there is a constituency but if Congress doesn’t make the tough decisions it will reduce readiness and we will have a hollow military force.

Lowell Catholic Celebrates 25th and Honors Community Service

Lowell Catholic High School  - now a member of the prestigious Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools network with a student body of 400 - is celebrating it’s 25th academic year. Last night the 13th Annual Bishop John  R. McNamara Awards Gala raised over $83,000 for scholarship and merit aid while honoring some very special people. Middlesex Community College President Dr. Carole Cowan was honored for her longtime service as a civic and  educational leader. Fr. John W. Hanley, OMI – a longtime LCHS trustee – was honored for his commitment to Lowell Catholic, his impact on student life and his important role  in the transformation of the school. The late Leo and Joan Mahoney – alums of Keith Academy and Keith Hall – were honored as Catholic school education philanthropists who generosity helped the 2006 expansion. LCHS 2008 grad Casey Judge – a scientist involved in the development of new vaccines – was given the first Alumni Achievement Award.

Rev. John Hanley, OMI with Casey Judge (my photo)

Mahoney grandsons James Finneral and Sean McNamee accepted the award for their family. Sean mentioned that their grandparents felt that their Catholic education “was a great gift”  while James mentioned their support of Catholic education in Lowell, across Massachusetts, in Ireland, Chile and Haiti. Fr. Hanley remembered his years in Catholic school – noting that he graduated from Cathedral High in 1960 – and those years got him started as a priest and an Oblate. His memories of Bishop McNamara were warm and emotional as he praised his life and his commitment to Catholic education and Lowell Catholic in particular. He praised and thanked the faculty, administration and all who support and help the students “excel, prepare, live” and ended with the words found on Bishop McNamara’s ecclesiastical Coat of Arms ~ “To Echo Christ.”

Rev. John Hanley, OMI with his 2014 Bishop John McNamara Award

Each table setting had a card with a message from a Lowell Catholic student. My card was from Adrian – a graduating Senior – who had spoken to the audience earlier in the evening. “Lowell Catholic has meant the world to me. I have had many incredible opportunities as a student, and my four years at Lowell catholic have prepared me for life beyond high school. I have grown so much from freshman year to today, and for this I will always be grateful to Lowell Catholic.”

Photo: My pastors! Fr. John Hanley, OMI - former pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church ~ and Fr. Nick Sannella the current pastor of the Immaculate...Former Pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church – Rev. John Hanley, OMI with current Immaculate Pastor Rev. Nicholas Sannella

Lowell Catholic is now the only Catholic high school in Lowell today and many alum supporters from the LCHS legacy schools were in the crowd – from Keith Academy, Keith Hall/Keith Catholic, St. Patrick High School, St. Louis Academy and St. Joseph High School. It was a wonderful evening and we will be back in support of LCHS and the Bishop McNamara Honorees.

The Gala crowd listens as John Chemaly – a past honoree – reads citations from the Massachusetts State Senate and the State House of Representatives and the local delegation

Letterman, the Early Years

After thirty-one years as a successful late night talk show host, last night David Letterman announced his retirement. The 67 year old entertainer began his career as a weatherman in Indianapolis before moving into comedy writing. In his early appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, I found Letterman’s humor to be intelligent and witty.  When “The Late Show with David Letterman” premiered I must admit I was a big fan, despite its 1:00AM start time (or was it 12:30?). I used to tell people, “you’ve got to watch this guy, he’s funnier than Carson”. But as the years moved on my bedtime became earlier and earlier as my age grew older and older and I was fast asleep long before the Letterman show came on. On those very rare occasions I was awake late enough to watch the “modern day David Letterman show” I was disappointed. I’m not sure if my sense of humor had changed, or if Letterman had change, or if it was a combination of both, but I just didn’t find him funny anymore.  So for “old times” sake, I say thanks Dave for the “early years” as I post a clip from David Letterman’s very first show in 1982…Wait until to you see how funny he was in those days: