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The way Brad Segal sees it, cities like Springfield are ripe for opportunity coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a Zoom event Tuesday night for the city’s Forward SGF comprehensive planning effort, the president of Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) said the COVID-19 pandemic, protests for racial equity and economic shifts are providing a unique opportunity for urban areas around the country to thrive. 

PUMA’s 2020 Global Trends Report for cities, which was initially released in February, forecast that cities were in for a lot of change over the next few years due to economic, political and generational trends.

Segal said while the pandemic has shocked the economy and society, it has actually caused the expected shifts to happen more quickly, pushing younger people toward housing in more affordable, midsized cities and changing the way people think about work.

“We see the pandemic really accelerating trends that are already in place,” he said. “Overall, it’s the acceleration of trends that we will argue potentially has promise for areas like downtown and C-Street.”

He said in recent years, many downtowns and urban areas have seen a resurgence in demand for housing, and he expected that to continue since younger people are more likely to move to walkable communities with modern transit options.

However, those places will have to be affordable since many millennials and people in Gen Z are the ones most likely to be affected by job loss from the pandemic, he added. 

“It’s going to be a relatively swift recovery once we get the health situation under control,” he said, adding younger generations are expected to take advantage of entertainment and dining once a vaccine becomes available.

On the other side, older people may also be seeking new opportunities in housing, he said, noting many will likely be retiring and trying to find new places to live.

Another notable “shock” that has made changes more pronounced in cities across the country are protests for racial equity following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Segal said younger generations are currently very politically active, and he said cities and urban districts should work to be part of those conversations moving forward.

“Those cities that embrace demographic diversity will be more successful,” he said.

Those factors also come along with big changes to the economy, which has seen the closure of many traditional, large chain stores that were already on the decline. 

Segal said cities like Springfield should expect a “surge in entrepreneurship” and work to accommodate that as much as possible. 

“We expect strong small business formation and people who want to start a business in Springfield,” he said. “(Leaders should think about): Does it work downtown? Does it work on C-Street? And how can we be deliberate about creating a different experience coming out of the pandemic?”

Overall, Segal said Springfield is positioned well to take advantage of this moment. 

As one of the people who advised the city to form the Downtown Community Improvement District and who is advising leaders on Commercial Street revitalization efforts, he said the city has done well in recent years to bring back struggling parts of town.

When asked what he thought Springfield should do to take advantage of the moment, Segal had positive feedback.

“I think Springfield has it all,” he said. “Do you need to be Austin? No. Do you need to be (another city?) No. You can be the best city for your region and prosper because young people dig that and they want to be here.” 

Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at kkull@news-leader.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.

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