There were two primary reasons I chose to back the MGM development in downtown Springfield: first was what I suppose could be called a “YIMBY” instinct which I have always had for downtown for everything from prisons to porn; second would be its design. From a contemporary standpoint it would be easy to make the argument that, when built, this would be the best pedestrian oriented new construction in downtown Springfield in 75 years. In the words of famously anti-gaming James Howard Kunstler: “programming can change.”
Leaving aside full scale urban renewal, the scars of which being all that remains from Union Station to Memorial Square, the original Baystate West and Civic Center had to be among the coldest, most un-inviting structures ever built anywhere; both oddly combining brick and Brutalism, one wrapped in parking and sporting, first two, then three, then two, then three again, and finally back to two airwalks, and the other gauging out an entire contiguous block for car storage.
After that SIS gave us a building with office park windows which peaked as a zombie mall and actually went downhill from undead, and David Chase gave us the Storm Trooper Helmet Building; wonder of wonders Evan Plotkin has managed to turn Storm Trooper Plaza into BY FAR the best public space in the downtown in what, I assume, was the inspiration for the film Rogue One!
If mega developments have been bad, small scale ones have been worse. The best thing built at the micro scale in terms of urban design has been, far and away…and I kid you not…this:
Hey. It comes right up to the sidewalk on both corners and, if it doesn’t provide an entrance on Union Street, at least there are windows. So, yes, despite the oh so overly optimistic (plastic) flower boxes and the ridiculous applied watchamacallits…this is our best work in the last 3/4 of a century. Everything else has been given a suburban setback and included on site parking usually on the corner of an intersection.
Some months ago I read on the Strong Towns site and on Masslive about the potential demolition of a church in Worcester. At first I felt some concern and indignation. Then I saw what the plans for its replacement were:
Oh, boo f-ing hoo. Market rate residential? Whose imaginary friend can I blaspheme? With all of our empty churches, if there were a “modern mixed use market rate residential built to the sidewalk” exchange program I would take that deal all day every day and 10 times on Sunday! I do have another, perhaps more palatable idea to those of you with a bit more woo (nothing to do with Worcester here, I mean a belief in the supernatural) and that is this: I’ve read quite extensively on this, and do you know what old churches are great for when adaptively reused? Sure, market places, brew pubs, and pizzerias. Yep, yep, small ones as houses, sure. But their best use? Turns out churches work really great…as fucking churches. Can we approach all the store front jibber-jabberies and propose that they move their storefronts of worship to houses of worship?
Need a kind of chapel space for doing what church people do in chapels? Holy Crap, this comes with a chapel! Bathrooms, offices, even classrooms for Sunday School? Holy Shit…they have them! Great acoustics, even bible stories embedded within, from the windows to the walls, though no references to the daughter of Jeptha, talking donkeys, or other donkey “issues”.
Seriously, can we formulate a plan, some financial incentives (something tells me those will really work on the average storefront “minister”) to get our churches back into our churches? It would preserve what I must admit is some of our best architecture and open up more retail space for use in ways that won’t make Jebus want to tip over the tables at your rummage sale.