By Donnie Rodgers
Community development coordinator for the Urban Districts Alliance in downtown Springfield, Mo.

donnie-rodgersEven as a child, I was always interested in how things work. I’d tear apart a broken toaster just to understand the smaller intricacies of what made it work and what may have gone wrong. This curiosity led me to Drury to seek out a degree in architecture, but my education opened up a whole new world to me.

My awareness grew beyond design. I became much more curious about the community surrounding our designs— not only what the impacts of our choices on the built environment are, but also the businesses and people who give them life. Architecture gives us a sense of place, but there is a greater depth to vibrant communities. I decided to delve deeper into finding out what makes communities tick—and how to improve them.

Now, I work as the community development coordinator at Springfield’s Urban Districts Alliance. My job is to help preserve our built environment and create new economic opportunities to ensure our three historic business districts—downtown, Commercial Street, and Walnut Street—survive long-term.

Areas like Commercial Street (we call it “C-Street” these days) have a depth and vibrancy to them that is more than the character of their architecture. Their residents and businesses create a unique sense of place that truly gives C-Street its identity.

Rarely are any two days the same, but a majority of my time is spent engaging with business owners and community stakeholders. I’m a problem solver. I sit back and listen. What is needed for success often defines the role I assume and at times it’s a little like playing MacGyver. I have to figure out how to save the day with limited resources. I can be the event planner, the cheerleader/promoter, the shoulder to cry on, the barricade securer, or the voice of reason.

However, the most rewarding challenge is finding ways to engage and facilitate the growth and capacity of others to carry out their own ideas and visions.