The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not Dead Yet

Down but not out.

People have been asking me what I think of the recent ranking of Springfield by the prestigious Forbes Magazine as a "dying city." Frankly I never know what to say about such lists. So much depends on in what context you consider them, whether it is this Forbes list, or other unflattering lists Springfield has made in the past, such as one of the most dangerous cities in America, or the one back in the 90's where BusinessWeek reported Springfield to be in the top ten of cities whose residents were anxious to move out. I mean what is there to say? Who can deny that Springfield has been in a downward spiral for decades? Who can deny that the crime rate is unacceptably high? Who can deny that people have fled Springfield in large numbers?

But such lists seldom tell the whole story. Forbes has this to say in the mere snapshot analysis it gives to Springfield.

Springfield, Mass.-Conn., Metropolitan NECTA)

Migration (since 2000): -16,626

Total population change: +2,643

June 2008 Unemployment: 5.9 % (2000 average: 3.0%)

Annualized GDP growth: 1%

The western Massachusetts home to Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance and Smith & Wesson has suffered for a long time as the Northeast becomes less and less a destination for manufacturing. To stave off the decline, Springfield has partnered with Hartford, Conn.--25 miles to the south--and rebranded itself New England's "Knowledge Corridor," because of the presence of so many universities--UConn, Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Wesleyan to name a few.

This is not a picture of pure gloom. True, the unemployment rate has nearly doubled since 2000 and the economic growth rate is an anemic one percent. But wouldn't you expect a dying city to have a contracting economy? The fact that Springfield is still capable of economic growth, however weak, proves that the city still has a pulse. Yes Springfield has fallen to a pitiful state, but the word "dying" is overstating the problem. Springfield remains a deeply troubled city, but it is still a long way from being a dead one.

The credibility of the Forbes verdict on Springfield is further undermined by the nonsense they write about how supposedly "Springfield has partnered with Hartford, Conn.--25 miles to the south--and rebranded itself New England's "Knowledge Corridor". The truth is Springfield and Hartford have never been able to overcome their competitive relationship enough to work together in any meaningful way, and no one is calling the region the "Knowledge Corridor" who isn't getting paid to do so.

But even if the city isn't really dying, one would truly wish that the response of Springfield's officials to the city making these unflattering lists would be more reality based. Since the 1980's, when critics were denounced as "naysayers" and "non-team players" it has seemed impossible for the city's leaders to take constructive criticism, which is really how these lists should be interpreted. We don't have to buy into all the negative hype to none the less agree that things are not going well.

Just once it would be nice to hear a public official come forward in response to a negative appraisal of the city and say something like, "It's true that we could be doing much better. Across the board firings in all departments are necessary to bring in fresh people with fresh ideas." Or for economic development officials to say, "Our attempts at revitalizing the city have failed miserably. We are glad to step down in order to give others an opportunity to do what we could not." Or to hear voters say, "These incumbents have repeatedly failed to perform. I am voting for newcomers this election to give some new people a chance."

One bright spot is that if Springfield officials are still playing ostrich, the public need not thanks to the internet. Sure enough, immediately following the Springfield Newspaper's article full of quotes from apologists and excuse makers, there is a whole lot of comments from clear eyed residents who aren't falling for the happy talk. One of the best is from someone calling themselves LizzyT:


The president of "Spirit of Springfield" disputes Forbes' ranking?
And the mayor doesn't abide by the "opinion" that Springfield is falling apart?
And the South End Citizens Council president thinks things are looking up?
And the vice president of the Chamber of Commerce thinks Springfield has "made adjustments"?

Well, shut your mouth, Forbes Magazine, with your "science" and "statistics" and "specifics"! Those 30 chambermaid jobs at the Hampton Inn are poised to brighten Springfield's star.

Springfield officials need to quit whining about the loss of manufacturing jobs: manufacturing has been a withering industry for forty years and still people tip over with surprise when the Acme Paper Clip factory shuts down.

No one under retirement age is interested in doing those jobs. Most people go to college, and when they get out, they expect to do challenging work that pays them well. Those are the people who make money, who spend money, who drive up home values, and whose incomes and employers provide a healthy tax base and create a healthy city.

And what does having a new police commissioner and new school superintendent have to do with anything? All that tells me is you've got turnover in two jobs where whatever unlucky soul fills them drives around with economy-sized bottles of Tums in the glove compartment.

Burgeoning industries Springfield may be able to make headway in:

1) Creepy feelings as you walk to your car after eating at Theodores'.
2) Jumpy, wiry guys who ask you for money and then follow you to your car when you refuse.
3) Fitness training based on the accelerated walking pace one has to employ to keep from being accosted. Great for old people, as they love walking for fitness.
4) Describing political leaders as "haircuts."
5) Empty storefronts to be photographed by edgy undergraduates.
6) Homeless guys to be photographed by edgy undergraduates for $5.
7) Wistful feelings about "the old days."
8) Racist ranting about unemployed black residents.
9) The squashed dreams of children who had the misfortune to be born in a city with a cr@p tax base.
10) Delis that sell apples with dust on them.

Perhaps there are grants available.

To read more witty words of wisdom from Springfield supporters click here and read the comments section following the article.

Young male deer are in danger whenever this truck from Amherst is around.

For my first sober birthday in decades my sisters took me to dinner at the Westwood Restaurant in Westfield. It used to be some kind of factory, and pictures of its past life hang on the wall for viewing, that is if some jerk doesn't stand in the way.


Pete Sygnator said...

"Some Factory?" Tommy, the Westwood is located at the former site of the Old Colony Envelope factory where my dad slaved away his entire life. I worked there as an envelope cutter during summer while in college. After three summers in that factory, I fully appreciated what my dad did to put bread on the table and hoped I could always use my brain instead of my back to make a living. So far so good on that!

Happy (sober) Birthday buddy! We're at UMass for the annual Collector/Treasurer School this week (doesn't that sound like a great time?) and I keep thinking I'm going to see you come around a corner when we're walking about the campus.

springfieldmedia said...

Whether we are dying or semi alive and kicking, the recent articles in Forbes and the Advocate should nudge our political leadership. Economic development should be a big plank in the platform of candidates in Springfield and this region.