MANSFIELD -- In Mansfield and Ashland, over 100 people gathered over two nights last week to discuss the future of their communities.
The events drew local elected officials, journalists, and everyday people to discuss questions including: What does a community look like where people are happy and live fulfilled lives? What would you change about your community to move in the direction of happy and fulfilled lives? And what are the assets of the community that can be applied to making change?
To host the conversations, Your Voice Ohio teamed up with local news organizations the Richland Source, Ashland Source, and the Collegian from Ashland University.
In Mansfield, almost 80 residents gathered to talk about how to make the community a vibrant place for everyone. Their ideas included:
Jobs with living wages
Visionary and accountable leadership
Investment in all types of education
A senior center
Lee Tasseff, president of Destination Mansfield-Richland County, told the Richland Source, “Everyone was friendly and eager to share like next-door neighbors. I was pleasantly surprised how many times someone presenting from another group said something one or more of those at my tables had brought up.”
Like many Ohio communities, residents expressed concern about emphasis on college at the expense of skilled jobs, such as construction trades. They also identified affordable education for all ages as an important factor in improving life.
A unique concern in Mansfield was that of cleanliness. There were multiple references to trash, uneven sidewalks, graffiti and poorly maintained buildings. Residents noted that the city does not negotiate on behalf of residents to secure one waste hauler. Several companies have individual contracts with residents and there may be curbside trash on the street every day of the week.
Several participants recommended a spring cleaning that would allow residents to discard materials in yards and volunteer groups that would take responsibility for streets and neighborhoods.
The uneven sidewalks were identified as both an eyesore and impediment to community walkability, especially to people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, in Ashland, 34 area residents discussed community engagement, infrastructure, community gardens, and the importance of helping young people. When they moved to actions that could be taken to achieve those ideas, participants wanted to see:
Better youth mentoring
Public meetings at different times to increase community involvement
Revisit and update community zoning laws, neighborhood infrastructure improvements and space for new housing.
Mayor Matt Miller told the Ashland Source, “And the good news is, when the groups reported out and voted (on top issues), almost everyone was on the same page about what our priorities need to be and what it takes to make our communities strong and vibrant.”
Like most communities involved in the Your Voice Ohio pre-election conversations, there was a deep interest in building relationships through engagement and problem-solving, creating safe neighborhoods for people, affordable housing, access to food and jobs with livable wages.
As they considered the actions they thought most effective to making the community a better place, families and children were the focal point. Action plans were church-centered, with church-sponsored youth mentoring and family support. Among the organizations often cited as doing good work was the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Center.
Another need articulated in Ashland and Mansfield but not heard often elsewhere was services for people who work night shifts. Participants said the communities need public transportation and child care for evenings and nights.
The Ashland Source and Richland Source, co-sponsors of the listening sessions, are news organizations that make solutions integral to their coverage.
Editors and reporters said they are analyzing the conversations and thinking about stories they might pursue to help illuminate solutions and action plans for their communities.