Earlier this year, Waterways welcomed Malika Leiper and Jonathan Geer to the team to further the objectives of our Action Plan. This plan includes implementing lighting activities, supporting events, recreation, development, and arts and cultural programs centered around the city’s historic waterways. We are thrilled to bring on two individuals with diverse perspectives, experience, and skill sets.
Read on to hear more about their backgrounds, what brought them to Lowell, and their thoughts on historic preservation, natural conservation, urban development and more.
Malika was born and raised in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and moved to New York City to attend Columbia University in 2009. Her upbringing in Cambodia in the 1990’s during an era of post-genocide reconciliation and rapid urban development lead her to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD).
“Coming of age in a place like Phnom Penh, where so much of our history was destroyed due to the genocide, the issue of conservation – be it cultural, architectural, or environmental – has always been central to the way I see the world. If we don’t know where we come from, how do we know where we’re going?” – Malika
Unlike Malika, Jon is a longtime resident of Lowell, having moved to the city in 1986 with his wife and two children – their third child was born in Lowell shortly after in 1987. In this time, he witnessed the city’s transition from a post-industrial economy to the dynamic urban setting it is today.
“Over this time, old mill buildings were re purposed to other uses including residences, office space, and even artist lofts. The tourism economy has boomed, UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College expanded their presence.” – Jon
This trajectory illustrates the many ways in which public private partnerships have helped make Lowell a desirable place to live and visit as an affordable alternative to Boston.
When Malika first visited Lowell, it was in 2017 as a student in the GSD Urban Planning Studio where she investigated strategies for better integrating the needs of immigrants and refugees in urban development efforts. However, being of Cambodian heritage, Lowell was a place that existed in her consciousness well before she visited as an adult.
“My parents first met in the 1980s on the Thai-Cambodian border where they were both working for humanitarian agencies in response to the refugee crisis. I imagine some of the families they helped during this time made their way to Lowell.” – Malika
These strong personal connections to the city brought her back in the summer of 2018 to work for the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association as a Harvard Community Service Fellow. During these two months, walking, biking and driving around the City, she found herself gravitating towards the canals and rivers where she came to appreciate Lowell’s unique blend of industrial history and natural beauty.
“The most vivid memory of my summer in Lowell was kayaking down the Merrimack with my colleague at the CMAA. We paddled through a small opening past the Rourke Bridge, which led us into the city, floating underneath old red brick mill buildings where the remnants of Lowell’s industrial history felt so palpable. It was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.” – Malika
The conservation of the city’s natural resources occupies a major part of Jon’s life in Lowell. He was the former President of Keep Lowell Beautiful, Inc. which maintained the Riverwalk along the south side of the Merrimack River for several years doing cleanups and mowing. He also participated in Concord River cleanups with the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust and is in strong support of their efforts to complete the Concord River Greenway and Concord River fish restoration and monitoring.
“I remember walking along the Riverwalk in the late winter/early spring and seeing bald eagles flying along the river – very inspiring. I also participated in canal cleanups with the Lowell Canal Water Cleaners, a very dedicated group that works tirelessly to clean canals.” – Jon
With their complementary skill sets, Malika and Jon are eager to get to work enhancing LWVI’s vision for an active, diverse, and vibrant public realm along the canals and water edges. In partnership with the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, they will oversee programming, technical issues and fundraising, with a focus on expanding community engagement.