Settling In -- Not For -- Downtown Springfield

Jul 17, 2017

After living both in the Mountain West and Europe, commentator Steve Shultis, came back home to settle in his native Springfield. Out West, Shultis says, he observed a sprawling, suburbanizing, car-dependent way of life. He far preferred what he experienced in Europe -- walk-able, bike-able cities. So he and his then-wife put down stakes in the Springfield's downtown. He's had no regrets.

Downtown was a great place to live and work. No one batted an eye about our decision until my oldest daughter was about to turn kindergarten age. That's when the questions started. 

"When are you putting your unit up for sale?"

"Where're you moving?"

We'd bought close enough to the bottom of the market that we could still get out, and with some extra cash as well. But we stayed.

Kindergarten was great. First grade, too. Soon both girls were going to Milton Bradley. My mom was volunteering at the school library, my wife worked with the PTO. I was on the School-Centered Decision-Making team. The principal made sure she knew every kid's name within two weeks -- and there were hundreds. She lived for that school and filled us with confidence in it.

The girls made lots of friends, and they made academic progress, too. Our eldest, then a fourth grader, tested as reading at the college level. The school noticed our younger daughter was off to a slower start, and got her the extra help she needed. She's been a strong reader ever since.

Middle school, though. Now we heard: You can't have your girls in a school with those boys. The principal of Forest Park had been my P.E. teacher -- smart, no-nonsense, dedicated. With Ms. Fazio at the helm, there could be no better place for my daughters.

On to high school. Our divorce gave my girls the chance to opt out of the city altogether. But they both chose to attend Springfield's Commerce, with it's International Baccalaureate program. They played soccer and were captains. They played basketball and sat the bench. Both good lessons. By graduation, they'd each earned generous academic scholarships to college.

Today, neither has -- or wants -- a driver's license. They know what poverty is. They understand that not everyone has been given the opportunities that they have. They seek out diversity. Growing up in Springfield is an experience they wouldn't change for the world. In fact, in many ways it's the experience that opened up the world to them.

Steve Shultis lives in Springfield and teaches in Suffield, Conn. He also has a blog titled Rational Urbanism.