APA-MA Spotlight Series

Introduction

As they say, behind every great city is a great planner.

Well, maybe they don’t say that now. But APA-MA is ready to get the momentum going!

In APA-MA’s Spotlight Series, we’ll be chatting with planners across the Commonwealth about their communities, their newest projects, and their career paths. For our first installment of this new series, I chatted with Andrew Shapiro, AICP, Director of Economic Development for the City of Lowell.

Andrew’s passion for Lowell was immediately evident, and he has much to be proud of. Lowell is a city on the move, led by a diverse entrepreneur base eager to show the state what Lowell can do.

Basic Information

Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

Lives In: Newburyport

Current Title: Director of Economic Development, City of Lowell

Q&A

What was it that made you decide to pursue a degree in planning?

After spending five years working in federal government relations in DC, it was time for a career switch. The love I have for cities and the way they change – and the persuasion of a good friend – resulted in me taking the leap.

What brought you to Lowell?

My last position was as an economic development planner in Salem, another Massachusetts Gateway City. I wanted to bring the experience I gained in Salem to a larger Gateway City with a similarly rich history. I took this role on in November 2017.

What’s one project you’re really excited about?

I’ve been working on the revitalization of a downtown park called Kerouac Park, named for the famed author who was born and raised in Lowell. The park is located on Bridge Street at the foot of the Cox Bridge – one of the gateways into the City. We applied to the MassDevelopment Commonwealth Places Program, through which we were able to crowd-fund close to $30,000, and receive a match of $25,000. The revitalization will include a retail business incubator housed in a shipping container. It will also feature new landscaping, a performance stage, and games and activities such as ping pong tables, chessboards, mini-libraries. The goal is to unveil all of these upgrades by the spring of 2019.

What do you wish people knew about Lowell?

Lowell is tremendously diverse. It has the second largest population of Cambodian residents in the United States outside of Long Beach, California. Cambodian residents comprise almost 13% of Lowell’s population. There is also a significant Latino population, comprising about 17% of the population. This diversity translates into the business community, where we have strong immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners. Lowell is very much a community of makers, innovators and artists, which is evident from our various makerspaces and collaborative work environments spread throughout the City.

Why did you decide to join APA-MA? What do you like about it?

I’ve been an APA member since I was in graduate school and have maintained membership since then. It’s been great to be a part of our local chapter and share ideas, network, and learn about the great work others are doing in communities throughout the state.

Do you have any advice for young planners?

Be willing to intern or work in various settings. Try local and state government, private sector and quasi-public agencies. Give yourself as broad a spectrum of opportunities as you can to learn about the various facets of planning.

Do you have any favorite websites or tools related to planning that you’d like to share?

As a data nerd, I’m a fan of DataUSA.io, which is a terrific website where you can visualize demographics at the municipal and regional levels. I also frequent Boston Bisnow, bisnow.com, which covers mostly commercial real estate and development, and has a site dedicated specifically to Boston and its surrounding suburbs.

What are a few of your favorite places?

Burlington, Vermont and Quebec City, Quebec both have very well-thought-out planning. Quebec City in particular has incredible public art, is extremely walkable, and provides great wayfinding. In Burlington, I was impressed with the robust business community – there were a number of enticing restaurants and breweries, as well as independent businesses. As a Bethesda native, I’m also a sucker for my pseudo-hometown of Washington D.C.

Would you or someone you know like to be featured in our Spotlight Series? Contact communications@apa-ma.org.