I’m a Massachusetts guy. My ancestors came over on the Mayflower and I’m a descendant of Rebecca Nurse of Salem Witch Trial fame. I was born in Massachusetts and I live in Massachusetts. But when you’re from Springfield you have to admit that you’re only “kinda” from Massachusetts; you don’t have the accent, you don’t use words like bubbler (bubbla), and tonic (tuonic) and when reports and lists emerge about various qualities and characteristics of state culture, you know that it isn’t about “you”, it’s about Boston.
In the 70’s that was a good thing, Boston was thought of as nothing but a shit-hole with its busing violence, combat zone, crime, corruption, murders and fires; it bears almost no resemblance to today’s “Teflon Towne” where nothing bad that happens can ever tarnish it. And therein lies more than one problem. For a small provincial city being compared to Boston is not helpful: No, Seiji Ozawa doesn’t conduct our symphony and Cam Neely doesn’t play for the Falcons (I’m old!), but those things were never likely to happen, were they? A different problem arises with news items like these:
The problem is that, while at the same time retaining Springfield’s immeasurable self-loathing, local leaders both political and economic somehow convince themselves that this data has something to do with us, who we are, and the decisions we’ve been making for the past 30 years.
Unlike Boston, we don’t know what we’re doing and, also unlike Boston, we can’t afford to make stupid mistakes. If we knew what we were doing we wouldn’t put up a parking garage (with no ground floor retail!) between a newly renovated train station and Main Street, we wouldn’t contemplate razing a fantastic building, a wonderful example of 20th Century urbanism at the 100% corner of the entire region in order to replace it with a parking garage or surface level parking, we wouldn’t keep a park virtually closed instead of activating it for the type of residents (poor people of color) we wish weren’t there, and we wouldn’t place the University of Massachusetts downtown campus in the one (f-ing!) building downtown which, by virtue of its on site parking, makes it a pod unto itself and therefore unable to accomplish the goal of getting people onto the sidewalks.
We’re not Boston. And we’re doing it wrong. A successful place must prioritize people and accommodate cars and not the other way around. We have too much parking, not too little. Springfield has as many great individual spaces as any city its size on this continent, but we’ve managed to make sure that getting from the Armory, to the Quadrangle, to the Apremont Triangle, to Stearns Square, to Court Square, to the Riverfront, to Forest Park and on and on and on is always “obstaculizado” (so much better than hindered!) by auto centeredness, blight, carelessness, or stupidity.
No more off street parking on Main Street!
Stop trying to build a city for the people we wish were here and start building it for the people who are here!
Identify the obstacles to connecting the city’s already great places and make them as pedestrian friendly as possible. Then we can talk about getting Seiji Ozawa to play for the Falcons…or something like that.
The Armory site and gates: Open too infrequently (some not at all) and absolutely no effort whatsoever to turn to the green space of the NATIONAL PARK into a place for active recreation. Like it or not, it’s the space best suited for active recreation connected to the downtown, at least until the Riverfront Park fixes its more complicated problems. Lighten up, the site’s historic buildings won’t suffer at all from having people throw a frisbee around on its grassy areas, and how cool if the police were to adopt its lower spaces, right by their headquarters, as the center of a law enforcement community outreach recreational initiative!
Dwight Street. Auto centered ugliness, one way status, blank faced buildings and surface parking make it the worst pedestrian street by far in the city. The good news is it just cuts off the downtown’s best recreational space and the region’s top cultural institution from Main Street, the MassMutual Center, and the South End. Make it a two way street and focus on improving its east-west crossings.
The Riverfront. Much more needs to be done than can be expressed here, but keep the brush down to maintain the view of the river, try to overcome I-91 as best one can, add active recreational opportunities (basketball? By the Hall of Fame?) and find programming, programming, programming. Beg Six Flags to create a water link to the park. Allow them to build a mini amusement park within the park. Fund it, find a way. The place is beautiful, but it’s so isolated and its use by “good people” so irregular that it’s not a place I can comfortably tell people to use without wondering about actual issues of safety.
Locust Street at the intersection of Mill Street, and Belmont and Fort Pleasant Avenues. Holy Crap what an ugly pedestrian shit storm of an intersection this is if you want to get from a pretty awesome South End to one of the great urban parks in the world. What isn’t wrong? Are there even crosswalks? How many sidewalks to nowhere are there? Are those trees inside the cement bunker for your protection or theirs? How much more undulation would there need to be in the asphalt for it to qualify as a roller coaster? Fix this intersection and the stretch between it and Sumner Avenue becomes one of the best neighborhoods in the state; AC Produce, La Fiorentina, Milano’s, Frigo’s, Red Rose, Mom and Rico’s, Frank’s Flowers, and the new MGM on one end, Friendly’s and Forest Park on the other!