City of Springfield's comprehensive plan champions neighborhood commercial hubs
In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series focusing on Forward SGF, we take a look at the idea of neighborhood commercial hubs, which put businesses within walking distance of residential areas.
One concept included in the City of Springfield’s comprehensive plan Forward SGF is the neighborhood commercial hub.
The city’s senior planner Randall Whitman explains what neighborhood commercial hubs are.
"We like to use the term 'third places,' which are unofficial places for people to gather. They're social rendezvous, you know, whether it's a coffee shop or library, a bookstore, a restaurant or brewery, a pub — that kind of thing," he said. "It could be could be any number of things. But usually, you know, there's a groundswell of activity, whether it's higher density housing and kind of a crossroads of different types of businesses."
An ideal neighborhood commercial hub, according to Whitman, thrives off the neighborhood around it. People who live in the area can walk to businesses in the hub.
"And they're not so much driven by auto — it's not an auto destination. It's really a destination for people who live close and can walk there," Whitman said.
While people from outside the neighborhood can patronize the businesses, parking is typically limited, so the main customer base is intended to be nearby residents who can walk or bike.
Becky Volz is a West-Central Neighborhood resident who is president of the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Council. She said a neighborhood commercial hub can work if it’s in the right location.
"I think it is good when it's appropriate and if the structure is compatible," she said. "If you remember decades ago our neighborhoods had their individual little grocery stores. I would like to see that type of a thing happen again."
Whitman said there are several locations, especially in Springfield’s center city neighborhoods, where streets follow old trolley routes. He said, when the trolley was in use, streets were normally much wider, and there were offset intersections where there were gas stations and stores.
"So, you can see remnants of those old buildings still there," said Whitman. "So, there's just kind of a natural place for hubs to evolve because there's kind of that iconic fabric in buildings and things like that."
The Cherry and Pickwick business district is one area that the trolley used to go through. Today it’s home to restaurants, a brewery and more.
Examples of smaller commercial hubs include Delmar and Loren, where Bambino’s operates in a neighborhood surrounded by single-family homes, and Main and Nichols, which is home to Pappy’s.
Rusty Worley is the executive director of the Urban Districts Alliance and a west-central Springfield resident. He’s excited about the opportunities the Grant Avenue Parkway project will bring to residents of that area who will have things to do within walking and biking distance. And he hopes neighborhood commercial hubs will continue to expand to other areas.
“Woodland Heights is perfectly prepared for it with its proximity to Commercial Street along with Midtown," said Worley. "Residents in either of those neighborhoods can easily be in their historic, charming houses and then walk over to their favorite coffee shop or restaurant and enjoy that, so I think there's many other things. Grant Beach Neighborhood also has some opportunities."
Becky Volz said, while she believes neighborhood commercial hubs can work and create “complete neighborhoods,” they have to be done the right way.
"But when it's overbearing it just messes with the neighborhood," she said.
She believes developers looking to build in or near a residential area should work with neighbors from the very beginning to get input and keep them informed.
"Then you can find out what neighbors are excited about, interested in and what will absolutely be a problem," she said. "Those conversations need to happen upfront before property's purchased, before plans are drawn, before, you know. Before a developer puts very much money into something, they need the buy-in. And some developers are doing that, and I'm very pleased."
Worley agrees that communication is key and that it needs to be two-way. Both sides need to learn from one another, he said, about what the priorities and constraints are. That way, the end product is much stronger.
“There is such a thing as enjoyable density, and it's just a matter of us working together between neighborhoods and development to find that, he said. "Transitions are really important. Coordinating parking and other transportation needs is critical. But if everybody is sitting down in good faith, you can find that balance."
Volz would like to see health clinics pop up alongside other businesses in neighborhood commercial hubs so nearby residents can have access to simple medical care such as blood pressure and blood sugar checks.
Randall Whitman said neighborhood commercial hubs can create a feeling of “genuine ownership” among area residents and a feeling of pride.
“Whether it's their own home, their own part of the neighborhood, if it's a neighborhood hub or it's the neighborhood themselves, I mean, people have a more invested interest in its safety and its upkeep. They watch out for each other. They watch out for their children, he said. "They have just a general, you know, love for it. And I think that really boosts it when there's a place that identifies their neighborhood as a destination."
Whitman hopes that as neighborhood commercial hubs develop along with better and wider pedestrian pathways around them, Springfield will have a niche that no other nearby cities have.
“They don’t offer the type of eclectic neighborhoods and the opportunity to have those little neighborhood nodes and public transportation and old street car lines and all those things, so that could be a niche that could help the city grow and prosper and have redevelopment of our neighborhoods and revitalization and things like that," he said. "We recognize that having hubs and being walkable and protecting our neighborhoods and protecting that old housing stock is really critical to our future."
He said protecting the city’s old houses and seeing buildings that once housed thriving businesses come alive again is what Forward SGF will target and work towards.
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