Hampden County : Springfield (Massachusetts)
Springfield is the largest city on the Connecticut River, in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, USA. It sits only 24 miles north of Hartford, Connecticut, and only five miles north of the Connecticut state line. Springfield and Hartford are the principle cities in the Knowledge Corridor - the 2nd largest urban region in New England with 1.9 million people, 29 universities and colleges, and 120,000 university students.
For the first time in decades, 2011-2015 promises to be an exciting time to visit Springfield! With major construction projects serving as citywide catalysts, including a $1 billion new, intercity, high-speed rail line from New Haven, (expected to be operational in 2015;) a new, $75 million intercity commuter line to Vermont, (expected to be fully functional in 2012;) the construction of Baystate Health's new, $256 million "Hospital of the Future," (expected to be fully operational in 2012;) the $75 million renovation of Springfield's grand 1926 Union Station into an intermodal transportation center for trains and buses, (expected to be completed in 2013;) a new $56 million Federal Courthouse by starchitect Moshe Safdie, and a $101 million high-tech Data Center adaptively re-used from an old high school, Springfield is experiencing major economic reinvestments for the first time since the early 1970s.
With economic reinvestment, Springfield is experiencing a cultural renaissance. New festivals such as the "Hoop City Jazz Festival" (which, last year, featured Springfield blues legend Taj Mahal;) the "Springfield Vintage Grand Prix," which, in 2012, will become the Vintage Sports Car Club of America's official race; and Springfield's first-in-decades "Gay Pride Week," beginning June 8, 2011, which celebrates the city's recent influx of LGBT residents. Concurrently, renovations to Gilded Age theaters like The Paramount (formerly The Hippodrome,) The Bing Cultural Arts Center, and Springfield's increasingly eclectic Club Quarter have made the city more exciting than at any time in the past half-century.
Prognosticators had long-predicted Springfield's resurgence -- and now it appears that Springfielders are making it happen!
On June 1, 2011, a nearly unprecedented act of nature devastated large portions of the Springfield. That afternoon at approximately 4:45pm, the first of two tornadoes touched down within city limits. Within minutes, the tornadoes claimed four lives and caused "beyond tens of millions of dollars worth of damage," according to Massachusetts' U.S. Senator John Kerry. The U.S. National Weather Service rated Springfield's first of two tornadoes an E4 on the Fujita Scale (out of a possible E5.) Springfield's historic Main Street, with its reputedly attractive 19th century architecture, was left in shambles - particularly the commercial district of the historically Italian South End, the historic district surrounding Mulberry Street (of Dr. Seuss fame,) Springfield College, and Springfield's more suburban outer neighborhoods.
Will Springfield rebuild bigger and better than ever? WIth current new, investment in the city totaling in the $billions, the smart money is on "yes."
Located on New England's most fertile farmland in the Connecticut River Valley, at the mid-point of America's major Northeast trade routes between New York City, Boston, The Great Lakes, and Montreal, Canada, the City of Springfield (pop. 155,000) has been the technological and cultural center of the Connecticut River Valley since its founding in 1636. Having been burned to the ground during King Phillip's War in 1675, Springfield has rebuilt before.
Nicknamed The City of Homes because of its ubiquitous Victorian architecture and The City of Firsts because of the numerous innovations that took place there during its first 375 years - including America's first American-English dictionary (1806;) the first gasoline-powered car (1893;) the first motorcycle (1901, Indian Motorcycles;) modern fire engine and fire department (1905 & 1907;) commercial radio station (WBZ AM & FM, 1920, located in The Kimball Towers;) and UHF television station (1951, WWLP) - Springfield is best known worldwide as the birthplace of the sport of basketball (James Naismith, 1891, located at Springfield College.) The Basketball Hall of Fame, located in Springfield beside the Connecticut River, is a major, international tourist draw.
Springfield is a highly walkable city, even by urban, New England standards - most of its major sites are in the Metro Center neighborhood; however, much of the city's attractive Victorian residential architecture is focused in its street-car suburb neighborhoods, (e.g. Forest Park Heights.)
From the early 1800s until the 1960s, Springfield was one of the United States' most financially prosperous cities, as is reflected in its celebrated Victorian "homes." The Springfield Armory, the site of which George Washington and Henry Knox selected personally, made the city a center of invention, industrial innovation, and precision manufacturing from 1777 onward -- for example, America's first musket (1794;) the first use of interchangeable parts and the assembly line in manufacturing (1819;) and the discovery of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear (1844) all took place in Springfield.
In 1968, during the Vietnam War, the Pentagon controversially closed the Springfield Armory. The United States' military's loss, however, is a Springfield visitor's gain - the Springfield Armory National Park features the largest collection of historic firearms in the world. 
The Armory's closing in tandem with the growth of the interstate highway system and resulting "White Flight" to the suburbs left Springfield reeling for approximately 35 years (1968-2003,) as it searched for a new identity. Springfield reached its nadir during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it became financially insolvent. Luckily for Springfield, the city's financial woes focused regional and national attention on it, the problems needed to be fixed, and its development potential. Numerous organizations, most notably the National Urban Land Institute, studied Springfield and submitted plans for its revitalization.
Part of Springfield's resurgence has been due, in part, to its increasingly complementary relationship with Hartford, Connecticut. The bi-state Knowledge Corridor Metropolitan Area has benefitted both Hartford and Springfield, which once competed over the companies and workers. Increasingly, Hartford is taking on its role as the Connecticut River Valley's financial center, with its post-modern skyline and relatively wide thoroughfares; in complement, Springfield is taking on its role as the Knowledge Corridor's recreational center, with its walkable, increasingly residential Metro Center, lively Club Quarter, and Victorian architecture. In cooperating, both cities found their post-industrial identities.
Since approximately 2007, Springfield has reaped the rewards of the ULI's Plan for Springfield. Economic investment in aesthetics, particularly in the three riverfront neighborhoods, have helped to increase liveliness. As of 2010, Springfield fell to 51st in the annual U.S. "City Crime Rankings" after ranking 18th in just 2003. Increased liveliness and decreased crime will improve any city's quality of life -- and now it's changing Springfield's reputation.
Of course, hard work remains to make the city better than ever. Rebuilding after the devastating June 1, 2011, tonado outbreak is the city's most pressing need. Only then can Springfield start to look at other nagging problems, such as the economically and socially inhibiting placement of Interstate 91 -- a (couldn't be more) poorly-placed, elevated highway -- barring access to the Connecticut Riverfront and the Basketball Hall of Fame. Now fully aware of its short-comings thanks to the ULI plan, ambition and determined effort will be required to raise Springfield even further.
Springfield's Metro Center is the highly walkable, cultural and business heart of the Pioneer Valley - a region of approximately 40 miles by 20 miles that follows the path of the Connecticut River and contains New England's finest farmland. It stretches from the border of Vermont in the north to the border of Connecticut in the south. Springfield's Metro Center is located only 4 miles north of the Connecticut state border, and thus increasingly - in both governmental and popular perception - Hartford-Springfield is considered a single metropolitan area, (e.g. like Dallas-Fort Worth.) The two major Connecticut River cities' downtowns lie only 23.9 (35km) apart, with Bradley International Airport located halfway between them.
Metro Center features The Quadrangle, which includes three world-class museums - two art and one science museum - two regional history museums, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, and the palatial, neo-classical Springfield City Library. Metro Center is also home to the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) at Symphony Hall; the highly-regarded CityStage theater; and 60 clubs, restaurants, and bars in its lively Club Quarter, surrounding Stearns Square and Worthington Street. Unfortunately, Metro Center is bisected by Interstate 91, which limits access to the scenic Connecticut River.
The Basketball Hall of Fame is located on the riverfront in the nearby South End, but amputated from Metro Center and the rest of the city by Interstate 91. (In 2010, the Urban Land Institute debuted a plan to unite the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Connecticut River with Metro Center and the South End; however, as of 2011, no action has been taken.) The South End is the focal point for Springfield's Italian community, featuring many Italian restaurants, pastry shops, and cultural institutions. Unfortunately, the South End was hard hit by Springfield's June 1, 2011 tornado.
The North End comprises three separate neighborhoods, and is the center of Springfield's prominent and increasingly well-heeled Latino community. Springfield's three nationally ranked hospitals are located in the North End, as are several prominent parks (e.g. Van Horn Park.)
The McKnight District - known to urban planners worldwide as the United States' first planned residential district (1871) - contains over 900. Victorian "Painted Lady" houses. For decades it was the center Springfield's African-American and Jamaican communities; however, increasingly, both McKnight and Metro Center have become centers of Springfield's increasingly prominent LGBT community. In 2011, The Advocate magazine rated Springfield #13 among the United States' new "gay cities."
Forest Park and Forest Park Heights contain numerous Victorian mansions, many of which surround Frederick Law Olmsted's 735-acre Forest Park -- one of the largest urban parks in the United States. This is where architectural aficionados should head to learn why Springfield is nicknamed "The City of Homes," as it features many parkways and elegant houses. Forest Park - the Olmsted park itself - contains a small but extensive zoo, a skating rink, 38 tennis courts, numerous sculptures, walking and hiking trails, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, tree groves, Victorian promenades and water gardens, a formal rose garden, paddle-boating and fishing on the 31-acre Porter Lake, bocce courts, lawn bowling fields, and The Barney Mansion restaurant and banquet hall, among other features.
Springfield is the most centrally located city in New England, between major tourist destinations like New York City, Boston, Vermont, the Berkshires, Upstate New York, and Canada. It features access from every direction, via every sort of transportation. Bradley International Airport is located 12 miles south of Springfield (equidistant to Springfield's twin city, Hartford, Connecticut.) Westover Metropolitan Airport is located 5 miles north of Springfield in the City of Chicopee, Massachusetts.
The City of Springfield itself is a major railroad and bus nexus, with trains and buses arriving from all directions. In 2011-2012, the city's grand 1926 Union Station will be renovated and become and "intermodal transportation hub," (this means that the bus station and local transportation service, the PVTA, will move into Union Station.) Within the next few years, Springfield is scheduled to see an exponential increase in train and visitor traffic. The city will become the main terminus for both an intercity commuter line heading north to Brattleboro, Vermont, and a high-speed rail line heading south through Hartford, Connecticut, to New Haven, Connecticut. By the time that these various construction projects are complete, Springfield should be ready to show-off its revitalized Metro Center.
The renovated Union Station will become the headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines, (taking the place of Peter Pan's currently dilapidated terminal,) the PVTA, and the regional hub for Greyhound Bus. In the meantime, Springfield's Bus Station serves as the headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines, one of the major bus servers on the East Coast.
Bus & Train
From the South
Springfield is one of two northern terminals for Amtrak's Regional Service, connecting Springfield through Connecticut down to Virginia. The Vermonter also travels through Springfield, beginning in Washington, D.C. and terminating in northern Vermont.
From the North
Springfield is one of two current Massachusetts stops for Amtrak's Vermonter - the other is in the college town of Amherst, only 18 miles north of Springfield. In 2012, the Vermonter is scheduled to be re-routed to the old, more direct Montrealer route -- down the Connecticut River, through the bohemian mecca of Northampton, to Springfield. Once the renovations are complete, Springfield is scheduled to become the main terminus for the Western Massachusetts' intercity commuter rail, which will conveniently connect the the cities of Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, South Deerfield, Greenfield, and Brattleboro, Vermont. Western Massachusetts' intercity rail service will be a boon to travelers looking to experience the Pioneer Valley's multiple facets - from urban Springfield to bohemian Northampton to the scenic beauty of historic Deerfield and Vermont.
Current fares are reasonably priced and it is by far the most relaxing way to enter Springfield from the north.
From the East
Unfortunately, in 2004, Amtrak canceled the Bay State route (AKA Massachusetts' Overland Route,) limiting rail service from Boston and points east to Springfield. Currently, once per day, the Lake Shore Limited stops in Springfield en route to Chicago. Plans are afoot to revitalize the Overland Route for both passenger and freight service; however, unlike Springfield's two other rail projects, this project has not yet been green-lighted.
In the meantime, Amtrak generally charges $15 for the hour and forty-five minute one way trip. Peter Pan Bus charges around $20-$25 for a less enjoyable, hot (in winter the heat is turned up too high and in summer, much needed air-conditioning is nonexsistant on Peter Pan's older buses), crowded trip that can often run into traffic on the Mass Pike (Interstate 90). That said, service from Springfield to Boston via Peter Pan and Greyhound Bus is frequent.
From the West
The Lake Shore Limited begins in Chicago, Illinois and terminates in Boston, stopping in Albany, New York and picturesque Pittsfield, Massachusetts before stopping in Springfield. Peter Pan and Greyhound provide bus service from Albany, and points further west.
Springfield is accessible via Interstate 90 aka "The Mass Pike," (east-west from Boston to Albany, NY;) Interstate 91, (north-south from the Canadian border to New Haven, CT;) and Interstate 291 (a connector from I-90 through Chicopee to Springfield.) Interstate 91 has wreaked havoc on Springfield's urban fabric since it was constructed during the early 1970s, slicing through three riverfront neighborhoods, and amputating the city from the Connecticut River and The Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2010, the Urban Land Institute proposed a remedy to this problem; however, as yet, no actions have been taken.
Luckily for travelers, Springfield is one of the Northeast's most walkable cities. Most of its historic sites, points of interest, and entertainment venues are clustered in the Metro Center neighborhood (aka downtown, where the skyscrapers are.) Thanks to Springfield's recent economic and cultural resurgence, tourist sites are well marked, as are many architecturally significant buildings. The Basketball Hall of Fame and Forest Park - both of which are well worth visiting - are Springfield's only major tourist sites outside of Metro Center; however, the Basketball Hall of Fame is within walking distance (it's less than a mile south of Metro Center, along the Connecticut River.)
If you'd like to explore Springfield beyond Metro Center - perhaps experience Frederick Law Olmsted's Forest Park, his largest work next to NYC's Central Park - or further explore the artsy Pioneer Valley (maybe check out bohemian Northampton or Amherst, one of America's best-known university towns,) the clean, green, and reliable Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA)  offers service to every Springfield neighborhood, and throughout the Pioneer Valley's cities and towns north to Amherst. For a mere $1.35 on the PVTA, you can ride the 15 miles from Springfield to the counter-culture mecca of Northampton, or the 18 miles to student-centric Amherst, and vice versa. The PVTA is a cheap and an easy way to experience this compact and diverse region. If you see a PVTA bus headed your way and you are not at a bus stop, just wave your hands and most likely the driver will pull over to pick you up, (especially in Springfield, Northampton, or Amherst.)
Many use the PVTA or taxis to get to Springfield's attractions directly across the Connecticut River, like Six Flags New England and New England's State Fair, The Big E.
NOTE: Several years ago, walking through Springfield was considerably more hazardous than today. In the 1990s and early 2000s, crime was high in Springfield - however, the city's crime rate has fallen dramatically, to 51st last year from a high of 18th in 2003. Crime has fallen 50% in less than 8 years.
Although Metro Center Springfield is safe compared with the downtowns of neighboring Hartford and New Haven, as in most urban environments, it's best to exercise caution when walking alone at night. The Entertainment District along Worthington Street is safe throughout the day and night, as are many of Springfield's neighborhoods, e.g. Sixteen Acres and Forest Park Heights; however, certain parts of town can be sketchy after dark (e.g. Liberty Heights and Six Corners.) Luckily, Springfield's sketchier areas are generally well off the beaten path for tourists.