Cities Look to DAAP Planning Studios to Help Revitalize Urban Areas
Contact: Brandi Lewis
By: Laura Cook Kroeger
Photos provided by 3CDC and DAAP archive
As tourists and locals arrived in Cincinnati to view the new multi-evening Blink lights and arts festival, they saw more than just a new take on 20 blocks of downtown’s historic architecture. They traveled through urban spaces that have been transformed due to the ideas and work of University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning’s urban planning and horticulture students.
Findlay Market. Washington Park. Midtown Cincinnati. The impact of DAAP’s budding planning professionals has even spread outside the city to places such as Georgetown and Paris, Kentucky, demonstrating the planning school’s growing regional role as an authority on urban issues.
“In the past year we have received correspondences from local cities requesting our students’ help in revitalizing their communities and public spaces,” reveals Dr. Danilo Palazzo, Director of the School of Planning. “When I meet with the city leaders I make sure they know that our first goal is to educate our students as planners. The project must be a good fit. If our goals match, then it is a win-win for everyone. Our students work with real community leaders on real projects. The cities receive fresh, visionary ideas from students who are well-versed on research, city codes, sustainability and every other element contributing to designing livable spaces.”
That’s what happened with Georgetown, Kentucky, where a studio created proposals for new downtown development, designs for streetscape and parks improvements, and design guidelines for historic preservation. The studio project has resonated with local residents, and won the 2017 American Planning Association (APA) Ohio award for best student project in September. In Paris, Kentucky, students started working this semester with city and county officials and other stakeholders to plan and design for the revitalization of this small city’s central area. Their mission: to leverage Paris’ great bone structure of existing buildings and public spaces to boost economic development, quality of life and tourism.
Perhaps some of the most visible projects have occurred in the area between Cincinnati’s Fountain Square and the historic Over-the-Rhine (OTR) area, believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the U.S. Few have witnessed the DAAP impact more than Adam Gelter, Executive Vice President, Development, for the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). Gelter, a 2006 DAAP graduate, actually launched his professional career as a co-op with 3CDC in 2005. He rose up the ranks of the esteemed organization that is credited with leading the transformation of OTR.
“We now have eight staff members who began as interns/co-ops so we believe in providing real world experiences to students,” Adam explains with conviction. “We collaborate to give them the experience they’d get working in any urban core environment. Their ideas are respected and listened to. Using some of their ideas, 3CDC has been able to make a true difference and change the landscape of downtown and OTR.
“I want to make sure that DAAP students don’t just contribute dreams to transform a community, but that they work with empowered community leaders who can ensure that those ideas are implemented.”
The projects are substantial.
One was the revitalization of the area south of 7th Street in downtown Cincinnati to OTR. Students in this studio collected area data and thoroughly understood the use of all structures and their historical significance. They collaborated with the community to clearly hear the visions of residents, business owners, public officials and 3CDC itself, a very active partner. Challenges were abundant. First off was dealing with a busy multi-lane Central Parkway that one must carefully navigate in order to walk between Midtown and OTR. The area is plagued by vacant storefronts. A diverse population includes a sudden influx of young professionals moving into established neighborhoods where many longtime residents are economically challenged.
Dr. Palazzo and Neda Mohsenian-Rad served as the instructors. “These students could tell you the level of home occupancy, population demographics, household income, transit options, parking usage, property value and pinpoint crime rates right down to the nature, frequency and streets,” cites a proud Dr. Palazzo.
The dedicated students contributed ideas for sidewalk design, designated public spaces to host activities, streetscape design and ways to re-imagine surface parking lots to be multi-functional. Their vision encompassed connectivity, sustainability and quest for a green corridor/eco-district. They also suggested programming to promote community vibrancy. What about some festivals? An art day? New storefronts to boost merchant foot traffic?
Gelter also enjoyed working with DAAP students on one of the more challenging projects. The downtown Cincinnati Public Library decided to consolidate services from two buildings into one. That studio was tasked not only with ideas on building usage, but best use of the surrounding area.
“We had eight different groups come up with ideas that were tremendous,” Gelter recalls. “Right away they asked, ’how can this connect with the community? How can the area be safer and more inviting? Can the remaining building house non-profits or startups? Can we develop the building and exterior into a public space to meet the needs to the neighborhood?’ The ideas were just what we needed to jumpstart the project.”
Aesthetics, innovation and engagement also carried over to the students’ work with Findlay Market. Its President and CEO, Joe Hansbauer, is a DAAP fan.
He recalls, “I got connected to Professor Michael Zaretsky (Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Curriculum) 2 ½ years ago and started to discuss building the surrounding community. First, we had a 4 ½ block street that was pretty run down. It could be the route we needed to connect our historic Findlay Market to the explosively popular Washington Park adjacent to Music Hall. Called Pleasant Street, we needed to make it pleasant physically and metaphorically. One block had brand new condos, another block was boarded up. It’s essentially a microcosm of OTR—a combination of new urbanites mixed with long-time residents. Once they understood the context, could the DAAP students help us with ideas to reach out to the entire neighborhood?
“We brought them on board for community outreach. They got input from all the neighbors. We ended up building a parklet on Pleasant at Green Street. It’s a public gathering spot with a few park benches. You can eat lunch there. Ideas abounded for lighting and streetscaping the now famous street.”
Remember the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Cincinnati? DAAP students built a “Field of Greens” on Pleasant Street. They planted tomatoes and herbs for the community and designed a pop up whiffle ball field.
Hansbauer also worked with Associate Professor Joseph Girandola, DAAP’s coordinator of the Graduate Programs in Art Education, Art History and Fine Arts. His public art and space class would be perfect to collaborate with the planning students on the possible placement of murals and other art installations. Joe may also soon seek UC marketing students for Findlay Market’s newest programs.
“Our collaboration is a real hallmark for using DAAP,” Hansbauer believes. “We understand the benefits of using students. You get a lot of creative ideas. You see the market through their eyes, a fresh perspective. I also realize that you get back what you are willing to put into it. They are students. They need direction. You are working with students who are eager and ready to get real world experience. And quite frankly, as we fund these classes, it’s cheaper than hiring an outside professional firm.”
Next for Findlay Market? Using DAAP students for ideas on shaded outdoor seating and an enclosure for their year round market shed.
The Findlay Market area isn’t the only place where students have made an impact on restoring vacant lots into vibrant, usable spaces. Vacant Lots: Occupied is a comprehensive community-based workshop series and toolkit designed to help communities and neighborhood organizations strategically restore and enhance vacant lots into socially, culturally and environmentally responsible community assets. The course is headed by Instructor Ryan Geismar and Professor and Master of Landscape Architecture Coordinator Virginia Russell. It is presented in an interdisciplinary charrette format geared toward Community Planning, Architecture, and Horticulture students who work with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, community members in East, West, and Lower Price Hill, and allied professionals to envision the best and highest use of vacant lots in these neighborhoods. Course work culminates in the creation of a design brief which the students share with their respective neighborhood representatives and submit as the final project for the course. Funding and other support come from UC Forward, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, Building Value, and Lawn Life.
As an alumnus and fan of the Department of Planning, Gelter is willing to connect the students with other communities. “I’m thinking what a help they can be to Walnut Hills, Avondale, Lincoln Heights and beyond.”
Gelter has ended up being rather prophetic. In the 2018 spring semester the School of Planning will work with Lincoln Heights, New Richmond and Ripley, Ohio, and Augusta, Kentucky.
Who knows? Maybe the students will end up assuming professional positions and staying over a decade like Gelter has done with 3CDC.