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EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County. The team has since developed the Mansfield Rising plan, which Richland Source will explain idea-by-idea beginning March 1.  

A lot has happened in the last year in the rust belt city of Mansfield. Not all of it has been good. There’s still crime, there’s still an opioid problem, and the schools still struggle to compete in the rigged game that is state test scores. The city government continues to operate with a dwindling tax base, and there are large parts of our neighborhoods that have seen better days. There’s no point in looking away, because this is the canvas on to which we’ll paint our future.

What future?

The central question is fairly obvious: Does Mansfield have a future worth working toward, and if it does, what is it?

It’s a fair question if you’re investing your time, talent or treasure. Why not just bail and move somewhere else? Look under any Facebook post about Mansfield. Somebody is there, posing the query.   

Finding an answer has dominated the last year of my professional life. Our newsroom has reported on solutions through our work in the Rising from Rust project, and I’ve poured my own heart and mind into the development of the Mansfield Rising plan.

I’ve made new friends, found surprising allies and learned so much about the city I’ve called home for 25 years. Working on this project has been difficult, frustrating and all-consuming. It’s also strengthened my belief that all the work was worth it.

If ____________ can do it...

If we're asking if the city has a future, here's my conclusion? Yes, abso-flipping-lutely. Mansfield does have a future worth working toward. There’s one key reason why I know this to be true, and why I believe completely that greatness is possible. It’s been done. Examples at varied stages of re-invention are all around us. Newark, Wooster, Kent, Upper Sandusky, Ashland … it’s being accomplished right now by communities with fewer resources than ours.

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What has to happen?

A lot of things have to change. In my opinion, here’s what we have to do to paint a bright new picture for Mansfield.

  • Civic leaders must have vision. Wherever we're standing, we have to look at our city from the viewpoint of abundance and opportunity. It’s time to play offense and take the battle for the future to our foes, which are quite often in the mirror. From the mayor’s office across to safety services, from the judges to the sewer department; we have to find ways to lead, advocate for Mansfield, and put our best foot forward.

  • Collaboration is king. We are going to have to work together and find unusual partnerships that achieve great outcomes. No one pot of money will be found that just fixes everything. It’ll take creativity, generosity, sacrifice and smart decisions from private investors, public servants and enterprising non-profits. Landlords working with artists on a city project funded by bankers. That could happen. It has to happen.

  • Unusual suspects.  Mansfield is a vibrant and diverse city. A bunch gray-bearded white guys who presently occupy positions of influence -- guilty as charged -- in a closed room is not the path forward. It really never was. We need those guys for sure, but we also need leaders of color, sharp women, and young people to get the nod, too. These perspectives are crucial to success. And then we need to trust them to make decisions and get things done.

So yes, I think we have a future. I think it can be one where we work together even while disagreeing. It can be a future where visionary leadership (and money) can be found in the public sector, as well as private enterprise. But one thing's for sure, it's going to be a slog sometimes. We are going to have to fight for it, because it will not come easy.  

I’m in for the fight. Are you?

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

President of Richland Source and founding board member of Idea Works.