I hope you made it out to the Renaissance Theatre last Thursday for the public forum. If not, you missed a spectacular event.

The 15 of us who went to SXSW were joined by a moderator, Cody Albert (who also attended SXSW, albeit under different auspices), on the Renaissance stage to talk about our experience in Austin, Texas, our take-aways, and what lies ahead.

Each of us had an opportunity to talk about the topics that resonated most with us from the conference. Topics ranged from the importance of public pools to livability to technology to active transportation. For me, the most intriguing topic is walkability.

What makes a city walkable? Is it the infrastructure? Is it cleanliness? Is it density? Is it having a destination? These are some of the questions I struggled with. And before going to SXSW, I would have answered a resounding ‘yes’ to all of these.

I have spent a fair amount of time riding my bike and walking around the city of Mansfield. Sometimes for recreation. But usually as transportation. As such, I would have thought I had a pretty good grasp on the deficiencies that hinder walkability in Mansfield. But the sorry state of the sidewalks around town (where they even exist), the litter, and the sprawl, while problematic, are not the root of the problem.

Having a sense of destination can certainly overcome some of these deficiencies. But relying on having a destination falls well short of what makes a place truly walkable. It does not account for the wanderer. The explorer. These are the people that really test the walkability of the city.

How do we make provisions for the person who wants to take in our city and all it has to offer? We can certainly start with improving our infrastructure. But we must not stop there. We must work to create and sustain a strong sense of place.

To do so we must start to consider if Mansfield is a visually interesting place. Is there something to catch the eye and capture the imagination at every turn? Something to give us pause and elicit a sense of wonder about the city we live in?

For this we need to think beyond the utilitarian and to embrace the beautiful. Can a sidewalk be more than a sidewalk? Can our infrastructure incorporate or even be art?

But even novelty can wear off after a while. Residents can start to take things for granted and cease to be inspired by what they see every day. How do we perpetuate a sense of wonder? Do we embrace change, or are we clinging to the static?

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