Plan your community!

Plan your community!

By Lawrence J. Morrissey

By Lawrence J. Morrissey

Attorney and community activist

Let me start by saying that, although I have been involved with several groups that have provided input into various aspects of our city’s redevelopment (e.g., the River District Association and the Greater Rockford Transportation Coalition; transportation and land use planning; the Winnebago County Citizen’s Justice Committee, facility and programming requirements for our beleaguered justice system; and the Mayor’s Sesquicentennial “Greening” committee, developing standards for greening, pathways, and beautification for future development of public right-of-ways), I am not writing on behalf of any of those organizations.

Rather, this is my personal effort to make sure everyone is AWAKE right now during one of the most important periods in Rockford’s history. It is only fitting that as several groups examine our past in celebration of 150 year birthday, we are experiencing an explosion in public planning efforts and major public capital undertakings that will impact our city’s future.

The next six to 12 months could impact us for many years so WAKE UP NOW if you’ve been sleeping; or forever hold your peace if things don’t develop as you like.

What exactly is going on in the public planning and project arena? So many efforts are in the works, it’s almost unbelievable, and it’s very hard to keep them all straight. Here’s the list I’ve put together so far (and if I’ve missed any, please let me

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know) of planning efforts or projects that will impact our central city. If I were to add all of the efforts throughout the city, including discussions about areas like Perryville Road or Springfield Avenue, the article would have to be a book, and Frank Schier would have to start paying me (which will never happen). So for what it’s worth, take a deep breath; here is a partial list of projects with some contact information:

In the PLANNING arena:

Winnebago County Balanced Growth Initiative—

City of Rockford 2020 Plan—

River District Framework Study—

Council of 100 – Regional Leadership Network Plan— Council of 100, (815) 987-8100)

Regional Initiative for Community Excellence (“RICE”)–

Sesquicentennial Greening Committee— Mayor’s Office, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5590

Federal Commuter Rail Study — Congressman Donald Manzullo, (815) 394-1231

Rockford Freight Rail Study— Public Works, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5570)

Greater Rockford Transportation Coalition—

Planned or Proposed PUBLIC PROJECTS:

RHA’s Jane Addams/Brewington Oaks Hope VI Project— Rockford Housing Authority, (815) 987-3830

Morgan Street Bridge Rebuilding Public Works— City of Rockford, (815) 987-5570

Reed-Chatwood Riverfront Redevelopment— Mayor’s Office, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5590

Ingersoll Riverfront Property Redevelopment Mayor’s Office, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5590

Rt. 2 (South Main Street) Rebuilding— Mayor’s Office, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5590

West State/U.S. 20 Rebuilding— Public Works, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5570

New Federal Courthouse— Mayor’s Office, City of Rockford, (815) 987-5590

Winnebago County Justice Building Proposal— Winnebago County, Chairman’s Office, (815) 987-2590

The capital investments in these planned or proposed public projects alone will exceed $200 million.

With that much at stake, do you know how these efforts are progressing? Do you know what each of these efforts recommend? Do you know who is in charge of implementing the plans when they are completed? Do you know why your input is needed and how you can provide your input to make sure the best plans are created and achieved? Do you know who is working to leverage these projects to make sure they are matched with private development efforts?

My main goal for now is not to describe each of the projects and plans. Again, Mr. Schier’s paper is not large enough to do that in one issue. My main thrust here is simply to let you know where to go for further information and how to make your voice heard because it’s desperately needed—contribute!

While every city and county has paid planners, and most of the plans and projects above have “expert” consultants to put them together, the real “experts” about a community are the people who live there. We are the ones, by the way, that will have to live with the policy choices that are made during the planning stage.

So if you like the fact, for instance, that you can’t walk or ride a bike along most areas of East State Street or Main Street in Rockford because they lack crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike paths; and if you like the fact that our main corridors and entry points into the city resemble a nameless, faceless, and soulless sea of concrete—disparaging our Forest City namesake, then stay at home, your input is not required.

On the other hand, if you believe that we can design a better place, then let’s get going and contribute.

If you believe that owning an automobile should be a choice rather than a necessity; if you believe that neighborhoods and community assets should be built within a walk from public transportation lines, parks, and pathways; if you believe that the riverpath should connect community assets from the north at places like the Sportscore to the south to Marinelli Baseball Field, then let your voice be heard. If you are a young person and you want a community skate park, movie theaters, and a teen dance club built in an area to which you can walk, bike, or bus, then send an e-mail or letter, make a phone call, or attend a meeting.

This is exactly the type of input that the city is inviting through its 2020 Plan, the River District invites through its current Framework study, and the county is soliciting through its Balanced Growth Initiative. The RICE partners and the Council of 100’s Regional Leadership Network have also incorporated similar input on a multi-county regional level.

Remember, democracy is a simple process. It’s about showing up and contributing. But it is difficult for a planner to plan our community if we don’t tell them what we want. This will take some effort; but the rewards are great.

Part of every citizen’s responsibility is to get informed. The above web sites and offices can provide information about the plans. One of the greatest technological tools for every citizen is the Internet. It can also allow us to go directly to the source without having to rely solely on the filter of the media (no offense Frank Schier) to glean information. Moreover, the Internet allows us to take a virtual visit to other cities to learn what has worked in other places.

The great news is that the same community input that we deliver now to help develop a grand vision of where we are going will also provide the fuel to achieve that grand vision. The active energy of a united community is the genesis of citizens that will use, develop, and own the very community we long to be. In other words, it’s our town; if we want a great future sincerely enough, we will dream a great future, speak for a great future, work for a great future and make a great future happen.

Look at those websites! Participate and give your input today.

If have any questions, you may e-mail me at

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