Your Learning Lowell Facebook Group Guide

I’ve learned that there are a great number of Lowell-related Facebook groups, but there’s also a great deal of confusion about what groups are. In an effort to clear up that confusion, we’re providing a short guide and a directory of Lowell Facebook groups. Any Facebook user can use groups to have conversations or listen in on event announcements, news, stories, and anecdotes.

To reach the directory, click here.

A Facebook group is a virtual “club” that is made by a Facebook user. When a member posts to a group, everyone else in that group sees it in their Facebook news feed and can comment upon it. It can be as simple as that.

However, groups have many additional features. First off, a user can search all the posts in a group by keyword, making it possible to archive conversations. Everyone can see who has seen a particular post—as long as the group stays below 250 members. Additionally, groups allow shared photo albums and shared documents. Finally, users can make one-question polls for members of the group to take.

Facebook screenshot

A Facebook group is analogous to a real-world club, and just like clubs, they can be relatively exclusive or open. Whoever created the group gets to approve new members. In addition, the creator of the group can choose among three levels of privacy:

  • Secret: Only group members to see a secret group and the posts within. This is often used for groups of friends, a project team, or some other private group.
  • Closed: Anyone can see the group and who is in it. However, only members see posts. This doesn’t mean the group is “closed” to newcomers, it just means that you can’t “lurk,” or read everyone’s posts without being in the group yourself. The moderator must approve requests to join.
  • Open: This type of group allows anyone to see the posts, whether or not they’re in the group.

Beware! If a group is larger than 250 members, you can’t make a group “less private.” With large groups, you can go from “open” to “closed” or “secret,” but not vice-versa.

Who can join a group? As long as a group isn’t “secret,” there’s a button on the group’s page to join. The moderator of the group must approve the “request” before you’re in. Members of a group can also invite others to join.

Who is “boss” of a group? Whoever starts the group “owns” it, and can change group settings. That person may also make other Facebook users “administrators.” Some groups are run by just one user, while others have a whole team of administrators.

What is the difference between a “page” and a “group?” Pages are often used for businesses and celebrities. A main difference between a page and a group is that anyone can join a page just by “liking” it, there’s no moderator approval. In addition, with a “page,” only the owner’s posts will appear in others’ news feeds; while with a “group,” all members’ posts will appear.

I’m a business or organization. Should I start a page or a group? It depends on what you want to do with the page or group. Here’s a good run-down on Mashable.

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Super La Suprette

One of the many perks of living in downtown Lowell: there are (at least) two places to get delicious falafel within a block of each other. Extremely tasty Babylon, and our new find La Suprette. Chris and I have been meaning to grab something at this halal corner store for some time, and heading home from Winterfest last Saturday seemed like the perfect moment.

Delicious wraps. Photograph does not properly convey amazingness.

Delicious wraps. Photograph does not properly convey amazingness.

La Suprette is a little like a neighborhood deli, with a couple of shelves of African/Middle Eastern groceries, and a takeout-ready menu. Chris and I are vegetarian, so we were sticking to the falafel, but they have numerous meat options including goat, lamb, and jerk chicken (here’s a couple of yelp reviews). The falafel wraps were super delicious, crammed full of delicious zesty tastes and textures.

As a an added incentive, if you’re thinking about going, if I’m not mistaken I heard the African-Lowellian woman behind the counter speaking French. There’s a certain pleasant historical deja vu there: not so long ago there were entire neighborhoods of very different speakers of that language: French-Canadian Lowellians, concentrated in Centralville, Pawtucketville, and particularly in the neighborhood known as “Little Canada”. Many of Lowell’s historic ethnic neighborhoods have been altered significantly over the years, but perhaps none more so than Little Canada. Urban redevelopment efforts essentially wiped the neighborhood off the map, with the ripple effects of dividing and significantly dissipating the once quite vibrant Franco-American community.

La Suprette is on Bridge street just beyond Kearney Square. Heading a few blocks West, towards the Tsongas Center and LeLacheur Park, would take you into what was once Little Canada. I imagine the ghosts wandering through downtown are happy to still be able to hear their language spoken. And how appropriate that even as one immigrant group mixes into the larger melting pot, a new group joins the city, bringing with them their own traditions and delicious food. A city is always changing, and there is a natural sadness for the things that get lost along the way. But if we are lucky, change can bring with it new opportunities, new things to discover and to love. And more falafel!

Ocean Garden

I was out running some errands the other day, and I went into a store I hadn’t tried before.

Ocean Gardens on Merrimack Street

Ocean Garden Market is on Merrimack, about a block West of the library. I was expecting one of the many Merrimack Street little variety stores, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Ocean Garden isn’t a corner store; it’s a full on Asian grocery, cP1010413omplete with an aisle each of fresh vegetables and specialty meats. I saw quail eggs, 5 lb containers of tofu, fresh baked treats, and a wide variety of items I couldn’t identify. It’s fun to explore, and I’m psyched to have a new place to pick up Asian cooking staples and fresh veggies.

Tofu and sweet sticky rice

I got delicious sweet sticky rice snacks and some tofu.

I didn’t hear a word of English the whole time I was there, which is something I enjoy. I can never understand people  who feel irritated when they encounter pockets of other culture. For me it’s invigorating to be reminded of how big and full of difference the world is, and how much more there always is to learn and to try.

Maybe everybody else already knew this store is here, but I sure didn’t, so I thought I’d drop a recommendation. This is something I truly love about living in Lowell. It doesn’t always have the level of bustle or sophistication my ideal city might, but in terms of international flavor it can’t be beat.

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Building Community, One Hour at a Time

Earlier today Chris and I got to have lunch with an enthusiastic Lowellian working on an interesting project. Joy Mosenfelder is working for Coalition For a Better Acre, and her pet project is the Merrimack Valley Time Exchange, a really cool idea that does a lot of neat things at once.  

In essence, a Time Exchange is a system where you trade an hour of effort or expertise on your part for an hour of someone else’s. It’s an exchange system where hours, not dollars, are the currency. So for instance, if you shovel an elderly person’s driveway for an hour, you can get an hour of having your car fixed, or a ride to work. Or learn glass blowing. The idea is that it helps people connect to get their needs met within their community, and additionally helps people to find ways to contribute. Joy was especially enthusiastic about the way that it can help build connections between people in the sometimes isolated segments of the Lowell community.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project, there’s a great opportunity coming up. This Friday at 7pm you can come to Lowell Makes for an open house/potluck/music event. We’ll be there (as long as I catch the early train home from work, anyway), and I’m psyched to have a chance to learn more about both the Time Exchange and Lowell Makes in one fell swoop.

We had a nice chat with Joy about how the exchange is going, and it was really interesting to learn more about both the practical and philosophical ideas that make it work. To my ear, a huge part of what it’s trying to do is build the kind of community that would have existed in ideal moments of human history (pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers or tight-knit small towns and neighborhoods, whichever you prefer) in which people help each other constantly, with the knowledge that everything they can contribute is balanced by something they get in return. Dense tangles of help and obligation. In our modern world, everyone seems to agree, it’s very easy to get disconnected from those webs of connection. The project is a way of codifying and giving structure to the exchange of help, a lattice to help the community plant grow.

Joy told us that people have traded all sorts of things, from childcare to the rental of the 119 Gallery. She notes that the exchange could use more tradespeople, as positions like plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC are in high demand. On the other hand, if you feel like you’re not sure what you could contribute, don’t sweat it. Joy says a lot of people respond that way, and she firmly believes that everyone has something to offer. Even if you absolutely, positively have no special skills, people post looking for help with very basic tasks, or even for simple company. If you’d like to get an idea of what people trade, you can check out the board here.

They currently have 87 members, ranging in age from 17-80’s, representing 10 different cities in the area. Around a quarter of the members are low income, and the area’s diversity of language and culture is represented. It really seems like a cool way to get connected with and contribute to the community, and I hope it continues to grow in its second year the way it has in its first.

If you’d like to support the Time Exchange, they have a fundraiser going on over at Crowdtilt. Here’s their Facebook and their Twitter, and I hope to see some of you at the Friday event!

(As an aside, if you represent a Lowell business or organization you think our readers would like to hear about, feel free to contact us for a sitdown. We always enjoy learning more and chatting with interesting folks.)

Tax bill in Lowell drops in inflation-adjusted dollars

The City council approved the tax rate shift last Tuesday, making commercial property tax 175% of residential tax, the maximum difference allowed by Massachusetts state law. Councilor Mendonça was the lone voice against the shift, preferring a slightly smaller shift of 170% or so as reported by Lyle Moran.

I’ve already mentioned that I believe that property tax rate is a relatively small consideration of many businesses. Despite that businesses claim taxes are always of utmost importance, studies are actually mixed, showing that infrastructure and education investments may be more important than tax cuts (link to a lit review by Center of Budget and Policy Priorities). In otherwise identical suburbs fighting over businesses, tax cuts may help, but their impacts in central cities like Lowell seem less clear to me.

However, I wanted to highlight that the City estimates the average residence will pay go from paying $3,271 annually to $3,273, a $2.45 increase. However, $3,271 in 2012 dollars is $3,327 in 2013 dollars.* Therefore, the average Lowell single-family homeowner will actually pay less in inflation-adjusted dollars than last year. This might be why City Manager Lynch mentioned on a WCAP interview:

I don’t know how much of a difference it would make to have… the reduced taxes for the businesses. I don’t know if that would necessarily get more businesses in here. Councillor Mendonça has been asking us to come forward. This would be the year to have done it, if we were going to do it, because the increase was so small.

Manager Lynch also noted that he believes very large businesses moving to and making significant investment in Lowell are primarily lured by breaks from state taxes, not local property tax.

As a sidenote, it’s remarkable that Proposition 2 1/2 caps the total amount cities in Massachusetts may collect to 2.5% above the previous year, plus “certified” new growth. This means that every year inflation is more than 2.5%, which it usually is in a healthy economy, the city actually has to provide similar services with less money unless they pass an override. This is one of the reasons why cities are constantly looking for alternate revenue sources, such as fees and state and federal grants.

At the same City Council meeting, Mayor Murphy made a motion for the City Manager to investigate an entirely different taxing scheme that disincentivizes sitting on dilapidated or vacant properties rather than focusing on luring in businesses seeking low taxes. I’ll do a follow-up post on that soon.

* The rate must still be approved by the State of Massachusetts.