I did feel a moment of near rage at the Curbside Chat in Northampton last week. It was when Chuck Marohn recommended to the auditorium full of Smithies that, if they really wanted to go somewhere and make a difference, they “should go to Memphis or Detroit”. Maybe if they were floating above the nation in some non-specific place, but they’re just a few miles from Springfield and even closer to Holyoke! C’mon Chuck!
Detroit, Memphis and all of the major league cities, even the struggling ones, will get their share of do-gooder college kids and entrepreneurs. The CNU met in Detroit just a few years ago for goodness sake. The small towns will always charm the handful of newcomers they need to be revitalized. It’s the tweener cities, not big enough to be cool, too big to be quaint, that need to attract these wunderkinds.
Don’t misunderstand me, I think we are just the right size actually. Big enough to have things worth doing and places worth saving, small enough that “you” can make a difference. In a Boston, a Chicago, or even a Denver my middling efforts and non existent credentials would make me invisible. Here I’m serving on boards, getting asked to attend meetings, and getting recognized often enough that some very important people turn and start walking away really fast when they see me!
A topic that came up in the post chat conversation was the Münchausen syndrome by proxy the Upper Valley has for Springfield; you haven’t lived ’til you’ve been told by someone from Amherst that your “median family income of $15,000 a year neighborhood” doesn’t have enough affordable housing. That is annoying. But people from Hampshire County who actually come down here and get their hands dirty are a different matter. I wish they’d move here and make us part of their life and not just their work of course, but I’ll take what I can get.
I know why Springfield doesn’t immediately pop to mind for Chuck, even when I’m sitting in the audience watching a presentation and he’s just been driven through Springfield and Holyoke; it’s the bistro tables. Yup. In Memphis a whole neighborhood of people roll up their sleeves, paint bike lanes, put in planters, fix up store fronts and, *poof*, magic happens. In Springfield a poor guy with a little cafe puts out bistro tables and gets threatened with a $1,000 surcharge for the privilege of enhancing the street.
The guy who owns this coffee shop on this corner puts out a few tables and chairs, with the umbrellas and everything, to give his block a little pizazz:
Now keep in mind dozens of Springfield businesses have been putting tables and chairs in the public way for as long as I can remember. But a Starbucks is coming to the downtown just a few blocks away to a building with plenty of private plaza space. The building just happens to be owned by arguably the most politically connected family in the city.
How is it going to play out if the chair and table ban extends to mayor Sarno’s old stomping ground the South End.
For Mom & Rico’s?
For Buckeye Brothers?
It’s true, Springfield isn’t yet the Wild Wild West where chaos rules, and where bistro chairs can just be flung about willy-nilly. I hope it never is. But a dozen Smithies fighting for social justice for the immigrant owner of the cafe trying to survive in his battle with the coffee Goliath would be a great thing.