sxsw group photo

The Richland County Foundation sent 15 people to the SXSW conference in Austin, TX in March. 

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.

Over the past few weeks, I have been approached by people in the community who ask about the progress of the #SXSW419 plan for downtown since they have not heard anything for a while.

There has been a lot happening (see Allie Watson’s recent blog on sausage making) and as we near a proposed plan to present to the Richland County Foundation Board of Trustees, we thought it was time to provide some updates.

Jodie Perry

Since attending the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas to bring back ideas for Richland County, we gathered input and ideas from the general public during the “Listening Tour,” and then we sat down as a group to draft guiding principles to serve as an important backbone to our discussions and to the plan.

The 15 SXSW travelers plus our 26 advisers were involved in this discussion. In the end we came up with four guiding principles:

  1. Downtown is everyone’s neighborhood

  2. Big city amenities with small town feel

  3. Sustainable change occurs incrementally, not overnight

  4. Placemaking is economic development

Let me try to break those down a bit for you. I’m going to share the first two today, and then the second two in another blog, which will publish soon.

Downtown is everyone’s neighborhood

This one has a few ideas packed into it.

First, we want to continue to nurture and develop a place where everyone feels they belong. Diversity and inclusion were big themes at the SXSW conference, and we have incorporated it into our project.

During the listening phase, we discovered some challenges and opportunities in this area that we’re talking through now.

Secondly, many people think of downtown Mansfield as their downtown even if they live in other communities throughout the county. Whether it's coming to a Final Friday Concert, grabbing a coffee at Relax or taking the kids to the Little Buckeye Children’s Museum, when people think of positive experiences they thought of it as “their downtown” even if they lived elsewhere.

We want to encourage that feeling and ensure that the improvements to downtown could benefit the whole county. (A note here: We are not trying to take away or override the downtown districts in Shelby, Lexington or Bellville. We think they can all grow and flourish.)

Big-city amenities with small-town feel

We are incredibly blessed with the size of our downtown. It’s large enough to have several distinct districts (i.e. Carrousel, Central Park) where you can have a different vibe and experience. Yet it’s also small enough to feel familiar and be walkable.

We know that downtown is in the midst of a transformation. It already has many big city amenities such as places for kids, entertainment venues, food and drink options, and a selection of unique retail stores. And we know that more changes are on the horizon.

As we grow we feel it is important not to lose our small town roots like greeting people you see on the street, businesses that support each other, local developers who invest in the area and a feeling of safety and livability.

Hopefully you are nodding along as you read this. I will talk about the other two guiding principles in a second blog post.  

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South by Southwest Conference Blogger

President & CEO of the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce and Richland Community Development Group and a proud Ashland University alum who grew up in upstate NY. She is a collaborator at heart and is invigorated by the teeming potential for the area.