Consider this a thought experiment based on science fiction or dystopic fantasy if you will. Imagine that places must be functional without the vast majority of their populations having access to cars. Which places survive, and which don’t?
The Hudson River Valley is astounding in this regard. Only the enormous wealth of New York City and the huge demand for suburban style housing could have created the mass of ridiculousness that is so much of Westchester County. There aren’t just random houses here and there, but thousands of them built on hills and cliffs and ridges where no one had any right to expect a house to be built, on roads which, devoid of said houses, would appear to be nothing but trails beaten through the wilderness by thrill seeking lunatics; no one could walk 20 feet on them safely in the age of the automobile; if there were room for a sidewalk it would have two more houses on it instead!
Contrast that with the town centers of not just Westchester, but so many of the areas just outside New York City, all so walkable, all replete with mixed use buildings followed one upon another, block after block of place where a person could still live a “Leave it to Beaver” life without any difficulty whatsoever. When New York City declines, as it inevitably must, will these “preserved in amber” districts be at the core of a new localism, or will their almost universally despoiled outlands not have any capacity to provide the nearby connection to agriculture that such a future entails?
Comparing once again Nyack and Kingston it is clear that the former is much more affluent than the latter today, but Nyack’s affluence has much more to do with its propinquity to NYC than anything else whereas Kingston seems a bit too far away to owe more than a tiny portion of its success the City. On the other hand Kingston sits in a fairly undeveloped region and has a great deal of current and potential agricultural land in proximity. So, for Nyack, what helped preserve it in the short run may kill it in the long run, and what was a challenge for Kingston may be at the heart of its survival in the future.
Springfield owes a great deal of its infrastructural soundness to its being politically connected to Boston. The city itself couldn’t afford to maintain the schools, the parks, and the libraries as it does without state largesse. On the other hand, so far Springfield has proven too distant from both New York and Boston to be directly invigorated by them economically like Hoboken, or Providence, or Worcester. Could the same “Kingston Logic” apply here? What makes us too distant to be lifted by them may keep us at the necessary distance to avoid being dragged down with them when they inevitably crash.
If ever there has been a time when being left out of the growth which accompanies prosperity would be a blessing, then this last 75 years has most certainly been it. And it would be hard to argue that this hasn’t been a time when Springfield has been mostly left behind by our fellow Americans.