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Opinion: To craft identity, Springfield should study other Springfields

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It’s been said that Springfield is facing an identity crisis of sorts.

Who are we as a community? Are we projecting our best image to the rest of the country and the world? Do we even know what our best image looks like?

Sifting through our past reporting, key areas identified by local stakeholders include our historical place on Route 66, attractions such as Wonders of Wildlife, Bass Pro Shops’ flagship store, our beautiful setting in the Ozarks, our higher education institutions and the feeling of a big-city vibe contained in a small city.

Of course, it’s difficult to nail down our identity in a concrete, easy-to-understand way. There are so many factors that go into what makes a city unique, from the way its people behave toward one another to the layout and economic and crime statistics.

Still, pushing for a unified culture is a significant tool to help us create an identity by which we can all be proud.

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and other organizations are using multiple methods to bring best practices here, perhaps most noticeably via its Community Leadership Visits to other communities. Past trips have led to the creation of the Springfield Regional Economic Partnership, the Facing Racism Program and airport expansions.

As a bit of a thought experiment, take a look at other cities named Springfield in the United States. In creating our identity, surely we should have the best, most cohesive culture among other cities with our own name – at the very least.

And there are a lot of them – perhaps most obviously popularized by “The Simpsons.”

According to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, there’s a Springfield in 33 states.

The three other Springfield metropolitan statistical areas are in Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Worth noting is our Springfield has the largest population among all other U.S. cities with the same name.

What’s immediately noticeable, upon examining city websites for amenities and history, is these three other Springfield metro areas have a lot in common with us.

Fun in the outdoors is a commonality, as are historical sites and a sense of passion. Breweries and wineries are popular, along with sports and the arts.

It’s a reminder of the things we’re doing right: The self-guided Ozarks Tap and Pour Craft Beverage Tour, Springfield Sculpture Walk and the planned greenway trail system expansion are great additions toward solving our identity crisis.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, a neat attraction called the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden has attracted more than 3 million visitors since opening in 2002, according to SpringfieldMuseums.org. Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, was born and raised in that Springfield.

If you’re a fan of Dr. Seuss and his wacky characters, this collection of fantastic sculptures is sure to please. The Cosmic Pickle sculpture in our downtown is interesting – take it from a man named Pickle – but what is that telling visitors about our city? Perhaps it’s worth exploring more cohesive branding initiatives to further instill passion in our residents and tell our story to visitors.

Springfield, Illinois, has a built-in national tie that it appears to takes full advantage of: Former President Abraham Lincoln once lived here. The city’s marketing website prominently advertises Abe’s Hat Hunt, a Lincoln-themed scavenger hunt.

This city’s projected identity may be a little too on the nose. There’s room for our Springfield to stand out.

Springfield, Ohio, has a few attractions that jump out. One is a self-proclaimed “folk art masterpiece” at Hartman Rock Garden, which comprises more than 250,000 individual stones that together create a beautiful, unique park. This combines history with something you can see and feel. It’s visceral and memorable.

Another is Young’s Jersey Dairy, which could so easily fit in our Springfield. Think Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park meets Fun Acre. Visitors can learn about farming, mingle with animals, play mini-golf and hit the batting cages at one place. That’s taking advantage of agriculture and the area’s scenery while giving visitors plenty of reasons to come back.

Our community hasn’t found its cohesion to craft a proper brand identity, but we can and are taking lessons from other cities across the nation to do just that. Let’s start by being the best Springfield.

Springfield Business Journal Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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