Rebuilding: the Region’s Big Challenge

It’s been nearly seven weeks since the tornadoes touched down in Western Mass. In most all respects, people have stopped talking about what transpired that day — it’s now a distant, yet still-fascinating memory for many — and are instead focused on the future, which is as it should be.
As with any disaster, there is an immediate response to the calamity, a stage in which this region shined on many levels, with people and institutions pitching in and stepping up in ways that can only be described with the word inspiring. Now comes the next phases, or ‘r-words,’ with respect to an event of this magnitude — recovery and rebuilding — and with these steps, the region must shine just as brightly.
In Springfield, matters are off to a very promising start with the appointment of the two leaders of the rebuilding effort — Gerald Hayes and Nick Fyntrilakis — and strong hints about the game plan they intend to put in place.
Hayes, vice president of Administration and Finance at Westfield State University, is a natural choice for this project, with his strong background in economic development, urban revitalization, and long-term planning initiatives. In short, he knows how to get things done, and he’s long displayed an ability to work with others to reach stated goals. Fyntrilakis, meanwhile, is a rising star in Springfield development and revitalization efforts, having taken a leadership role in the State Street Corridor Initiative and other projects to bring vibrancy to the city’s central business district and other neighborhoods. Like Hayes, he’s shown an ability to take a project from the drawing board to reality.
But neither has anything quite like a tornado rebuilding effort on his résumé, so this will be an exciting new challenge to which they will certainly lend energy, determination, and imagination.
The roadmap is still being developed, but the broad plan moving forward is to hire a master planner to create a blueprint for recovery and rebuilding, garner critical feedback from all relevant constituencies in the drafting of that master plan, and then effectively execute what’s been put down on paper. All this will take time, resilience, and large amounts of money that currently don’t exist and must be found, which might be the most difficult part of this assignment.
But it all starts with a plan, and for that, we suggest that all those involved aim extremely high and resolve never to settle for anything second-rate because something better might be too difficult or too expensive to pursue.
We’ve said this many times before, as have countless others, but it bears repeating. Rebuilding from the tornado will be an extreme challenge, in part because this region has never experienced anything like this, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to make things better than they were on May 31. Much better. That may sound a little corny, but it’s absolutely true, and it must be the mindset.
We can make the homes that were damaged or destroyed greener and more fuel-efficient as we rebuild; we can take already-challenged neighborhoods and make them places businesses will want to invest in and make their homes. We can make the South End a model for modern urban renewal.
None of this will happen quickly or easily, but the opportunity is there to do something meaningful, something historic — if we take the energy and creativity that was applied to the tornado response and apply it to the long-term process of rebuilding in Springfield, West Springfield, Westfield, Monson, and every other community where the tornadoes touched down.

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