Welcome to final match up in our Sweet 16 Round of the Strongest Town Competition. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about transportation, incremental growth, adapting to challenges, and more. Please scroll down to the bottom to vote.


Lowell, MA

Entry submitted by: Brian Meade

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

DIY Lowell is a community-led initiative to create small-scale projects and events in Lowell. Community members submit, vote on, and implement short-term and low-cost ideas. We've created a downtown history trail, a parklet, and hosted many community events.

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Our transportation systems is heavily favored towards the car but we do have a city bus system and train station linking us to Boston. Being an older city we do have many walkable urban neighborhoods in the core of the city. We have some recreational trails but lack bike lanes for commuting or everyday use. Congestion is terrible so we have a lot of room for improvement.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

There's a big debate right now about where to put the high school. It's been downtown for over 150 years but some want a new one on the edge of town. The city has been meeting with neighborhoods groups to give people information about the options. There is a special meeting tomorrow night at city hall. The public is invited to attend or watch on local cable access.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

We have a lot of vacant and foreclosed properties in the city. The city council recently upped the fees to $1000 per year to register these properties with the city. The city also created an interactive website to track the properties and who owns them. The fees and tracking will hopefully push the owners to either sell the properties or make them useful again.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Lowell has a committed group of administrators, elected officials, and citizens that are moving the City towards becoming a Strong Town. Unfortunately we still make common mistakes like widening streets, allowing demolition of historic buildings, mispricing and requiring parking, and favoring big infrastructure projects over small scale and incremental development. At the same time we've reverted many downtown streets from one-way to two-way, increased parking enforcement to 6PM and all day Saturday, instituted form-based codes in our Hamilton Canal Innovation District development plan, and created a Lowell Waterways Vitality Initiative to increase community access to and attract development along our canals. 

We have an amazing downtown filled with historic buildings and a national park.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Yes. We have an amazing downtown filled with historic buildings and a national park. Some of our streets are cobblestone, we have 5 miles of canals, and free trolley tours during the non-winter months. There are dozens of great restaurants and bars. Good retail is harder to come by since we don't have dynamic parking pricing and treat some downtown streets as arterials, cutting off the walkable urban neighborhoods from downtown. We host the Lowell Folk Festival every July, the 2nd largest of its kind in the US, and close streets to cars to put up stages and dance areas.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

The people. People are very proud and passionate about this place. We welcome newcomers and many families have lived here for generations. We honor the past but are always moving forward.


Photo by Peter Forbes

Photo by Peter Forbes

Quincy, MA

Entry submitted by: Peter Forbes, Joe Finn, Nina Liang and Kara Chisholm

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

The City of Quincy has seen continuous growth and change throughout its history. From its days as a rural agricultural village in the Colonial era, a bustling town driven by granite quarrying in the 19th century, a shipbuilding center for much of the 20th century, a retail “Shoppers Town” in the mid-20th century, and today a quickly growing alternative to Boston or suburban South Shore living. As part of the adaptation from the previous iteration of the City to its future one, the downtown of the City---known as Quincy Center--- is undergoing a significant and multi-pronged transformation. A recent example of the incremental evolution taking place in the current transformation of Quincy Center is the mixed-use West of Chestnut building on Hancock Street (the main commercial corridor of Quincy). The building opened in 2016 on the former site of a few one-story buildings and their back-of-the-building parking lots. The one-story buildings had been built in the 1920s as stables to service the customers of businesses across the street, which were housed in more formal structures that will continue to stand in this next iteration of Quincy Center. This transformation from one type of building to another according to the needs of the City at the time demonstrates the ways in which Quincy has always, and continues to, embrace careful incremental development.

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

While there is a clearly defined Quincy downtown, most residents live in one of the city’s other neighborhoods. These neighborhoods each have their own commercial centers which provide many essential services (stores, restaurants, food markets, and offices). Consequently walking is a frequently used, although not primary, mode of transportation in Quincy. Despite the physical configuration, private automobile is undoubtedly the primary mode of transportation in Quincy. There are also several public transportation options, consisting of:

  • Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) bus, which operates 14 routes connecting Quincy with Boston and other localities.
  • MBTA subway, which has four stations in Quincy, connecting Quincy with Boston. Large numbers of Quincy residents who work in Boston use the subway daily to get to work. Most subway stations have a parking lot for people who cannot walk or bus to the subway station. Bus services lead to and from all subway stations.
  • MBTA commuter rail. This service is primarily used by residents of towns beyond Quincy to commute to work in Boston, but the train makes a stop in Quincy Center, stopping next in Boston.
  • Ferry service ran on a trial basis between Quincy and downtown Boston in Summer and Fall, 2016. Long-term ferry operations are under review.
  • Other options include Zipcar, which has about eight car-sharing locations in Quincy, each with two to four cars, and transportation services like taxis, Uber, and Lyft.
  • Quincy has a small number of on-road “sharrows” and bike lanes and is in the process of expanding and improving these. There is also an active Quincy biking advocacy group (Quincycles) which works with the Mayor's Bicycle Commission to improve and promote bicycling in Quincy.
On any given night, there are multiple community meetings hosted by members of our City Council or other civic associations and residents. These allow for input on a range of issues from creating a dog park to addressing a new construction project.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Quincy is a vibrant, diverse and close-knit city. There are a number of ways in which the residents are part of local decision making process. From community meetings held in neighborhoods, to public City Council meetings that include and encourage public participation, to resident-run neighborhood associations, to the numerous community-based civic organizations, each contributes to civic dialogue by raising awareness around issues as well as providing effective solutions to address them.

On any given night, there are multiple community meetings hosted by members of our City Council or other civic associations and residents. These allow for input on a range of issues from creating a dog park to addressing a new construction project. These meetings lead to decisions that shape the landscape of our City, and the input from residents at these meetings is significant in driving that conversation. Neighborhood associations that are run by, and for, residents offer both a consistent and reliable platform for the community to convene and actively share feedback, concerns, and ideas on ways to continue to better our City, as well as to address day-to-day concerns specific to their neighborhood. They offer helpful insight and help to bring problems and solutions to light.

Quincy’s civic organizations and nonprofits are part of what makes our City so successful in properly representing and providing for our residents. These local organizations not only help to bring people together, they also provide an avenue for residents to be a part of making our community better. They step up to the plate, address and fight for the needs of those in our community. They help to educate residents on how to be effective and have active roles in addressing problems, and help to support the larger Quincy community in finding solutions.

Instead of selecting a single master developer, Quincy partnered with multiple private developers, mostly local and well-known, to build a number of new mixed-used buildings.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

In early 2014, the city of Quincy, MA, had a very big problem. A nationally recognized $1.6 billion public/private partnership designed to revitalize much of Quincy Center collapsed because the single designated developer, StreetWorks, could not adequately finance the project. The ambitious plan would have created more than a thousand residential units in Quincy Center and more than a million feet of office space. Instead, what remained were dashed hopes and an 18-month old excavation the size of a city block in Quincy Center. In the following months, a more modest, practical, and distributed plan was put in place. Instead of selecting a single master developer, Quincy partnered with multiple private developers, mostly local and well-known, to build a number of new mixed-used buildings. For some parcels, the city assumed the role as master developer. Other parcels are being privately developed with less City oversight. At this point, a mixed-use building with 169-unit apartments (West of Chestnut---see our answer to the incremental development question) is complete and 90% rented, a mixed-use building with 56 condominium units is opening in Spring 2017, and a fifteen-story apartment building is planned with a well-known local developer. The development already completed or underway has fostered a Renaissance of the dining and entertainment scene in Quincy Center, with nearly a dozen new restaurants either open or under construction in the last year. The current and continued success of revitalizing our Downtown clearly demonstrates Quincy’s ability to adapt to the challenges of a changing environment.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Quincy is financially strong and resilient for future generations to the extent that the city analyzes the impact of its public investment moving forward. Such an analysis is an emerging practice in a number of areas of public investment. In relation to redevelopment of our City, no project moves forward without identifying sustainable additional revenue sources. Our City budget process focuses on judicious and conservative use of the tax levy in order to ensure future accessible levy as well as to provide some tax relief to the residential taxpayer.

Prior to investment in public infrastructure, Quincy is attempting to measure the financial impact of such investment.

The City government will spend 5.67% of its locally-generated revenue on debt service in FY2017. The Mayor, with the approval of the City Council, has begun to budget to reduce the level of unfunded liabilities in the budget as it applies to public benefits of its employees. The area of Public Works demonstrates some of the more progressive sustainable planning through use of technology to identify and catalog pavement, sidewalks, water and sewer infrastructure, and flood mitigation. A key principle of such planning is to invest dollars in preventing infrastructure from declining into a costlier state of disrepair in order to stretch the public dollar for greatest impact and reduce the number of higher cost “fixes.” Prior to investment in public infrastructure, Quincy is attempting to measure the financial impact of such investment. Recent efforts have identified the age and length of piping utilized in the public Water, Sewer and Drain system. Quincy also has wisely leveraged other public and private resources to improve the downtown, upgrade our schools and repair other aging buildings throughout the City. Although no one has a crystal ball to determine the full impact of a future economy, Quincy is well positioned to address their needs as these emerge.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Quincy's downtown is centered on ‘Quincy Square’. The primary landmarks of this area are the Church of the Presidents, the City Hall, the public library (main branch), and the MBTA (commuter rail, subway, and bus) station. Other downtown landmarks include the Historical Society, Quincy High School (one of two Quincy public high schools) and the YMCA. A project that is currently underway, called the Hancock-Adams Green, will create an attractive open green space for public gatherings and casual use. It will also provide a pleasant pedestrian gateway from the heavily used MBTA station to the attractions of downtown. The space was created by re-routing a three-lane, one way section of street that severed the historic connection between the 19th century church and City Hall. The traffic re-routing phase of that work is now complete with all traffic running behind the church. The park design phase of the effort will be completed in 2018. The first City-organized public event in the space, “Winterfest,” will take place in February, 2017.

In the 1950s Quincy Center served as the commercial and retail hub for much of Boston's South Shore. Quincy Center was then known as "Shoppers Town" because of the quality and number of stores there. By the mid-1960s the introduction of a shopping mall in the next town began decades of decline for retail in downtown Quincy. In recent years, Quincy Center has been re-born due to a vibrant restaurant scene and new mixed-use transit-oriented development projects bringing hundreds of new apartments into Quincy Center. Some of these projects are complete, others are in construction, and still others are just in the design phase. It's clear that change is happening in Quincy Center and most Quincy residents welcome it enthusiastically.

Quincy has a degree of hometown feeling that is uncommon in today’s world, especially for a city of 95,000 people.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Here are some things Quincy residents say about their favorite thing about Quincy:

First, Quincy is a historic place. The two Adams presidents and their wives are at rest in the old church in Quincy Center. The old Adams homestead is operated by the National Park Service. When you are inside the beautiful stone building that was the private library of President John Adams, you know you are in a very special, historically important place. Second, Quincy has a degree of hometown feeling that is uncommon in today's world, especially for a city of 95,000 people. Many adults in Quincy were born and raised here and work and socialize routinely with people they've known their entire life. Third, Quincy is an inner ring former street-car suburb, largely built out before WWII. Consequently, it is a place with ‘good bones’. There are walkable neighborhoods built around commercial districts with bus and subway access to Quincy Center, Boston, and neighboring towns.

Fourth, Quincy is a diverse and interesting city. Nearly a third of the population is Asian, mainly recent immigrants drawn to Quincy by location, transit, and relatively affordable housing. Fifth, it is easy to get to Boston via train. I feel comfortable letting my high-school aged kids go by train without me to Boston and Cambridge. Finally, my own favorite: Quincy has miles of shoreline. I walk from my house to the beach in minutes. In summer, I take a launch out to my little sailboat (kept on a mooring) and have all of Quincy Bay to enjoy. This large bay is protected from the open ocean by harbor islands, which themselves are beautiful and a huge recreational asset. When I have time, the open Atlantic waits for me just beyond these islands. I am blessed to live here.


Voting is now closed.