Located in the northeastern corner of Massachusetts, Lawrence is characterized by its large brick warehouses and factories, which reveal its long history as a major industrial center.
The Merrimack River runs through the center of Lawrence. While the water quality of the river has improved considerably in recent decades, it still experiences some forms of pollution, and the city sometimes advises residents not to swim in the river for several days after it rains. The Great Stone Dam, which is considered one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century, still generates some of the city's electricity.
Lawrence is often known as the "Immigrant City," a testament to its diversity and high numbers of foreign-born residents. More than half of the city's population identifies itself as Hispanic, and the city is home to large numbers of European, Asian and other immigrant populations.
With a land area of only approximately seven square miles, Lawrence is much smaller than other prominent cities in Massachusetts. At the same time, the city's large population of more than 72,000 gives it an unusually high population density.
The city, once a booming industrial town, now has an estimated household income well below that of the rest of Massachusetts. In recent years a number of organizations and committees have been formed to help boost the city's economy, some as the result of federal initiatives.
Some of the leading industries in Lawrence are manufacturing, retail trade, social assistance, educational service and health care. Major employers in the city are Seacoast Lock and Safe Co. Inc., Lawrence General Hospital and NxStage Medical Inc.
A large percentage of the city's gross annual income comes from manufacturing products, such as electronic equipment, paper products, computers, textiles, foodstuff and footwear. The landmark manufacturers working in Lawrence are Malden Mills, KGR Inc., Grieco Brothers, Cardinal Shoe and New Balance.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designated a part of the city a Renewal Community Zone, which puts into effect a number of measures designed to stimulate economic development. Wage credits, tax deductions and capital gains exclusions are examples of some of the measures that have been implemented.
The Lawrence Community Development Department is designed to help existing businesses survive, while also attracting new businesses to the city. The organization provides a significant number of assistance programs, such as site assistance and section 108 financing. The department also boasts a storefront improvement program, which offers loans specifically to companies attempting to revitalize the downtown area.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has designated the city a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, providing Federal contract preferences to qualified small businesses.
Immigration of foreign born workers to Lawrence largely ceased in 1921 with the passage of strict quotas against immigrants from the countries that had supplied the cheap, unskilled workers. Although many quotas were lifted after the Second World War, foreign immigration to Lawrence only picked up again in the late 1960s with Hispanic immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as well as other Latin American countries. Immigrants from southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, have also settled in Lawrence. As an indication of recent immigration trends, St. Patrick's Church, the largest Catholic church in Lawrence and once an Irish bastion, has celebrated Spanish masses on Sundays since 1999. A mass in Vietnamese is also offered every other week.
The level of energy and commitment in the city's neighborhoods exceeds that of most communities. Whether it is exemplified at the grass-root levels in the strong neighborhood associations or in the community policing program, people in the community have created a safer place to live and work.
A very large majority of Lawrence's approximately 26,000 houses are occupied by renters, as opposed to owners, a factor most likely linked to the area's depressed economy.
Filled with art studios, the Essex Arts Center exerts a vital influence on the city's cultural life. The studios promote an artistic community and two professional galleries show local artworks for free. Art openings draw large audiences, and the center hosts educational programs in the Lawrence schools.
Lawrence is home to one college, the Northern Essex Community College. There are also a number of highly respected colleges and universities in the surrounding area; the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover and Merrimack College in North Andover. All are within 15 miles of Lawrence.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper The Eagle Tribune has its roots in Lawrence. However, it is now headquartered in nearby North Andover.
Lawrence has three locally produced newspapers: Rumbo, which is in both English and Spanish; Siglo 21, which is in Spanish; and The Valley Patriot, which is in English.
Local radio stations are WNNW-800 (Spanish music) and WLLH-1400 (sports news).