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Springfield's Millennials: 'The City Needs More Downtown Attractions'

Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois
A group of millennials met at a Citizens Club of Springfield event Friday to talk about what the city still needs to retain young people.

Springfield’s millennials – those between the ages of 23 and 38 – say they see the city as a good place to live, but more can be done. A group met at a Citizens Club of Springfield event Friday to talk about what the city still needs. 

Most agreed downtown Springfield needs more planning and development — like clubs, restaurants and maybe a rooftop bar — to attract and keep young people in the city. The low cost of living helps, they said, but activities make the city more attractive.

Elizabeth Scrafford has lived around the world — but now calls Springfield home where she works with the Sierra Club. She said the town needs a dedicated staff to oversee the type of city development that will help keep people here. “Most cities have planners and so you don’t have to think we need a city planner. In Springfield you can tell we don’t have a city planner.”

Scrafford said other cities, like Champaign, have more than one city planner to focus on a city’s places for recreation, living and business.

One area a city planner could focus on is building codes and regulations.

David Lee, a Springfield-native who has left and returned to live in town to work for Stryker Emergency Care, said he would like to see something done about the empty buildings downtown which are difficult to redevelop due to varying regulations.

“I know for me personally, I have a lot of pride in my hometown here and I would love to buy a building downtown and have a piece in it ... but it’s almost impossible right now.”

Others — like Julio Barrenzuela and Justin Carter — said they’d like to see more unity and less segregation in the city. Yet, both have found reasons to stay or return to Springfield.

Barrenzuela is from Peru and grew up in Springfield. He splits his time between California and Springfield, bringing salsa dancing to communities and different groups through his initiative “Salsa 29.” He said he has pride in knowing Abraham Lincoln is a name people recognize anywhere in the country – making that unique to Springfield.

“I never ran away from Springfield, to me, I went out to bring back resources to make our city much better.” 

Carter, who is the morning news anchor for WICS, said Springfield took some time to grow on him after relocating to town from Rochester, New York. But eventually, he said, he found community in theater and loves living in Springfield. Carter said he would like to see unique restaurants in town that he could share on social media and entice friends from out-of-state to visit him here.

The group said one hurdle to developing the area is the city’s fear to embrace change. But they agree Springfield is already moving in the right direction with new things like free summer concerts, such as the Levitt AMP Music Series, and other cultural events.

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
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