Active Design Inspires Healthy Changes in Ohio

When Karyl Price enlisted the Center for Active Design (the Center) to design and facilitate a day-long workshop, she was ready to inspire change in the City of Mansfield and Richland County, Ohio. As the project coordinator for the Creating Healthy Communities grant at Richland Public Health (RPH), she was well aware of the built environment’s impact on health outcomes, and wanted to explore how active transportation initiatives could help reverse the county’s negative health trends. The workshop, which took place in April 2015, has generated tremendous impact in a very short period of time. According to Price, “It provided an opportunity to create a unified vision for our community, forge stronger working relationships, and move key projects forward.”

From the outset, Price and her colleagues at RPH understood the many constraints faced by this largely rural, economically challenged county, which has one of the highest rates of adult obesity in the state on Ohio. They also recognized that the community was poised for transformation, with a growing alliance of stakeholders seeking to garner support from public leaders and community members. If the Active Design workshop could foster a collective vision for a healthier, more prosperous community, then Mansfield and Richland County would motivate toward implementation.

On April 16, the Center facilitated a day-long workshop known as Active Design: Redefining Richland. The event convened nearly 50 community stakeholders and local experts from a range of backgrounds to discuss how Active Design could position the county as a vibrant, active, and attractive place to live and work. Following a keynote presentation that emphasized active transportation strategies, participants engaged in a range of hands-on activities – mapping community health assets, designing complete streets, and conducting neighborhood walking audits. These participatory exercises had impact: post-workshop feedback indicated that 96% of respondents learned something new that would influence their professional or personal lives.

By the end of the day, a collective vision was emerging. The Center distilled these priorities into a workshop report and advocacy tool that outlined Richland County’s overarching goals and strategies. The report identified places to target, partners to engage, and tactical recommendations to support implementation.

Within three months of the workshop, successes are already unfolding:

  • On June 16, Mansfield City Council approved legislation for the installation of a 5.7-mile Inner City Bike Loop. Developed with input from bicycle advocates and planners, the route connects places of employment, parks, schools, shops, restaurants, the public library, and other downtown attractions. Funding for signage, stencils, and paint will be covered by a Communities Preventing Chronic Disease grant; volunteers from the Ohio Contractors Association will work with the City to complete construction.
  • Richland Moves!, the local bicycle advocacy organization, created a Bike Parking Program with funding from RPH to help local businesses install bike racks.
  • Richland County’s Regional Planning Commission completed their 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan Update, which includes several Active Design goals that support walking, biking, and transit – such as developing a countywide Complete Streets Policy, and a countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
  • The Richland County Land Conservancy, RPH, Boy Scouts of America, and other partners are working to complete a new 6.5-mile hiking trail in southern Richland County. The trail will connect key community assets including the B&O multi-use trail, Malabar Farm, and Mohican State Park.
  • RPH has been invited to provide input on plans for a new campus district for the local branch of Ohio State University. Healthy design will be a priority, with emphasis on walking, biking, and other physical activity opportunities.

Active Design: Redefining Richland helped build community pride and advance project momentum. “It was encouraging to receive the Center’s positive impressions of our community, while thinking strategically about the next steps we can take to create a more active, healthy and vibrant place to work and live. The excitement and feedback from the workshop continues to move around our county,” says Price. “Thanks again for all that you did to make this great experience a reality for us.”

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    Workshop participants engaged in a mapping activity that helped to identify community health assets.
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    A complete streets activity challenged participants to re-envision familiar streetscapes to be more inclusive of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit.
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    Participants found a lot of excess parking in Downtown Mansfield (pictured above) during the community walk audit.