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Thursday, March 17, 2011 05:50 am

Please keep Springfield Green

No matter what you think about Tim Davlin’s effectiveness as our mayor, no one should question the success of his efforts to clean and green Springfield. But we have to wonder how many people (including the three candidates for mayor) realize the size and scope of the success of the Springfield Green organization.

In May 2004 a committee comprised of business leaders, downtown advocates and city employees came together with Downtown Springfield, Inc., to plan a greening up of downtown in preparation for the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Before the dust had settled on that historic event, the group expanded and agreed that the mission of Springfield Green should move beyond the confines of downtown. Within a year a full-blown organization (complete with hundreds of donors, in-kind donations and grants) had come together to confirm that the cleaning and greening of Springfield would continue in an organized fashion for years to come.

Since the program’s inception in May 2004, nearly $275K in cash and $265K of in-kind donations have been raised through memberships and fundraisers. Grants made it possible to plant more than 100,000 perennials, tens of thousands of bulbs and hundreds of trees in neighborhoods across the city. More than 130 free-standing planters are now situated around downtown, filled each season with colorful plantings; this effort is funded by donations and accomplished with only minimal time spent by city workers. Springfield in Bloom, an offshoot of Springfield Green, inspired hundreds of homeowners, business owners and nonprofit groups to create beautiful street-side gardens over the last six years.

Without city hall’s leadership in Springfield Green we would not have beautiful perennial gardens at gateway entrances around the city at South Grand, Wabash Avenue, South Fifth and Sixth streets. We would not have the Adopt-a-Street program and its 50 volunteer groups who pick up thousands of bags of litter several times a year. We would not have a $500K grant from DOT to fund a 2011 project to cleanup / green up Clear Lake Avenue, the road most visitors use to gain access to downtown (and one of the least attractive streets in Springfield.) We also wouldn’t have a whole host of other environmentally positive programs around the city, each initiated with leadership at city hall.

So why have we not heard a single word from any of the candidates for the mayor’s job about the future of this program? Is it possible they just don’t know about Springfield Green? That they aren’t aware of the tremendous grass-roots support and volunteer spirit this program has created around town? Well they do now.

My hope is that each of the individuals who want to be our mayor will commit today to keep this successful effort intact for 2011.

We call on you, candidates for mayor, to tell the Springfield Green committee to move forward with planning and ordering for the coming season. Once the dust settles in your administration we can sit down and talk about how best to staff and manage the program in future years. Mostly now we just want to hear that you don’t intend to walk away from the momentum gained over the last seven years.

Springfield Green isn’t everything, and there are likely refinements that could make it even more successful. It could evolve into a nonprofit organization with an executive director who serves as a liaison to the city on grants and such. Of course a truly progressive mayor might boost its funding and grow its influence beyond its current status. Everything can be on the table in 2012. But as for this year: there are beds to be weeded and plants to be ordered. Spring waits for no one, including the new mayor.  

Sharon Whalen is publisher of Illinois Times, a Springfield Green committee member and organizer of the Springfield in Bloom initiative.
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