Planning to stay

Springfield needs residents willing to invest their lives

click to enlarge A restored century-old home in one of Springfield's inner city neighborhoods. - PHOTO BY FLETCHER FARRAR
photo by fletcher farrar
A restored century-old home in one of Springfield's inner city neighborhoods.

I was born and raised in Springfield, as were my parents, and their parents before them. I know and love Springfield more than anything and have worked with various community organizations to make our city a more equitable, and overall better, place for people to live – and stay.

As an urban studies student at The New School in New York City, I have been reading a book entitled Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All, written by my professor, Dr. Mindy Fullilove. A concept described in the book, called "planning to stay," struck me as having great potential in Springfield. The idea challenges regular urban planning practices, which usually start by analyzing a problem and finding a solution – for example, a need for housing in Springfield, so new developments are built on the edge of city limits to accommodate that need.

Planning to stay is rooted in the concept of asset-based community development. Asset-based community development looks to improve a community by building on its assets, rather than only focusing on solving problems when they arise. In Springfield, an example of this would be investing in vacant housing – often historic homes in older neighborhoods – rather than building new subdivisions. Planning to stay gives asset-based community development a new starting point: an affirmation that we're here to stay and to invest in the long-term success of our city.

Planning to stay means living and investing in our city while accounting for the next generations. Even if a person or business is intending to stay in Springfield, that does not necessarily mean they are practicing planning to stay. This idea focuses on what is best for a community in the long run, rather than for people's short-term conveniences, such as driving a car everywhere instead of walking or biking. In a world where climate change, racism and inequality deeply harm communities, it is important to plan our cities in a way that allows future generations to prosper.

The first step of planning to stay involves people literally planning to stay, and pledging to invest their time and resources into the community. Beyond that, it can involve businesses, neighborhoods and even city government engaging in urban planning practices that prioritize building on our city's advantages. One of our city's advantages is its historical districts in central Springfield. Investing in these spaces means denser living, using less energy to travel miles and miles across our sprawling city. It also means investing in our older, unique architecture. The large amount of energy that it takes to build new should always be considered when there are existing, vacant structures needing attention. We need comprehensive plans that work for all of the people rather than for one developer's profit.

A great example of a business that is and has planned to stay is Maldaner's, located on Sixth Street downtown. Maldaner's owner Michael Higgins has invested in a beautiful outdoor space for the restaurant, but also a rooftop garden filled with native plants, solar panels and beehives. All of these things make Springfield ecologically better, while serving some of the best food in the city, much of which is seasonally purchased at the Old Capitol Farmers Market. Higgins took advantage of something that Springfield has a lot of – space – and used it to better our community while planning to stay. Accounting for not only his business but for the community as a whole is something that sets Higgins apart, which is a vital part of planning to stay.

It may seem contradictory that I have chosen to write an article about planning to stay while living in New York City. However, I believe deeply in the people of Springfield and its potential to progress. Part of that progress will, I hope, include college students like me moving back to Springfield after learning or living elsewhere. Planning for longevity has great potential to draw people back for the long term.

Springfield's past involves a focus on equity, but also racism and inequality. This is seen on a daily basis in the segregation of our city. Investing in older neighborhoods and buildings – such as downtown and the east side – means reckoning with the past and moving forward for future generations, rather than trying to forget by building anew. Our city's rich history, unique architecture and small businesses make us who we are today. By investing in this uniqueness we can solve some of our deficits. Springfield, let's plan to stay.

Emma Shafer is a 22-year-old urban studies student at The New School in New York City. She is a graduate of Springfield High School (2017) and Lincoln Land Community College (2019), where she earned her associate of arts degree with an emphasis in political science.

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