The way economist and futurist Rebecca Ryan sees it, Springfield is on the cusp of greatness. 

When Ryan was here 10 years ago to help establish a network of young professionals, downtown wasn’t yet the booming place it is now. The airport has since grown and changed.

But the city is still short of where it wants to be — perhaps “stuck” like the rest of the country in a time of great uncertainty and upheaval.

Ryan said like the seasons, the United States goes through phases of prosperity, growth, stagnation and revolution.

This time, like during the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression, Americans are facing a “winter” period that will make way for spring.

In a Friday speech before the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s development arm, Ryan encouraged attendees to prepare by looking toward the horizon.

“During these winter periods is where great change can happen,” she said. “When spring comes again, the competition is going to get even fiercer.”

In order to make way for that future, Ryan referenced the city’s comprehensive planning effort, during which the community is talking about what it’d like to see happen in the next 20 years.

She noted that the city hoped to craft a more cohesive image and beautify the streets in its last visioning effort 20 years ago and didn’t get it done.

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Hundreds of Springfieldians said they’d still like to see the city create a “brand” for itself.

Ryan suggested they look toward Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Art Museum hired a Spanish architect and in 2001 completed a building with a moveable sunscreen that unfolds each day like wings and is designed to serve as a symbol and mimic the “culture of Lake Michigan,” according to the art museum’s website.

The building has become an icon for the city, and Ryan said it was a bold and forward-thinking vision that made it a reality.

She also suggested residents look toward Henry Ford when they talk about quality-of-life and housing issues.

When he started manufacturing his famous Model T in the 1900s, Ford paid his employees $5 a day — the equivalent of just over $16 an hour today.

Ryan said that sort of pay structure, which allowed his employees to afford a Model T themselves, encouraged other employers to follow suit and resulted in a robust middle class for decades.

In Springfield’s case, Ryan said the city should focus on building a place that works for its residents, whether that comes through public transportation, making public spaces more friendly for interaction or creating a sense of place.

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But in order to make those big, bold changes, Ryan told attendees they should expect resistance.

In the Civil War, she said, Union soldiers had to combat the opposition of Confederate soldiers, who wanted to maintain the status quo and continued slavery.

Ryan said in order to truly create change, people should lean into those difficulties and help bring others along for the ride if they can.

“Greatness never comes out of the voice of fear,” she said.

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