At the risk of giving you more insight than you might want into the inner workings of RationalUrbanism, I tried to multi-task by earning some step-dad bonus points as I slyly took some photographs intended to support an opinion at which I had already arrived. One problem: the experience didn’t match my expectation and so, with much regret, I have decided to alter my opinion instead of selecting some non representative pictures and going ahead with what I had planned to say.
I told Luna she could have some friends over and I’d take them down to the riverfront, make them lunch, and otherwise perform parental tasks so as to facilitate such a get-together. After hanging around the house for an hour or so the girls donned their bathing suits and off we went. We took the pedestrian bridge behind the old Basketball Hall of Fame over to the park and, weirdness of weirdnesses, there were people coming back as we were headed over. It didn’t stop there; there were people crowded along the benches in the shade along the bike path.
(Tips on becoming a photographer!)
Ok, there was a maintenance guy hacking back the sumac getting ready for the July 4th extravaganza; dependably the ONE day a year the park gets some use…even overuse. But there was also an older gentleman sauntering along the walkway and I could see people sitting by the new picnic benches. And people fishing. And kids at the playground and, oh, the splash pad was already spraying water which meant that someone had recently activated it. The gate to State Street was open and people dressed in business clothing were wandering across the railroad tracks.
(Nice spot for a b-ball court near the Hall of Fame)
I was prepared to make the case that without more amenities, like a basketball court near the pedestrian bridge, (and the Hall of Fame!)the park would quickly fall back to its prior level of (dis)use and become much more of a security and maintenance hassle than it’s worth, but now I’m not so sure. There wasn’t a trickle, there was a steady stream of people coming into the park. We were there just after noon, but in this live news report at the entrance to the park at 5:31 you can see people walking by as well:
Maybe the new play equipment, the splash pad, the new bathrooms, the 9/11 memorial, and the police substation are enough to create sufficient use for now to keep people coming back. The prior iteration wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good enough to overcome the isolation of a spot just outside the downtown but with extremely limited connectivity.
The challenges haven’t changed:
*The bike path is a wholly disconnected segment and isn’t long enough to attract serious bikers.
*Undergrowth creates cover in which the homeless tend to reside and, however benign their presence, makes many people uncomfortable.
*”Overgrowth”… of sumac in particular, obscures the view of the river without which the bike path loses all of its aesthetic power and also increases the sense of isolation.
*No food available within the park.
Apart from confronting these challenges, connecting the bike path to Forest Park and Agawam to the south, to the new and proposed bike paths in the interior of the city to the east, and, eventually, north “to infinity” would completely change the dynamic of the park. It would have been ideal had the renovated formerly private marina had been closer to the park, but at the very least the city should study other ways to give people more access to the river itself in as safe a way as possible.
I see the next big move, apart from the Hall of Fame contributing to a basketball court, being the presence of Six Flags New England on the riverfront. It’s just a few miles down the river to the largest amusement park in New England; an amusement park which doesn’t have a single major hotel on or near its property, not any closer than downtown Springfield anyway. A water connection from downtown to the former Riverside Park existed for years. Re-creating it with some water taxis to give families a “park once” experience of Six Flags, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, MGM, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and the Incredible World of Dr Seuss (as well as the 4 other museums of the Quadrangle), from any one of 7 major downtown hotels might be attractive. Something like a merry-go-round located in the park both for people enjoying the park and those waiting the arrival of the Tinker Bell (the old Peter Pan bus lines pontoon boat) could also act as advertising for Six Flags to the millions of cars which drive by on I-91 every summer.
Many locals can’t get beyond their jaded view of Springfield in general, and the Connecticut River in particular. They look across the river and see the electric plant and know that the Bondi’s Island sewage treatment facility, the landfill, and the trash burning plant are right there, only obscured by the trees; but the plant has a spark of industrial chic, and, for the visitor the rest is out of sight, out of mind. It’s got some real potential and, I’m surprised to say, it isn’t so bad right now.