LOWELL -- The mills were leaving. The mills were leaving.
What was the city to do?
It had to change its vision, which is exactly what Lowell’s leaders did decades ago when they moved in a new direction, Mayor Bill Samaras reflected on Tuesday.
They worked hard to revitalize the city’s Canalway Cultural District, he said. Officials have touted the now-vibrant neighborhood with eclectic shops and restaurants, cultural amenities and lively events. The national park established 40 years ago made a huge difference, the mayor added.
Because of the city’s comeback, Samaras was receiving a designation certificate on behalf of the city from the American Planning Association on Tuesday. The city’s Canalway Cultural District was recently named one of this year’s 15 Great Places by the American Planning Association.
“This shows the city does have a vision, the city does have a mission,” the mayor said.
The area was selected as one of five great neighborhoods across the country for its “thriving arts community, daily cultural activities, array of dining and shopping destinations, and status as one of the most beloved neighborhoods in the community,” the independent nonprofit announced earlier this year.
The Lowell district is a national example of how a community can work together to create opportunities for all, nonprofit officials said.
Angela Cleveland, from the Massachusetts chapter of the American Planning Association, said Lowell is “creating a great place for all.”
Designees are selected annually and represent the gold standard for a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for the future, according to the educational organization. Other than neighborhoods, APA recognizes streets and public spaces.
Andrew Shapiro, Lowell’s director of economic development, called it a “really great honor.”
“Planners like me look to that organization (the American Planning Association),” he said.
Through partnerships between the city and private developers, the Lowell district’s revitalization has resulted in about $877 million in investment, the rehabilitation and re-occupancy of more than 3 million square feet of vacant downtown buildings, and the addition of more than 1,800 housing units.
Meri Jenkins of the Mass Cultural Council said she has been fascinated by the city’s evolution.
“This city is creative in so many ways,” Jenkins said.
The other neighborhoods the American Planning Association recognized were The Village of Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts, Guthrie Historic District in Oklahoma, Historic Downtown Georgetown in Texas, and Ghent in Norfolk, Virginia.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.