|By G. Michael Dobbs|
Ever noticed that many people treat communities in the same way that kids act on a playground? Among the swings and the jungle gym, someone will decide a child is an outsider and should be the target of abuse.
People talk about cities and towns the same way. You should hear some of the laughs I've received when I've told people I went to high school in Granby. They expect that I just recently started wearing shoes and using an in-door toilet.
And boy, the abuse that folks have shoveled onto Holyoke over the years is unreal. Remember when people use to call it the "arson capital?" Today, too many people still actually get scared thinking about going to the Paper City.
They don't see the progress there. They don't want to see progress because it's easier to live with their comfortable prejudices.
No community is perfect, but few that are the recipients of ill-advised slings and arrows deserve the number that are hurled their way.
These days Springfield is the popular whipping boy and the prime example of all that is wrong with an older urban city. You've heard it all financial collapse, corruption, violence. I'm not going to deny our problems, but there seems to be a group of wags that don't want to acknowledge the progress that has been made.
I had a conversation with a really bright guy who said how he had enjoyed a fine meal at an up-scale downtown restaurant, but wouldn't come back because of the shooting at the former Kennedy Fried Chicken. I was surprised by his quick assessment of the city.
There has been a reduction in some types of crime. There have been investments in infrastructure. A lot of bad guys in City Hall and elsewhere have been shown the door. The city's bond rating jumped to the positive side of the chart. There are new homes being built in the city and a huge new wholesale food business building their complex on Roosevelt Avenue.
Last week, two events underscored for me additional progress in the city. Two natives of the area, with strong ties to the city, have put considerable private money on the line to re-develop the former Basketball Hall of Fame building. Since both are successful businessmen, they clearly see the potential of the site and the city.
Since much of the previous talk about converting that building has included some government funding, it was actually heart-warming am I getting mushy here? to see someone exhibit an act of faith in the city without looking to the city or state for a safety net.
Here's the other example of what's right in the city. I was at the press conference to announce that the YWCA of Springfield's YouthBuild program received a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
YouthBuild is a program in which young people earn their GED while learning construction skills and renovating or building affordable housing for low-income people. In Springfield, the program has had 235 participants since 1998 and built eight homes. The grant is an affirmation of a program that is clearly benefiting the city.
One YouthBuild student, Roman Hurst, spoke at the event. He said, "I was never the one for going to school every day and literally enjoying it, but YouthBuild is different. They draw out my true potential, teaching me how to be a positive active leader and role model, teaching me that I have to sacrifice a lot of old habits and lifestyles if I am going to get anywhere in this world. Every month passes and I get stronger and stronger.YouthBuild has given me the strength to do this while teaching me to be a better student and employee."
Seeing these young people make a decision to turn their lives around is another indicator that Springfield is still a city of potential.
I've had the privilege of working in many of the communities in our region and I have to say the conventional wisdom that floats around about certain towns is generally wrong. Don't count out Springfield and don't count out western Massachusetts.
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