As I think about it this could be the blogpost version of the movie “Inception”, but if you enjoy urban design and have a fondness for anachronism it could be worth delving through the layers.
Worcester and Springfield (pronounced “Spring-Field”) are similar cities facing similar problems but all in all Worcester is ahead of Springfield. Worcester never fell as far as Springfield during the bad years, and it has taken advantage of the most recent movement toward urban Renaissance more quickly and more successfully. I think I’d like to explore that in depth in a separate post delving into how the two municipalities got where they are, why, and what their assets and liabilities are moving forward; it might be fun to get some input afterwards from the citizens of Worcester who read Rational Urbanism to get their perspective.
With that relationship between Springfield and Worcester in mind let us continue: Yesterday I was about to head down to Bueno y Sano’s Friday “burrito bar”; Worcester probably has a handful of local burrito places with the menu written out in chalk, clever burrito names, craft brews on tap, all that stuff; we just got one place to agree to opening under a tent for two hours a week at least during the summer! In any case, before leaving I glanced at my phone and, checking Masslive I read the headline of an editorial from The Republican, Springfield’s paper of record:
I’m intrigued, but I assume that the title is a reference to the “slots in a box” casino that Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are planning to build on the site of an old movie theater to siphon off visitors to MGM’s Springfield casino. I’m sure this does have MGM pretty ticked off, but it was never their revenues that interested me: the movie theaters, the retail, the street improvements, the entertainment, the ice skating, the market rate housing, those are the things that matter to me as a neighbor. But the editorial has nothing to do with that at all.
The editorial is about Worcester. It makes some of the same points that I would about competition between similar cities struggling with similar problems and how Worcester does have some advantages but that Springfield is making enormous headway right now and, if we keep moving forward and don’t rest on our laurels, we can continue to compete. I might have added a few more words about this not necessarily being a zero sum game, but that to should be put aside as we continue down this rabbit hole.
What was the motivation, the concept, the idea, the development which spurred the Editorial Board to write their Knute Rockne speech? Was it news of Worcester’s expanding innovation center, more expansion in the canal district, another local entrepreneur expanding his or her business, yet another market rate housing development coming to the downtown? Nope. I had seen something in banner headlines earlier in the day but couldn’t bring myself to read the article; I’m not a masochist. I can be a bit shallow when it comes to my jealousy; it takes me a while to accept when perceived rivals leap ahead of my community.
Be patient, we’re almost there.
Earlier in the day my wife had asked me about this same Worcester development…it’s called “Sky…something or other” and she had asked me if it was some sort of airwalk or something and I said (remember, I didn’t read the article): “No, it’s some big development, I think it’s a big retail/residential thing. No one is building airwalks anymore. That’s stupid.” But as I read the editorial I clicked on the link and it took me to this:
Yup. It’s an airwalk. An airwalk which, to their credit, the city is only moving forward with because they are being forced to do so because some moron, I assume, promised the developer of a new hotel, obviously another idiot, that the city would do it more than a decade ago. An airwalk. To quote William Whyte:
“They have not worked very well. When you take a street away from street level you take away what makes it work. Remove the intricate mixture of people, the pedestrian bustle, the shops, and the traffic, and what you are left with is a corridor. It can be…very bleak…”
This is what the intersection looks like now:
Are these perfectly crafted pedestrian corridors? No, they are not. But way short of $10,000,000 the city could find a way to improve these crossings for pedestrians all the while NOT reverting to the oldestest or worstestest of 60’s and 70’s era gimmicks for revitalizing a downtown.
Here at home we have are own problems. Our local deep thinkers, with all the great things happening in Worcester, find out about the stupidest thing Worcester has done in a generation, and instead of giving us an inspirational exclamation akin to: “They’re digging in the wrong place!”
They tell us to keep our heads up because, in spite of this genius move, we can still get to the Well of Souls before our competition! It’s like your best friend sees the chief rival for your promotion shooting heroin in the bathroom and tells you that you still might have a shot at landing the position if you just nail the interview.
I can’t believe that Worcester only argued that they shouldn’t be made to build the pedestrian bridge because they don’t have the money; they should have gone with the “Your Honor, I know my predecessor said I’d hit myself in the face with a hammer, but…” defense.
There is one last, divinely inspired exclamation point on this whole thing. Somewhere, at the Republican, at Masslive, someone chose a photograph to symbolize Springfield’s readiness to compete in this, the dawning era of the new city! And what photo did they choose? Is it the new Innovation Center? The Maker Space? Silverbrick Lofts? The Park Street Lofts? Some part of the new MGM complex? I know, the newly re-opened Union Station? Well, sort of. They chose this picture:
Yes. It’s a parking garage. Parking. The key to any urban resurgence! Build for the car, prioritize the car, make room for the car: People love it when you do that! I mean, weren’t the 60’s great for cities? What could go wrong?