LAWRENCE – To some the problems of this city seem insurmountable: unemployment is in the double digits, empty commercial space is measured in the millions of square feet, the public schools are run by the state and one in three adults is obese.
But, to the team of 140 local businessmen, educators, politicians and health professionals who the new mayor appointed to brainstorm a future for the poorest city in Massachusetts, Lawrence is a place of untapped resources and “extraordinary assets” that can turn it around.
Among the solutions, the team Mayor Daniel Rivera named to help guide his administration as it gets off the ground said he should open an arts museum and a youth center and attract a distribution center to improve supplies and cut prices at groceries and bodegas.
The report also urged Rivera to offer free rent to small start-up businesses, propose new land use and animal control laws to encourage urban agriculture, require high school students to submit post-graduate plans, improve sex education in the schools and get junk food out of vending machines and trans fats out of food sold in the city.
The 76-page report, produced by a team of about 140 people serving on 10 committees and led by Maggie Super Church and Zolia Gomez, noted that the city has many of the resources to rebuild itself, including the empty mill buildings on both sides of the Merrimack River. But, the report also included a frank assessment of the hurdles.
“Residents believe the city of Lawrence is beautiful,” said a committee that examined quality of life issues chaired by local businessman Pedro Torres and Brenda Rozzi, president of the Sacred Heart Neighborhood Association. “But poorly maintained properties, litter, drug dealing and prostitution are major problems that significantly impact quality of life.”
Many of the proposals in the report are cheap and simple, such as setting up a welcoming desk at City Hall to direct visitors and staffing it with senior citizens, veterans and high school interns. Others already have long been considered far out of the city’s reach, such as building a new police station.