It was a cold December day, 20 years ago. The plane had landed on the tarmac of JFK airport an hour ago and now I stood nervously, clutching my passport tightly, waiting to be signaled by the immigration officer to his window.
When it was my turn at the window, the officer sternly asked me why I was in the United States? I am sure I gave him a half-intelligent answer because he stamped my passport and waved me in. But thinking back to that moment, I realize that the right answer would have been to “pave new roads for myself.”
Because that was what I had set out to do. To leave the comfort of my home country and to come to a foreign land, to build a life for myself among strangers. And the journey that began that day, brought me to Mansfield three years later, where I have chosen to stay and raise my family, nurture friendships, educate my children and find my tribe.
I am sure all of you can look back and remember some moment where you decided to pave your own road. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“Do not go where the path may lead, but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
The same can be said for a city. Often longtime residents who have been witness to the glory days, are bitter and disillusioned by the present version of their city. I bet you have heard someone say “There’s nothing in Mansfield anymore.” And, I find myself confounded by this attitude. Why do we feel that we are not worthy? That Mansfield has nothing to offer: not to its residents or to outsiders. That the glory days that made Mansfield a shining star are behind us.
But then I am comforted by the dozens of examples I witness around me of residents who have chosen instead to go down a new path: of entrepreneurs willing to take a risk and invest in our community… their dreams, their hard earned money, their blood, sweat, and tears, of community leaders and nonprofit organizations who seek to move the needle, with out of the box solutions like the SXSW419 project. We are fortunate that we are home to news organizations that believe in solutions journalism and not just on the gloom and doom stories about our City.
To reflect on the progress we’ve made and to continue to shift away from the mindsets that can limit us in terms of what we can accomplish in creating the “City we want to live in”, I want to share three mindful actions we can support to accelerate this rebirth.
Advocate for your City and feel the pride
Too often we assume others should just know what we want and provide the solutions to our problems or issues. But relying on outside sources can lead to resentment and frustration. We know our worth, we know what we can be as a city and a community.
Let us take pride and be brave and deliberate in our actions. Community-based investment, in fact, has the greatest chance for success because ownership translates to pride. Let us proclaim loudly and often that we are #MansfieldProud and #RichlandRocks .
Commit to a plan but write in pencil
If you don’t know where you want to go, you can find yourself “cruising around.” The fact is unless we have a vision for what we want our City to be, it’s easy to find ourselves falling down the path of least resistance.
That said, as important as a well laid out plan can be, it’s important to be flexible in applying it. Margie Warrell in Stop Playing Safe says to, “Write your plan, but use a pencil.” Conditions and economies are constantly changing – with opportunities presenting themselves out of left field when least expected and obstacles tripping us when we are near the finish line.
The future is unknowable but we can shape it if we can set direction and know where we are headed…and we need to be ready to make the needed detours from the linear path to reach our destination.
Risk failing more often
Many factors—whether a large employer leaving town, disinvestment, or simply not managing resources can have devastating results on a city—the most important thing is to not let it define us. Failure is not fatal; it’s how we process it that can be dream killer. It is important to heal and repair but then to take risks. When the Carousel idea was proposed for downtown, it was ridiculed. It took committed believers to sustain the belief and take a risk. It is said if you’re never failing, you’re playing too safe. We discount the cost of inaction in the long run.
Our City is on the mend… the tide has begun to turn… people are sharing the same narrative… thanks in no small part to the increasing number of passionate citizens driving change by paving new roads…
And, for me personally, that is an inspiration and I hope it will be for you too. It is inspiring to meet people every day in this community whose focus is on shaping our City’s collective future and I am committed to being part of it.
Jotika Shetty moved from India to pursue a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at the Ohio State University with a brief layover in New York City. This journey has happily culminated for her, here in Mansfield, a community she has loved to call home for the past eighteen years. She has been at her current position as the Executive Director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission for the past four years. She is committed to the vision of a robust and resilient Richland County with a thriving metropolitan Mansfield.