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Springfield urban issues

Here you will find articles about  land use, zoning and building regulations, traffic engineering, urban renewal, economic development, parks and green spaces, and cityscapes in Illinois's capital city. 


People who don't know it should be aware that "Springfield" is an urban-ish agglomeration of some  120,000 people, of which the City of Springfield is the largest part. Often classed as a medium-sized city for analytic purposes, it is in fact a small city even by U.S. standards. Thus its enduring political tension: Should Springfield stay a small town or turn itself into a proper city? Its many immigrant small-towners from elsewhere Downstate seem to prefer that it stay a small town (albeit one with jobs and better shopping), while its sizable faction of cosmopolites (many of them professionals and public servants  who have emigrated from bigger places) wish it to be more urban. The problem is that Springfield is too big to be a good small town and too small to be a good city, so nobody's happy. 

I wrote about urban issues in the capital for 40 years. (It was my exasperation about a plan to rebuild Capitol Avenue that enticed me to resume columnizing for Illinois Times after a 15-year hiatus.) Nothing I wrote made any difference, which a visit to the city will confirm.


In part because of a lack of a consensus about the ends of growth, development policy has been left by default to the town's developers. Sprawl is apparently unstoppable; the city occupies nearly three times more land than it did four decades ago, having spread out from 21.5 square miles in 1960 to 67.2 square miles in 2020, during a period when population grew by only 37 percent. Springfield may never become the big city that its boosters once dreamed of, or a better one, but it was becoming a wide one. Since then the city has stagnated in every other way.

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Road to Nowhere

The new Capitol Avenue doesn’t get us where we want to go

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  July 30, 2009

Springfield Is No Good at Gateways

Road to nowhere: Part II

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 6, 2016

Pumping Out Iowa

Cities don’t make floods but they make them worse

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  July 21, 1993

 The Urban Park

Union Square Park in not-quite-urban Springfield 

Illinois Times  August 6, 1987

City Beautiful

A 1924 plan for building a new Springfield

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  April 28, 1993

Stopped By a Train

Why Springfield is helpless  to stop the UP

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 17, 2009

Going ’Round and ’Round

Can a roundabout stop accidents at Lawrence and MacArthur?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  December 3, 2009

Positive Incentives

Springfield’s lazy, hazy, razing days of summer

"Prejudices" Illinois Times July 24, 1981

Flattened Houses

State government makes Springfield safe for cars

"Forum"  Illinois Times  January 15, 1976

Why the Presbyterians Should Not Tear Down Buildings for a Parking Pot

God approves more parking for Springfield

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 21, 1978

Sis Boom Bah

A step toward a new downtown Springfield

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 12, 1977

White Oaks East

Springfield un-malls the town square

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 26, 1991

The Y Block: A saga of undevelopment 

Adieu to the Abe

Springfield’s grandest hotel dies prematurely

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 7, 1978

A Shooting

The end of the Hotel Abraham Lincoln

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 22, 1978

“People, not Pontiacs!”

Planning for a courts complex that won’t be built

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 8, 1981

Advice and Dissent

How to turn the Y block into a “why not?” block

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 17, 2014​

Wet Dream

Why not a Y block wetland?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times September 4, 2014

None of Your Business

Is the city smart enough to pull off the Y block deal?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times September 22, 2016

More Parking Downtown?

The newest idea for the Y block is the worst yet

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times February 2, 2017

Park-ing Problems

The latest Y block plans are revealed

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times May 25, 2017

Green Engineering

Soft alternatives to soft-headed flood control

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 29, 1993

Getting There in a Hurry

Why Springfield street improvements seldom were

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 13, 1992

A Great Concrete Dagger

Building highways out of habit

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 30, 1979

Cheese on a Plate

A bigger, not better, capitol complex

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 15, 1983


The state moves in. There goes the neighborhood

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 22, 1980

Cakes on a Plate

Building walls and street spaces in Springfield

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  May 2, 2013

Don’t Look Now

Lost vistas in the capital city

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 4, 1988

Zone Defense

Spot zoning nibbles away at the capital city

"Prejudices" Illinois Times December 8, 1988


Civic ugliness as economic development issue

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  May 5, 1983

Bombed-out Springfield

Cars wage war on buildings in the capital city 

Illinois Times  November 12, 1976

A Pretty Stable Part of Town

Making a new down of Springfield's old buildings

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 18, 1993

The Object of Enterprise

Springfield's downtown gets out of bed, walks

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 29, 1981

The Bulldozers Are Coming!

The frontier impulse unsettles metropolitan Springfield

Illinois Times  June 29, 1979

Roller Rinks

Downtown Springfield tries respectability

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 15, 1981

Aggressive Behavior

Panhandling as protected speech

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times August 27, 2015

Branching Out

How might Illinois towns boost population growth?

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times January 12, 2017

Noise About Noise

The noise from boom cars is confusing Springfield aldermen

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times May 20, 2010

Springfield, Reimagined

The newest draft city plan is a good one

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times January 4, 2018

Implementing Planning

Can a city planner make Springfield love planning?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times May 21, 2015

Doing Development Right

Aldermen call Bluffstone’s bluff

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times June 25, 2015

Anti-urban Urban Renewal
Horace Mann's HQ looks better at 39 than its neighborhood
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  ​July 28, 2011

Enticing trained brains back to Springfield
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  October 13, 2011

Asphalt Somethingness
Springfield parking lots are looking (a little) better
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 17, 2011

Things’ll Be Great When You’re Downtown

Making Springfield’s center a neighborhood

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 23, 2012

All Aboard

Will a transit center take Springfield where it wants to go?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times March 29, 2012

A Double Shot of Urban-type Feel

Building real urbanism in the medical district

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times  May 10, 2012​

Who Pays for What?

Downtown redevelopment in its metropolitan context

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times June 21, 2012

Stuck in Carlinville with the Springfield Blues Again

What does it really cost to commute?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 25, 2011

Cheap House on the Prairie

Who pays for Springfield’s low-priced housing?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 3, 2011

Getting There from There

Might an informal “street” network help heal South MacArthur?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times October 18, 2012

White Elephant

What to do when White Oaks is gone

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times June 14, 2012

How Zoning Works

Was rezoning for another supermarket in the city's interest?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times June 28, 2012

Fiscalizing Land Use Policy

Good for the City of Springfield, Yes, but for the City?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 26, 2012

The Twenty-acre Wood

Should Griffin Woods be spared “development”?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 12, 2012

Missing the Bus

The SMTD and the American bias against experts

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times September 27, 2012

Has Another Public Project Gone Off the Rails?

The Springfield Rail Improvements Project gets stuck on a siding

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times October 11, 2012

Cheap House on the Prairie

Who pays for Springfield’s low-priced housing?

Illinois Times  February 3, 2011

Population Politics

Hope v. reality regarding Springfield growth

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 21, 1978


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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