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.

As a public sector employee, I am often confronted with the argument that the public sector is holding the future of our cities hostage.

Their unwillingness to act, to invest, to make the hard uncomfortable decisions, or to break the status quo keeps us rooted in mediocrity - or worse, in a state of decline, unwilling to embrace a different future.

Jotika Shetty

Is this true? And if this is the case, how are communities winning this fight? How do they keep marshaling the troops and who are their allies?

At day two of SXSW, I found myself at the Michigan House (with a lot of love for Ohio and hopes of a OHIO house across the street @ #SWSX2019) to hear about neighborhood solutions to big city problems in Detroit. I know, Mansfield is no big city, but our problems are similar. Deindustrialization and population loss in legacy cities has hampered local governments’ ability to provide basic services.

Communities have realized that their greatest resource is their residents. Community-led projects that look to solve entrenched problems find that they get no help from cash-strapped city hall, and often the systemic policies in place may be the root of the problem. But no longer are these groups looking outward for their solution.

As I heard about how “Mama” Shu decided to address the blight in her neighborhood by buying up property to establish an eco village, the story of MACC development that created “The Commons,” a successful coffee shop and laundromat in a neighborhood that had neither, or about the solar street lights that created an equitable utility service, what I kept hearing from each of the panelists were communities are no longer waiting for city hall to change.

They are writing their own script and empowering themselves to come up with solutions that work to better their narrative. And if the public sector recognizes these wins and comes to them as an ally and a collaborator, they will embrace them.

But they are not going to pull teeth to get them on the same page or try to bring them over to their side kicking and screaming. And what they are finding is that city halls, having witnessed these community-led actions lead to success, are willing to engage and make policy decisions that can have a wider impact.

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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.

Earlier in the day, I had listened to Carmen Medina talk about the “Mediocrity Trap” and how often organizations, wittingly or unwittingly, are co-conspirators in maintaining mediocrity as the status quo. As Scott William put it, "if BETTER is within your reach and you choose to settle for less, you are settling for mediocrity." 

Mansfield definitely deserves “BETTER”.

Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. And watch for more blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.

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."

South by Southwest Conference Blogger

Planner and Executive Director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission. The Commission seeks to guide the growth within the region along a sustainable and resilient path with a focus on multi-modal transportation and smart land-use policies.