At the risk of sounding way too Post Modern, places need narratives.
In my interview with Chuck Marohn of Strongtowns a few months back he started the conversation by asking me about all of the mistakes Springfield has made over the years in its attempts at revitalization. I hadn’t really prepared anything on that topic, but with the number of mistaken ideas cities have latched on to over the years it was pretty easy to pull out a few: urban renewal, elevated highways, a convention center…but then Chuck mentioned the Basketball Hall of Fame.
On a national and international level, in spite of the fact that local museums get more visitors, the Basketball Hall of Fame is what puts Springfield on the map. Having said that, in my experience, it is run by idiots. They overvalue the product, under maintain the museum, and the design of the current “hall” is a tribute to Landscape Urbanism and couldn’t be worse in terms of connecting to either the downtown or the riverfront. It is a stand alone pod which does well for itself at the moment, but when the new MGM project opens it may very well find itself playing catch up in terms of integrating with what lies on the other side of Interstate 91.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I agree with Chuck in thinking that the Hall of Fame is a bad idea in theory; if anything we don’t do enough of what the Hall of Fame represents. One of the things that I recognized immediately in Madrid when I first studied there in the 80’s was how overtly the city celebrated itself at every opportunity. Every event that had ever taken place there, every famous resident, hell, every famous visitor was memorialized somewhere in some way: there may be a plaque commemorating my time there just in case I ever amount to anything! For every name I knew and every date I recognized there were another 5 that I knew nothing about. Maybe there were made up names, like in a monologue from Captain Kirk: “Plato, Aristotle, Glurf from the Barstip Galaxy, and Firslarn of the constellation Haaaars”.
Whatever the case, it gave the place immeasurable depth. If I might double down on my nerd quotient after the Star Trek reference, it’s like what Beregond and Prince Imrahil do for The Lord of the Rings in that it makes the narrative altogether much richer.
We don’t do enough to remember who we have been and so we don’t really know who we are.
The Museum of Springfield History has an exhibit dedicated to John Brown. John Brown was a bit of a vagabond, and kind of a kook really. But he lived in Springfield at a very significant moment in the development of the abolitionist movement. It just so happens that when he and Frederick Douglas met for the first time it was in Springfield. It would be hard to overestimate, at the very least symbolically, the significance of that event to the history of the United States and yet, until the aforementioned exhibit was opened, there was nothing, to my knowledge, commemorating that event.
There should be a statue. The statue should be on a plaza. The plaza should be named in honor of that event, or for the abolitionists, or for the end of slavery.
Emily Dickinson’s poetry was only published in this city in her lifetime.
The Constitution of the United States exists because of an event which took place a few thousand yards from where I write these words.
These things (and these are the ones I know of) are insufficiently recognized and celebrated.
This is what commemorates Shay’s Rebellion:
No street, no plaza. It should be in your face every day.
We have a Dr Seuss memorial…good, good. But what of William Manchester and Timothy Leary? What did George Washington say of Springfield, why did he choose to put the arsenal here? Why is Longfellow’s poem about that arsenal not more widely known…by which I mean known to exist? Abraham Lincoln’s funeral coach was made here? Build a replica and put it in a park, or on a promenade!
The fact that we did matter means, maybe, we still can. Every city should do this, this isn’t about what “we” have done that “you” haven’t; we’ve all played our part.
As two asides: The Hall of Fame is a beautiful building and the arc of the roof and the ball do symbolize, wonderfully, the geometries of the world’s second most popular team sport; it’s just not a building which integrates with its surroundings to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The river, as seen from the HOF:
How to get to the river:
And, just in case anyone from the HoopHall ever reads this: If you give local families a “membership” option, which includes “free” visits, somewhere in the $100 range, local people will go more often…and that during your slowest times: the last thing you’ll do with an option to visit “anytime” is go when the place is packed with out of towners. Last I checked, a family of four would need to “donate” $240 per year for the privilege of “free admission”. A family membership, including free admission for a year, to the Baseball Hall of Fame is $80. Think about it? I’ve been to the hall maybe 3 times…if a yearly membership were an option my family and I would go a few times every year, you’d get more of our money up front, and I’m sure we’d buy more crap too! Then, maybe you’d have the money to see to it that all of the exhibits worked. Maybe? Maybe the folks at Kid City in Middletown could help you out on that. They may not be as famous, but they somehow run a museum where thousands of tiny visitors do their darnedest to destroy everything, every day…but everything seems to work all the time anyway.