Revitalization in Lawrence, Massachusetts

For six weeks in June and July, Aaron Stelson took the nearly empty commuter rail train 30 miles north of Boston to the town of Lawrence, the site of his Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center Fellowship. A town with a vibrant immigrant population, Lawrence faces issues of deep poverty, below average educational attainment levels, and some of the lowest homeownership rates in the country. What used to be a bustling center of textile manufacturing is now occupied by warehouses, empty lots, and crumbling mills.

Working with MIT@Lawrence – a partnership between MIT and the Lawrence community – Aaron created a community planning workshop for Lawrence CommunityWorks, a local community development corporation. Aaron documented the conditions of one of the poorest neighborhoods in Lawrence known as North Common. "Vacant lots used for parking and illegal trash dumping dotted the neighborhood, and the city streets I walked down needed repairs. But I also saw many signs of hope, … new parks and housing, small locally-owned bodegas, and some beautiful architecture."

Aaron’s photographs, maps, and models served as a foundation for the workshop, attended by thirty residents, three city councilors and three city planning officials. Revitalizing the neighborhood through an expansion of local businesses, affordable housing, and parking policies, was the crux of the discussion. Resident-led initiatives and community involvement were championed.

Aaron's work in Lawrence continues today. The workshop materials can be easily adapted for future workshops, and Lawrence CommunityWorks has hired two local interns to serve as staff members for ongoing neighborhood meetings focused on implementing ideas discussed at the workshop. Aaron continues to be involved in MIT@Lawrence, and is participating in a Department of Urban Studies and Planning course aimed at building the City of Lawrence's capacity to transform more vacant lots into productive use.

These are the first steps in the MIT@Lawrence partnership, a partnership that has the potential to work toward a Lawrence that is ethnically diverse, with a city planning agenda that supports increased home ownership, greater public safety, and possibilities for individual advancement. Stay tuned!

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