A section of the 2.6-acre lot at East Sunshine Street and South National Avenue is behind weekday morning traffic at the intersection. A request to rezone the lot from a residential to a general retail district has drawn strong objections and lawsuits from neighboring residents. The large building pictured right and several adjacent single-family homes would be destroyed to make way for the new development. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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by Kevin Ray Evans, Springfield

We believe Springfield, Missouri, has an opportunity to become a place where residents can live in happiness and fulfillment in safe, diverse, and healthy neighborhoods that span cultural, lifestyle, racial, and socio-economic spectra. The key to this goal is neighborhoods, where there is a sense of identity, connectedness, and common purpose.

Springfield can become a magnet for highly skilled, high-paying jobs where families and individuals can focus on quality-of-life pursuits. We recognize the greatest impediments to achieving these goals are poverty, crime, mental health and substance abuse issues, lack of affordable housing, and low-paying jobs with low or no benefits. To improve our quality of place, we must transform our city into a desirable, livable community. If we build it, they will come, and with historic urban neighborhoods, if we preserve them, they will come.

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We must look to other communities for examples, such as Boulder, Colorado, Palo Alto,
California, and Highland Park/University Park in Dallas, Texas. We envision a city with greater public transit opportunities, rapid transit, bike boulevards, and urban trail systems all within the park-like setting that currently characterizes our urban neighborhoods. Forward SGF has gone a long way toward addressing some of these goals.

In many neighborhoods, however, the stock of available housing for first-time home buyers has essentially been removed by investors. As a community, we need to provide incentives for new homeowners to become stakeholders in their neighborhoods. Detrimental to neighborhoods is the intentional neglect of properties and predatory rezoning of stable, long-established historic neighborhoods for commercial development, especially when ample commercially zoned properties already exist and are in dire need of redevelopment. Neighborhoods must have a say beyond the representative system in impactful proposals that potentially affect our community negatively. We recognize strong support from City leaders and management is essential. As servants of the residents of Springfield’s neighborhoods, leaders and managers are in a unique position to help bring improvements to our neighborhoods with programs like Restore SGF.

We consider the 1946 Frank Capra movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” as a representative lesson in neighborhood cohesiveness and compassion. In that film, an alternate reality is projected where family-friendly neighborhood development is suppressed due to the pernicious profit motive of one individual. In Springfield, there are many who would promote that behavior, but as citizens and neighbors, we much prefer Bedford Falls over Pottersville. Strong neighborhoods make that possible.