Too many conversations about Holyoke are riddled with preconceptions. Many Valley dwellers dismiss the idea of spending more time in Holyoke, thinking it unsafe (perhaps new data released by the state this month, which shows the city’s crime rate down by 33 percent over the last 15 years, will assuage some fears). But many entrepreneurs, hailing from here and elsewhere, see downtown Holyoke as ripe for redevelopment. No matter where those millions of invested dollars go, the city is bound to change a lot in the next ten years. In the meantime, here are a few things we love about Holyoke, right here and now:

GREEN INNOVATION: City workers have been renovating the historic Veteran’s Park and planting trees, and more community gardens are popping up. In November, the LEED-certified Green High Performance Computing Center celebrated its third anniversary. Nearby, businesses like Aegis Energy Services set progressive sustainability goals, and even small startups like the co-op Simple Diaper & Linen are finding ways to operate with little to no chemical waste. And the city recently completed a study of possible uses for the site of the former Mount Tom coal power plant, citing new opportunities for solar energy production, biking and hiking trails, and public access to the river. Keep it up, Holyoke — the future is looking green and clear.

THE ARTS SCENE: Holyoke is an arts community on the rise. It used be that Northampton was undisputably the center of the local arts scene, but given all the artistic action in Paper City that may no longer be so. Want to learn how to upholster, or how to network on Etsy? You can take courses on these and dozens more topics on the cheap thanks to the Holyoke Creative Arts Center.

Valley creatives can get their artsy juices flowing at spaces like Paper City Studios, Brick Coworkshop, and Paper City Music Shop. Whether longstanding or

brand new, organizations like the Holyoke League of Arts and Crafts and Gateway City Arts are ramping up the arts along the city’s scenic canals. And as long as educational programs like Enchanted Circle Theater are working to instill the arts in our youth, Holyoke’s artistic community can only continue to thrive!

WISTARIAHURST: Yes, the grand, gorgeous Wistariahurst mansion looks like it may feature a hidden door in the back of a magic wardrobe. And yes, its 26 rooms show off stone columns, leather wall coverings and woodwork, and a permanent museum collection of fine art, textiles, photos, and manuscripts. But this historic house also provides valuable educational programs and special events. Formerly a private home for silk manufacturer William Skinner and his family, the Wistariahurst — built in 1874 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places — now hosts tours, talks, workshops, and concerts. Consider visiting for the wine tasting on Feb. 12, or the Valentine’s Day party featuring food and music (be aware, lovebirds, that tickets to that shindig are more expensive for couples than for singles).

CHILDREN’S MUSEUM: If you spent time at the Holyoke Children’s Museum as a kid, blowing enormous soap bubbles and making paper out of pulp, you know how singular and special this space is for resident and visiting families alike. If you’ve never been, bring your kiddos ASAP. The Dwight Street museum, located in the same building as the Volleyball Hall of Fame, is a place for kids to get physical (in the Curvy Climber playspace), artistic (with blocks, tiles, and a Lite Brite wall), and explore daily-life exhibits like a mock TV studio, ambulance, theatre, and post office. A quiet play area called the Tot Lot can host kids as young as six months. And in warm weather, activities can flow out into the preschooler playground and historic carousel at Heritage State Park, located just outside.

NUESTRAS RAICES: This Holyoke-based gem is a grassroots urban agriculture organization devoted to the health and sustainability of the Holyoke community. A group of Holyokers who worked as farmers in Puerto Rico formed the organization in 1992 with the goal of starting a greenhouse. It all started when they transformed an abandoned lot in southern Holyoke into a community garden.

Since then, Nuestras Raices has gotten bigger, better, and greener. Now the organization runs 12 community gardens in Holyoke with over 100 members and operates a 30-acre city farm with a focus on economic development within food systems. The group hosts a summer food camp for children called Siembra Siempre and, along with the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council — of which Nuestras Raices was a founding member — monthly events called FEEST, during which young people get together to cook healthy food and discuss food justice. Nuestras Raices also formed ENERGIA, a company that provides energy efficient upgrades for the community’s houses and shops.•

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