Posted March 17th 2010 at 11:23 pm by
in Lawrence

What DO you do?

“What do you do when an Italian energy conglomerate owns the alleyways, canals and dam of one of America’s earliest industrial cities … and the people of the city want those assets back?”

A poster advertising course 11.423: Information, Assets and the Immigrant City sparked controversy when it first appeared along the corridors of Buildings 7 and 9 at MIT in early February 2010.  The poster’s question referred to the ongoing debate in the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts over ownership of the alleyways and canals in the city.  Some say these spaces are owned by the Enel Corporation, the Italian energy conglomerate that, many believe, assumed ownership of these assets when it bought the Essex Company, the group that first constructed the city.  Others argue that the City government is the rightful owner; still others maintain that abutters (property owners whose land is immediately adjacent to an alleyway, for example) own them.  While the debate continues over ownership, some residents have tried to maintain the spaces, but most of the alleys and canals have fallen into grave disrepair.

As for the Great Stone Dam, completed in 1848 to power the city’s massive textile mills along the Merrimack River, no one contests that Enel is the owner. Yet, people are beginning to question whether some of the profits that Enel generates should benefit the City, especially as it is suffering an epic budget crisis.  Indeed the relationships and interests that factor into the ownership debate are complex and there is no easy solution.

Thus, eight members of this year’s Lawrence practicum, led by the two of us and Alberto Herrera, aim to accomplish the following:

– Uncover, and present to the public, Enel Corporation’s holdings in Lawrence;

– Analyze recurring problems associated with the company’s negligence;

– Calculate costs incurred by the community organizations that steward these spaces;

– Present the City of Lawrence and Enel with a set of legal, design-oriented, revenue generating and procedural solutions.

We’ll keep you posted.

Post by Marianna Leavy-Sperounis and Lorlene Hoyt

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