Holyoke isn’t nicer than Springfield, if anything it’s still the one place in the valley people look down on even more than Springfield. When I was a kid that list included Westfield, Northampton, and even Boston and New York; now it’s just Holyoke. What Holyoke is, is the one community with even more potential than Springfield.
Asset number one is serious municipal hydroelectric power generation. Number two is a main street (High Street) with impeccable bones, number three is a combination of industrial buildings and canals that can be useful should manufacturing return with some sort of diminution of globalism. Four is an excellent stock of high quality housing of varying types. 5 is excellent north-south rail linkage. And at number 5, great proximity to one of the Northeast’s most fertile agricultural areas.
I’ve never understood exactly how the Tulip-mania process actually works. I’ve always seen too long a track record of success as a likely harbinger of failure and, more importantly for purposes of this discussion, vice versa. To “buy low and sell high” you have to seek out the undervalued and under-appreciated asset, not today’s hot commodity. Not that some things aren’t down and staying down forever, but certain fundamentals of value should stand as markers of the soon to rise versus the dead and gone.
This concept can be re-stated as looking for investments with the greatest upside potential. As a lunchtime discussion about the Transformative Development model simmered between Chuck Marohn and Laura Masulis a week ago Thursday I mentioned my view that the Powell Doctrine holds better for economic development than warfare; that government should seek out essentially “weak” areas of drag on critical mass located in or between areas of economic vibrancy and target their resources on them. The idea being not only to revitalize that small chunk of community, but to create a link between heretofore separated places, forming in the end a much larger contiguous whole…which can then be linked to yet another vibrant area.
Perhaps there are regions where this model is not only inapplicable but downright indecipherable, but both within and without the City of Springfield it can easily be envisioned, modeled, and mapped in much the same way a fractal pattern can be seen from the trunk of a tree down to its smallest branches and leaves.
On the neighborhood level the challenge is to bridge the fissures separating Main Street from Quadrangle-Mattoon, the MGM dominated South End to Union Station, the river, and the Maple-High residential area, and finally STCC and the Armory National Park to all of the above. On the regional level the challenge is turning Springfield/Holyoke/Northampton into a coherent whole.
The obstacles to a walkable neighborhood, defined by Jeff Speck’s mantra of “safe, comfortable, and interesting” are mostly numbers one and two; Springfield is nothing if not interesting. What makes for the abyss of discomfort and insecurity among and between the aforementioned places are Dwight Street and the I-91 viaduct, as well as a handful of sometimes aggressive “ne’er do wells” in isolated pockets; problem two mostly evaporates when problem one is addressed.
The obstacle to a regional identity is the lack of a node only north-south connector between Springfield, Holyoke, and Northampton as well as Holyoke’s rail platform being located quite a few blocks from the center of activity and without any genuine public space, apart from parking, nearby enough to be considered part of the enterprise. I’m all in favor of the push for an east-west rail link from Springfield to Boston, but I wonder if a north-south BRT link, at least until track availability and hardware options can be overcome for rail, might not be the best next step for us.
Which brings us full circle back to Holyoke, the weak sister (for now) in this proposal. For all its flaws, Springfield is where the jobs are, including many of the best jobs that people use to fund their lives above the tofu curtain; the link from Springfield to Northampton makes sense. Holyoke is an obvious and inescapable midpoint by rail, but easily neglected and harder to access as a midpoint by bus. Potential doesn’t put fannies in the seats today. Should a Springfield to Northampton bus link be created to complement the beginning of Metro North service in May of 2018 without including Holyoke, for now, the future rail link will most certainly stop there meaning that the Paper City should take steps now to get its node prepared.