Yes, Springfield has had its share of hard times over the years. But haven’t we all? Look, we’re kind of sick of defending our fair city to people eager to cite high rates of unemployment, murder and poverty, but reluctant to actually get downtown and walk around. You don’t become the third-biggest city in Massachusetts without getting a few things right. So here are a handful of reasons why Springfield can actually be a pretty groovy place to live:
1. Excellent Puerto Rican Food
According to the 2010 Census, one in every three Springfield residents is Puerto Rican. So if you’ve made the mistake of excluding Puerto Rican cuisine from your regular diet, Springfield is the place to fix that rápidamente. Try Boriquen & Quisqueya on Saint James Avenue for some hard-to-beat fried fish and yellow rice. Latino’s Kitchen on Main Street offers a delicious cabrito (goat) stew that defines “pleasantly surprising” for the skeptical set. For a meal on the go, El Caribeño on State Street offers quick, cheap lunch specials — either chicken and pork over yellow rice, plus an empanada — for only 5 bucks. And if you’ve got an hour or two to explore a bigger menu, hit up the Puerto Rican Bakery & Restaurant at Armory Square, where you can choose meats like blood sausage, pork shoulder, or beefsteak with onions, followed up with fresh cake, flan, or cookies from the bakery. These places don’t just share menu items — they’re all about low cost, big portion sizes, and serious flavor that really hits the spot.
2. The Bing Arts Center
Just off the busy intersection known as the X, Brian Hale and the other members of the X Main Street Corporation have labored for years. They’ve done it to realize a vision: making the arts a centerpiece for revitalizing the neighborhood. Hale and company have gone far in their mission, renovating the front section of the once-dilapidated Bing Theater to create the Bing Arts Center (revamping the main theater itself is the eventual goal). It’s home to innovative music, visual arts, and other kinds of arts-related programming, and is a beacon of DIY optimism — and great events — in the middle of Springfield.
3. Stearns Square Summer Concert Series
Every year, the Stearns Square Summer Concert Series distracts locals from their regular work weeks, attracting large crowds of revelers to downtown Springfield on Thursday evenings. Held on the lawn at Stearns Square Park, between Worthington Street and Bridge Street, the concerts run from early July to mid-September and highlight a diverse array of local and national talent. Classic rock, blues, country, R&B, and zydeco fill the streets and so do the people, mingling happily around beer tents. This is the face of Springfield — full of character, diversity and fun.
4. Forest Park
From Bright Nights and ice-skating to the petting zoo and swimming pool, Forest Park is fun all year long. When we think of Springfield’s “crown jewel,” we think of cheering teams of baseball-playing children, strolling through its 736 acres of open space on a sunny day and of tossing a frisbee on its brilliant green lawns. The beautiful old Victorians that populate the surrounding neighborhood also make the trip to and from the park an event in itself.
5. Springfield Symphony Orchestra
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra — the largest Massachusetts symphony outside of Boston — has been entertaining classical music-lovers since 1944. Comprised of more than 80 musicians, the orchestra offers performances at Springfield’s beautiful Symphony Hall and are broadcast over public radio. On Saturday, Jan. 24, award-winning violinist Axel Strauss joins the orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and on Feb. 7, the orchestra will perform a Michael Jackson tribute, called “Jeans ‘n Classics — The Music of Michael Jackson.”•