As predicted, now that Springfield is experiencing an upswing in the number of murders the media is going crazy with the “The City is Out of Control” narrative. On Friday it appears that some gang members met at someone’s house party and baseball bat n’ knife chaos ensued leading to the city’s ninth homicide of the new year. Police Commissioner Barbieri was right to point out at a press conference that not one of the murders was random. Every single incident involved choices regarding behaviors and companions.
My question to you is this: I went to a house party downtown last night, was I at risk? Is it where the party is located, or the people who are invited that make it dangerous? Can you control at whose house you “party”? Can you choose whom to invite into your home ?
if your lawn is so expansive that you need a riding mower, but you can’t afford to buy that mower with cash, you’d be wise to either start a garden or buy a home with a smaller yard.
I don’t live in a crime free neighborhood. I have often made the case that statistics overstate the crime problem in cities in the northeast for various reasons, and I stand behind that analysis. Furthermore, I agree with the peer reviewed data regarding personal safety which demonstrates that “stranger danger” is actually higher in outer ring suburbs and exurbs than in inner city neighborhoods. But, despite the fact that I rarely notice it and that I haven’t been touched by it while living in this place, a lot of crimes are committed in this neighborhood. Serious crimes. And it impacts the way in which I live.
After dark I consider my behavior. Even in daylight there are points on the compass which are less inviting. I would hasten to add that everyone who ever gets into a car or walks by a roadway has reason to be even more wary, and more contemplative, in balancing risk and reward, but that makes my need to do so no less real.
I’ve read of muggings and of murders though never that I can recall a criminal act which involved both in my environs. Not being a gang member, not being involved with illegal drugs, and not being in a violent personal relationship nor in a love triangle I am not within the normal parameters of the victims of homicide.
So I feel both untouched by crime and yet strangely controlled by its presence.
Enter 3-C policing. A model of policing which uses the “same tactics employed by special forces in Iraq to identify insurgents and to separate them from their base of support.” It must be more than ten years ago that I first started hearing and reading about how the 9-11 wars would result in the militarization of policing here in the United States, and a great deal of recent news coverage has been dedicated to the same or related issues. And now here it is. In my neighborhood.
Using the Iraq analogy, who am I in this scenario? I am certainly a racial minority within the neighborhood, but I am of the same background as most of the police forces and the majority of the people who make up the power structure. I would be considered not only generally supportive of the regime, but part of it since I sit on one of its minor councils. Overall I would be the type of person this program is supposed to help.
So why am I nervous about this?
I’m willing to believe that the intention here is really to make the neighborhood a better place for “law abiding citizens”. I like the idea of 4 or 5 more cops “on the beat” from 4 pm to midnight. As a matter of fact, if I were in charge that would be precisely the time on which I would focus because it is when I am most likely to be out and about and when things can sometimes feel a bit sketchy.
I don’t think that the South End has been selected by chance however. MGM’s $850 million project is starting construction this week. Its overall success will be judged by revenues and a healthy seeming(at least) activity at street level. The primary focus of this 3-C policing will be to squeeze the criminal element away from the MGM footprint. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re having people over you clean up a bit.
However, these people being labeled now as insurgents really, are citizens. Citizens of a very sick society and potential participants in a criminal justice system which has its priorities all out of whack. Often drug crimes, in which the “victims” are voluntary consumers of the products which harm them, do more time than violent criminals. We incarcerate people in detestable circumstances in which they are often made more savage and brutal than when they arrived despite the fact that we know that nearly all of them will be released some day! Prison rape, rape(!), is a topic of humor when discussing our system of justice, a crime which, if it involved anyone near and dear to us outside the walls of prison, would make us rage in anger and shudder in disgust.
And now I am to be part of a team searching for candidates to enter that system? While I consider myself fortunate by virtue of my age, wealth, clothing, and race to be easily marked out by those policing as a member of the order which is to be protected, I worry that those same markers could now make me and my family obvious soft targets for those who will receive greater levels of scrutiny by the police.
Marx once said of religion that “the abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” I would say of crime that its reduction requires a reduction in the condition that foments crime. The obsessive focus on crime as an issue is, in embryo, the criticism of that dysfunction and injustice of which crime is the outcome.
I don’t mind attacking the most visible symptom of our sick society, but the long term success of the effort to reduce crime will have more to do with attacking the diseases at its root. A little more democracy, and social equity along with a liberalization of drug laws could go a long way.
Tragedies like September 11th or Columbine act as Rorschach blots revealing people’s most deeply held beliefs or fears. In the wake of Columbine I remember thinking about what a nowhere place Littleton, Colorado seemed to be. Sure enough neither the Harris nor Klebold family had any roots there, and both families had ended up there for employment. I’m sure these lines from “The Geography of Nowhere” were rattling around deep in my subconscious:
I’ve made it a priority to be someplace and to give my children a someplace to live: a place with a past, a place with cultural roots and traditions. Finding out that we had much more time to spend together as a family this weekend than we had originally thought my wife and I put together a plan to take advantage of as much time as we could.
On Friday night we went and saw the Falcons play at “The Nest”. Luna got a Zamboni Box of popcorn and a hot dog (Elizabeth lowered her normal standards for her daughter’s nutrition in order to let her have the full hockey night experience). So there we were with a bunch of funny, rowdy (drunk) young guys sitting behind us shouting things like “I’m yelling because I’m very confused” and apologizing for saying “kick his ass” while quickly rephrasing the verbal taunt to “kick his butt”. As the game ended one of them screamed “Our team may have lost, but we got to sit behind the ‘Friendly’s Facebook Fan of the Game’.Yeah!” All in all a fun night out.
As Saturday dawned we knew that in the evening we would be taking Luna to her first full fledged symphony concert. Last year she came with us to a viewing of the 1931 version of Frankenstein accompanied by the symphony, but she sat with her friends from DREAM Studios and so all in all it wasn’t as daunting. Tonight would be Beethoven and Bernstein. (On a side note, thank you 20th century for really making me appreciate the artistry and humanity of the 19th) We dressed up and walked down to Panjabi Tadka for a nice pre-symphony dinner. Luna had Chat Papri, Chicken Tikka, Mango Lassi, and Gulab Jamun for dessert. She ate up some of her mom’s Malai Kofta, and even tried the spicy sauce of my Lamb Boti Kebab Masala. Quite a change from the Zamboni Box.
We arrived at the symphony with time to spare and no longer needing our umbrellas. Luna sat through “Beethoven’s 6th Symphony” and really did beam at times as she recognized tiny bits of the musical games being played. She began to fidget as the final movement came to a close and looked a little downcast. Later she said she was amused by me closing my eyes and appearing to fall asleep. We had told her that staying past intermission would be up to her since symphonic music can be quite demanding. She insisted on staying. At intermission she saw Ms Margot, the principal from the Community Music School preschool. That cheered Luna up immensely. She seemed to enjoy the raucous chaos of the “Age of Anxiety” even more than Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in the same way children are more wowed by Disneyworld than a real American Main Street.
One other task we have set ourselves is to help Luna prepare her cultural roots project. Luna is Italian on her father’s side and we happen to live on the edge of a traditional Italian neighborhood. We’ve been toying with a few ideas including walking down to Main Street and taking pictures of her in front of Milano’s, Mom and Rico’s, Frigo’s, Zonin’s, Langone’s, and La Fiorentina, or going to the Fine Arts Museum at the Quadrangle and taking a picture of her in front of her favorite Italian painting. She is leaning toward drawing an Italian flag.
We’ll see. In the end there’s a lot of cultural inertia in this country pulling people towards forgetting their local roots and just being generic Americans. I care much more about being from Springfield than I do about being an American, right or wrong. Whether any of that trickles down to my offspring, or stepdaughter, only time will tell.
Liz and I were invited to the Develop Springfield’s annual Celebrate Springfield dinner. It was great to be there to recognize the incredible things Develop Springfield is doing, and to see Evan Plotkin receive an award for the work he does in the private sector to promote the city.
We were seated at a table with a couple which had recently purchased a home on Central Street, a corridor ravaged by the 2011 tornado but slowly coming back to life. Some of the other people at our table worked with children in the city either in or out of the public schools including the principal of a city elementary school. The conversation turned to children and Liz and I mentioned our daughters and the city schools they attend or have attended, the Central Street couple did the same. Then, a few minutes later, the Springfield Public School principal dropped, casually, that her daughter attends Longmeadow High School.
I resisted the temptation to ruin the evening. I wanted to know details. Do you live in the city? Have you connived to get your daughter into the Longmeadow system? Do you have so little faith in who you are and what you do, in who your colleagues are and what they do, that you won’t send your child to a school in the system which employs you?
I’m glad that I didn’t say any of that. I am disappointed that this is where we are. But this is where we are. It’s the reason for the website, the blog, and the (intermittent) podcast. It’s tempting to look at residency requirements or other doomed attempts at iron fisted control to obligate people who take the best Springfield jobs to reside in the City of (freakin’) Homes, but that would be attacking a symptom.
Nick Fyntrilakis, Chairman of the Develop Springfield Board of Directors said, only half in jest, that the quantity, and scope of DS’s projects were perhaps a little crazy. I agree. To me that is because its president, Jay Minkarah, understands the concept of overwhelming force. In the past Springfield’s conscious redevelopment efforts have been swayed by the political system to be at the same time too broad and too humble.
Thinking of blight in both geographic and logistical terms as a war(as I have written here and here), you don’t drop one soldier behind the front lines to confront thousands of times his force in the way of decline and decay. You find the spots where the enemy is weakest, where your investment in force can be supported by already existing positive influences and you employ, to the degree possible, overwhelming force at that leverage point. In many cases the best strategy is to take the weakest and the worst and make it yours and in transforming it you alter the balance of power at the margins in a transformative way. As with martial conflict, however, these transformations are time sensitive. Gaining a foothold in one area while simultaneously losing it in another does nothing to move the process forward. The key is to make progress on multiple fronts at the same time so that each supports the other. Expecting one redeveloped property to hold out in a sea of blight while redevelopment slowly unfolds over time is essentially to wait for market forces to do what they would have done anyway.
With MGM, the Union Station project, and all of Develop Springfield’s efforts along significant corridors in the city there is a real chance here to change the narrative and to create a dynamic where high school principals, police officers, and firemen want to live in the city. It is, in fact, the real test. There will never be enough in the way of “true believers”, urban pioneers, and contrarians to bring renaissance to a city. In the end it will depend on the option of living in the city being seen as an acceptable choice by the public at large.
The newspaper of record announced last Sunday that chaos, their word, chaos was about to ensue as MGM was going to permanently close numerous surface parking lots in the downtown in proximity to two courthouses in order to proceed with the construction of their resort casino. I’m willing to forgive the hyperbole because, to the untrained observer, the situation did appear to portend a perfect storm of parking non-availability with hundreds of spaces in numerous lots eliminated, and snow piled high making on-street parking both difficult and restricted beyond that by an alternating even side odd side parking ban.
The newspaper backed off its chaos claim the following day but at least one local TV news station got into the act with the same story followed up with a Geraldo Rivera like demonstration of just how long it would take to walk from the furthest “Springfield Parking Authority” owned lot to the Hamden County Courthouse: 13 minutes! Oh, the humanity. As it turned out on the following day, Tuesday, I had decided to take advantage of the S.P.A.’s generous offer of “$2 courtesy snow parking” due to the arrival of yet another snowstorm. Arriving at just after 3 o’clock I was able to witness the near chaos myself.
Here are photos from levels three, four, and the newly reopened and available level five at just after 3 o’clock on a workday in a lot located a block from the courthouses.
Upper Level Green:
Lower Level Blue
Upper Level Blue
The now open ramp to the top decks
The two upper decks
And finally, the courthouse from the garage
It’s as if we were both toddlers. We ran into a friend at the Student Prince. We told him that we had gone to Theodore’s for dinner and planned to go to CityStage later, but for now we were at “The Fort” to try a new beer from what will be Springfield’s first craft brewery “White Lion”.
-You guys are amazing!
Amazing!? To walk less than a mile. From a home built in 1871 to a restaurant and bar nicknamed for the city’s first stone house. A house which was used to protect colonists during the raid on Springfield in 1675. On streets where people have walked for almost 400 years.
What’s amazing about walking in Springfield on a Saturday is that more people aren’t doing it. What’s amazing is that White Lion will be Springfield’s first “new” brewery. Cities 1/3 the size have dozens. It can be done here, the question is, will it?
I’m glad we bought season tickets. As anyone living on the East Coast knows it has been something of a harsh winter, perhaps overall the harshest I can remember. Apart from having a few friends over to watch the Patriots win the Super Bowl my wife and I had spent every weekend since mid January mostly puttering around the house alone.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my house. I almost never feel that I need to leave it. I leave work as quickly as I can to get back to it, and then I don’t leave it until I have to again the next morning. Normally though, on vacation days or weekends I enjoy taking full advantage of my neighborhood. As I have said many times, mine is a neighborhood which rewards thoughtful usage. I can’t do everything all the time like a Manhattanite or an Los Angelino, but if I know what I’d like to do I can probably find a time and place when and where I can do it.
Most winters the nasty weather and the icy sidewalks are limited to few enough days that avoiding them amounts to having the pleasure of a few extra days cocooning, this winter however cocooning had become hibernation and it had begun to wear a bit. Until last Saturday. Last Saturday was not any better than any other day in this winter of discontent. It was cold and windy and snow was predicted to start falling in the afternoon. Again. But we had season tickets to the symphony. The music was a mixture of Spanish and Italian and including a guitar soloist and a performance of the sublime “Concierto de Aranjuez”.
Sunk costs are sunk as they say, and not going to the symphony would not have offended anyone in particular. We could have just as easily not gone. Instead, with the impulse provided by already having the tickets, we trudged out the door and down to a new local restaurant. We had an excellent meal and then perambulated through the snow toward Symphony Hall. After the concert we cut through Court Square, mixed with the Falcons fans just leaving the MassMutual Center, wandered up State Street, and headed home all the while watching the snow continue to fall all around us. Again. But we were no longer trapped by it, no longer frozen by the idea of venturing out on a snowy evening as it were.
Having released ourselves from the psychological hold of a foul winter it was inevitable that this weekend too we would venture out. Last night: Theodore’s, The Student Prince, and “Dearly Departed” at CityStage. Next week, who knows? Spring may not be here quite yet, but winter weather no longer has us trapped in the house.
Mine is an idea whose time has not come. To a certain degree I take pride in that, it is what makes writing about it relevant. Fully two of this week’s posts at the Strongtowns website addressed what I have been doing at RationalUrbanism for a few years now, but I believe that most people could read in one case, or listen to in another, the ideas which were expressed in those pieces and not understand somehow that it all folds back in on the message of RationalUrbanism.
Joe Cortright on the Strongtowns Podcast says that the only two options for dealing with concentrated poverty are that the poor find a place in wealthy suburbia, or that people of means move into traditionally poorer neighborhoods. While the former is “difficult”, the impediments to the latter are that people of means fear exposure to increased danger in the way of crime and worry about the negative impact on their children of poor quality schools. In the first case he cites studies in which poor students are educated outside of the isolated circumstances of concentrated poverty have better outcomes. While the data can be read quite differently, the point he either neglects to mention or (more likely) of which he is unaware, is that students who are not impoverished, but come from the middle or upper classes which are educated in schools where there is concentrated poverty tend to perform at the level of their demographic, not at the level of their institution. What does that mean? It means that one of the primary impediments to the transformation he advocates is an illusion!
Even more so the issue of “danger“. The tiny marginal impact of higher crime which urban living has on safety is outweighed by the diminution of danger relative to the automobile. Not only is that even more true for young people, when you add the negative correlation of suicide to density, what screams out from the data is that urban areas are the safest places to raise your children. So while the “bad schools” barrier is an illusion, concerns regarding safety should be a driving force in the gentrification of traditional neighborhoods.
Gracen Johnson wants to recruit people to her place. I get that. The introduction to my website reads:
But there is a slight difference in our perspectives. Springfield is at the center of a metropolitan area of 700,000 people. In spite of that apparently healthy number I realize that very few people live here because they are particularly drawn to this part of the northeast. They have roots here, their spouses are from here, or professional opportunity has brought them here. Polls have shown that, all things being equal, many would leave. But the struggle isn’t to get people to move to the region, it is for those who have decided to live here to see that Springfield, and more particularly its core urban neighborhoods, are a real, legitimate, reasonable, rational option for living if what they seek is an urban lifestyle.
These are people who would want to live in Cambridge not Lexington in greater Boston, Brooklyn not Westchester in New York, Arlington not Tysons Corner in DC. What’s different is right now, if they live in the Pioneer Valley…”they ain’t movin’ to Springfield”! Their families, their realtors, their friends, and their “common sense” will tell them that the idea is insane. These people are already around here, they might even listen to Chuck’s interview with Joe and think…”Yeah, yeah. Too bad there are no real opportunities for us to do that around here.”
The idea behind this particular post predates by almost a year the publication of the two pieces which have made up its content, a fact which only underscores my confidence in historical materialism. Ideas will not have an impact on the ground until material reality forces them upon people. Peak oil was a fact long before M. King Hubbert explained the concept, big box stores were ugly long before Jim Kunstler wrote “The Geography of Nowhere”, sprawl development was unsustainable long before Chuck Marohn wrote “The Growth Ponzi Scheme”, but these ideas only started to take hold once their material reality was visible.
Whether as a response to energy scarcity, fiscal crisis, or existential angst at the vapidity of car oriented development, reality will slap America in the face at some point, and recolonizing the relatively few places which were designed to be efficient, sustainable, and beautiful will be seen as obviously preferable to reconfiguring the thousands of square miles of mis-arrayed, sprawling, plastic sheathed crap that makes up most of North America’s inhabited landscape. Until then, I’ll enjoy its benefits in relative solitude.