Springfield was founded to usurp the other outposts in the Connecticut Colony and be the northernmost fur trader on the Connecticut River. It wasn’t long before the annoyance that caused created a rift between Springfield and the more southerly Connecticut villages and Springfield switched allegiance to the Massachusetts Bay Colony; that circumstance has molded and shaped what Springfield would become ever since.
A recent publication has shown using commuting data just how much the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts is, not surprisingly, much more closely tied to Connecticut than to eastern Massachusetts:
So here we sit, economically tied to Hartford, but politically tied to Boston; neither one particularly interested in us either way. Given the horrific consequences of government intervention in cities post World War II I’d have to say that most of the neglect has been benign, but as the economic fortunes of Boston and Hartford continue to diverge my hometown is being treated, for good and for ill, like a child in a messy divorce.
Boston has thrown us a bone in the form of a $950 million dollar resort casino, mostly intended to take revenue from Connecticut’s enormous Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun resorts. Connecticut’s response looks to be a slots parlor between Hartford and Springfield to keep as much of Connecticut’s money in Connecticut as possible. Of course, what every child wants from the DisneyLand dad is more quality time; which Springfield wants in the form of commuter rail service to Boston, not just automotive visitation.
It turns out, Hartford wants that too:
The truth is, mom is kind of keen on dad still, and it’s pretty clear that she wants more time with dad as well. Maybe “keen” isn’t the right word: she’s desperate, things aren’t going so well financially of late and mom’s dream hubby, New York City, barely knows that she’s alive.
Let me explain, Connecticut used the Obama shovel ready projects initiative to move forward on making improvements along the Hartford to New Haven rail line, thus connecting Hartford to New York City via Metro North. To garner necessary support for funding and to make the project more viable Springfield was included as the northern terminus of the project. And yes,that would also make a Springfield to Boston rail link a Hartford to Boston rail link. However, some people in the Nutmeg State (That’s Connecticut, I kid you not!) are realizing that the 12 round trips per day between New Haven and Springfield which THEY are mostly funding will be dropping as many non drivers as want to gamble a short trolley ride from the MGM Springfield casino. But, c’mon, what percentage of gamblers at casinos are old people who’d rather not drive?
Connecticut’s budget looks to be tight next year. I wonder how tempted the Connecticut DOT will be to only fund the New Haven to Hartford connection? Imagine Springfield’s newly renovated Union Station with exactly ZERO new service to New York via New Haven: $90 million to service local and regional buses, one train each way to Boston daily, the Vermonter, and some Northeast Regional shuttles.
Remember, Boston stole away one of Connecticut’s largest corporations in just the last year.
Years and years ago the Springfield paper ran a multi day feature comparing Springfield, Hartford, and Worcester. While Hartford is clearly the center of the largest of the three metro areas, and Worcester’s surrounding urban core is the smallest, Worcester was (and is) the most populous of the three, the most prosperous of the three, and the healthiest demographically of the three with Hartford at the bottom in all of those areas. Worcester has lost the least population, suffered the least White flight, and retained the largest middle class. Of course, Worcester is connected to Boston. Hartford should have been to Springfield what Boston is to Worcester, but that was not to be, if anything Hartford’s struggles have harmed Springfield as well.
There are so many different ways to view the dynamics created by political boundaries running through places in ways not supported by reality. I want to follow up by musing on a few them. None of this is conclusive I realize, and I apologize to my readers for how poorly formed this all is as an argument. It is, very much in truth, as a child might feel as parents go through a divorce: the big people are going to make all of their choices for their reasons and we’re just going to have to adjust to the changes along the way.
Taking a big picture view can help. Everyone wants better connectivity to Boston; Hartford does, New York City does, Albany does, Vermont does, and Montreal does. Apart from NYC, all of these connections are most easily achieved only by going through Springfield, and even NYC sees a non-coastal (“Inland“) route through Springfield as by far the best way to improve speed and reliability to Boston by rail.
Right now the greater Boston area is among the most prosperous in the world; Springfield and the Connecticut River Valley aren’t even an afterthought. Things change, however. It wasn’t that long ago that Boston was a basket case economically and WestMass was the more stable region. Today Springfield is lucky to have access to the money Boston’s prosperity provides in the way of tax dollars to help with local budgets. If many of the changes predicted by the thinkers I admire most (One of whom gave me the title for this post in describing where it was he started his train ride to Washington D.C., minute 46:00) come to pass, it may be the case in 20 years that Boston will be lucky to have a political connection to an area with meaningful agriculture and an elevation more than just a handful of inches above sea level.
Our best course is to unite at the very least on the Massachusetts side of the border along the Connecticut River corridor. Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield when grouped together make for a formidable and fairly tight region. Dense, walkable core neighborhoods, cultural venues, renewable energy, water, spectacular agricultural land, and high quality recreational opportunities give us the chance to experience as wonderful a place to live as any, and if people to our north, south, east, and west see us taking advantage of that which is already ours, they may very well be more amenable to the idea of connecting to us. And if not, we won’t miss them anyway.