This is the first of a regular series of posts about DIY Lowell groups, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it. We hope it’s a way for current and future groups to learn from one another and for everyone to learn from other groups. In addition, we hope that other institutions and people will contribute, and this will become a treasure-trove of tools and tips to getting things done in Lowell. But before all that, we want to talk about how we started.
The story so far: In May and June of 2015, we built the online forum where we collect ideas for small-scale events and projects in Lowell. There were only a few guidelines: The idea had to be an event or project within City limits, it had to be open to the public, it couldn’t break laws, and it had to be expected to be less than $1,000.
We then promoted it through Facebook, visiting neighborhood events, speaking at neighborhood groups, and even speaking on CMAA’s Khmer-language show. We also placed dropboxes at CMAA and the Lowell Senior Center, where people could write ideas on paper to be collected and added to the online forum later. We collected over 50 ideas from over 40 people as young as eight, seniors, and everyone in between: from a prayer boat ceremony to parking garage beautification to dining events. In some cases, nonprofits are actively pursuing these strategies but need assistance. In other cases, individuals have encountered obstacles they were unable to overcome.
Our most successful publicity was simply sharing each idea we received with a simple graphic on Facebook. People would like and share the ideas, chat about them comments, and sometimes submit more ideas inspired by it. Ideas collected at events would then bridge into the digital world, connecting online and off, and drawing more people into the discussion.
After the submission period ended, we held an online vote that was open to anyone who was willing to help out on one of the ideas, and 74 responded. Our idea was that if only people willing to help out on ideas could vote, those ideas would therefore automatically have the volunteers they needed. The vote was close—in fact, many ideas did not make the cut by only a few votes.
About 50 people out of the 74 who voted signed up for the summit, and we picked one idea for every 15 people, meaning the top three ideas were selected. Everyone attending the summit could pick one of those ideas or a fourth “wildcard” group, which eventually selected two additional ideas to pursue. Our plan was that we wanted 8-12 people to discuss each idea, knowing that with any more, there would be “too many cooks”, and with any fewer, there may not be enough people to carry the idea to fruition if a few dropped out.
Representatives from the City, Lowell National Historical Park, Coalition for a Better Acre, Humane Society, UTEC, Community Teamwork Inc, and many other nonprofits joined with ordinary citizens in the summit and put together action plans for each selected idea. DIY Lowell recruited four volunteer facilitators to help each group do such things and choose an official contact/coordinator, set a meeting date, and determine key actions that would need to be undertaken for the project, including stakeholders to contact. Nearly everyone attending was excited and ready to take the next steps! However, that will have to wait for the next post.
Firstly, they have a fundraiser page at https://www.gofundme.com/lowellbikeracks. In addition to the grants they are pursuing, they want to get donations from as many folks as possible to show that Lowellians are committed to improving bike infrastructure, so even small donations are appreciated.
Secondly, they’re accepting design proposals for the two racks until January 6. Two winners will be chosen to receive up to a $2,500 award to design and build the racks, which will be installed near Mogan Cultural Center and Mill No. 5! More information is at http://www.diylowell.org/bike-rack-call-for-artists/
They’re looking for iconic bicycle racks that fit within downtown’s historical context to raise the profile of bicycling, letting those who bike know they’re welcome to visit the shopping opportunities downtown offers. In true DIY Lowell spirit, these bike racks are a test that may lead to even more in the future! Please consider helping them and spreading the word to artists, designers, or potential donors you may know.
Many businesses participate in the City of Lowell’s holiday display contest, but some storefronts are left out because of lack of expertise or because of vacancies. A dozen businesses across downtown responded to an initial email asking if they’d like some help, and we’re helping as many as possible!
We connected donated materials and designers to retail businesses, a bank window, and a vacant window. Look for them throughout downtown!
We’re still raising money to buy supplies for additional businesses in the next week. You can contribute here! We will keep the materials we purchase with the money, so we could re-use them and annually help more and more businesses each year until Downtown Lowell displays become an attraction for the region!
Donations of old decorations, art supplies, or any other materials would also be super-useful! (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if you have anything.) If we collect enough, we will provide modest stipends to our super designers!
If we aren’t able to help you this year, we’re very sorry! But if you’re still interested, we hope we can find even more volunteers and work with more businesses next year! We really want to help everyone bring out their best.
Thanks to everyone who attended the Community Idea Summit! The following ideas now have action plans and citizen groups to carry them forward:
- Downtown History Trail
- Bus Stop Libraries
- Planting Fruit Trees
- Lowell-Themed Bike Racks
- Star Viewing from Christian Hill
Over 50 people attended the summit and dozens more have “raised their hand” and pledged to help in another way! Thanks, too, to everyone who submitted ideas! Every idea got at least one vote, and many missed the top 3 by only 1 or 2 votes! We will keep this website active as an archive for ideas. You may add an idea to the archive here.
Special Thanks to the following donors ($20+):
- Merrimack Valley Time Exchange / Coalition for a Better Acre
- Loom Press
- Joseph and Donna Smith
- Made in Lowell
- Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust
- Corey Sciuto
- Elizabeth Greene
- Felicia Sullivan
- William Berkowitz
- Jane Calvin
- Jack Moynihan
- Paul Hardin
- Julia Gavin
- Sean Thibodeau
- Sovanna Pouv
- Gwen Kozlowski
- Georgia & Glenn Hayes
- Michael Breda