Fifteen Mansfielders sat on the Renaissance Theatre stage on Thursday evening and shared experiences of a trip designed to fuel the imagination and transform a community.
The event was the “SXSW419 Public Forum,” the first large scale public discussion of what the group found in March at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. The trip was funded by the Richland County Foundation as a part of its 2018 corporate focus on downtown revitalization.
For those unaware of it, a background Richland Source story on the Austin trip can be read here.
After a brief video introduction and a short review of how the idea for the SXSW attendance went from idea to reality, the fifteen – a diverse group, although skewed toward younger generations — were asked questions about their experiences by moderator Cody Albert of Ohio Health, himself a SXSW attendee, and in particular how those observations could be part of a larger downtown revitalization process.
One shared the observation that many sessions emphasized exponential versus incremental growth. Another discussed the collaborative atmosphere as attendees gathered each evening to discuss that day’s workshops and bounce ideas off each other.
Matthew Stanfield of Field9 Architecture, whose regular photos and videos from Austin showcased the city itself, talked about walkability. Cities should “…cater to the person who is wandering,” he said, and exhibit a strong sense of place. “Think beyond the utilitarian,” he emphasized, saying that cities “need a sense of wonder.”
Others talked about the concept of active transportation, vibrancy, and livability. One observation was that while Mansfield has a number of excellent artists of all kinds, Austin’s art takes place on the outside, not the inside. Another talked about the idea of a municipal “Chief Digital Officer,” or “CDO,” who can serve to promote synergy and encourage innovation.
The recent Mansfield City Council $5 license plate fee was mentioned, with Chamber President Jodie Perry mentioning how cities like Newark and Kent have recently experience public investment in their downtowns that served as a catalyst for substantially larger private investment. Downtown Mansfield, Inc. CEO Jennifer Kime was asked about Mansfield’s challenges. What is needed, Kime said, was to interject problem solving with a sense of pride, to “celebrate the victories we have” and to realize how far downtown and the community have already come.
As the plenary session ended, next steps were discussed, which include a report to the Richland County Foundation currently targeted for December. “Listening boxes” to gather additional input are in place at the Library, YMCA, hospitals, and elsewhere.
The two hundred or so in attendance then broke into three breakout sessions looking at “Mansfield a place for living,” Mansfield as a place for business,” and Mansfield as a place for gathering.”