2018 All-America City Finalist - Columbia, SC

Application Summary for the All-America City Awards:

Columbia elected its first African-American mayor, Steve Benjamin, in 2010 and has continued its string of success stories.

His efforts have led to the Columbia Police Department’s 21st Century Policing Initiative; a strong rebound from the historic and devastating floods of 2015; and the development of the Bull Street property, beginning with the opening of Spirit Communications Park minor-league baseball stadium in 2016.

To help ensure equitable access to economic opportunities, a Disparity Study was conducted in 2006 by the City of Columbia to determine the needs of a minority and women-owned business enterprise program. The study found that minority and women-based business enterprises were substantially underutilized in prime contracting and subcontracting in most procurements in construction, architecture and engineering consultants, professional services, goods and supplies, and other services. A minority and women-owned business enterprise program was established with additional initiatives such as the Minority Business Advisory Council, Subcontract Outreach Program, and the Mentor Protégé Program.


Three project examples showing how this community leverages civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues:

 

1.) Police
Over the past three years, the Columbia Police Department has begun instituting the pillars of the 21st Century Policing Report. To build trust and legitimacy with the community, they have increased non-enforcement activities like Food Truck Fridays, Cops and Barbershops initiative, Front Porch Roll Call, Beyond the Badge and have also purchased an ice cream truck to deliver treats to neighborhood children during summer months.

To help acclimate newly sworn in officers into the community, each officer participates in the Beyond the Badge program. The first week on the job is filled with volunteer activities such as going to the local food bank, hospital, and Meals on Wheels.

The Front Porch Roll Call program began under a different name with citizens from the North Region of the city invited to attend designated nightly roll calls at regional headquarters, but the police found that citizens were reluctant to attend the meetings. When the police chief returned from a conference, he announced that the roll calls would be hosted by the citizens. He introduced the weekly Front Porch Roll Call in all regions of the city. The Roll Calls also serve as a small block party with food and lawn games. After socializing, 10 officers gather in the driveway of a Roll Call host and conduct nightly pre-shift roll call for the Columbia Police Department. Per the nightly routine, at 6:30 uniforms and equipment are casually checked and recent reported crimes in the area are discussed. Then each officer introduces himself or herself to the neighbors and takes questions.

More information: Front Porch Roll Call

 

2.) Flooding
During the first five days of October 2015, an offshore front combined with deep tropical moisture on the mainland caused a storm to stall over the Midlands area of South Carolina. Parts of Columbia experienced rainfall that exceeded previously unthinkable levels. In Columbia, where 3 ½ feet of rain falls annually, more than two feet fell in a 48-hour period. More than a dozen lives were lost in the flooding and its aftermath.

Most of the major and severe damage to housing occurred along the banks. Hundreds of city residents, including many in low-to-moderate income households, were forced to abandon their homes. Many houses were isolated for days because more than 100 streets were closed, blocked or impassable.

Extensive damage was caused to bridges, roads, homes and businesses. Dams were breached throughout the Midlands area; 20 waterlines broke, and the Columbia Canal was breached. As a result, engineers set up 15 bypass pumps to move water from the river to the water plant, thus maintaining a supply of water to the city. The canal fed water to five hospitals, 200,000 residents in the downtown Columbia area, the University of South Carolina, Benedict College, Allen University and numerous state facilities.

Columbia has worked together to re-create their vibrant city after the flood damage. Additionally, more than $18 million was needed for repair work on city water, sewer, storm water and road infrastructure. About 75 percent of the repair work was completed by the end of 2017.

 

3.) Ballpark
A night at the ballpark is now a centerpiece of entertainment in Columbia. A largely abandoned 181-acre site just off the city’s downtown district, that once housed the South Carolina State Hospital, is now home to the Bull Street Redevelopment Project. A 20-acre park is under construction on the property. Already up and running is the Bull Street Technology Village, the project’s first co-working space run by Columbia-based SOCO and home to several startup companies. It is the largest project of its kind east of the Mississippi River and includes the Spirit Communication Ballpark.

Beyond baseball games, the park hosted 113 other events in 2016 and another 136 in 2017. The field was designed to allow for a football field and high school games were played there both years. Other events included the Mayor’s Extravaganza Easter Egg Hunt, a Night of Praise, a Food Truck Rally, the Fireflies Breakfast with Santa, a Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the Palmetto Health Foundation Walk for Life, the Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon, as well as weddings, rehearsal dinners, birthday parties, reunions and civic group meetings. In all, more than 50,000 attended non-baseball events each of the first two years of the ballpark’s operation.

The Columbia Fireflies call the ballpark home, and the professional baseball franchise has given back to the community through the Reading Program, an incentive-based literacy initiative presented by Columbia’s Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital and recognized as being outstanding in 2017 by the American Association of School Librarians.

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