In Springfield you can play a game called “count the sidewalks”, and the number you get from 0-2 tells you when that street was developed. Two sidewalks narrows it down to a nearly 300 year window from 1636 to the early 1900’s* one sidewalk is from that time into the early post war period, and you can guess the rest. I didn’t notice that until I was pretty far along in my amateur urbanist ways, but even back when my “aesthetic” regarding everything else; food, friends, sports teams, hygiene, television, movies, clothing, music was pretty terrible I could see that in Springfield, with few exceptions, the poor people lived in the nicest houses, and the relatively wealthy (and the whitest) lived in the homeliest homes.
*(Obviously NO sidewalks were built contemporaneously for most of that first 300 years)
There is a weird algorithm, I’m sure, that could explain how one or two beautiful and classic neighborhoods retained their middle class and how the rest became ghettos for African Americans and, as the decades wore on, metamorphosing ethnic groups of the “not yet White”. Proximity to park land was clearly a factor, distance from heavy industry another, but what other factors were at play, apart from the perceived encroachment of the “non-White” in commercial or public interactions, I can’t say. What I can say is that it means that even a relatively geographically small city like Springfield, which covers only 30 square miles, contains its own inner and outer ring of suburbs at least as you travel from west to east.
I live on the property originally deeded to Rowland Stebbins in 1636, on what would have then been toward the extreme end of the tillable land** the Agawam were willing to allow the English settlers to farm on the eastern side of the Connecticut River:
Looking out my back windows to the north and west I can see the elongated undular grid which William Pynchon drew following the contours of the river itself. What exists for a few miles to the southwest and west is a series of streets radiating outward which were later connected by what the contours of the terrain would allow as closely as possible approximating a grid.
That pattern is only deviated from after around 1950 when the cul de sac appears in all its glory in just a handful of locations:
Springfield had surprisingly robust mid century development. It outpaced that of neighboring cities until school integration meant that “your kids had to go to school with their kids”…but only if your kids lived in the same town as their kids! Up until then homes in the city had higher value than others because the city provided better services (and still does) from water and sewer to trash collection, libraries, easier commutes, walkable neighborhood schools, more and better parks and libraries…you get the idea. Somehow the specter of melanin infested classrooms made a bi-weekly trip to the dump and a septic tank less onerous options.
In any case, all of this divides Springfield in very different areas where very different people live. My wife, having grown up in and around Westchester County was surprised at how diverse this community was; our non-family social life consists mostly of interactions with gay couples and artists, most of our neighbors are Black and Hispanic, the neighborhood restaurants are owned by Mexican, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, and old world Italian entrepreneurs.
In the last few years LuLu’s Drama Studio involvement has introduced us to different elements in the region: home schoolers, suburbanites, and families from Springfield’s no sidewalk suburbs. For the first time in decades I’ve found myself among fellow Classical High School graduates and we’ve interacted with people who, put frankly, are more similar to the families in which we were raised than the ones by which we are surrounded.
In one particularly memorable interaction my wife mentioned how most of the people we socialize with regularly are gay; and our new friends were shocked. They had no idea that Springfield had such a significant gay community. As I contemplated their response I realized that our new friends were from “no sidewalk” Springfield and nearly all of our gay friends were from “two sidewalk” Springfield with one of the few outliers being a couple living in the “one sidewalk” zone. They’ve taken a traditional Levittown house and turned it into this:
As the Long Emergency plays out in the region I wonder if the current, sometimes typologically ambiguous, town borders will have any meaning given how different the populations can be within each community or if typologically similar places, like the more urban portions of the somewhat contiguous areas of Springfield, West Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Westfield, and even Northampton and South Hadley, will form confederations, as the “no sidewalk” spaces will identify similar interests and concerns.
As always, my interests sit comfortably within the most urbanized areas in the region and I’m reminded that two lines of a fairly simple t shaped transit system could connect Westfield-West Springfield-Springfield from west to east, and Springfield-Chicopee-Holyoke-Northampton from south to north. Even in an energy starved post peak fossil fuel future I could envision a region where people could experience a high level of mobility at a reasonable price. People living outside those centers might find that their world has greatly diminished in size as far as the variety of places they are able to experience on a daily basis are concerned. The good news is that homes in most of those centers and along most of the lines of connection are among the most reasonable in a reasonably priced region; any takers?
** I arrived at the conclusion that my property was, perhaps, at the far edge of the fields from some books I had previously read but this map makes clear that the current 80 Maple Street is located in what was the wood lot. I had thought that the “wet meadow” was on the flat plain above my home and the wood lot was on the promentory above the 30′ shelf of land on which my house now sits.