Mansfield Rising Update from Allie Watson

By Allie Watson

January 19, 2020

Allie Watson, Senior Community Investment Officer, accepted the Richland County Regional Planning Commission’s Planning Excellence Award for the Mansfield Rising Plan on behalf of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and the SXSW419 team.

Here are her comments during the RCRPC annual meeting on January 15, 2020. 

” Having the recognition from actual planners validates everything we’ve done since March of 2018. We had 15 people go to SXSW and we worked with 28 advisors for a year to develop the Mansfield Rising Plan. We all really brought our A-Game from various fields, none of which was planning. Well, maybe we stacked our deck a little with Director of Regional Planning Jotika Shetty, City Engineer Bob Bianchi, and Architect Matthew Stanfield but most of us did not arrive with the expertise required to develop this plan.  

Three overarching Mansfield Rising successes we’ve experienced so far have been funding, walkability, and changing the narrative.  

Funding

It was easy to see in this plan where projects ranged in cost from sweat equity to millions of dollars that no single entity could fund all the projects.  

Our first win was passing the license plate fee with Mansfield City Council. This was huge and happened way back in May 2018. I like to think about this success in relation to when we went to SXSW and when the plan was made public. The plan went public on March 1, 2019, almost a year after we attended SXSW. Only two months after returning and ten months before anyone saw the finished plan, we were able to work with City Council to pass a $5 license plate fee that is accumulating about $220,000 annually over the next 12 years for a total of over $2.5M. These funds will be invested directly into downtown Mansfield. 

Destination Mansfield has also committed a $100,000 investment to Mansfield Rising efforts over a five-year period and the Richland County Foundation board is currently considering a five-year investment plan. We are always looking for partners to support the 39 projects as none of us can do it alone.  

Walkability

Creating a more walkable downtown was important in the Mansfield Rising plan. Two ways this has come to fruition is through the mid-block crosswalk and two-way traffic on Mulberry Street.  

The funny thing about Mulberry Street moving to two-way traffic is that to people who haven’t lived here their entire lives, this was no big deal. The road was closed Sunday, it opened Monday, and we were good to go. To those of us who have never entered the library the right way since we were children, this was huge!  

The mid-block crosswalk on West Fourth Street was another success that is not a big deal now. It looks like it’s always been there, but it creates an accessible path from the Municipal Parking Lot to the Brickyard. I was there to watch the first cars roll down Fourth Street after the bricks were installed. This happened at the same time Park Ave West was closed at Central Park for an event and traffic was backed up. I watched and waited thinking drivers will get frustrated and in a hurry. What if they don’t slow down? And, sure enough, whether there was someone in the crosswalk or not, every single car slowed down.  

These changes help create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown and I look forward to more of these. 

Changing the Narrative 

One of the biggest themes in developing Mansfield Rising was civic pride. For years we’ve had low-self-esteem as a city. No one told us we were pretty or smart for the past 30 years and we started talking negatively about our city. Now, we’re finally starting to talk positively about ourselves and we’re realizing that we’ve been pretty and smart all along and Mansfield is a great place to live, gather, and do business.  

We’ve also found everyone else talking about Mansfield Rising, it has become a household name. And, it’s great to see everyone singing from the same hymnal and moving in unison towards common goals. I believe changing the narrative has been our biggest success.  

To build on that is the branding effort. As a recently funded initiative, we are looking forward to working with a consultant to develop a community brand. This will show us as locals, as well as visitors, who we are and what we have to offer.  

I think we are off to a great start and I look forward to more progress and success with Mansfield Rising moving forward.”

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