Have you seen the new signs downtown?
I noticed one recently outside Springfield Business Journal’s offices – a handy guide labeled Walk Springfield that shows pedestrians how long it will take to walk to nearby popular destinations. For example, start at Park Central Square and take a 20-minute walk east to Hammons Field to catch a Springfield Cardinals game. (This trip not only provides a little exercise, but also you can save yourself game parking fees up to $20.)
We can thank the Downtown Springfield Association and its partners, the city of Springfield and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, for the signs. DSA was one of 20 agencies nationwide awarded up to $1,500 in Community Change microgrants from the nonprofit America Walks. According to the grant description, the funds support “projects related to creating healthy, active and engaged places to live, work and play.”
And the competition was stiff. DSA’s project was one of 20 selected this year from more than 600 applications.
It’s a simple concept, but the implications are big for downtown businesses.
Consider how many of us head to a particular destination downtown and spend a good amount of time trying to park as close as we possibly can. I’m guilty. But what are we missing out on when we forget the journey is part of the experience?
Downtown businesses rely on people exploring the streets at a slower pace from the sidewalk. Driving 25 miles per hour past the Soap Refill Station on Campbell Avenue, for instance, and you might miss the innovative store concept. Bring your empty containers and fill them up with all-natural shampoo, laundry detergent and essential oils.
Take a stroll down Walnut Street and you’ll come upon BookMarx. Pick up a new or used book and snuggle with one of the store’s many cats.
And just across the street, it might be easy to miss the excitement inside the Greek Belly eatery on one of its Greek Nights if you’re passing by in a car. But the disco lights and belly dancers inside would be hard to miss from the sidewalk.
Then there’s the art that lines the sidewalks through Sculpture Walk, Springfield’s museum without walls. This year, pedestrians will see 31 sculptures around the downtown area, crafted by local artists and others from around the country.
Walking downtown allows residents and visitors alike to experience, in a more personal and spontaneous way, the unique businesses and people that make up our collective Springfield story.
At Springfield Business Journal’s most recent forum discussing the results from its Economic Growth Survey, we hosted a town hall among the 100-plus attendees to discuss the questions: What are the Springfield stories worth telling? Where are the opportunities to brand ourselves as a city?
The city’s Workforce Development Director Mary Ann Rojas provided a great perspective: “Diversity is something we’ve talked about for a long time. Downtown is very vibrant and has those characteristics. I think that’s going to set us apart as a city to highlight the areas we are diverse in. We have a real opportunity.”
Downtown’s businesses and business owners represent a beautiful slice of Springfield – showcasing diversity in ownership and ideas. The Walk Springfield initiative is one way our city is supporting that part of our city’s story. And the story continues with just a 30-minute walk north from Park Central Square to Historic Commercial Street, where each storefront provides one delightful discovery after another.
If we don’t take the time to slow down, we might miss the story Springfield is already writing. Let’s take a walk and hear what it has to say.
Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at email@example.com.
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