THE LOWELL Waterways Vitality Initiative is a collaborative effort to enhance Lowell’s remarkable waterways with lighting, accessibility improvements, and new retailers. The idea was conceived through a series of listening sessions hosted by the Lowell Heritage Partnership under the leadership of Paul Marion, the former President of the Lowell Heritage Partnership, and INFO Lowell Heritage Partnership Lowell Fred Faust, the current Vice-President.

For decades, this group has led the campaign to preserve Lowell’s canals and historic buildings. Lowell’s waterways, including over five miles of canals, are integral to the manufacturing legacy and character of the city. For nearly two centuries, canals generated power for the mills that put Lowell on the map. The canal area was recognized as the Lowell State Heritage Park in 1975, and soon after as the Lowell National Historical Park in 1978. Over the past 40 years, more than $1 billion dollars has been invested in preservation projects. But James Ostis, President of the Lowell Heritage Partnership, says these spaces are still not as vibrant as they could be.

“The Lucy Larcom Park is right in the center of our city; it’s actually a very prominent place, but people didn’t think of it as a public park. They would walk by and not notice it,” Ostis says. Since the city invested over $100,000 in that space, primarily for lighting, the park immediately began to attract more events, such as WinterFest and the Lowell Farmer’s Market.

The scope of the Waterways Vitality Initiative is ambitious — twice the size of the WaterFire lightings in Providence, Rhode Island. It involves four canals and two bridges that span the Merrimack River. Soloman Office, a design firm specializing in placemaking and public art, produced the Action Plan in February 2017 in collaboration with the Lowell Heritage Partnership and the City of Lowell.

Vitality. vi·tal·i·ty /v tal d / noun: the
state of being strong and active; energy.

Lowell Heritage Partnership

To build support for the funding required to achieve the full vision, the team is hosting events to engage the community and demonstrate the potential. To date, they have raised over $1 million for the project.

“The canals have been an integral part of Lowell’s history since the founding of the city, and they’re always kind of reinventing themselves,” says Ostis. Now, they are also the answer to the question, “What’s next?” for Lowell.