This post is an extended response to my friend’s post at Granola Shotgun.
We have two areas of the city which fit the description of Marsupial Urbanism. Baystate Medical is an enormous regional healthcare provider and its main campus and the repurposed industrial buildings which make up its satellite campus both sit a block away from Springfield’s North End. Mass Mutual Life Insurance and American International College sit on the State Street corridor which also is the heart of the largest Black neighborhood in Massachusetts west of Boston; Mason Square.
Main Street in the North End recently got a facelift from brand new sidewalks and signage, to bike lanes and park improvements. I had a long conversation with an owner of a local retail establishment and he says business is up a full 20%. He says that the improvements make the street look safer and that he sees lots of new people coming in. Three national retailers have moved in with new construction on previously vacant lots in the last year as well; They insisted on having off street parking but at least the buildings are built to the sidewalk with their actual entrances on the Main Street frontage. A handful of apartment building were restored on the strip as well, all of them to historic preservation standards. There is one remaining shell of an apartment building along the route. It’s an attractive building, here’s hoping it gets some TLC soon as well.
Some images from Google maps of the new retailers, some improved façades, and a before and after of an older apartment building:
Mason Square has seen the city build an elementary school, a Head Start, and a fire station as well as engaging in a battle with a local non-profit to restore the neighborhood library. One of the city’s best developer is just starting a re-do of an apartment complex in the old Indian Motocycle building as well as the conversion of the old firehouse into apartments. A.I.C. took an old parking lot and built a brand new facility across State Street from its main campus and the city and A.I.C. together have done a great job of encouraging façade improvements along this stretch of State Street as has Mass Mutual.
On the down side, one other private developer completely restored a beautiful mixed use brick building and opened a barbecue place on the ground floor, they tried to get A.I.C. to encourage students to eat there by including it in the meal packages provided but the college didn’t want to encourage the students to venture off campus and it closed. Along with that the Indian Motocycle developer is taking down two fantastically functional buildings just outside its footprint to make the parking more accessible. These two:
None of these improvements seem to involve any idea of gentrifying either neighborhood, for good or for ill. Depending on your level of skepticism it’s clear they’re both about some combination of making their respective areas better places for the current residents to live OR to make them less disagreeable to people driving through on their way to the major institutions on their periphery. Even if it is more about the latter than the former they do seem to be working out for everyone involved.