What a difference a couple of months can make.
At the February Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting, we began our biannual process of selecting a new chair and vice chair for the new fiscal year. Then the pandemic struck and by mid-March all in-person meetings stopped. The May quarterly meeting for NAC was cancelled. A couple of weeks later Pete Radecki, the chair of our nominating committee and past NAC Chair, recommended to the group that Jeff Barber and I to continue serving in our posts for another year and the group approved it through an online vote.
So instead of handing the reins off to a couple of our colleagues, Jeff and I have an unexpected opportunity for another 12 months to lead our fellow neighborhood advocates from across the city. NAC has raised the profile of our 22 registered neighborhoods over the past decade and demonstrated strength in numbers. However, we realize that there remains much that needs to be done, especially in these unprecedented times of COVID-19.
Here are three priorities to enhance our neighborhoods over the next year.
Suburban communities ringing the city limits of Springfield have experienced significant growth over the past two decades with many doubling their populations. The historic business districts of Downtown, C-Street and Galloway have realized millions of dollars in mixed-use redevelopment over that time frame. However, there has been just one new subdivision built in the city limits those twenty years, the percentage of owner-occupied housing has decreased, and the number of chronic nuisance properties has grown throughout our community.
I presented information to City Council in April on a new initiative called Restore SGF designed to encourage home ownership and enhance the housing stock. This would be a collaborative effort to provide a central resource for all residential programs, more effectively market residential programs, stimulate the creation of rehabilitation and financing, and provide resources to reduce barriers to home ownership. It will engage neighborhood residents, banks, developers, realtors, non-profits, area businesses, major employers, and other stakeholders.
Stay tuned for more information in this summer on this new endeavor.
Help neighbors in new ways
A statewide unemployment rate of 9.7% over 150 cases of coronavirus in Greene County, at-risk residents quarantining themselves for weeks at a time. These are the times neighbors can find small, yet vitally important ways to look out for one another. Neighborhoods have a rich history of block parties and social gatherings. These new challenges will require everyone to re-examine what services are provided and different ways to meet those needs.
Neighborhoods are uniquely positioned to offer assistance at a grassroots level. While you find yourself with a little more time on your hands, take a few minutes to introduce yourself to a new neighbor, call someone on your block you’ve not heard from in a while, volunteer to pick up groceries or mow a lawn. Little acts of kindness pay huge dividends while the world is in an unfamiliar place.
Create more social hubs
Sporting events are on hold. Major festivals and concerts have been cancelled. Exotic travel is venturing out to the Mark Twain National Forest.
This is a natural time to create experiences at a smaller, more intimate scale that can imaginatively incorporate social distancing. Initial feedback from thousands of citizens participating in the Forward SGF comprehensive planning process calls for more neighborhood social hubs like the Cherry and Pickwick area in Rountree. There is a strong desire for more sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, local retailers, breweries and galleries within walking and biking distance.
NAC will look to promote development and financial incentives to expand those mixed-use amenities to neighborhoods across Springfield so everyone can have places with character and local history to enjoy with their neighbors, friends and family as a point of pride. A recent example of this is budding in my West Central neighborhood with new additions to the Brewery District – Classic Rock Coffee, BillyNeck Sandwiches and The Bonzai Guy – transforming the intersection of Walnut and Main to add to the already fun options of Springfield Brew Co,, Mother’s Brewery and Lost Signal Brewery.
The next 12 months will inevitably make history. By reinvesting in our neighborhoods, finding new ways to help one another and creating more social hubs, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.