Over at Dick Howe’s blog, City Councillor Daniel Rourke issues a call for unity and civility in the debate over whether to keep Lowell High in its current location, or to build a new school at the Cawley Stadium site out by the edge of town in Belvidere. He writes:
Those in favor of relocating the school next to Cawley Stadium reason that a campus lifestyle, ability to build from the ground up and no disruption to the learning environment for students over the next five years as their main factors in moving from its current site…Whatever reason a Lowell resident has for wanting it Downtown or at Cawley is a valid one and should be respected.
As a proponent of the downtown site, I agree wholeheartedly that the ability to build from the ground up and no disruption to the learning environment over the next five years are valid, even compelling, arguments, and I very much respect them. I wish wholeheartedly that a downtown building project could boast those advantages, and recognize that the complications of renovating an old building and of operating a combined high school/construction site during the school year are serious drawbacks to choosing to keep the high school in its current location.
HOWEVER, and I say this with as much civility as I can muster, I do not respect the argument that preference for a “campus lifestyle,” in contrast to a downtown, urban lifestyle, is a valid argument that should be respected by Lowellians. It is a terrible, insulting argument that should be forcefully rejected by people who care for this city. It has at its root a level of contempt and hostility towards urban life that is incompatible with the appreciation for walkable urbanism and Lowell’s history that have been so essential to this community’s revitalization, and if I may say, the rebirth of our self-respect, over the past two decades. It is ultimately a viewpoint that relies upon the idea that downtown and places like downtown are inferior to the suburbs, and that only a suburban school can be a good school. It is the sort of argument I would expect from someone at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac who thinks that Lowell is a hell hole and refuses to come here for fear of being mugged, and I feel a little bit betrayed that people from Lowell are making it. I’m used to defending Lowell to people from the suburbs, but I shouldn’t have to defend Lowell to people from Lowell. Councillor Rourke talks about being respectful, but there is a nasty heart of disrespect in this position that is deeper than whether the people making it use polite words and indoor voices.
And it wouldn’t even work, anyway. Look at Central Plaza, which was supposed to be a major shopping mall attracting people from throughout the region. Ooh, look, we’re almost as conveniently located as a suburban mall, with access almost as easy as a mall by the highway, and almost as much parking!
How did that work out? WHERE’S MY AEROPOSTALE?!?
A city will never succeed in being as good at being suburban as a suburb. If you’re trying to avoid the stigma of an “urban school” by building in Belvidere, you’re running the same fool’s errand. People who look down on Lowell are still going to think “Lowell High School” and snicker – but if we build at Cawley, they’ll be able to point to our own decision to run away from the downtown and try, inadequately, to be just like the ‘burbs as proof that they are right.