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Urban Land Institute gave us a plan, but are we following it?

Date: 10/30/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

Remember the Urban Land Institute report on the city of Springfield? In the terms of the fast-moving 24-hour news cycle it’s ancient history as the report was issued in 2007.

Essentially, the report noted that to rebuild the vitality of a downtown in a city such as Springfield – but it certainly applies to any Gateway City, such as Chicopee, Holyoke and Westfield – you need to create a downtown neighborhood. Specifically, having theaters or civic centers or shopping malls are secondary to having residents.

Downtown simply cannot be merely a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. type of area. It has to be 24/7 and that can only be accomplished by having more residents, and a diverse group of residents at that.

Now all the Gateway Cities here do have downtown residents, but the struggle is achieving that critical mass of people who can then actually support new retail, new service businesses and new cultural attractions.

I was heartened by the fact the project to transform the former School Department building on State Street in Springfield into market-rate apartments is moving forward and is slated to be completed next spring or summer.

Springfield needs this kind of development.

The start of construction of four new homes in my neighborhood on Central Street is also very welcomed. Single-family homes are needed in urban neighborhoods.

I was also glad to see the expansion of Ames Privilege in Chicopee, which will add new apartments there and the plans to transform the historic Holyoke Catholic High School in Holyoke as housing as well.

It’s a shame that 31 Elm St., the Court Square Building in Springfield, lies dormant at this writing. The last I knew, it was slated to be turned into offices, rather than housing, and I think some people would debate which would be needed more.

Of course, I’m sure the ultimate disposition of that historic building will be greatly affected by whether or not there is a casino across State Street.

Report card

Checking a story I wrote in 2007, the Urban Land Institute listed its top development projects, which it said could take up to 20 years to accomplish. Here’s a quick report card:

• 31 Elm St.: nothing much so far.

• The Old First Church: rented by the city and still used as a church.

• The development of the Federal Building on Main Street: privately owned and supported by a 20-year lease taken by the city to house the School Department there.

• The re-opening of Pynchon Plaza providing a pedestrian walkway connecting Chestnut and Dwight streets: the park area has been refurbished but the connection is not open.

• Signage on Dwight Street as it is the major street into downtown from Interstate 291: I’m not sure if new signage has been added.

• Establishing on-street parking on Main Street: there is parking on Main Street.

• Development of Union Station: finally underway.


There are certain sounds, sights and even aromas that trigger immense pleasure and security in me. I’m sure you have your own list.

The smell of grain and hay is one of those. In fact, the aromas of a barn in general are welcomed.

They put me at ease as does the train whistle I hear frequently at home early in the morning. The taste of tapioca or bread pudding instantly brings me back to my youth.

One sound that I love is fast going the way of the dinosaur: the soft click, click, click of a movie projector.

For that matter, since I’m the son of an Air Force vet, every time I hear a plane overhead I pause and look. The whine of jets from Westover has never bothered me.

Well, here’s another of these sensory triggers I realized when covering an event in Chicopee this week: the sight of a bald eagle silently flying above me.

Growing up, I never thought I’d see a bald eagle in the wild in Western Massachusetts, much less in a city of 55,000 people. It’s a tremendous reminder of how far we’ve come in cleaning up our environment.

What’s your list?

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.