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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005 10:13 pm

The other side of the tracks

Can R/UDAT follow-up committee raise partnering to the next level?

The visiting architects and city planners who made up the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team said over and over that Springfield is poised on the edge of greatness. “The new museum may move Springfield from a sleepy town to a world-class city,” said Chuck Davis, the San Francisco architect who headed the team. “The bar has been raised higher.”
The visitors were full of praise for the R/UDAT follow-up committee, headed by Paul O’Shea, that has worked for the past three-and-a-half years to implement some of the ideas suggested by the planners on their initial visit in 2002. To do this, the committee has brought together many people and interests to make things happen. “You are one of the successful R/UDAT projects,” said one of the architects, “because you guys are talking to one another.” O’Shea agrees: “All of this is about partnership.”
Now, clearing the higher bar, and going from good city to great, will challenge Springfield’s partnering skills. O’Shea’s group seems up to the challenge. Already the local follow-up committee has enlarged its original vision from improvement of downtown and the Capitol complex to include concern for the surrounding neighborhoods. The visiting planners emphasized the importance of planning so that development of both the Capitol complex and the Medical District won’t ruin residential neighborhoods. The biggest challenge will be to include as full partners Springfield’s east side neighborhoods, which could be directly affected by three major R/UDAT proposals. One is the proposed beautification of Capitol Avenue, with new pavement, sidewalks, lighting, and decoration. Funding has already been secured to overhaul the street from Second to Ninth streets. But R/UDAT planners urged Springfield to continue the Capitol Avenue beautification on east, at least to Martin Luther King Drive and Comer Cox Park. As one of the architects said, Capitol is a “symbolic corridor.” Linking the east side with the city and state would be much better symbolism than stopping at Ninth, where city improvements have too often stopped. Another major proposal is to eliminate the railroad tracks that run along Third Street and 19th Street and consolidate the city’s three rail corridors onto the 10th Street tracks. This would reduce the number of at-grade rail crossings in Springfield from 74 to 24, making this a safer city with much less disruption of auto traffic. The abandoned rail corridors could make great pedestrian and bicycle paths. But what will consolidation do to the 10th Street tracks and the neighborhoods east of them? Will those residents feel more isolated and forgotten than ever? Planners will need to carefully consider east side needs if rail relocation is to be at all palatable. The proposed intermodal transportation complex, to be located somewhere along the 10th Street tracks, could be an attractive trade-off. A major new building that would combine an Amtrak station with a city bus terminal, perhaps including offices and stores, is being planned. Especially if it promises to attract more new development around it, this could be a key to the success of railroad relocation. One of the planners noted that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is such a success because “It really gets to the roots of what made our country great.” Lincoln achieved greatness when he decided to include everybody. That formula will also work for Lincoln’s hometown. Just before he left to go home to San Francisco after a long weekend of helping to plan this town’s future, Davis urged Springfield not to neglect the east side. As though he were a part of it too, Davis offered this parting thought: “We are one community.”

Fletcher Farrar chairs the board of The Springfield Project, a nonprofit group that works with disadvantaged neighborhoods.
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