City Council Examines “Walkability”

The Springfield City Council’s lunch was spent talking about a good long walk.

The Council saw a presentation from the “Springfield Walkability Team”, consisting of multiple city staff members, Councilman Richard Ollis, Julie Viele of the Health Department, Natasha Longpine from the Ozarks Transportation Organization, and Mary Kromrey of Ozark Greenways.

The group made recommendations to the council regarding the city’s upcoming Comprehensive Plan.

The group had four “guidelines” for the Council’s consideration:

Guideline 1: Walkability should be made a priority in the Springfield Community and Springfield should be established as a regional leader in implementing principles of walkability.

Guideline 2: (Springfield should) Construct, enhance and maintain sidewalks, multi-use sidepaths, bicycle facilities, transit facilities, trails and linear parks.

Guideline 3: Options should be explored to encourage future public and private development projects provide equitable access to all.

Guideline 4: Consider alignment of local, regional and statewide policies that can have a positive impact on creating a culture of walkability.

Multiple members of the group told Council about ways enhancing the walkability of other communities have contributed not only to the obvious factors of increasing community health and wellness but that they also have been effective in driving investment and financial growth.

The speakers told council of areas of Atlanta and northwest Arkansas that saw financial revitalization by the placement of walking trails and enhanced efforts to allow for open green space in communities via linear parks. Council was shown photos of the “Beltline” in Atlanta where you could see private construction of townhomes, apartments and business space being built along a former transit line turned multi-use trail.

There was one major negative that was discussed by the team is that gentrification of some areas through this process has decreased access to affordable housing for the lower income residents of the area. Often the revitalization done through trails takes place in areas that contain lower income individuals who are then displaced by the changes.

Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson, who brought up problems with Atlanta’s “Beltline” and driving out lower income citizens during Council’s discussion, told OI that it’s vital the city learn from the mistakes of other communities in looking at walkability and its impact on revitalization.

“We can look at all the good things that were done in Atlanta in the last 20 years,” Ferguson said, “But we can also look at the problems and the issues that have come out so that we don’t make the same mistakes.”

“We’ve been doing walkability over in North Springfield for a long time,” Ferguson continued. “We know how important walkability is for our citizens. Often times they don’t have the access to private vehicles. Simply make sure that we’re protecting through the HUD process, and making sure we’re not doing what other cities have done, can allow us to make sure we’re protecting those who need it in our city.”