News Coverage

'Learning city' effort goes on despite snag

April 14, 2019 (Link:

LOWELL -- Efforts to make Lowell the first UNESCO-recognized "learning city" in the United States hit a snag when the nation withdrew from the international organization earlier this year. 

But officials say the focus on learning will go on. 

The first official Lowell Festival of Learning will start April 29 and continue with dozens of events throughout the week until May 5. 

"Education and understanding seems to me are the really only critical key components of a democracy," said John Wooding, emeritus professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. 

Wooding has led the push to get the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, to recognize Lowell as a "learning city," joining 119 other communities with this designation around the world. 

He said the designation would put a "frame" on many of the city's current offerings such as Middlesex Community College, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell Public Schools, Lowell National Historical Park and Lowell General Hospital. Learning he said also happens outside the walls of traditional educational institutions. 

"Almost everybody has a skill or knowledge they can help others with," Wooding said. "Whether it's how to fix your car, grow vegetables, what happened in Brexit, any of those things. We need to give people that information and help them understand it from a critical perspective." 

Mayor William Samaras said this year's festival will kick-off the focus on learning, which will continue in monthly events.

On Tuesday, he made a proclamation in support of learning and the upcoming festival.

Education he said is important for upward social mobility. 

"I really feel strongly if Lowell could receive the designation as UNESCO Learning City it could send the message out there that Lowell is a place -- it is a gateway city -- it's a gateway city that cares," Samaras said. 

Gordon Halm, who came to the United States from Africa two decades ago, said he attended Middlesex Community College then University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is now the director of the African Community Center of Lowell. 

"Through all this, learning has provided me what I have today," he said. 

Samaras said he also hopes the effort will bring in high-profile speakers, particularly from Cork, Ireland, a UNESCO learning city Wooding has worked with in pursuit of the designation. 

Wooding said he plans to continue the pursuing a UNESCO designation in the hopes the United States will rejoin the organization. 

The upcoming festival will start with the event "City of Learning: Realizing the Mogan Legacy" at 6 p.m. April 29 at the Richard and Nancy Donahue Family Academic Arts Center. 

After dozens of events it will culminate in the annual Earth Day Parade and Festival on May 5. A complete schedule is online at

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins