The City of Springfield will wrap up its Community Listen sessions this week which, when done, will cover nine northwest neighborhoods. The meetings are the city’s way of giving communities a voice in an effort to find solutions for many common concerns and problems. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann attended some of those sessions and has this report.
Heart of the Westside Neighborhood is the final stop on the city’s tour, which began earlier this month. The other Zone 1 neighborhoods to receive a session were Bissett, Doling, Westside, Tom Watkins, West Central, Woodland Heights, Midtown, and Grant Beach. All of which had the opportunity to have their voices heard about issues they find important.
Greg Burris, Springfield city manager, says the idea for the meetings came as a result of the data compiled from last year’s Citizen Satisfaction Survey that was sent out to all residents. Over 900 responded, providing a wide cross-section of data, explained Burris during his address at the Midtown Neighborhood meeting.
“It started when I saw some of the heat maps—these color coded maps we have posted on the city’s website. And you notice the trends real fast which is the northwest quadrant of town has a number of some pretty severe issues. And so I got to think we have two choices, we can ignore it—or just keep doing what we’re doing and the trends will probably continue, or we can step in and help them and help them help themselves,” Burris says.
The meetings, each lasting about an hour, welcomes neighbors of all ages, with food provided and door prizes distributed.
The first half features Burris addressing the neighborhood and sharing data, and what they hope to gain from these events. The second half is dedicated for community members to speak up.
“What we’re getting is great feedback. What I didn’t expect is the level of emotion. These people are passionate about their neighborhood. And that’s great because in order to make any kind of change this is going to have to be a different type of model. It’s going to be less like a ‘vending machine model’ where people put their taxes in, pick a selection and wait for something to happen. This is going to be more like a barn raising,” says Burris.
Roughly a dozen residents spoke up at this meeting, sharing positives like friendly, close-knit neighbors, walkability, mature trees, and close proximity to the arts district. They also shared concerns like abandoned and derelict properties, crime and safety, and decreased access to local quality health care and food resources.
Mary Collette is a resident of Midtown, and attended that meeting Monday evening at Boyd Elementary. She referred to this area as one of the poorest legislative districts in the state, and that it is critical to address poverty and provide access to important resources like food, transportation and jobs.
“I think it’s important because it’s a one-to-one communication between the neighborhood and the city—five council members were here tonight. It’s just a great way for us to talk about what we’re proud of and the things we need done so we can have even a better neighborhood,” Collette says.
Collette says she is encouraged by the level of representation she sees both by her neighborhood but also city leaders.
“The biggest thing I have taken away from these meetings is that people feel disconnected with their government. I think it’s an important way to connect again and show we are actually listening to the important concerns that they have,” explains Burnett.
“I’ve been impressed with the turnout and the level of articulate expression of what people like about their neighborhoods and what they want to see change,” says Schilling.
That was Zone 2 Councilmen Justin Burnett and Zone 3’s Mike Schilling, who were elected in April and have attended a majority of the listening events. More than half of the members of City Council attend each session, including Zone 1 Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson, who takes an active role addressing the concerns of the community speakers directly as they share their stories.
Representatives from police and fire department, 911, City Utilities, Springfield Public Schools and many other community partners are also in attendance.
Each meeting ends with a chance for residents to vote on their top three priorities based upon data results from the heat maps, and concerns identified in the meeting that night. These results are posted then to the City’s website and can be compared to the results of other neighborhoods.
Official reports resulting from these meetings is expected to be published in late June or early July. The findings will provide a “roadmap” for what the city is calling an “18 Month Blitz,” in which they plan to tackle the issues addressed and either solve or at least begin the process of solving them.