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Opinion: Forward SGF is road map for decades of development

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Growing up in a road trip family, one of my favorite summer pastimes was poring over the Rand McNally Road Atlas. It provided context for the current adventure and sparked inspiration for the next.

Those atlas experiences remind me of Springfield’s journey to produce a comprehensive plan started in spring 2019. It was to serve as a road map for the next two decades of economic and community development. Engagement was off to an impressive start with 7,500 respondents at its workshops and through online tools. However, the pandemic slammed the brakes for over a year.

City staff have been working with a consultant, Houseal Lavigne Associates LLC, to pull out of the rest area and finalize the initiative. A public event to unveil the comprehensive plan to the community will be held 3-6 p.m. July 21 at Hammons Field.

Springfield’s last comprehensive plan, Vision 20/20, planted the seeds that yielded Jordan Valley Park, the Springfield Cardinals, the IDEA Commo

ns urban research park, hundreds of lofts in downtown and on Commercial Street, continued expansion of greenways and a commitment to enhancing quality of place.

The stakes are high for jump-starting Forward SGF and calibrating the direction for the next generation.

Here are three areas with major implications for the entire community.

‘Ungap the map’
The plan looks to leverage Springfield’s position as Basecamp of the Ozarks. It champions bolstering outdoor recreation, sustainable development and ecotourism. It builds off the strong foundation provided by the award-winning facilities and programming of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and TrailSpring’s building of 66 miles of world-class trail on historic Route 66.

“Ungap the map” has become a rallying cry led by Ozark Greenways to close gaps in its trail network and expand the system. A few strategic easements and acquisitions will link downtown to Wilson’s Creek Battlefield along Jordan Creek, to Ozark through the Chadwick Flyer Trail, and to the north bridging Doling Park to Fellows Lake and Ritter Springs. Visitors will be able to spend the night at Hotel Vandivort and then venture out on their favorite trail for a memorable experience. Residents will gain more opportunities for recreation and commuting to work.

The beautification of the city’s key corridors – including from the airport to downtown, Trafficway Street and interstate overpasses – is a top priority as an important first impression for the Queen City.

Neighborhood revitalization
The revitalization of Center City was at the core of Vision 20/20. The logical next step is to expand the successes from downtown to C-Street and the adjacent historic neighborhoods. Restore SGF is a new initiative to stimulate residential investment and homeownership based on best practices from Invest DSM in Des Moines, Iowa. Identifying resources to remove blight, incentivize new infill and create more workforce housing are crucial to elevating quality of life.

The Cherry Street and Pickwick Avenue area was prominently noted in the Forward SGF workshop sessions as a prototype for neighborhood hubs. Having local restaurants, sidewalk patios, and retailers within walking and biking distance of residents will buttress our community at a grassroots level. The momentum created in Rountree neighborhood has demonstrated that it complements, rather than competes with, its Center City districts. It is exciting to envision the possibilities for other historic neighborhoods with potentially magnetic commercial blocks.

Economic cultivation
Nurturing an environment for entrepreneurship, business growth, live-work opportunities and startups should be key elements for this comprehensive plan. These ambitious goals can be achieved by taking a fresh look at city policies and ordinances to be more attractive to young professionals, minority-owned businesses and place-types designed to produce desired community outcomes.

Forward SGF establishes an annexation and growth strategy to thoughtfully welcome hundreds of households that already consider themselves Springfieldians in every aspect of their daily lives, except voting and serving in elected office. Systematically bringing them into city limits would provide them with core services, while expanding the talent pool of those eligible to have a voice at City Council, Planning and Zoning, and many civic boards.

In these tumultuous times, planning beyond the next year or two is daunting. However, it is only through synchronizing the thoughts and aspirations of as many of our neighbors as possible that we can chart a course to a shared destination on the horizon. I urge everyone to pick up their favorite atlas or GPS tool and participate in the Forward SGF event on July 21.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, can be reached at
rusty@itsalldowntown.com.

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