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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
What began 18 months ago as a look at crime statistics, has turned into a multi-pronged initiative that City leaders believe has the ability to unite Springfieldians in a common crusade to improve quality of life through the simple act of neighbors helping neighbors.
In early 2015, City staff were reviewing crime data, when they wondered what it might look like to review additional information from various focus areas, such as health indicators, median household income, voting patterns, and unemployment, and map those in a similar way that the police department does for crime. The results were compelling enough to interest everyone from church pastors to daycare workers.
“The 20 heat maps we created from the data we collected gave us insights into the challenges and opportunities we face, and eventually became the fuel for what has evolved into one of Springfield’s most comprehensive and collaborative efforts to initiate positive change,” said City Manager Greg Burris.
The effort is called the Community Listen Zone Blitz and involves nearly 200 community partner organizations and 300 volunteers. And it’s just now really getting started.
After creating the heat maps, the City of Springfield teamed up in May 2015 with an initial group of 40 community partner organizations, such as Springfield Public Schools, health care systems, banking institutions, nonprofits and members of the faith community to hear directly from residents what they liked best about their neighborhoods and what they most wanted to change within their neighborhoods.
The three-week tour took place in nine Zone 1 neighborhoods at local elementary schools. This opened up a dialogue that identified the top three concerns to be: 1) chronic nuisance properties, 2) sidewalks and infrastructure and 3) public safety.
After the listening meetings, the City immediately began work on the top three areas of concern identified by Zone 1 neighbors.
“As talks continued, and as more and more people saw the heat maps, additional partners signed on, and we began to uncover creative additional ways we can all work together. The top three concerns became the top nine concerns, as we ultimately reached consensus on the things that we thought were critical to improving the overall Zone 1 community. In essence: to make life in Zone 1, and eventually all of Springfield, better,” said Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement. “Residents in these neighborhoods knew what needed to be done and agreed to help be a major part of the process.”
Eleven “topic teams” were created and only met a couple of times to brainstorm and set a strategy. The work of nine of those teams corresponded to focus areas identified through various types of research and meetings and an additional two teams focused on communication and civic engagement.
Word spread about the focus areas the teams were trying to address, and soon City staff and Zone 1 Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson were invited to speak “in neighborhoods, at churches and schools and civic clubs, and to meet with individuals representing about any type of group you can think of,” Scott said.
“Everyone from high school students to retired folks came to Cora and me with great ideas to make Springfield better. And by connecting these individuals and groups and responding to challenges identified by all concerned, a roster of projects emerged,” Burris explained.
The original discussion reviewing crime data, ultimately led to a list of public safety projects included as part of the Blitz. As of the official launch July 11, 2016, there were 60 Zone Blitz projects that have either been completed, are in the planning phase, are about to start, or are currently underway.
At Monday’s official launch, the City’s Director of Workforce Development, Mary Ann Rojas, announced that Springfield has been awarded a $129,000 grant from the State Department of Workforce Development for a pre-apprenticeship program to offer on-the-job, “earning while learning” training and that the Workforce Investment Board recently approved opening a Zone 1 Job Center. Zone Blitz partner CoxHealth worked with Rojas to find a location on the first floor of Cox Medical Tower.
The list of partners also continues to grow. Today, nearly 200 partners have committed, some of which are fully engaged in Zone Blitz projects and others who are waiting in the wings to see where they are needed or how they can help.
The focus areas include: chronic nuisance properties, housing,digital divide, (inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies) infrastructure and transportation,jobs and economic development, food access,public safety,health care and wellness.
Another trend the City’s heat maps revealed was significantly higher rates of poverty in northwest Springfield, exceeding the city’s 25.6 percent overall poverty rate. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks stepped forward to launch a $1.3 million privately funded program, called The Northwest Project, to take place in conjunction with the Zone Blitz at a community hub called The Fairbanks in Zone 1’s Grant Beach Neighborhood.
Bridget Dierks, CFO’s grant program officer, said she hopes the five-year project will become a transformative model for the community, where immediate needs are addressed, but also families will be helped to achieve their own dreams for success.
“I’m proud of my fellow north side neighbors, who work so hard to make Springfield’s north side a great place to live,” said Zone 1 Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson. “I’m proud of my City Council colleagues who have shown support for this initiative because they know what it means for the entire community – not just Zone 1.”
Ferguson said Craig Fishel, a Councilman from Springfield’s Zone 4, where many of Springfield’s most affluent residents are located, has been particularly helpful after attending all nine listening sessions in 2015.
“Instead of ignoring the challenges that residents face in other parts of the City, Craig has instead chosen to learn all that he can about those challenges and has worked to bring organizations and people together from across the city,” said Ferguson.
Burris said that the response from the faith community has been “incredible” and is encouraged by an effort he and Scott have started to bring vastly different church congregations together to help work on the common vision.
“The Zone Blitz will be an 18-month project that will attempt to ‘move the needle’ on poverty within our community. To attack a challenge that is this complex and multifaceted, it can only work if every sector of our community gets involved – it only works as a barn raising,” Burris said. “For example, bringing diverse partners within our faith-based sector together to address a unifying challenge of poverty has the potential to be a ‘healing moment’ within our community. We’re more alike than different, and every faith-based organization has this in their mission.”
A project list and “menu of opportunities" for partners is beginning to take shape and is available online at springfieldmo.gov/zoneblitz.
Later this summer, individuals and organizations will be able to sign up for specific volunteer opportunities through a centralized, online volunteer service coordinating participant needs and reducing the overlap of services. Drury’s Community Outreach and Leadership Development Office is managing the online component, in coordination with The Northwest Project.
Ferguson said she is most proud of the City staff and community partners who work so well together, despite busy schedules and sometimes what seem to be competing interests.
“The focus areas we identified are not necessarily easy to address: a communities health and wellness; easy access to healthy foods; a safe place to lay our heads at night; miles of roadways and infrastructure to maintain; good, steady jobs; public safety; those slumlords who don’t take care of their properties and then take advantage of people who cannot afford to make waves or move somewhere else. In north Springfield, however, we are get-it-done type of people. And we have challenged ourselves, challenged our community – and I promise you, that we will GET. IT. DONE,” she said.
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For more information, contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement at 417-864-1009 or visit springfieldmo.gov/zoneblitz.