Lowell sits by the banks of the Merrimack and accepts the Concord as tributary. How’s that for a good National Public Radio beginning to a “story”? Lowell is a story, but not entirely a positive one. Lowell is not Detroit, it’s still kickin’, but it seems more and more like a mirage. Welcome to America.
I don’t mean that last sentence as acerbic crassness. I believe Lowell struggles in miniature as this country does. And this country, let us realize, struggles as this world does.
Somehow, in the way these things happen, Lowell became a federal prize. The downtown section is a National Park for its dynamic place in history. Mills, factories, production, early on these helped propel the land into mercantile excitement. The Merrimack, and the canny canals that worked their way to Boston, brought merchandise, and commerce.
That’s just history now. Cheaper southern mills took the energy away, just as cheaper production outside the country stole the southern industry.
What’s left is museums and tourist interest. More driving than that, one sees the school, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Most people say UMass Lowell, to differentiate from the campuses at Boston, Amherst and Dartmouth.
Lowell turned into an armpit somewhere along the way. Dragged down and inconsequential. Money is the answer, funneled in thru the school. On the South Campus, a park-like set of trees were swept away so a large building could be planted. A mile and a half away on North Campus sprouts another large expansion. On the other side of the river, a hospital was torn down I think so that a road and new bridge could be built, better access to this now central school area. East Campus has a new building rising too. East Campus sits on the far side of the river from North Campus, about a half mile away. This is mostly student housing, brand new, including a 20-story dorm. Across the street, the Lowell Spinners suffer the baseball gods.
Tuition, Beth and I have firsthand knowledge, has risen at a gallop, every semester. Where university buildings abound, the school has placed banners adverting the readiness of UMass students to face the future. The banners show emphatically normal students, emphatically presentable. Not the weirdos, ditzes, hoodlums, and such, but the earnest percent, the fit ins. What world do they expect to paint in this world?
Jack Kerouac is still legend and legion here, but this was his town only when he wasn’t anywhere. He was on the road when anything happened. Lowell’s where the road stopped. It still stops there. Despair masquerades as hope.
A little waterway, River Meadow Brook, runs past factories and acquires metals. The brook delivers itself to the Concord. Nothing really goes away. The cycle continues.