MANSFIELD -- Planning awards typically go to professional planners, but this year was an exception.
This year’s planning excellence award, presented by the Richland County Regional Planning Commission, went to the Richland County Foundation for its role in the development of the Mansfield Rising plan.
“It’s huge to be recognized by actual planners because we are not planners,” said Allie Watson, senior community investment officer for the Richland County Foundation. “I love that the plan has been so successful.”
In March 2018, 43 local citizens embarked on a year-long effort to reimagine Mansfield’s central business district. The result was Mansfield Rising, a strategic downtown investment plan created by those with a vested interest in the community.
These efforts were spearheaded by the Richland County Foundation, which provided the funds for the 15 core members of the Mansfield Rising team to attend the South by Southwest Conference in Austin. The SXSW419 team returned to Mansfield with fresh ideas about how to revitalize downtown, some of which have already been put into action.
“The Foundation took a big risk in investing in this project and really providing this leadership in the community and so I think it’s awesome to see them recognized,” said Jodie Perry, executive director of the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce and one of the 15 members of the South by Southwest team.
While accepting the planning excellence award on behalf of the foundation, Watson highlighted some of the ways the Mansfield Rising plan has come to fruition.
The passage of a $5 license plate fee for Mansfield residents and a $100,000 commitment from Destination Mansfield-Richland County will ensure some funding for revitalization efforts. Walkability downtown has improved with the installment of the mid walk crosswalk and by changing Mulberry Street from a one-way to two-way street.
But for Watson, the most crucial development is the shift she’s seen in the attitude Mansfield residents have about the city.
“We’re starting to change the narrative now. We’re speaking positively. And Mansfield Rising, I think, has been a big part of that,” she said.
(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a $100,000 donation was coming from Downtown Mansfield, Inc.)