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Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 01:22 pm

City must put neighborhoods first

Promoting safe and livable neighborhoods throughout our community should be the number one priority of city government. Embracing that priority must not only include the wise investment of our limited resources but also a willingness to seek solutions to neighborhood problems. That commitment is lacking. Nowhere is it more evident than in our older neighborhoods where the lack of city planning and targeted use of resources has taken its toll.

Aging neighborhoods in many parts of the city have seen a growth in rental property. With this growth too often comes a decline in home values in the surrounding area. That does not have to be the case. If the city aggressively enforces code violations when they occur, it helps stabilize a neighborhood as well as provide a quality rental market. It should be made clear to those landlords who refuse to mow the grass, take care of the garbage, or fix the broken windows that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. The city must get serious about imposing fines on those landlords who consistently neglect the upkeep of their property at the detriment of the entire neighborhood.

In other communities the “broken window” theory of dealing with the small problems to improve the overall quality of life and to stave off bigger crime problems has met with success. In Springfield we have been slow to adopt that approach. A crackdown on loud music from car stereos was rejected by the Springfield city council despite a plea from the police chief and the program’s proven success in Peoria. This was an opportunity for city government to effectively address a problem, but it was rejected because of obscure scenarios that place the rights of the violators and in some cases criminals above those of the neighborhood.

Other “broken window” crimes, such as walking down the middle of the street, refusing to stop at stop signs, speeding in a school zone and littering are all minor offenses that, if dealt with, can greatly improve the quality of life in a neighborhood. Springfield needs to more effectively target these small problems as a means to dealing with the development of larger issues. It is time to send a message to those who refuse to respect the rights of their neighbors over their personal disregard for being a “good neighbor.”

To more effectively and efficiently deal with neighborhood problems and to deliver the services to the people of Springfield it is time for the reorganization of city hall. City government must be leaner in these tough budget times. It should adopt a team concept to the problems that come before housing, building and zoning, public works, city legal and the neighborhood police officer. Communication and teamwork need to be the norm, not the exception, at city hall. Accountability and results should be the goal.

Nowhere is there more room for improvement than in the area of infrastructure and upkeep of our neighborhoods. Streets, curbing and sidewalks crumble throughout our city. Despite a series of public hearings and the approval of funding for an infrastructure program, the administration has refused to implement a plan to address these problems. Instead funds have been diverted to the corporate fund while middle management and political hires are protected at the expense of the upkeep and preservation of our neighborhoods. It is time for an infrastructure plan for each and every neighborhood in our city.

Promoting safe and livable neighborhoods is not just about spending priorities. It is also about a commitment from city government that puts accountability and results first. The city must begin aggressively pursuing solutions as opposed to avoiding the problems and accepting the status quo. With this approach, our neighborhoods will remain strong for decades to come. Without this approach, many neighborhoods will decline and others will soon follow.

Mark Mahoney has been a member of the Springfield City Council since 2003, representing Ward 6. The area covers much of the city from Capitol Street to Stevenson and 9th Street to MacArthur Blvd.
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