News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

The curse of plastic bags

I just ran out of plastic grocery bags, which I use to line my kitchen trash receptacle. This was a result of using a motley collection of non-disposable grocery bags (Trader Joe’s are the best), which I am finally remembering to put in the car and bring into the store. Now what am I going to do for lining kitchen and other garbage cans? I’m not sure, but after viewing this strong statement against our dependence on plastic, I’m ready to rethink my habits.

posted in Environment | 2 Comments

A look back at the Democratic convention

The Democratic Convention was held on June 7- a beautiful, hot Saturday. I spent the whole morning shivering in the air-conditioning, listening to speeches, waiting to vote and especially waiting to see Jackie graduate from the Emerge program. (Emerge is a program to educate, support and inspire Democratic women who want to run for elected office.) Jackie and her fellow-graduates, including one other from Lowell, were recognized for their seven months of workshops and seminars they attended and for successfully completing the Emerge curriculum which includes trainings in public speaking, fundraising, media skills and networking. From what I could tell, it was a rewarding experience for all involved. By this time, we were ready to get out into the sunshine, but were literally halted in our tracks by the final speaker, Van Jones. He is a man with a message and since I had been thinking about the connection between high school dropouts and our prison population, I was particularly interested in his call for a solution to social inequality as well as environmental destruction (reminds me of one of Karla Baehr’s “twofers”). He founded an organization, Green for All to “help build an inclusive, green economy.” His slogan is “green-collar jobs, not jails.” He has had some success in building support for his mission: in 1996, he co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights which promotes alternatives to violence and incarceration; in 2007, he worked with Democratic leaders to pass the Green Jobs Act of 2007, while at the local level, he helped the City of Oakland, California create a “Green Jobs Corp.” I’ll be waiting to hear and see more of this guy!

posted in Environment, In the News, Local Politics, National issues | 0 Comments

Urban oases

Here’s an idea whose time has come – urban garden tours! (I’ve been on garden tours that have you driving several miles between gardens, when you get there you see a lot of lawn). Urban gardeners make the most of every inch of space and, as at Fort Hill Park this Saturday, you can walk between the gardens. Here’s the scoop: Saturday, June 21, 10 am – 4 pm.

Meet at Fort Hill Park for free parking and tour information. Light refreshments will be provided along the tour, plus a plant and gift sale and a chance to ask questions of an expert horticulturalist. From 10-12, you will be able to view the park from a tethered hot air balloon! Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the park on Saturday and cost $25/$45 for a pair; $10 for Seniors, teens or Friends of Fort Hill Park; children under 12 free. Proceeds to benefit Fort Hill Park restoration fund.

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Groups | 1 Comment

Recycling field trip—councilors dampened, spirits high

Four Lowell city councilors and their fellow passengers met with a wet end when their bus broke down on Route 495 today after an instructive field trip to see how Worcester manages its recycling and trash disposal program. The ten-member crew, which included Mayor Bud Caulfield, councilors Rita Mercier, Rodney Elliott and Alan Kazanjian, as well as city staff, involved citizens and a state recycling coordinator, had to wait in the rain for about 25 minutes after their bus started blowing oil just before exit 32. As luck would have it, the bus, an LRTA Road Runner used primarily for seniors, ran well enough to get the crew to Worcester and tour the streets so its passengers could observe trash and recycling pickup as well as visit the city’s recycling center. Despite the wet ending, the trip was deemed successful since the group saw firsthand how Worcester, a city serving twice the households as Lowell, generates half the trash (23,000 tons compared to Lowell’s 40,000 tons) due to effective recycling. With 15 years of experience, Worcester provides a good model of how Lowell can do a better job of reducing trash disposal, and the council will be deciding how to move forward with improving its recycling program soon. Now if we can only do something about that bus…

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Politics | 0 Comments

Decision on recycling imminent…

A subcommittee meeting tonight, May 20, at 5 pm in Council Chambers may determine the fate of recycling efforts in Lowell, according to an update from my husband Jay Mason, who is a member of the Citizens Action Committee (CAC) for recycling. Interested folks should attend the meeting because even though it looks like the recycling program will continue—at least for now—how that happens has not been decided yet. The manager and council must modify the program, which has been costing the city millions, to see whether residents will improve recycling from the current rate of 10% up to 30% at least. The CAC advocates a plan that combines an increased base fee with a pay as you through (PAYT) program. The base fee would increase from $100 to $150 per year, and residents would pay $1.50 per bag for trash disposal. Even with this plan, however, Lowell’s recycling program will not pay for itself, but the city’s cost would plummet from a $4.4 million deficit to a $200,000 deficit—a major step in the right direction. Also, depending on ordinances for bulky items and electronics, the city could do better financially. The increased base and PAYT system will offer citizens a disposal program that incentivizes recyclers, makes those who don’t recycle pay for it, and provides an affordable way for the city to be environmentally responsible. How can we not do it? Note: Earlier posts on this topic can be found here, on Dick Howe’s blog, as well as on LiL.

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Our dilemma

Today’s article in the Globe about a non profit that builds and donates raised-bed gardens to low-income households along with Dick’s post on Victory Gardens got me thinking about The Omnivore’s Dilemma again. As I’ve said before, anyone who eats should read this book by Michael Pollan – it will truly change the way you think about food! Of course, whether that translates to changed behavior is a different story.  I haven’t eaten fast food for over 20 years, ever since I realized how bad it made me feel, and I avoid transfat and processed foods, but I have not become a “localvore,” the term for those who only eat locally produced food; I still buy strawberries in the winter and make salads every night, all year. The new dilemma is:  how much can one person do, and will it make a difference anyway?  A recent column by Pollan in the New York Times Magazine, entitled “Why Bother,” takes on this malaise and with typical Pollan thoroughness digs down to find its cause.  He traces it to the division of labor, allowing specialization, which has given us our modern civilization with all its advantages, but which has also created, in the words of the poet, Wendell Berry, whom Pollan quotes, “a split between what we think and what we do.”  Berry was writing about this issue during the oil crisis of the seventies (remember that quaint time of lines at the gas pump, when everyone was driving smaller cars, turning their heat down and not using their automatic dishwashers or clothes dryers?)  which he called a “crisis of character” caused by our overreliance on specialists to handle our every need.  This dependence has led to a feeling of helplessness in the face of an overwhelming problem such as climate change, so we decide to “cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power–new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.”  But Pollan is not hopeless, and his point is that we can, and should, bother, that we can and should try to grow a little of the food we eat. The benefits are many and to quote Berry again, “is one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way that ’solutions’ like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do – actually beget other solutions”  (increased health and well-being for starters).  Can we really feed ourselves?  Maybe not entirely, but Pollan points out that the World War II Victory Gardens invoked by Dick Howe supplied more than 40% of our produce.  So, I second the motion, let’s get out there and plant something!

posted in Books, Environment, Healthy Living | 2 Comments

Do what it takes to get folks recycling

Fellow bloggers LiL and Richard Howe both post today on the recycling debate before the Lowell City Council. At issue is the fact that the city recycles at a rate of only 10% which results in a $4.4 million deficit in the cost of running the program. To recoup these expenses and encourage recycling, Lowell should do a combination of pay-as-you-throw (PAYT)—one bag a week per household with additional bags costing $1.50 each—along with a slight increase in the base fee (from $100 to $150 annually). This way, the city’s recycling program will break even while also encouraging more folks to recycle. Consider this: Brockton, a city similar in size and demographics to Lowell, recently instituted PAYT along with an annual base fee of $280; initial results show improvement, with 23% recycling. Worcester, a much larger city although also similar in demographics, has been charging PAYT since 1988 with great results—44% recycling. In Lowell, landlords pay the base fee for each unit, condo residents do not pay for recycling but do contribute to the general fund which is impacted by the deficit, and there is no overall requirement to recycle. Lowell should have an ordinance that mandates everyone recycle because even though it’s the right thing to do, unfortunately that’s not enough motivation for some folks. (Nor is the fact that it will save us all money in the long run.) Disclosure: My husband, Jay Mason, is a member of the city manager’s Green Building Commission and has been actively involved in the citizens’ movement to improve recycling in Lowell.

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Groups, Local Politics, Money Matters | 0 Comments

I’m a believer!

Did you know that May is National Bike Month? In Massachusetts we also have “Bay State Bike Week” (May 12-18) which tries to get folks to rethink their daily transportation choices and opt for two wheels instead of four.  In can be a challenge to bike in city traffic, but if you follow the rules and clearly signal your intentions, it can be safe and rewarding. Of course, a dedicated bike path would be a boon!

It feels like more than 10 years since I first heard about the proposed Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, a multi-use trail for bikers, walkers and skaters that is slated to run from Lowell to Framingham. I was excited, but excitement waned as the years went by, and I really didn’t believe recent reports from friends that work on Phase I (Lowell to Westford) of the trail had finally begun.  I had pretty much decided that I would be too old to ride a bike by the time the trail was finished, but last week, while biking to the Chelmsford library, I saw for myself — the old railroad tracks were gone and the brush cut back to create a swath through the woods – this was on Golden Cove Road where the trail crosses on its way to Chelmsford Center. Checking the website, I saw that the groundbreaking was last October. I totally missed that, and am feeling like a slug for never joining the volunteers and activists who have perservered to make this a reality.  But it’s not too late to get on board, I just sent a donation (you can join for $10, or $25 for a family membership).  The May meeting is on trail beautification and will be held on May 14, 6:30 pm, at the Byam School in Chelmsford, and will include a guided bird walk. 

posted in City Life, Environment, Healthy Living, In the News, Local Groups | 7 Comments

Toxic waste collection and Open Doors next Saturday

Plan now for two events next Saturday, May 17: the city’s semi-annual hazardous waste collection will be held at Cawley Stadium (across from Douglas Road only) from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Items accepted include: oil-based paints, stains and varnishes, strippers, anti-freeze, pool chemicals, driveway/roof sealers, car batteries, propane tanks, tvs and monitors, etc.  For more information, check here or contact Gunther Wellenstein, recycling coordinator, at 978-970-4010 ext. 4309. Take a few minutes today to organize those hazardous materials that have been hanging around your basement or garage, so you’ll be ready to dispose of them safely next week.

Also next weekend, Open Doors gives the public the opportunity to get inside some of the major historical restoration projects that have occurred around the city. Sites, such as the Tenth Street School which has been renovated into a beautiful townhouse, the Allen House at UML, and the Market Street condo projects, are just some of the properties that will be open for public viewing. (More on Open Doors to follow in a later post.)

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down

Too bad you can’t reserve good feelings from sunny weekend days to help get you through the rainy ones. Today’s Boston Globe was full of doom to match the weather and my mood: Northeast bats are dying in record numbers without explanation—scientists don’t know if it’s caused by toxins, habitat destruction, or something else. In addition to adding more species to the endangered list, we can expect an increase in mosquitoes and other annoying insects as nature’s balance gets whacked again. On another note, two fathers managed to accidentally poison their sons with carbon monoxide while trying to get an off-road vehicle out of the mud. And with the sharp increase in the cost of food, more and more people are starving—a fact that impacts us all, even though those of us who are well-fed have difficulty understanding or even contemplating the horrors of hunger. (All this on one cup of coffee, and it wasn’t even 9 a.m.) Thank God, I read further and discovered the equestrian program at UMass Amherst where blue-color kids take on the blue-bloods and actually win enough to make the nationals and ride against “the best collegiate teams in the country.” Kind of reminds me of our own LHS crew kids, who by the way, will be competing this Sunday in the largest high school spring regatta in New England—right here on the Merrimack River. Let’s hope for quick oars for our team and sunshine for all.

posted in City Life, Environment, Youth | 2 Comments

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