In Northwest Springfield, Zone Blitz Founders Hope for Successful Initiative That Improves Lives
City of Springfield Zone 1 Council Person Phyllis Ferguson has a long history of community involvement. Even before her appointment to City Council in April 2015, Ferguson had a reputation as a tireless advocate for the 40,000 residents of Springfield’s northwest quadrant.
“I think people have to understand, there are very deep roots in northwest Springfield. We have really wonderful homes there, we have great parks and strong neighborhoods. We don’t have a lot of traffic, and I think those are assets people forget,” she said.
In May of 2015, Ferguson, along with other city officials and leaders of various businesses and organizations, met with residents of all nine Zone 1 neighborhoods, to hear and ultimately act upon their concerns. Springfield City Manager Greg Burris says the “Community Listen came about after we saw some data indicators that were troubling.”
“We went into those nine neighborhoods and just had a conversation," said Burris. "We asked what you would most like to change about your community. So now, not only do we know what the top 3 priorities are through those 9 neighborhoods, we also know some other things they’d most like to change, so out of that we started to assemble ideas, start bringing some partners to the table, and created this thing called The Zone Blitz.”
In order, the top 3 concerns of Zone 1 residents are: Chronic Nuisance Properties; Street/Sidewalk Infrastructure; and Crime/Public Safety. Burris says that was “Pretty consistent across all nine neighborhoods.”
“We knew those three things were at the very least, were things we had to address, but we also had about 10 more issues that kept coming up, and we thought with so many partners starting to come to the table, including churches, businesses, universities, non-profits and hospitals, we thought we’d better address this holistically.”
Which means also addressing issues related to Zone 1 Jobs and Economic Development; Food Access; Wellness and Healthcare; Housing; Neighborhood Engagement; and the Digital Divide. Phyllis Ferguson says some 60 projects will be implemented during the 18 months of the initiative, including sidewalk instillation on the north side of Grand, west of Kansas Expressway, where pedestrians and vehicles get dangerously close crossing the Jordan Creek bridge.
"What if you were trying to negotiate this through here and you're trying to push a stroller with a small child while carrying a bag or 2 of groceries? Again, no sidewalks, but with the Zone Blitz and the awareness, the West Side Neighborhood was able to bring this to the forefront, and we're going to see the bridge re-done with a pedestrian sidewalk on it, and sidewalks from Kansas to Park Street," says Ferguson.
Burris says Springfield is at a crossroads.
“We know we’re not going to solve all our problems in 18 months, but after 18 months, we hope to know what’s working and what’s not working. We will monitor indicators, and those things that are working well, we will put on steroids. The things not working, we will take a step back and maybe try something different. As a community, we’re kind of at a crossroads. Having seen this data, we know what’s happening in our community, now more than ever. We have a choice. We could choose to nothing, or we could do something. If we choose to do nothing, it’s like saying there’s a hole in your end of the boat. We’re all in this together, and so this whole project is designed to not ignore the problem, and to say we are not that kind of community. We are the community that’s going to jump in and have success, and if it can happen anywhere, it can happen in Springfield."
Ferguson says she wants a level playing field for Zone 1 residents.
“In the ideal world, I want the same opportunities for our children. I want the people who live in Zone 1 to have every opportunity people who live in other parts of the city have. When you hear of all these problems, you wonder why the heck would anyone want to live there, but obviously, for some people, it’s not a choice. It’s the only place they can afford to live. But there is a hardiness about people who live in Zone 1. They’ve weathered some hard times and have some struggles, but they keep going, and I think that’s a strong element of what’s going to bring us through the problems we’re looking at right now, along with the additional help from the City of Springfield and the rest of the community.”
KSMU’s Sense of Community Series covering the Zone Blitz, continues on air and on-line, all this week. Listen in each day at 7:45 AM and 4:44PM, and look for the daily Sense of Community posts here at ksmu.org.
For more information on the City of Springfield’s Zone Blitz: www.springfieldmo.gov/2794/zone-blitz