As the Director of the Office of Economic Development in Lowell, Massachusetts, Theresa Park often notices public meetings are not typically attended by a wide swatch of people representing the full diversity of opinions and perspectives present in a community. Fortunately, the internet has revolutionized how we communicate with each other, allowing new approaches to tap into a wider audience, which are particularly useful in guiding community planning efforts. The City of Lowell has undergone signification transformation in the past decade and is committed to continuing its growth. Corresponding changes have resulted in new businesses and new residents – but how can Lowell’s municipal economic development office best identify and address changing demands for goods and service?
After watching a talk about sparking conversation in public space by Neighborland co-founder Candy Chang, Theresa was inspired to create a public installation in Lowell. Her goal is to encourage a broader conversation with the residents of Lowell. With economic development assistant Erin Findlen she found an unused storefront in Downtown Lowell. They ordered a few hundred “I want ____ in my neighborhood” stickers, they applied them to windows, and encouraged residents to share ideas.
Using the stickers, a Sharpie, and directions to continue the conversation on Neighborland; Theresa Park began to see a dialogue in Lowell come alive. The stickers in public space quickly filled up while neighbors also shared ideas and insights on on Neighborland. A movie theater showing independent films, filling a prominent empty lot with trees, opening a farm-to-table restaurant, free Wi-Fi access, and expanded farmers market hours were just a few of the most popular ideas collected.
As the community manager for the project, Erin began to connect residents with people already working to improve the city of Lowell. Residents picked up on the importance of sharing insights and resources, and organizations like the Lowell Film Collective and the farmers market were invited to participate in the collective dialogue. Organizations already taking action like the Lowell Film Collaborative and the local farmers market were updated and added resources to help neighbors take action.
Over the past few weeks, Theresa and Erin have started a meaningful dialogue about the development of Lowell. Hundreds of neighbors are participating in the conversation and are now focused on turning these ideas into action.