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Springfield News-Leader

West Central first neighborhood to develop plan post-Forward SGF

By Andrew Sullender, Springfield News-Leader,

2023-03-15
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One of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in the city, West Central, is first in line to develop its own neighborhood plan following a citywide comprehensive plan. City officials met with West Central neighbors Monday night to find out what the community wants in the future of their neighborhood.

A goal now that the Forward SGF comprehensive plan has been adopted by the city is for each neighborhood to develop their own plan that outlines future goals and creates guiderails for future development in the neighborhood.

As one of the most distressed neighborhoods in Springfield, West Central was selected as the first community to develop a neighborhood plan, which is still operating under a plan from 1998.

The boundaries of West Central range from Chestnut Expressway in the north, Grand Street in the south, Kansas Expressway in the west, and Kimbrough Avenue to the east. Those borders include downtown Springfield, but that area is excluded from the neighborhood plan as Forward SGF addressed downtown directly.

According to data presented by the city at Monday's community meeting, West Central is one of the "largest and densest" neighborhoods in the city with 7,482 residents. A lot of the density in the neighborhood comes from students going to nearby universities and apartment complexes in downtown, according to city associate planner Ben Tegeler.

Because of its student population, West Central also has one of the youngest neighborhoods in the city with a median age of 27.2 with the primary range being males between ages 20 and 24.

A primary reason West Central was chosen to go first in creating its neighborhood plan is how economically disadvantaged it is, compared to the rest of the city.

"It is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods from a monetary perspective," Tegeler said.

The median yearly income of West Central is $17,936 and 42 percent of residents earn under $15,000 a year. Forty-three percent of residents live under the federal poverty line. More than 1,500 households contain a resident with a disability and 853 households in the neighborhood do not have access to a vehicle.

Springfield as a whole struggles with low rates of homeownership, but West Central has the highest rate of renters in the city — with 67 percent of residents renting rather than owning their home.

West Central buildings are also some of the oldest, with the "majority of housing stock" being built before 1930.

"With pre-World War Two housing, there's a lot of character and there's a lot of housing diversity that needs to be protected," Tegeler said. He pointed to the number of duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and single-family homes that make housing types "run the gamut" across West Central.

Despite some of the challenges facing the neighborhood, there are also many assets the community has going into the future.

"You have a lot going on. You have the proximity to downtown, you have urban design framework that is unique to the Center City in the historic area of Springfield that was built around the streetcar, so it's not a very auto centric or vehicle dominated neighborhood. You have walkable blocks," Tegeler said. "Each block has a unique kind of character in the neighborhood."

West Central Feedback

To gauge the opinions of approximately 50 West Central residents attending the meeting, facilitators broke into groups to discuss what residents want to see in the future of their own neighborhood.

Several tables spoke of the need to revitalize the neighborhood through resident-conscious development, with several suggestions of a neighborhood hub of low-scale restaurants and shops like those seen at Pickwick and Cherry. There was also discussion of expanding some of the beatification, greenspace and traffic calming from the under-construction Grant Avenue Parkway to other areas of the neighborhood.

West Central resident Duane Keys said much of West Central is in a "food desert" where there is not nearby access to grocery stores or fresh produce.

Several of the tables expressed concern over crime and public safety. One resident said their house is "right in the center" of the shots fired heat map recently released by the Springfield Police Department. That same individual also noted that property crime is very common in the area and neighbors cannot leave anything outside or it will be stolen.

The meeting was attended by Zone 3 councilman Mike Schilling and Zone 3 council candidate Brandon Jenson, who is also president of the West Central Neighborhood Alliance.

Speaking to the News-Leader, Jenson said he was excited at the turnout for the event and looked forward to working with the city to create a plan for his neighborhood.

"I was excited to see the folks here and the feedback that the city was looking for was, I think, spot on," he said. "We need to look where we can see much-needed improvements. Like what are the challenges that our neighborhood is facing on a hyperlocal level? What are the resources we know of to help address those challenges? And then, we need this plan to be able to build on all the investment that is going on in our neighborhood."

City planners will hold another West Central community meeting next month, which will gather more feedback and have an open house format.

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