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What’s Springfield’s future looking like? Here’s a summary of the city's new 242-page comprehensive plan

Springfield city officials and residents have been working on a new comprehensive plan since 2019. On July 21, 2022, roughly 300 people turned out for the plan's reveal at Hammons Field downtown.
Gregory Holman
Springfield city officials and residents have been working on a new comprehensive plan since 2019. On July 21, 2022, roughly 300 people turned out for the plan's reveal at Hammons Field downtown.

City officials and community residents have been working on Forward SGF since 2019.

Some 300 people turned out in 100-degree heat on Thursday for the unveiling of Springfield’s next comprehensive city plan. City leaders held a come-and-go type event at Hammons Field downtown. They showcased the ideas that community members developed in public meetings that started back in 2019.

Dubbed Forward SGF, the new plan is meant to guide Springfield’s land use and development decision-making into the 2040s. The plan is still in a draft stage and will likely be approved by City Council sometime this fall, according to the city’s director of quality of place initiatives, Tim Rosenbury.

“People asked a lot of questions, which is what I liked,” city spokesperson Cora Scott told KSMU in a message Friday morning. “And — I was pleased with the diversity of people who participated.”

So...what’s in the plan? KSMU took a look at the 242-page document to share this summary.

North Star

The plan has an overarching “North Star” — to establish a “Quality of Place.” That’s the idea that every project going forward in the city of Springfield should contribute to the experience that community members feel when they visit the place. “When considering a project, Quality of Place should act as a litmus test,” the plan says.

07222022 plan cover.JPG
City of Springfield
An image of the cover of Forward SGF, the city's draft 242-page comprehensive plan released July 20, 2022. It is intended to guide land use and development over the next two decades.

Three ‘crucial’ themes

Remember a few years ago when bestselling comedian David Sedaris said one street in town was “hideous” and that Springfield was “the most depressing city in the United States”?

The grassroots community plan seeks to address negative impressions with three themes, tying the plan’s elements together. They include:

  • Improving the community's physical image with stronger design standards
  • Paying attention to arts, culture and historic preservation
  • Addressing community health and well-being

In a community profile of Springfield, the plan acknowledges challenges the city faces in terms of severe income inequality, lack of health insurance in some neighborhoods, and a lack of demographic diversity. The profile also highlights potential for population growth, job growth and new strategy for development. Springfield is expected to add 18,000 residents by 2040 and 18,000 jobs over the next 25 years.

Community outreach

The city said the plan was the result of a “bottom-up approach,” touting 10,000 “points of participation” from residents — despite facing obstacles due to COVID-19. Hundreds of Springfield residents turned out in person and online for visioning workshops, and thousands of people answered surveys.

Key issues included ‘neighborhood’ concerns

Attendees to the big reveal at Hammons Field on Thursday told KSMU they appreciated the plan’s focus on making Springfield neighborhoods nicer and more connected.

Scott, the city’s chief spokesperson, said the idea of developing Springfield’s neighborhoods was “grassroots coming from the people during all of the community engagement” that led to the Forward SGF plan.

Springfield resident concerns were highlighted in the plan with a word cloud: lack of affordable housing, poor condition of housing stock, lack of pedestrian connections, public transportation and bike facilities were top concerns. Residents say they yearn for a city with more local-serving commercial areas, less traffic, better wages, more diversity — and a better sense of community pride and identity.

Springfield residents who chose to participate in the city's new comprehensive planning process identified many concerns, displayed in a word cloud published with the draft plan on July 20, 2022.
City of Springfield
Springfield residents who chose to participate in the city's new comprehensive planning process identified many concerns, displayed in a word cloud published with the draft plan on July 20, 2022.

Land use & development

Springfield’s new plan highlights Forward SGF’s “north star” — quality of place — in terms of planning and development. A “place-based approach” to planning and zoning would allow the city to mix different land uses together to create “memorable” places that people enjoy using in everyday life.

“Easily developable, more affordable land has begun to grow scarce,” the plan says, so the city’s future lies in “infill and redevelopment.” For example, the plan says the city needs to make it easier for people to work from home in a wider variety of occupations. The plan also calls for Springfield to reduce the demand for parking along major corridors and other busy areas.

Growth areas & annexation

Forward SGF touches on how Springfield should grow its city limit boundaries to promote “planned, sustainable, responsible” growth with a defined Urban Service Area. In the short term, Forward SGF calls for adding growth in the vicinity of the Springfield-Branson National Airport, James River Freeway and other parts of west and southwest Springfield. Long-term growth plans focus on adding land near east Springfield and key intersections with Highway 65.

Housing & neighborhoods

Several attendees to the big Forward SGF reveal on July 21 told KSMU they like the new plan’s focus on making Springfield neighborhoods better. The plan has four neighborhood goals: Creating complete neighborhoods, diversifying housing choices for residents, revitalizing neighborhoods and cultivating identity and cohesion for neighborhoods.

Economic development

Forward SGF calls for new long-term planning so the city can “better position itself in the region as a major competitor.” That includes supporting a range of job options for a diverse, well-trained workforce that’s "inclusive” for small and minority-owned businesses, startups, and young professional workers.

Transportation & mobility

The plan calls for “multimodal” options for city residents to get where they need to go. That means more emphasis on public transit, walking, bicycling and reducing car congestion. The city would also update street design guidelines in keeping with quality-of-place goals. In terms of safety, the plan calls for a “Vision Zero approach,” which seeks to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries with strategies like lower speed limits and traffic-calming features.

Infrastructure & community facilities

Springfield’s libraries, schools, police and fire stations and health care establishments all need continued support, according to the new plan. Going forward, the plan recommends “beautification” of current establishments, and using “eco-friendly" design standards when adding new ones. Forward SGF would have the city adopt “proactive” planning for infrastructure like water supply, stormwater, sewer, solid waste and recycling facilities.

Parks, greenways & natural resources

“Basecamp of the Ozarks” was a branding phrase for Springfield suggested by many community members who participated in Forward SGF, and this part of the plan supports Springfield’s connection to nature. A key goal here is to improve connections with Ozark Greenways and other local trail systems, also called “UnGap the Map.” Another goal is to promote “environmental stewardship.” The plan has few mentions of actions related to climate change, though it does call for “resilience strategies” to deal with “natural, technological and human-caused disasters.” The plan also supports “sustainable development” including LEED designations for green-friendly building projects. Other goals include promoting sports, outdoor recreation and ecotourism.

Subarea plans

What are “subareas”? According to Forward SGF, they are “distinct areas in the community that exhibit significant potential for change” — with a few examples being West Chestnut Expressway, North Glenstone Avenue, Trafficway Street, and the Boonville Avenue Corridor from City Hall to Commercial Street.

Because the city’s idea is that much future development will be infill and revitalization, focus on these areas marks a change from historical patterns. The city grew 270 percent in the mid-1900s, largely along big roadways stretching out from the center of town. Now, with the “subareas,” the plan showcases ways Springfield could find new development and beautification opportunities in some of those areas. This is one of the longest, most detailed parts of the new 242-page plan.

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City of Springfield
Forward SGF, Springfield's draft comprehensive plan for land use and development, includes "subareas" that could be ripe for significant change. One of them is West Chestnut Expressway, which could get more sidewalks, streetscaping, trail opportunities and bus stops.

Downtown plan

Supporters of the city’s previous comprehensive plan, Vision 2020, told KSMU that downtown revitalization and fixing up historic Commercial Street were among the city’s biggest planning achievements in the past 20 years. Between now and 2040, Springfield wants to continue developing downtown Springfield by making the neighborhood more people-friendly, connecting it to other parts of town with better infrastructure, and attracting high-quality private and public investments. Expanding the park system in Jordan Valley, redesigning Founders Park and adding a new park at the Meek’s Lumber site are part of the new vision for downtown.

Commercial Street plan

The last time the city made a plan specifically for Commercial Street, the year was 2006. “Business opportunity is currently very poor,” according to that 16-year-old document. A lot has changed since then, and the idea is to build on momentum. Fixing up the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, closed since 2016 due to deterioration, is a “top priority” for C-Street.

Implementing the Forward SGF plan

Now that city officials and thousands of residents have engaged with creating a new comprehensive plan, it’s time to put it into effect. Forward SGF calls for regional and national partnerships to get the work done and says that updating the Land Development Code and “implementing through regulation” are next steps. It also outlines dozens of potential funding sources that could help pay for upgrades.

You can access the complete Forward SGF draft plan here.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.