35 years ago I met a guy from Redding, California. He and I were both living in Spain at the time; estadounidenses from very different parts of the Estados Unidos. It is really just for that reason that I’ve had some notion as to the sort of community Redding was. Was. In the intervening decades Redding has more than doubled in population. What strikes me about that is, of course, that in that same period my hometown has more or less maintained, at best, its population.
I’m not interested in a “City Data City Comparison”, it’s hard to understand how one place, yes I’m sure it can be quite a wonderful place, can draw so many more people than another all other things being equal. No need to inform me of demographic trends in the U.S., I’ve quite literally dedicated a great deal of output to the topic, it’s just…here’s a place burning up in a region where huge forest fires just happen every year (there’s a “fire season”!) and temperatures over 100 are fairly commonplace; and increasing numbers of people choose to live there.
I spent the day today at the Quadrangle: Springfield’s collection of 5 museums plus the library. My step-daughter was reading in the young adult section of the place and I grabbed a book by Vargas Llosa from the Spanish language shelves and just read for an hour. At intervals I walked around and checked out the action on the Quad: Couples making out; kids eating lunch; women taking power walks. We grabbed lunch at the café and visited 4 of the 5 museums for 20-30 minutes each making two stops at the science museum and also stopping twice to play the piano in the colonnade of the George Walter Vincent Smith.
30 years ago the interior of the Quadrangle was essentially a well landscaped parking lot; cars could drive through and park all around the green space. The art museums’ collections were just as impressive then, but the science and local history buildings were relics; stodgy and firmly anti-interactive. Now the cars are gone, and the grounds have been greatly improved and spruced up with public art which, in retrospect, was oddly missing way back when. The “Connecticut Valley Historical Museum” has had its role usurped by the Museum of Springfield History, and its building has been taken over by the new Amazing World of Dr Seuss Museum. They are both impressive.
Let me try to bring these ideas together. I spent 5 hours in a handful of remarkable buildings with hundreds of people coming and going in a public space as beautiful as just about any. We saw priceless works of art, played with a replica of the Connecticut River watershed, searched for carnivorous, omnivorous, and herbivorous animals by their teeth, played some memory games, and sat and ate under the shade of the stately trees I parked my mom’s car underneath as a teen. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone anywhere having a better experience of that sort anywhere in the world today.
Not every day here is so idyllic, not every place here is quite so wonderful, but there are lots of great places here. Sure, It sometimes rains (ergo no giant forest fires), and it sometimes gets cold (ergo no zika!), but it’s a beautiful place, with beautiful buildings, remarkable resources, plenty of jobs, great schools, and cheap houses (which often aren’t on fire), nowhere near an active volcano, or an earthquake fault, but very close to hills, mountains, beaches, rivers, lakes; and yet people manage to stay away in droves.