After years of decline, many American cities are experiencing growth and renewal. In the first decades of the new century a host of U.S. cities saw increases in urban employment and population along with decreased rates of poverty and crime (McDonald, 2008). For the last three years, data show American cities growing faster than their surrounding suburbs (Voith & Wachter, 2014).
Still, the urban resurgence is not happening everywhere (Ehrenhalt, 2012). This is especially true for the country’s traditional manufacturing centers, or “legacy” cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo (Mallach, 2012). A similar situation can be seen in Massachusetts where the state’s so-called “Gateway Cities,” the former manufacturing centers that once provided a “gateway to the middle class,” lag behind more prosperous areas such as Boston and its suburbs (Forman, 2009). For this study, the term “legacy city” is used to describe former manufacturing centers, in general. The term “Gateway City” is used to describe former manufacturing centers located in Massachusetts.
Like many former manufacturing centers, Springfield faces serious challenges. In several neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, over 50% of families live in poverty (Browne, 2011). Also, Springfield residents tend to be poorer, less educated, and have fewer job opportunities when compared to residents of other parts of the state. The Springfield jobless rate, as of December 2014, was 8 percent, which is higher than Worcester (6.5%) and the state average of 4.8% (Mass Office of Workforce Development). Despite these challenges, Springfield has advantages that set it apart from typical legacy cities. Springfield never suffered the huge population losses that many Midwestern cities did, and Springfield does not have the vast number of vacant buildings and lots that exist in places such as Akron and Detroit (Mallach 2012). In recent years, Springfield’s population has stabilized (153,451 residents based on 2010 census). New downtown development is underway including an MGM resort casino, an intermodal transportation center, and a new factory to build transit cars. Local planners and residents are hopeful these projects are the beginning of a sustained economic resurgence. The UMass Amherst Design Center (The Design Center) opened in 2009 as a collaboration between the City of Springfield and UMass Amherst (UMass Extension, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Department of Architecture, and Building Construction Technology). The Design Center was created to foster closer ties between the University’s design and planning programs and the Springfield community, and to spur economic development. Like other similar university- community design collaborations, the UMass Design Center carries out a range of functions, serving as research center, design studio, extension center, and community gathering space (Forsyth, 2006) In 2015, UMass Extension and the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning are contributing resources and the academic expertise to reassess and re-imagine the Design Center to better meet the needs of the community while advancing the academic and institutional goals of the University of Massachusetts. This study will provide important information and recommendations to help move this initiative forward.