The city of Lowell, Massachusetts, nicknamed the Mill City for its role in revolutionizing the textile industry in the 19th century, is where kids from Chelmsford go to die.
At least that's what parents in the town of Chelmsford told their kids back in the 1980s, when Michael and Ashley Silver were growing up. Crossing beneath the Route 3 overpass, which sat on the border between the two towns, was seen by the Silver kids as the ultimate form of rule breaking until they were adults. It was only in the mid- to late-90s, when they befriended David Johnson—who split his time between his divorced parents’ homes in the two towns—that Michael and Ashley realized that life in Lowell could be just as mundane as the day-to-day in their sleep suburb. Walking from Chelmsford’s Route 3 Cinema to David's mother's house a couple of miles away in Lowell, it turned out, was no more dangerous than walking a couple of miles in the other direction to go back home. And there was a Staircase to Nowhere along the way to gawk at, so in a lot of ways Lowell was undeniably cooler than Chelmsford could ever be.
The fear of Lowell was largely spawned from the various strains of xenophobia that Baby Boomers collected like trading cards growing up in the shadow of several global wars. As Wikipedia notes, the city is home to America’s second-largest population of Cambodian Americans (the result of an increase in immigration during the Cambodian Genocide). And it has also, since its founding in the 1820s on land that good old Chelmsford was kind enough to cede during the Industrial Revolution, been home to immigrants from all across the world. Again according to Wikipedia, “the city's population reaching almost 50% foreign-born by 1900.”
Fortunately, Chelmsfordian members of Generation X—whether as a result of their generally increased sensitivity on matters of diversity, or their inability to bring home enough bacon to afford even the cheapest apartments in their increasingly overpriced home town—came to see Lowell as less of a threat than an opportunity. After all, by the time Gen Xers came of age in the late-80s and early-90s, Lowell was a city full of cool—but mostly abandoned—mill buildings, and it was ripe for a renaissance.