A big steel sculpture in downtown Springfield's Park Central Square called "The Tumbler" artwork art sculpture large
A big steel sculpture in downtown Springfield's Park Central Square called "The Tumbler" (Photo by Dean Curtis)

The map is set, and Springfield’s leaders have a new course of action to follow for the next 17-plus years. 

Forward SGF, a 20-year plan, gained approval of both the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission and the Springfield City Council on Nov. 14, capping off about four years of study, discussion, writing, agreeing and hoping for what the city could be two decades from now.

Springfield Principal Planner Randall Whitman told the commissioners several projects tucked within the pages of Forward SGF are already underway.

“There are over 700 recommendations at least in this comprehensive plan,” Whitman said. “From an implementation standpoint, we’re already underway.”

The Springfield Department of Planning and Development recently opened proposals for a comprehensive housing study, the Department of Public Works is in the midst of writing a comprehensive transportation plan, Springfield City Utilities is overseeing a public transit study, planning for the redevelopment of the public land at Lake Springfield is underway, and the Chadwick Flyer Trail is under development.

“There are a lot of things in motion that the comprehensive plan recommends that we’re already getting started on, so I want to reassure you that we’re not sitting around idle,” Whitman said.

What is a comprehensive plan?

Forward SGF is the name given to a 15-chapter comprehensive plan written to serve as Springfield’s guidebook for growth from now to 2040. There are chapters on transportation, housing, economics, parks and the overall vision for the city of Springfield.

The master plan is subject to review every five years, according to City Council documentation. While not a legally binding document, it does provide guidance on Springfield’s infrastructure and land use for the next two decades. It is devised to replace Vision 20/20, a comprehensive plan adopted in 2001.

A word cloud shows key phrases identified as areas of critical interest for Springfield residents during the research phase of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan (Photo by Rance Burger)

Quality of place,” is defined through three major characteristics: “complete neighborhoods,” the fostering of stewardship at the neighborhood level, and the creation of a “vital economy.” A complete neighborhood is defined in planning documentation as one that offers a living experience with well-connected public infrastructure, amenities, workplaces and markets with surrounding housing options that are safe, healthy and diverse.

A “vital economy,” per the plan, is one that offers a range of employment, physical goods and services within “vibrant urban spaces, districts, and corridors.”

Back-to-back votes to enact

The Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission called a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Nov. 14 to vote to recommend the enactment of Forward SGF. The commission was scheduled to take up the plan for vote on Oct. 25, but called off the meeting less than an hour before it was scheduled to begin, releasing a statement that the meeting had not been properly posted to the public.

On Nov. 14, the commission voted 6-0 to recommend adoption of the comprehensive plan for all 84 square miles of Springfield. Plan author John Houseal, cofounder of Chicago-based urban planning and design firm Houseal Lavigne Associates, explained that each Springfield resident thinks of the city based on the neighborhood where they live, the roads they drive each day to go to work and school, and the public places they visit to have fun or spend time with their loved ones.

“I think about my downtown, I think about the corridors I drive on, I think about the parks and open spaces I enjoy with my family,” Houseal said. “These are the components, the DNA of a city. It’s not broken down particularly into specific parcel-by-parcel of land use.”

The Springfield City Council then convened at 6:30 p.m. It voted 8-0 to adopt Forward SGF as the new comprehensive plan.

The land use map that is part of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan resembles a patchwork quilt of differing zones across Springfield. (Contributed photo)

Zone 1 Councilwoman Monica Horton said the plan has some equity built into it for north Springfield, which she described as “the stepchild of the city,” when it comes to being overlooked sometimes. She reflected back on the “Zone Blitz,” a project to improve quality of life for residents of north Springfield that ended in 2018.

“I really feel as though this is certainly a mega version of what we were able to see through the Zone Blitz, and seeing how actionable that was,” Horton said. “I really see the city being able to be actionable, practical and intentional when it comes to this mega plan that we have right now.”

Councilman Andy Lear looked forward to voting Forward SGF into action after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed several of the community gatherings needed to write it. Houseal Lavigne Associates collected 10,000 pieces of input from Springfield residents.

“We’re two years behind the expiration of our prior plan,” Lear said. “This city is going to look different in 20 years; that’s just a fact. It is not going to be the same city in 20 years. The question is are we going to drive that as to what it is going to be 20 years from now?”

Image, culture and health themes

In addition to quality of place, Forward SGF is also written with the themes of a beautiful physical image for a community, preservation of arts, history and culture, and an awareness of improved health and behavioral health conditions for Springfieldians.

Existing infrastructure plans will be pushed under Forward SGF’s umbrella of influence.

“Some components of the city’s infrastructure plans are supplemented in more detailed planning work, either already adopted or in process,” Whitman wrote in an explanation to the City Council. “For instance, the Environmental Services Department is currently undertaking a comprehensive study of the collection system and treatment facilities for both the northwest and southwest systems.” 

Forward SGF contains a master plan for land use and development based on the concept of creating “identifiable and memorable places,” rather than a focus on the uses of individual parcels of land. It also contains subarea plans specifically for downtown Springfield, Commercial Street, the Glenstone Avenue corridor, Trafficway Street, Chestnut Expressway, Lake Springfield and the Boonville Avenue corridor.

“There are certain areas that require a more heightened level of detail or review; these are the areas that are more susceptible to change,” Houseal said. “Certain corridors or downtown or other commercial nodes may change a lot over the next 10 or 20 years.”

Additional plans can be added to Forward SGF over time, particularly plans written for specific neighborhoods, districts or road corridors.

Ozark Greenways owns most of the land off of West College Street and North Fort Avenue that will be developed as a public gathering space along Jordan Creek. Looking east, a person on the West Meadows Trail can see the buildings that surround Park Central Square. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger