Members of the Strong Towns movement are impressed by Oxford MS.
Oxford MS City Council Building, Wikimedia Commons
This year, the competition was thrown a curveball in the form of Covid-19.
It's changed the way we interact on a day-to-day basis and presented a major challenge for the participant communities.
Our home towns are our havens. We go there to seek stability and expect them to be a source of prosperity and security.
Our social and commercial interaction occurs mainly within this hub. We play, support each other, and access services such as healthcare and education there.
Our home bases have grown in ways that have made them more economically fragile over the past decades.
With COVID-19, we’re experiencing what happens when that fragility is tested.
Local leaders are on the front lines, facing head-on the challenges of our time.
They worked hard to make it possible for people to get outdoors safely during the pandemic.
Serving Oxford Safely is a multi-phase plan developed by the City.
It focuses on recovering the economy, assisting essential businesses with requirements to let them stay open in order to serve the community safely.
They created 'streateries, expanded seating capacity to assist local restaurants in servicing more customers.
Special amendments were made to the sidewalk ordinances to allow the spaces to exist.
They allowed them to use sidewalks, parking stalls, and public right-of-ways to create outdoor dining areas. These outdoor dining areas have been so successful that the City is now proposing to modify a local street to make this a permanent reality.
Small businesses were also offered the use of parking spaces for curbside pick-up.
Traditional events were revamped. The 4th of July fireworks celebration, Summer concerts in the Grove, and The Double Decker Arts Festival were moved to expanded areas. Some were hosted virtually and some were set up so they could be attended in cars.
Small concerts were held at various places throughout the city allowed for small crowds to participate in live music.
Life changed in Oxford, but the work done by the City allowed people to maintain their quality of life while remaining safe.
The Chamber kept in touch with the needs of the business community by calling them to talk about their needs.
They revamped websites to offer updated information concerning the pandemic from the local and state-level governments.
They also sent out surveys to gather information about financial needs and potential loan participation.
There were regular video updates from the Mayor to make citizens aware of the current concerns and rules that were in place.
A remote working program was launched by the Economic Development Foundation (EDF) to assist displaced workers with finding jobs that allowed them to work from home.
There was funding for co-working spaces to provide pandemic safe alterations to their areas.
The City addressed challenges identified as barriers to businesses.
For example, all temporary sign requirements were halted suspended so businesses could install banners and other temporary signs for customers.
The City held all of its meetings virtually so that no public meetings throughout the pandemic were missed.
Oxford MS continues to track progress during the pandemic, using tax collection and budget shortfalls expected going forward
The Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation measures its economic development success based on specific criteria.
- County population
- Total job growth
- Manufacturing job growth
- Total assessed value of the County
- Average annual wage
- Personal per capita income
- Retail sales growth
That's one way to report success but it can also pinpoint areas in need during a crisis.
This allows the City to discover trends and make changes to support businesses and the community during this time.
One thing that stands out for Oxford, Mississippi is the true sense of community found there.
It's rare to find a community where citizens openly demonstrate a true pride of their town.
Oxford is a small city in Northern Mississippi and its citizens are genuinely proud to live here.
The inclusion of all community members and visitors is an important factor when the City considers making changes to services. It's built into everything that makes Oxford special.
A special commission on Disability Issues keeps the Mayor up to date on disability-related access and inclusion issues within the City of Oxford.
They ask all residential builders and developers to follow the 7 Principles of Universal Design. That's a system that encourages design for access by all regardless of ability or disability.
The Oxford-University Transit system (OUT) serves as the public transportation system for the City of Oxford and the University of Mississippi.
"OUT connects Oxford through a comprehensive bus transit network. With an annual ridership of 1.5 million passengers, OUT is the most utilized transit system in Mississippi. By helping students get to class and Oxonians access the city, OUT has become an integral part of the Oxford transportation network."
Continuing to follow the principles of the Strong Towns philosophy, the City of Oxford has been committed to providing public transit and active transportation alternatives in the community.
These alternatives include multi-use pathways designed and created by the Pathways Commission, which was established by the City of Oxford Mayor and Board of Aldermen. The main focus or idea for the Commission was to diversify and increase transportation and recreation opportunities throughout the community.
All developers are now required to complete a Complete Streets plan that shows how their development will affect traffic. It also requires them to show how a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a transit user can travel to and from their development.
That's helped with the growth pressures Oxford has been experiencing.
People are happy to live in this city. You can see it in the pride of place shown by keeping the city clean.
A video series was developed by the Chamber of Commerce where individuals and businesses talked about what they loved about Oxford.
It's like living in a small town, with the closeness you would expect there, but with the advantage of many new citizens moving here.
Oxford has a population of approximately 25,000, according to the census, at any given moment there can be 150,000 people in town because of the University of Mississippi and events held on campus or in town.
The city grows, but the small town culture remains the same.