Being appalled at someone using the word “shithole” to describe a place is easier than acknowledging the influence American policy has had in making it a shithole I suppose. And while it is impossible to double blind history in order to see if El Salvador, Haiti, or the Middle East might be remarkably different than they are now, I think it would be pretty easy to make the case that U.S. foreign policy has not had a salutary effect on them.
That said, I live in a shithole. Read the comments at the website of the city’s newspaper of record and “shithole” certainly outnumbers “The City of Homes”, “The City of Firsts”, or “The Birthplace of Basketball” as a nickname for my hometown. It’s likely that a lot of the same instincts which lead to El Salvador and Haiti being called shitholes get Springfield called “shithole” as well. I’m sure “immigration” from Puerto Rico would be addressed in the same way if Puerto Ricans weren’t citizens and Puerto Rico weren’t part of the United States; but it is and Puerto Ricans are migrating within the United States by the thousands and the hundreds of thousands. As it happens, more Puerto Rican students have enrolled in Springfield public schools than in the next 2 most impacted districts in Massachusetts combined, and Massachusetts ranks only behind Florida and New York as a destination for these refugees.
Perhaps it is because they’re finding that this is not such a shithole after all?
For people fleeing from a failing island with underfunded schools and understaffed hospitals Springfield may be as solid a place to land as any in the United States. The city and the Commonwealth together have rebuilt a neglected public school infrastructure over the last 25 years at a pace that is truly stunning; the high school which has gone the longest since a major renovation in the system was built after I graduated in 1982. While many new schools have been constructed and historic schools have been completely modernized, the oldest and most problematic buildings have been given necessary upgrades and consistent maintenance while they await renovation or replacement: during the most recent sub zero cold snap a number of suburban schools had trouble staying open, but none in the city.
But many of the 9 branches have been renovated as well in the last 20 years and provide neighborhood after neighborhood with the type of access to information that can help motivated people get out of poverty.
The park system is even more impressive and well distributed. Forest Park is a world class resource but even the poorest neighborhoods in the city have remarkable recreational spaces which are adequately maintained; I say adequately because it is stunning how much the parks department gets done with a skeleton crew and minimal resources. Seriously though, in most cities Blunt Park, or Van Horn might be the crown jewel in the park system, here they not only pale in comparison to Forest Park but there are another half a dozen or more parks that rank just barely below them, and that is only for a lack of open space, not because they lack in recreational opportunities.
The park department website lists 21 parks, but that list is not exhaustive. Take “Jonny Appleseed Park”:
It’s in a tough neighborhood. It consists of a playground and a basketball court, one of the most used basketball courts in the city. A few weeks ago a car crashed into the fence separating the court from the street. Well, it’s wintertime, guess that will have to wait for Spring? Nope. That court has kids playing anytime the court isn’t snow covered regardless of season. It took a few days but the fence was repaired and it was back to business as usual.
Free museums? Yes. Any Springfield resident gets free access to the Springfield Museums every day. That’s this:
And all this:
Puerto Ricans who migrate to Springfield find not only a welcoming Hispanic community, but home prices that are dirt cheap and, at the very least, a functioning system of public transportation. That goes for people arriving from other places as well, the jobs are here, the colleges and universities are here, the hospitals are here.
To everyone I say welcome, welcome to my shithole.