Stepping Outside the Box

I’ve recently moved from a small New England town to an urban home in Holyoke, a former mill city that is beginning to emerge from decades of post industrial hibernation and decay. On the bright side, there wasn’t enough wealth in the city of Holyoke for it to experience the “progress” of  the urban renewal decades when so many cities saw their architectural gems torn down in order to make way for shopping malls, strip malls, “modern” bank buildings and the like. This is evident in the many remaining gorgeous buildings throughout the city of Holyoke.

Moving here was, for me, a big step out of the box that has been my life experience so far. Over the years I have lived in one small New England town or another.  Each home has been one that needed renovation and I’ve enjoyed those projects, as I will this new one.

I also love designing and installing gardens and have had expansive gardens in each of the homes I have lived in as an adult. Ample storage has been at my finger tips – garages, attics, sheds & basements. Plenty of parking was found in my driveway for our cars, scooters, our kids cars and those of our visitors as well. All that has changed. The townhouse we now own is smaller, there is essentially no land and the parking is on the street. The houses are so close I can almost literally reach out and touch someone. Holyoke is in a city where a signification % of the population lives below the poverty line. It once had more millionaires per capita than any other US city but it continues to face many challenges as it seeks to reclaim its vitality and find its groove for the new millennium. But there are many amazing people and prospects – lights shining in the darkness – and those lights are growing brighter with each passing month.

Holyoke canal at dusk

Why the move?

For one thing, through my position at UMass, I’ve been working with schools and non-profits here for several years and I really enjoy being here.  I love the diversity – about half of the residents are Puerto Rican, the rest are largely descendants of various waves of immigrants, Irish, French, German & Polish. I love the vitality. I love the friendliness of the people I meet at events, on the street and in the stores.  I love that the people here, from  23 year old Mayor Alex Morse to the parents of the youth in the schools, are open and honest about the challenges their city and her residents face rather than hiding behind a polished facade.

The other thing that drew me to live here is that I truly desire to be a part of the community.  I want to be engaged as a resident, not only as a professor from the academy that sits a half hour up the road.  I want to engage and work alongside others to create the change.

I know I am an outsider. Though I have been coming to this city from my earliest years, I’ve always been a visitor who, at the end of the day, went back “home.” I know I can’t move in and pretend to be one of the locals. None-the-less I hope to see  opportunities — to step up with open ears and eyes and perhaps even a bold voice when needed.

For now, I am getting to know new people and trying new things. Recently I did that by joining a group of fiber artists to Yarn Bomb around city hall as part of the REACHfest Holyoke. It’s a way of connecting with others I’d never met before; it was a part of getting on board the train and a small piece of resistance against the status quo and, it was FUN!

REACHfest Holyoke


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