With visionary support from the Richland County Foundation, 15 local citizens were sent to South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas to re-imagine Richland County's greatest opportunity, Mansfield's central business district.
The diverse team, which included a city engineer, an architect, artists, marketers, technologists, and leaders of non-profits, arrived back in Mansfield this week. If this is all news to you, click here to learn a bit more on the history behind this project.
You may be wondering, "so what's next?" Over the course of 2018, the #SXSW419 team will work with 26 advisers to sort through the ideas gathered and create action plans that can be implemented.
We've outlined the five key areas of focus below - including some of the real-time thoughts and ideas from the team.
City & Walkability
Local architect, husband, and father of seven, Matthew Stanfield is deeply invested in the community through volunteerism and as Principal Architect at FiELD 9: Architecture.
How can we re-think design in Mansfield? What efforts can be made to help our downtown area become more walkable?
Food & Entertainment
Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz has a passion for music, art, mentorship and activism, and after his first couple sessions at SXSW he decided that he would meet at least ten people a day and have in depth discussions about innovative food and entertainment efforts.
"Ironically, the first person I met was a chef named Rochelle from Alaska during breakfast at the Forthright Continental Restaurant. Rochelle stated to me that “food rich in diversity will bring people from further distances to you," Diaz said.
"I found that very interesting because although Mansfield has great staples such as Saffron Indian Restaurant, Rocky’s Pub, and Athens Greek Restaurant, having additional centrally located could boost tourism and give Mansfield natives more options. What would be some perfect solutions? That’s easy, I thought, how about restaurants specializing in Thai, Mediterranean cuisines, and obviously brunch!"
Aurielo was inspired by the camaraderie of the #SXSW419 team and couldn't be more confident that it was the start of something great for Mansfield.
Damien Beauford, father of five, Barber and young entrepreneur, has a huge heart for the city of Mansfield and wondered how the city of Mansfield can provide incentives for the talented artists and musicians in our community to stay here.
He asked, "What are we doing to make sure they're living, working and contributing to our community?" At one of the last panels, he had the opportunity to ask the Executive Vice President of the Fort Worth Chamber how to embrace and support these artists:
What food & entertainment ideas do you have for revitalizing and re-imagining downtown Mansfield? How can we help local artists, musicians, and entertainers thrive in our city?
Startups & Technology
SXSW is arguably the world's hub for new startup ideas & technology. So no shortage of content here. Cameron Haring believes that right now, in the current age of entrepreneurship, is the time to think big, and that the "tools are there for anyone to use. It just boils down to creativity and execution."
Jennifer Kime, CEO of Downtown Mansfield, Inc (DMI) reflected on how technology may be able to help Mansfield solve some of its complicated housing & development issues:
Senior Community Investment Officer at Richland County Foundation, Allie Watson wondered if Silicon Valley could fall in love with Mansfield? She, along with Chief Advancement Officer at the Richland County Foundation, Maura Teynor and President & CEO of the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce, Jodie Perry met with Congressman Tim Ryan after a session titled, “Big and Small: How Makers Are Rebuilding America’s Cities.”
Congressman Ryan became aware of the #SXSW419 mission and he expressed excitement and willingness to be helpful with the project.
Mansfield's City Engineer, Bob Bianchi attended a session on Smart Cities at which two topics were discussed: Autonomous vehicles and Intelligent street lighting.
What technology and innovation do you think we can implement in Mansfield over the next 2 years? What potential do you see for startups in Mansfield's central business district?
When it comes to social impact, Aurielo Diaz had a meaningful encounter with a homeless person in Austin. He told that powerful story here and noted that social change starts with, "resuscitating those on the verge of complete hopelessness."
Leona Smith, Executive Coordinator at the North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC) and Temp2Higher, focused specifically on Social Impact at SXSW.
"This project creatively looks at ways to increase civic engagement. I know that our community is full of assets, some underutilized, and we can re-use or repurpose them in a way to produce the most social benefit," she wrote.
Chelsie Thompson, Executive Director of the Renaissance Performing Arts Association, attended a keynote with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, and learned about how the moral arc of a city bends towards chaos, not justice, and how social media has made it too easy to spread negativity far and wide.
Thompson reflected on the need to start moving beyond that negativity:
Jotika Shetty, planner and the Executive Director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission, was challenged at SXSW to avoid "the mediocrity trap" and believes true social impact can be made if we work collectively:
"For me personally, it made me ponder about how, as a part of the public sector, I can better enable our community’s success. If the city of Mansfield and every other organization embraces the wins and strides that our own community action organizations like the North End Community Improvement Collaborative and Downtown Mansfield, Inc. have accomplished, and can become true partners and collaborators, collectively this is a battle we can win."
What are your ideas on ways to make social impact in Mansfield? How to we help the most hopeless of individuals? How can we improve negative dialogue? How can the public sector do better?
Workplace & Culture
The fifth area of focus for the #SXSW419 team was Workplace & Culture. The biggest keynote at SXSW on this topic was probably Melinda Gates. Jay Allred, President of Richland Source and a founding board member of Idea Works, got the chance to watch this session.
In terms of the culture of any given workplace, that culture often stems from the psychology of the workplace and the individuals within it. Allred, who has attended SXSW in prior years, has felt that just being present at certain panels & sessions is perspective-altering:
"SXSW changes the internal conversation for me. Often it does so when I end up in a smallish room -- as I did yesterday -- for a session with Valerie Jarrett, Belinda Johnson, Marne Levine, and Evan Ryan. Collectively, these women lead companies with market capitalizations of over $130 billion and/or worked in the West Wing of the White House. That’s a lot of horsepower, and they are there to share it with… me. In that short window of time, we’re just people running organizations and trying to solve problems. The playing field is level," said Allred.
A couple bloggers were reminded that culture changes start with the individual. "The change for our city starts with me, it starts with us...and yes, that means you too," Damien Beauford wrote in his blog, "What does change look like?" After Maura Teynor's unexpected run-in with her fitness guru, Shaun T - she was reminded that difficulty must be endured before seeing positive change, both on an individual and community level.
Blogger Benjamin Davis had two major takeaways that could certainly shift culture if applied:
- The longer you do nothing, the stronger nothing gets!
- Just because it works doesn’t mean you can’t make it better!
In terms of the perception of Mansfield, Nikki Lewis, Chamber Foundation Manager for the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce, wondered about "The Midwest Personality" after coming across all the beautiful, weird aspects of Austin, Texas.
Lewis sums it up with this challenge:
"We do still have some work to do, but I believe we have the people to make our community the friendliest Midwest town - the warm and inviting community it needs to be to get new business and residents to want to be where we are."
Finally, Jodie Perry - who had the chance to hear from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, as well as the Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon talk about innovation, was inspired to "put Mansfield on the world stage" after her time at SXSW.
Excited as we are about the opportunity in Mansfield, Ohio? Want to hear more from the #SXSW419 team? Read all the blogs here.
Most importantly, join us in the conversation about what's next for downtown Mansfield! We want to hear your ideas, and we want to give you a platform to create change.
Stay tuned, this is only the beginning.