Edwards Street is a perfect target for bringing people with means downtown to live. This was understood as many as 20 years ago as this sketch demonstrates.
What’s interesting is how the vision gets lost in implementation because people only make a static analysis of how each step in the process by itself is insufficient to bring about the sought for dynamics. Too vague?
The reason Edwards Street is a perfect candidate for bringing some much needed gentrification to the city is that it is sandwiched between Mattoon Street and the Quadrangle, and also has Museum Park, the Commonwealth’s new data center, and various properties owned by the Catholic Diocese of Springfield defending its flanks. Nearby Salem and Elliot streets have beautiful, well-maintained historic structures. Getting people with resources to put them at risk in a struggling city requires that their investment seem less like a defenseless frontier cabin, and more like a space protected within the walls of a frontier outpost.
Salem and Elliot streets
When the new vision for Edwards Street was announced the (then) Library and Museums Association got on board right away and moved the Blake House from its location within the Quadrangle to a space fronting directly on to Edwards Street. Awesome. Perfect. They also expanded and improved the parking area which had wound its way around the Blake House prior to its relocation. Anyone who has read any of my blog posts will know that I am not the biggest fan of off street parking, but I also realize that some is a necessary evil and this seemed the perfect example of just that.
The Blake House
That is as far as the plan ever got. Edwards Street, you see, already had two spectacularly appropriate apartment buildings as bookends. One of those buildings backed onto the Quadrangle’s campus and, from the back, its wooden fire escape had the look of many an urban multi-family dwelling: clothes drying, mis-matched furniture, struggling plants. It was clearly an edifice populated by non-yuppies. (One of those non yuppies was a security guard at the museums AND at my daughters’ school a few blocks away).
When the owner of that brick apartment building (the one pictured above is the surviving apartment building. Nice, huh?) decided that he wanted out of the landlord business, the museums jumped right in to buy it. With a vision towards continuing the creation of a residential oasis in the city? No. To tear it down. For what? Many things were said, but it’s pretty clear that it was to remove “those people” and their drying clothes from their environs. The idea of pursuing some sort of innovative rehabilitation, perhaps a residential community attached both physically and institutionally to the museums was never entertained.
(By the way, if you think you see a contradiction in my call for gentrification, and my criticism of the SLMA’s then antipathy towards the poor in their neighborhood, I recommend my More Good Beats Less Bad essay. I don’t want the poor out, I want the wealthy in, and there is plenty of space downtown to attract the latter without displacing the former.)
From there the idea of incrementally transforming Edwards Street just died. The museums acquired a previously underdeveloped parking lot; underdeveloped even by parking lot standards. They brought it up to its full parking lot potential, complete in its parking lot-ness. Once again no thought was given to pushing for bringing town houses and apartments to the street. It was clear that the allure of creating a real neighborhood and becoming part of a dynamic redefinition of the city wasn’t enough to overcome the crystal meth-like isolated delusion of utopic free parking.
The square footage on and around Edwards Street is made up mostly of surface parking. It’s divided up between on-street parking and lots owned by the museums and the church. At any given time at least 40% of the spaces go unused, usually the spaces owned by the church. The idea of sharing space is unthinkable apparently, and leveraging unused and poorly designed space in the middle of the contiguous block to free up space for a residential vision was never entertained.
Imagine if the Springfield Museums and the Catholic Diocese of Springfield DID work together to leverage JUST the linear footage along the north and south sides of Edwards Street, partnering with a developer of residential housing to turn financially unproductive space into hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of prime walkable living space. Keeping in mind that the museums also have an enormous, if usually underutilized, lot on the southern edge of their campus which they share with the city library. That and the fact that there are thousands of spaces in garages, lots, and on streets almost totally unused when the church and the museums see their highest demand, hoarding space for car storage boarders on the imbecilic.
Parking available a block south of the Quadrangle: