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Master Planning Effort to Transform Near East Side Neighborhoods

Walker Evans Walker Evans Master Planning Effort to Transform Near East Side Neighborhoods
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More than two years ago, a group of civic leaders announced a $10 million pledge from The Ohio State University to invest in neighborhood revitalization efforts surrounding the OSU Hospital East, located on Taylor Avenue. At that time, little detail was provided as to how that money would be spent or what it could be used for.

To better understand the needs of the neighborhood, a master planning effort was then started through a partnership between OSU, The City of Columbus and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority. The effort was dubbed Partners Achieving Community Transformation and, thusly, PACT was born.

“Collectively, these partners are working to enhance the Near East Side by creating a more vibrant community,” says PACT Executive Director Dawn Tyler Lee. “The five main areas where we focus includes jobs and economic impact, neighborhood safety, health and wellness, education and housing.”

Following the formation of PACT, a wide collection of more than 100 neighborhood stakeholders were assembled to take part on topical subcommittees. Stakeholders include neighborhood residents, churchgoers, employees, neighborhood associations, business associations, social service providers, nonprofits and representatives from various other groups.

“These subcommittees have been tasked with identifying transformative ideas to be considered for inclusion in our final blueprint,” Tyler Lee says.

Those ideas may take shape throughout any part of the focus area of PACT, which is bounded by Broad Street to the south, Interstate 670 to the north, Interstate 71 to the west and Woodland Avenue to the east. This area includes 800 acres of land, three census tracts and multiple neighborhoods, including The King Lincoln District, Mount Vernon and a portion of Woodland Park. It’s a very large geographical area, but Tyler Lee doesn’t see that factor as potentially diluting this effort.

“When the partnership was initially established, we wrestled with what the boundaries of the focus area should be,” she explains. “While it is large area, there is great continuity here. We anticipate that different stakeholders involved will each take on smaller projects within the larger area.”

To assist with the planning effort, PACT has enlisted the help of Boston-based Goody Clancy, a planning firm that is no stranger to Columbus neighborhoods. This company has assisted with plans in Weinland Park, Dublin and, most recently, an ongoing plan for East Franklinton.

“What makes the Near East Side unique is its history, without a doubt,” says Steve Kearney, senior planner with Goody Clancy. “There is important African-American history here, and the character of the houses and buildings is really important from our perspective.”

Equally important is addressing the desire to bring new residents to this area without displacing existing residents.

“We’ve challenged our planning team with providing opportunities for existing neighbors to continue to be a part of the community while creating opportunities for new families to move in,” Tyler Lee says. “We’ve consulted with them on similar projects across the nation to make sure we’re using the right tools and resources to make sure that existing residents are not pushed out or priced out.”

Kearney also sees this effort as one that is unique because of the approach that PACT has taken from day one.

“Previously, planning efforts like these focus on urban and physical form first,” he explains. “With this planning effort, we’re looking first and foremost at quality of life. We’re asking first how the quality of life for residents can improve, and secondly how the physical environment can then support those ideas.”

Kearney says that this methodology means placing a priority on educational programs in neighborhood schools, improving health care access within the  area and other similar fundamental goals.

This evening, PACT is hosting an open house event where members of the community can share their thoughts and ideas on neighborhood transformation.

“The format of tonight’s event doesn’t include a formal presentation or program,” Tyler Lee says. “It is set up so that people can stop in at any time and approach different tables with different focus areas and have a chance to engage subcommittee members one-on-one.”

The PACT Community Open House is just one way to get involved in this initiative. Other events will take place throughout the summer where additional input can be gathered from the community.

The various PACT subcommittees will present draft versions of their ideas in June, which will set the priorities for Goody Clancy as they complete their consulting work. A final draft of the plan is expected at the end of 2012.

“This is truly a community planning process,” Tyler Lee says. “When this plan is completed, we really want everyone involved to feel that they had a hand in helping to shape it and can be proud of the work that comes forward through the implementation of the plan in the years to come.”

The PACT Community Open House takes place tonight, May 15 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Beatty Recreation Center, located at 247 North Ohio Ave. Click here for more event information.

More information about PACT can be found at www.eastpact.org.

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