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Springfield begins planning new vision for tornado-ravaged city

Posted by Nick Russo  October 20, 2011 11:24 AM

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One month after the Springfield tornadoes, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno announced a public-private partnership (PPP) between the Springfield Redevelopment Agency and a non-profit organization, DevelopSpringfield, called Rebuild Springfield and tasked it with re-envisioning and redeveloping the city.

In a recent series of public meetings hosted by the PPP in Springfield, including a city-wide meeting at the MassMutual Center on Oct. 15, residents and city leaders brainstormed ideas about the future of the city.

Several themes have developed, including the desire for an emphasis on creating and maintaining partnerships between different social organizations around the city in order to strengthen networks and support systems during the visioning and rebuilding process. Other themes included improving overall communication between the city and the public as well as focusing the dispersal of resources in the areas in which people congregate.

A few weeks after the PPP was announced, another notice was given that "Rebuild Springfield" would begin to work in tandem with the independent New Orleans-based design firm Concordia to plan the recovery of the entire city, not simply the sections damaged by the June 1 tornadoes.

Concordia has had broad experience planning and redesigning disaster-stricken areas like the Upper Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the city of Greensburg, Kansas which was nearly destroyed by an EF-5 tornado in 2007. According to their website, the mission of Concordia is to create an "agreement" with stakeholders in the city and "facilitate the collaborative design of neighborhoods and buildings." The firm brought a unique and innovative approach to crafting Springfield's "master plan" called the "Nexus Model."

The model was implemented at the Oct. 15 meeting when the 50 or so participants were divided into six discussions about the social, cultural, organizational, economical, educational, and physical "domains." Once the brainstorming session in each of these groups was complete, a report was given by a representative to the rest of the room.

Of the many ideas each domain group came up with, some of the most strongly held beliefs were: Increasing accessibility to public transit, beautifying the city through planting flowering trees, creating a "jobs plan infrastructure" to keep jobs in Springfield, and increasing the number of opportunities for teens to connect with one another in safe social environments. Additionally, increasing the level of volunteerism across the city and eliminating redundancy in city bureaucracy were important ideas that were brought forth.

After the groups reported back, Bobbie Hill, an employee of Concordia who directed the morning's meeting, announced that further citywide planning meetings would occur in November and December, culminating in a final meeting in January when Springfield's Master Plan would be unveiled.

Throughout the course of the meeting it seemed that residents and organizers were very pleased with the results. However, one woman who identified herself as a community organizer said, with the general agreement of the crowd, "for a citywide meeting, the turnout is not good" and stressed that future meetings needed to be publicized better. She pointed out that the MassMutual Center, where the meeting was being held Saturday, had housed people who were made homeless in the immediate aftermath of the storm but that it was not evident any of those people were in attendance at this meeting.

The next public meeting will be held on Tuesday Nov. 15 from 6:30 to 9pm in the J.C. Williams Center, 116 Florence St. in Springfield.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the authors

Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.

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