The Springfield Institute exists to bring fresh perspectives, raise the level of debate, broaden participation in the debate, support community groups, and contribute to urban transformation. We are a think tank with a twist: a central commitment to outreach, inclusion, and community organizing.
Springfield struggles on multiple fronts: the budget, public safety, schools, health disparities, environmental quality, jobs and investment, infrastructure. And the trend has spanned decades. Predictably, the result has been severely reduced expectations.
But there are a number of us who have, as President Obama says, the “audacity to hope.” We are deeply committed to Springfield, but we have also had the privilege of exposure to other cities, and the bold ideas that helped make them great: social and economic diversity and integration, vibrant public spaces, strategic economic development, environmental sustainability, etc.
We are diverse, high achieving, and independent thinking next generation professionals, unencumbered by the city’s legacy of factionalism and entrenched interests. We see what Springfield could be. We have come together to encourage new perspectives, rekindle hope, and challenge Springfield residents to expect more than even incremental improvements.
Precisely because Springfield’s challenges are so comprehensive, so must be any viable movement to reverse these deep-seated trends. For example, even if jobs are your only concern, there’s only so much you can do without schools that can produce qualified workers, child care for working parents, infrastructure to allow people to get to work, employers to set up shop, equitable health care to maintain a productive workforce, public safety, parks, and vibrant arts and culture that help motivate employers and employees to return to Springfield.
The Institute will support and complement community organizations already doing great work, offering policy and research capacity, additional organizing infrastructure, strategic communications, and other kinds of technical assistance. But the ultimate goal is to provoke broad public discussion, help generate fresh perspectives, and contribute to real urban transformation. Our agenda, which evolves according community priorities, includes:
- Social entrepreneurship (women and minority owned business, socially and environmentally sustainable business, green jobs, knowledge economy, social investing, digital divide)
- Immigrant community
- Education and youth (public schools, leadership development)
- Green space, recreation, livable cities
- Environmental health, health disparities, food systems
- Democratic participation
In New York, Boston, Washington, and beyond, there are organizations that create this kind of well-trafficked bridge between ideas and practice, linking disparate sectors in mutually beneficial and high profile ways. But not in Springfield. When this bridge is built, there is a whole spectrum of benefits: better informed residents and direct services agencies; more enlightened public policy directions; higher education institutions that are more engaged; higher quality research, teaching and learning; better use of decreasing financial resources; and demonstrably improved civic pride and hope.
In addition to the region’s abundant higher education institutions, we hope that local media outlets, private and public sector funders, organized labor, large employers and chambers of commerce, and faith-based organizations will also see us as a resource and a partner in our common efforts to make Springfield great again.
Springfield deserves to be back on the map. To get there, we need to mobilize Springfield’s next generation of innovative and independent leaders, establish a vital space for exchanging fresh perspectives, and engage Springfield residents in the process of imagining–and planning–our city’s future. We don’t have the answers. But given the opportunity and resources, we believe that Springfield residents will find them.
There is a lot we can learn from other cities that have changed their destinies (Baltimore, Newark, Pittsburgh, and others). And when we begin to show progress in Springfield, we will have the privilege and responsibility to help inspire other cities with similar structural challenges (Bridgeport, New Haven, Albany, and others) to imagine another way.