2021 COMMUNITY THEMES
The COVID-19 pandemic stretched our community in many ways—perhaps too many.
It affirmed our community's resolve and ability to collaborate and innovate, especially during the pandemic's first wave in 2020. Our medical professionals and public officials led the way through uncertainty as health care workers tirelessly treated the sick. Teachers, business owners and artists explored new avenues to reach others virtually. Neighbors developed creative ways to visit and support one another.
But the pandemic revealed deepening fissures, too, as we isolated ourselves and fragmented. A divisive national election season culminated in a Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Scientifically validated solutions championed by medical experts were dismissed by some in favor of unverified and dangerous misinformation spread through social media. Locally, our vaccination rate remained lower than the state's and the nation's going into the summer of 2021, and Springfield soon made unwanted national headlines as our intensive care units filled again.
As this printed report was being completed, the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in Springfield's hospitals had dropped from the highest levels of the pandemic. An exhausted emergency corps was closer to relief as the percentage of Greene County residents 12 and older who were fully vaccinated surpassed 50%. But the divides had not healed.
Against this once-in-a-generation backdrop, the steering committee developed six key themes for the 2021 Community Focus Report, intended to capture the strengths and challenges of this moment. Our discussion considered the 66 Blue Ribbons and Red Flags from the series of topical white papers released online to identify these intertwined themes.
THE NEED TO REGAIN MOMENTUM
The number of households in poverty—an overall theme in the last two Community Focus Reports—had been dropping in recent years through the collaborative work of organizations such as the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Prosper Springfield and the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. The City of Springfield's Forward SGF vision-planning process had increased civic participation as residents worked with public officials to plan our collective future. Businesses and the arts community were thriving.
The pandemic halted that progress, as shutdowns affected businesses and workers alike. Since March 2020, more than 600 Greene County residents have died of COVID-19 variants, among 43,000 and counting confirmed cases. Though support from federal, state and local governments temporarily helped stem the tide of closures and evictions, the community must recapture the drive, innovation and progress from 2019 to move ahead into 2022 and beyond.
Fortunately, local economic indicators are improving. Unemployment has dropped to pre-pandemic levels. Major construction projects are underway at Missouri State University, Springfield Public Schools and Drury University. And improvements to infrastructure, roads and trails continue, with the ambitious Grant Avenue Parkway project connecting Bass Pro Shops to downtown on the horizon.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY & INCLUSION
In the 2019 Community Focus Report, diversity emerged as a major theme, as Springfield Public Schools and others launched equity initiatives to ensure success for people regardless of background. In 2020, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others inspired a continuing national discussion on race that resonated locally with a large march of support through downtown.
An inclusiveness survey released by the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights in 2020 found that nearly 45% of the 2,276 respondents described Springfield as "not inclusive" or "not very inclusive," and almost half reported having experienced or witnessed discrimination, because of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or age.
These findings come as Springfield and Greene County have become increasingly diverse. The 2020 Census showed that 16% of the county's population—and 19% within the city limits of Springfield—identify as a race other than white only. The Hispanic population has grown to 5%, and the area's LGBTQ community continues to grow. The City of Springfield, recognizing the importance of this area, has hired its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
And using an equity lens to understand how historically under-represented groups may be disproportionately affected by organizational and institutional decisions is now critical to our community's collective success (see the essay by Francine Pratt on page 12).
The steering committee reframed the printed report around this key topic, as our health system proved critical to our physical and mental survival during the pandemic.
CoxHealth, Mercy, Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department have worked together to battle repeated COVID-19 waves, and all other areas covered by the Community Focus Report depended upon the success of our medical community. Initiatives such as Burrell Behavioral Health's Rapid Access Unit, highlighted in multiple Community Focus Report 2021 Update white papers, show how the health sector is exploring innovative ways to confront our Red Flags across topics.
Our community health goes beyond the emergency realm, however. Tackling upstream issues such as poverty and mental health remain important t dealing with addiction, domestic violence, suicide and other outcomes that profoundly affect the quality of life in Springfield and Greene County. And the pandemic revealed the need for trusted information networks—beyond the fragmented social media—to ensure a fact-based understanding of our local issues and challenges.
THE COMMUNITY'S CHANGING IMAGE
Our community continued to grow faster than much of the rest of the state, with Greene County's population expanding by 8.6% over the past decade. But that rate of growth is slower than cities seen as desirable places in which to live, such as Austin, Texas, or Nashville, Tennessee.
In recent years, leaders have put more focus on placemaking, developing distinctive amenities and offerings that not only bring skilled talent to the area, but keep such professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators here. Education, transportation, business, the arts, the outdoors—all play a role in creating an inviting place that people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives want to call home.
Those efforts, however, must be coupled with confronting the persistent issue of poverty, the growing rate of crime, and the increased incidence of issues such as domestic violence and addiction arising out of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. And making sure wages keep up with the rising cost of living remains a vital issue.
Since the first report in 2004, collaboration among our public and private institutions has been a reliable, consistent community theme for Springfield and Greene County. But collaboration at the institutional level does not mean consensus among individuals, as dissent over a variety of issues in recent months has made apparent.
For years, Springfield and Greene County—driven by nonprofits and the faith community—have provided a base of support to address problems and help those in need. Through many organizations, we have volunteered time and donated resources to build community. The region now finds itself at a pivotal moment as longtime community leaders retire, and the next generation rises.
Success requires investment, and over the past few years, Springfield and Greene County residents have supported numerous infrastructure initiatives: A $168 million bond issue for Springfield Public Schools is adding new buildings and resources for more than 23,500 students and their families; the renewal of the 1/4-cent capital improvements sales tax and 1/8-cent transportation sales tax ensure investments in roads and capital projects over the next 20 years; and the adoption of sewer-rate increases will support wastewater, stormwater and overall water quality protection efforts into 2025.
But investment is coming from other areas as well. Ozark Greenways, TrailSpring and other organizations are developing miles of trails and outdoor recreation resources that proved critical to the community's well-being during the pandemic. Numerous nonprofits continue to inject needed resources and programs to help elevate residents out of poverty and personal struggle. And organizations such as the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the United Way of the Ozarks help provide the financial structures to make community improvement possible for all.
COMMUNITY AT A GLANCE
|RACE & ETHNICITY|
|American Indian/Alaska Native||0.7%||0.7%||-|
|Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander||0.1%||0.1%||-|
|Some other race||0.9%||1.7%||▲0.8|
|Two or more races||2.6%||8%||▲5.4|
|Hispanic or Latino||3%||4.8%||▲1.8|
|Average Houseold Size||2.09||2.06||▼0.03|
|Average Houseold Size||2.28||2.27||▼0.06|
|Families in Poverty||15.6%||14.2%||▼1.4|
|Families in Poverty with Children Under 18||27.7%||20.9%||▼6.8|
|High School Graduate||88.5%||92.4%||▲3.9|
|Bachelor's Degree or Higher||26.1%||28.5%||▲2.4|
|Without Health Insurance||17.5%||13.4%||▼4.1|
|Families in Poverty||11.2%||9.7%||▼1.5|
|Families in Poverty with Children Under 18||19.6%||15.1%||▼4.5|
|High School Graduate||89.7%||92.9%||▲3.2|
|Bachelor's Degree or Higher||28%||31.2%||▲3.2|
|Without Health Insurance||14.7%||10.7%||▼4|
|COST OF LIVING|
SOURCES: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU; AMERICAN COMMUNITY SURVEY; COUNCIL FOR COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC RESEARCH