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Past steps damaged city neighborhoods, but future ones could help rebuild them

Date: 3/26/2015

The other day when interviewing the head of Develop Springfield he updated me on that status of a proposed supermarket that would be on State Street opposite the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park.

Springfield, like many urban centers in Massachusetts, has a deficiency in the number of supermarkets. As markets have become larger, they have moved out of neighborhoods and into areas along shopping corridors where more commercial property could be found. The result is that a trip to the supermarket is indeed a trip.

Now that thought has been bouncing in my head for a while and it was matched up with what Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri spoke about during his announcement of the expansion of C3 policing in the area. The goal behind this initiative, which has proven success in the North End, is about building a community.

It occurred to me that Springfield has a problem that many communities face: a large number of factors have led to a situation in which neighborhoods lack cohesion.

Think back a number of years ago – too many years ago. Take away the cop on the beat who knew people and residents knew in return. Take away the neighborhood school. Eliminate the local shopping districts. Reduce the walkability of a city by not having a system of sidewalks, lights and crosswalks the encourage people to walk.

I have a friend who lives and works in downtown. She will walk to the closest grocery store to her, which is across the river in West Springfield. I’m sure you’ve seen people on the Memorial Bridge wheeling their shopping baskets. Think what a hazard you create for yourself walking around the Route 5 rotary. It’s a short distance, but it’s a difficult walk.

Here’s another one to consider: if you’re staying at one of the downtown hotels and you want to walk to the Basketball Hall of Fame, how easy would it be to walk there?

In too many American cities we have taken steps that have damaged our neighborhoods. Some have been deliberate, some may have seemed unavoidable and some might be chalked up to the evolution of a city.

For instance, when Eastfield Mall was opened in the late 1960s, did anyone foresee how malls such as that would ravage traditional downtown shopping areas? No, it was the evolution of retail based on the growth of the suburbs. I don’t think anyone worried.

Did anyone understand when manufacturing concerns moved out of a downtown area that also meant a decrease in the number of people who could shop downtown? No, it was the changes in the requirements of space needed for manufacturing. People will still come downtown.

We can’t get around how job loss has affected communities in Western Massachusetts. While much has been done to try to rebuild our employment base, we all know there is much more that requires serious work.

In the meantime, though, I believe there are steps we could take to strengthen our neighborhoods.

I commend Commissioner Barbieri in his effort to help rebuild communities within neighborhoods by addressing communication and collaboration. I appreciate Develop Springfield trying to solve the problem of a downtown “food desert” with the creation of a supermarket. These are both very positive efforts.

There are efforts around the area to reclaim the vitality of neighborhoods. In Holyoke we have seen the rise of entrepreneurs who have taken former factory buildings and forced new uses and identities for them. In Westfield we’ve seen the positive influence of Westfield State University in downtown redevelopment. There is great potential for additional housing in downtown Chicopee.

Seeing these advancements gives me hope that progress is being made to improve our cities and towns.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.