Lowell – In a vibrant display of civic engagement and interest in a sustainable future, the 8th Annual Lowell Sustainability Summit organized by the Lowell Sustainability Council (LSC) convened about 55-65 individuals, spanning city officials, the university, non-profits, activists, students, and residents.
Held at Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) from 10 am to 2 pm last Saturday November 4th, the summit gave the opportunity for participants to give collaborative feedback on the city’s sustainability, energy, and environment agenda over the next 1-3 years.
Food and coffee / hot chocolate was provided by Brew’d Awakening, Espressos Pizza, Life alive, and LSC members. Honorable mentions go to Greg Studwell for the Mediterranean orzo salad and Ana Christina Fragoso for the gluten and sugar-free cinnamon buns. Hopefully, my fruit salad was also a hit for attendees.
Tablers and Officials:
The summit featured tables from 350 Lowell, Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, and the City of Lowell Sustainability Department. Notable officials in attendance included City Councilors Wayne Jenness, Erik Gitschier, Mayor Sokhary Chau, School Committee Members Jackie Doherty and Stacey Thompson (via Zoom), State Representative Vanna Howard, Jayne Wellman of Tewksbury Select Board. Also in attendance were John Wooding, Professor Emeritus, UML, Ruairi O’Mahony of UML Rist Sustainability Institute, Jolette Westbrook from Environmental Defense Fund, Katherine Moses, Lowell’s Sustainability Director, Brad Buitenhuys of Lowell Litter Krewe, Jane Calvin of Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, Jon Grossman, Neil Dale, and Steve Malagodi of 350 Lowell, former State Rep Candidate Zoe Dzineku, and others.
The program was led by LSC Chair Jay Mason, and began with a participatory exercise where attendees discussed and ranked their top priorities for the City of Lowell amongst each other. The question was: What would you like to see the City prioritize in the next 1-3 years around sustainability/energy/environment? The results:
- Public Transportation and Mobility (62 points): electrifying buses, improving bike lanes, promoting walking, introducing free bus services & improving LRTA accessibility and convenience, and considering street closures for “open street” weekends in certain areas
- Energy Efficiency (55 points total); in schools and municipal buildings (27 points); and in housing (28 points); retrofits and improved energy efficiency/HVAC in schools and municipal buildings (including solar), housing retrofits using a whole home approach including heat pumps, insulation & green roofs.
- Food Sustainability (31 points): Focus on sustainable growing practices and composting
- EV Charging (19 points): Expand EV charging throughout the city and especially in condos downtown and multifamily dwellings
- Trees (15 points): preserve green spaces, alleviate heat island effects
- Community Geothermal and Utility-Scale Solar (12 and 5 points, Respectively): Using UMass Pilot program as an example, explore other opportunity for community geothermal feasibility
- Merrimack River Health and Flooding Mitigation (8 points): Prioritize the environmental health of the Merrimack River and consider strategies for mitigating flooding
- Electrify Lowell Fleet and Community Engagement (4 and 5 points, Respectively): transition Lowell’s municipal fleet to electric and foster community engagement in sustainability initiatives.
Insights from speakers, such as Katherine Moses, newly appointed Sustainability Director, Ruairi O’Mahony of Rist Institute and Jolette Westbrook from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), enriched discussions. Moses spoke on the City’s progress with municipal energy efficiency upgrades, the current solar project successes, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), and a look ahead for this new city department. O’Mahony shared details about a networked geothermal pilot project in Lowell—one of two Federally-funded pilot programs in the country. He also mentioned that UMass Lowell is offering paid internships to high-school students through the Green Schools Program.
Westbrook, who delved into issues regarding community engagement in large-scale energy projects in those communities, emphasized the importance of proactive community involvement. Not just to “check the box”, but to actually engage affected community members in a meaningful way. Notably, she highlighted a new website Community Voices in Energy, a valuable resource for staying informed and engaged in the ongoing dialogue around energy projects and community initiatives, as well as tools and trainings for interested advocates.
Keynote Address by John Wooding:
John Wooding delivered a thought-provoking keynote, exploring the concept of social capital and its role in building a foundation to achieve the goals we want to achieve as a community. He discussed the importance of finding ways to build norms of reciprocity and trust within Lowell, and to break down the silos within the institutional structures within our community. His suggestion: find low hanging fruit, define projects and work on them instead of just meeting on them. Build social connections, build social capital, define projects, and work on them together.
This idea was later built on via audience discussion and the political panel with the suggestion to improve public transportation in Lowell by having LRTA collaborate with the UMass Lowell transportation system.
The political panel discussion included City Council Candidates Erik Gitschier and Wayne Jenness, School Committee candidates Jackie Doherty, Stacey Thompson, Tewksbury Select Board member Jayne Wellman, and former State Rep candidate Zoe Dzineku (via Zoom). The conversation touched on challenges in public transportation, funding gaps, collaboration issues, and the need for accessible information.
The 8th annual Sustainable Lowell Awards were given to Lowell Litter Krewe (Brad Buitenhuys) and Rist Sustainability Institute (Ruairi O’Mahony).
The summit concluded with the presentation of awards from the YCCA competition to Lowell High School students, recognizing outstanding contributions to sustainability:
- Plastic Waste: Jisella Sanquiche
- Carbon Footprint: Penina Mukundi
- Compost: Tyvohn Matias Mbugua
- Urban Forestry: Disha Patel
In essence, the 8th Annual Lowell Sustainability Summit served as more than a gathering; it was a collective testament to Lowell’s commitment to forging a sustainable path forward. The event not only showcased the community’s shared vision for a greener future but also underscored the collaborative efforts required to transform Lowell into a modern, sustainable post-industrial city.
The LSC is actively recruiting new members! Meetings are held the 4th Thursday of every Month in the Mayor’s Reception room. All are welcome. Check out the LSC website at https://www.lowellma.gov/654/Sustainability-Council and our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lowellsustainabilitycouncil .