What’s next? You could decide with community campaign

Thursday night on Main Street, volunteers set up a large chalkboard and encouraged all passers-by to come and write on it their ideas for the future of the Columbia area. It’s a simple enough concept, but organizers say what makes it exciting is that some of these ideas will become reality.

What's next for Columbia? Your answer could be the right one (photo by Allen Wallace).

What’s next for Columbia? Your answer could be the right one. (photo by Allen Wallace)

“We are taking this directly to the people, and those ideas that the people want, that’s what we’re going to do,” said David Laird. Laird is director of community impact for the Central Carolina Community Foundation, one of the partners in What’s Next Midlands.

What’s Next Midlands is a program organized by Engenuity SC and Columbia Opportunity Resource along with the Foundation and supported by hundreds of volunteers.

The goal is to generate by Feb. 19 1,000 ideas for making Columbia a better place to live, but collecting the ideas is only the beginning.

“Rather than just collecting the ideas, we want to turn the ideas into action,” Laird said. The What’s Next team will choose two of the ideas by early March, based on how many people express support for them. Those ideas are expected to be implemented by June.

“It falls into our concept of what a connected community is,” Laird said.

A grant from the Foundation will help make the ideas happen.

The ideas have started to flow in. Thursday night’s visitors made suggestions, including  bringing back minor league hockey, improving outdoor lighting in hospitality areas, restoring riverside paths, improving walkability and launching a jazz festival.

Laird said other cities have had similar programs but without the ability to immediately act.

“This could be the first time in the nation where idea generation has turned into an action activator and maintained in the future as well,” he said. “This further shows the excitement and the energy of what’s happening in Columbia right now.”

What’s Next is looking for ideas from everyone, and volunteers will be at community events including the weekly Soda City Market on Main Street. Those interested can also submit ideas online.

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