Concern surrounding the population decrease in the area was a focal point at a recent Citizens Club of Springfield panel discussion on the results of the 2019 Sangamon County Citizens Survey. Respondents were almost evenly split on whether things are generally headed in the right direction for Sangamon County (52%) or on the wrong track (48%).
While 63% of respondents described Sangamon County as an excellent or good place to live, 57% have considered moving in the past year, which sparked discussion on what needs to be done to maintain the current population and attract new residents.
The forum, held at the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Aug. 23, included a discussion of data compiled by the University of Illinois Springfield Survey Research Office. The Sangamon County Citizens Survey began in 2013, when the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln teamed up with the University of Illinois Springfield’s Center for State Policy and Leadership and the United Way of Central Illinois to co-fund the project. John Stremsterfer, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln (CFLL), said he hopes it can be a tool utilized by local decision-makers.
A record number of respondents in this year’s survey stated that economic development in downtown Springfield is important (89%), and Stremsterfer noted the CFLL established the business incubator Innovate Springfield in hopes of supporting young entrepreneurs and promoting businesses in downtown Springfield.
In a sign of how far Springfield has to go, 79% of respondents said that young people are better off moving out of Sangamon County. These statistics cause concern for Norm Sims, former director of the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, who believes that economic development, as well as cultural and recreation options, go hand-in-hand.
Sims said, “I believe the responses on not enough things to do, is coming from young adults. Besides bars, there’s not enough things targeting them.” To help increase the young adult population, he said, “We need to begin asking specific questions, focusing on the nature of retail that young adults would like to see downtown.”
Sims believes there needs to be more conversations to determine the kind of lifestyle amenities Sangamon County can provide to increase the population in the area, something he doesn’t see many people working on right now.
Only 46% of respondents reported that they believe that local elected officials can effectively address the area’s problems, which Sims attributed to people feeling they are lacking information from their elected leaders. However, respondents had more confidence in local government officials than any others, with only 24% of people reporting confidence that state or federal elected leaders can effectively address problems. The highest degree of confidence was expressed for unelected leaders in the community (60%).
Based on these responses, Sims suggested that a collaborative approach would work better than a city or county initiative.
“There needs to be a serious public dialogue across age and ethnic groups about what we want our quality of life to be that works for everyone and what we’re going to do about it. We need public, private and nonprofit sectors coming together with the public to talk instead of having the same old people [making the decisions],” Sims said.
“I think we’d see a better attitude from the public in general about what we’re doing because they’d be better informed of what we’re trying to do, because we’re trying to do it together.”
Erick Zepeda is an editorial intern with Illinois Times. He is a senior at DePaul University majoring in communications and media and a recent transplant to Springfield. Contact him at email@example.com.