In the last few years, Lawrence CommunityWorks has generated over $70 million in new neighborhood investment, including 162 units of affordable housing on 15 abandoned and vacant parcels, a community center, three playgrounds and a range of family asset building and youth development efforts. The organization is in the midst of developing over 400,000 square feet of historic mill space. The multimillion-dollar project includes housing, artist work spaces and commercial office and retail space and is a partnership between LCW and two of Lawrence’s most successful commercial developers. The commercial portion of the project includes business incubator space focused on clean technology, incentives for university partnerships, and a commitment to supporting local businesses.
In January 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston awarded $700,000 to the team of Lawrence CommunityWorks, the Lawrence Public Schools and a coalition of public and private sector partners. The highest award given by the Fed through its Working Cities Challenge, it will help launch an effort by the city’s schools and community partners to address the direct connection between families’ economic challenges and student success. Thirty nonprofits, businesses and public agencies will begin work to support the Lawrence Public Schools turnaround efforts, understanding that the schools are the cornerstone of efforts to keep the Lawrence revival alive.
So, what lies ahead? That story is still being written. But it is safe to say that far from being the “City of the Damned,” Lawrence on the Merrimack is indeed a city of infinite possibilities.
A more detailed version of this essay is in MassBenchmarks, a joint publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the University of Massachusetts president’s office. Robert Forrant, a member of the History Dpartment at UMass Lowell, is on the editorial board of MassBenchmarks. vcwww.massbenchmarks.org