ICON Letter: The Magic of City Planning

Springfield ICON believes the City of Springfield would benefit from having a City Planner focused specifically on the city and tasked with creating city plans based on best practices and on efficiently implementing those plans in partnership with developers and property owners.  This person’s work could be supported by the currently-contracted Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission (SSCRPC). We’ve been lobbying for a city planner for awhile: read ICON’s October 27, 2014 letter to the City Council advocating for a city planner here…

On June 9, the following letter appeared in the Illinois Times in response to Paul O’Shea’s article promoting a City Planner and the Citizen Club breakfast forum on May 27 about City Planning. Read O’Shea’s article in the Illinois Times…


The Magic of City Planning

Paul O’Shea makes a convincing case for a city planner for the City of Springfield (Springfield needs a city planner, IT June 2). I attended the Citizen’s Club Breakfast May 27, which hosted a forum on urban planning with O’Shea; Rob Kowalski, City Planner in Champaign; and Norm Sims, Director of the Springfield – Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission (SSCRPC).

Kowalski said Champaign, which previously had a system similar to ours but now has 9 city planners on staff, has benefitted greatly from their city planning process. Benefits include compact and contiguous city growth by making infill more lucrative than sprawl, the skills to successfully complete complex or controversial projects, advocating for urban development, selling a strong vision of redevelopment to private investors and developers, providing political cover for city leaders who can then make informed decisions, and providing certainty to developers with known requirements, costs and a single point of contact. These benefits have saved the city money, provided a higher quality of life for residents, resulted in 4.2% city population growth since 20091, and median income growth of 32.2% between 2009 and 20122.

Although the SSCRPC provides planning services to Springfield under contract, some of the benefits cited by Kowalski simply can’t be provided by outsourcing: accountability for implementation and dedicated resources focused on city needs. The problems we’ve had finding a suitable location for the Salvation Army are just the latest example.

As ICON wrote in our letter to Mayor Houston in 2014, a city planner with specific expertise and training in city / urban planning could evaluate the needs of the city as a whole and advise city leaders on development of policies and specific plans to encourage growth that will benefit all of Springfield for years to come. ICON believes an investment in a city planner would pay for itself in decreased costs and confusion and increased growth, both for businesses and residents in Springfield.

We very much appreciate working with Norm Sims, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, both before and during his work with SSCRPC. It may not have been his intent, but some of Norm’s remarks at the forum support a city planner: the need for continuity from administration to administration, for example.

But we heard Norm’s admonition – a city planner wouldn’t be a “magic wand” we can wave to make Springfield a great city. It still takes 6 votes on the City Council to enact real change. Our forward-thinking Public Works Director is frequently called before the City Council to provide advice and accountability. Imagine a city planner called before the City Council to provide expert advice and ongoing accountability in implementing strategic city plans. Now that’s magic.

Carol Kneedler
Chair, Springfield ICON

1 http://www.news-gazette.com/living/2015-05-22/champaign-growing-no-other.html
2 https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/home-search/fastest-growing-cities-illinois/