Belchertown and Ware are two communities with which I am only passingly familiar despite their proximity to Springfield. The former is more rural in character while the latter has a past which is more closely connected to industry. Despite its name, Belchertown is a more fashionable community in the eyes of the residents of Western Massachusetts while Ware is viewed as being more akin to Appalachia.
The town fathers of Ware have decided to formally designate the center of their own town as a slum in order to be eligible for grant money which could be used for improvements. Ironically, from a Strong Towns perspective it is precisely the part of Ware which is being designated a slum which holds the most hope for the future. Unlike many Massachusetts towns its size, the architecture is mostly unexceptional, but it is at a perfect scale to create a financially viable community complete with schools, police and fire protection, and a small network of walkable streets. That doesn’t really go far enough, however. I would venture that it is precisely the tight urban-like pattern of streets and buildings which depressed property values enough that the town center, and then by extension the town, became affordable for the disenfranchised White working class who preferred, if NOT being poor wasn’t an option, to at least be poor surrounded by other members of the White working class.
As is the case with Granville, the White Flight from the larger metropoli in the region which swelled the population has ebbed, and now the people leaving, headed south and west, are not being replaced. The birth rates of those who stay are at or below replacement levels. Ware is soon going to shrink.
In contrast Bellchertown, lovely as it is, has done everything wrong from a Strong Towns perspective. It has no walkable center; one can’t imagine it having anything rising to the level of a village in terms of economic and social relationships without the use of an automobile; and yet it continues to thrive.
Car Dependant Belchertown
I have no doubt that it will suffer the same fate as Granville eventually don’t get me wrong, but it’s interesting to note yet again that “being ahead of your time” can be as fatal a flaw as being behind the times if the popular consciousness refuses to accept certain eventualities.
Belchertown was made to farm and only a farm life and modes of existence catering to farms and farmers can exist there sustainably, Ware provides a well preserved town center and a street grid of just the sort people are supposed to be desiring. It will be interesting to see if Ware can resist Belchertown-ing itself in cargo cultish imitation of what appears to work in calling forth the gods of prosperity just in time for reality to take hold an auto-centrism to become a vestige of an all too forgettable past.
Here’s hoping government dollars don’t create a downtown Ware filled with Taco Johns!