Top

Unique place making: How Ohio should approach the revitalization of its vacant properties

Written by Ryan Dittoe, previous GOPC Intern

Defining a place is a necessary component for recognition and navigation. But unique characteristics that infiltrate an environment lead to an overarching identity of that space, and unique spaces promote cities with substance and life.  As an Ohio State University City and Regional Planning student, I am heavily influenced by the idea of making cities look unlike any other. This can begin with small pockets of creative urban development that together construct whole cities with exclusive personalities. Realizing setbacks, color schemes, historical value, transportation modes, walkability, permeability, and other living aspects of a place and how these functions work together ensure its continual success.

Ohio’s vacant properties require attention to detail. Recently I visited Detroit and listened to a presentation given by Detroit Works. They explained the value of creating revitalized, useful areas through public participatory design (that is, encouraging citizens to share ideas about what they would like to see in any given area that is the focus of revitalization or redesign), implementing a framework of ideas for progress to be initiated, and thinking beyond the normal scope of city planning for a unique design that breathes individuality into a space. An example of this plan in action is the open-air art Heidelberg Project, located near southeast Detroit. A public artist transformed this neglected area into a block-wide sculpture site encouraging residents to visit and experience their city through a different perspective. Projects like this one can provide a multitude of starter ideas for neighboring cities, including Columbus, to uniquely develop their invaluable public spaces. Keep in mind that it is crucial not to “copy” another city’s projects, but to strive for uncommon attributes.

Every city needs attractive “third places.” These are locations you visit outside home and work to interact with your family, friends, or colleagues in a more relaxed manner.  Incorporating these design pockets into the city offers a functional location for socialization. Ohio’s vacant lots (especially those right here in Columbus) might serve well as third places for existing residential and commercial infrastructure. Creating mixed use buildings with permeable human scale faces will attract patrons that are already visiting the area. Creating safe sidewalks, complete streets, attractive storefronts, public seating with lights, landscaping and other vital aspects of a lively city block will engage passersby and stimulate a city’s reputation. Bring back vitality to blighted spaces and allow their energy to be recreated into something useful and noteworthy. Realize that problems are just an opportunity for improvement and prosperity.