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.