Organizers of the effort say that, beyond re-imagining on-street parking spaces, they hope the project will help link the city’s MainStrasse and Renaissance districts at a time when investment continues to flow to the area.
Each of the five parklets take on a different life and activate the streetscape in a different way. This was purposefully done in order to create parklets that were responsive to their surroundings. As such, each designer was required to partner and work with the adjacent business owner as part of the effort.
Cities throughout North America have taken a different approach toward managing and regulating parklets, but in Covington these five installations will be allowed to stay in place for six months. Afterward, the parklets will be taken down for the cold winter season.
Covington city officials have no word as to what the future will hold for these or other potential parklets; but for now, you can go check them out for yourself at any time.
Five sites and designs were recently selected for bringing parklets to the heart of Covington. The announcement came on Friday, January 15 and marked the conclusion of a design-build competition called Curb’d.
Organizers say that the intent of the competition was to support Covington’s business districts by promoting walkability, connectivity and placemaking – topics that align with the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, Renaissance Covington and MainStrasse Village Association, which provided financial support for the competition.
The five selected sites are also seen as a pathway link between the MainStrasse and Renaissance districts in Covington’s downtown.
First popularized in North America in San Francisco, parklets have grown in popularity over the years particularly in neighborhood business districts looking to reclaim public space from cars for people walking, biking, shopping or simply relaxing. Over the years, cities, like Chicago, have even embraced the idea so much that specific design guidelines and practices have been institutionalized to lend legitimacy to the movement.
In Cincinnati that has so far not been the case.
In 2012, a parklet program was proposed for Over-the-Rhine, but the effort never gained the community support, funding and endorsement from City Hall that it would ultimately require. Since that time, ideas have been pitched to develop a parklet in front of Tucker’s Restaurant on Vine Street, but those efforts have also fallen short.
Aside from that, the closest the region has come to experiencing the transformation of on-street parking spaces into other uses has come in the form of the international celebration of PARK(ing) Day.
While parklets have generally become known as public seating areas or small parks, the organizers of Curb’d said they wanted to push the limits with this competition.
“The examples that we showed the businesses and designers in our information sessions were glow-in-the-dark swings, a mini-movie theater, and a bus stop that resembled an old school radio,” explained Sam O’Connor, Curb’d project coordinator. “Ultimately, we wanted our design teams to really discover the potential of a parking space.”
After finding businesses interested in participating, O’Connor says they, in cooperation with the participating businesses, then proceeded to curate a collection of 12 design teams that would come up with proposals for the spaces. The selected design teams then worked with local fabrication workshops to discuss their ideas and work through the logistics of turning their designs into reality.
After some further refinement, five design teams had their proposals selected to receive funding to have them built.
A+D Design developed what they called Hopscotch Garden for space in front of Braxton Brewing on W. Seventh Street, and will work with 3dx on fabrication. The concept calls for a space that will allow for people to sit and enjoy a beer or coffee outside, while also offering a hopscotch zone.
BPHOGS Design came up with The Boxing Ring for a location in front of Cutman Barbershop and Flow. They will work with Weld Rite Industries to produce the parklet, which will include passive spaces for seating and dining. The parklet will also include several programmed spaces, which, fittingly enough, will include speed bags positioned along the sidewalk to allow for maximum accessibility, and a center area for a game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.
Hub+Weber Architects designed a parklet intended for people to exercise and enjoy virtual trips to far away destinations, or even classic movies shown on a projector powered by the pedaling of the bikes. The stationary bicycle space will be located in front of Inspirado at Madison Gallery.
In front of Left Bank Coffeehouse, Seth Trance and Harry Ross developed a concept they call Wish-Igloo, which they hope will promote engagement between the first person who uses the parklet and the last person who does so. Trance and Ross believe this will be accomplished through the parklet’s striking design that is both changeable and invites users to physically manipulate the space.
The final project is also, perhaps, the most unique. To be located next to Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe, John Noble & Team came up with a design that includes a range of engaging toys for children of varying ages. In essence, the parklet is seen as a way to extend the shop’s culture out onto the street, while also encouraging children to be more active.
Fabrication of each of the five parklets is expected to begin within the next week or so, with installation taking place the first week of May. O’Connor says they plan to do a grand reveal on Friday, May 6, with the parklets staying in place until the end of October when they will then be taken down.
EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that MSA Architects designed ‘The Boxing Ring’ parklet for in front of Cutman Barbershop. That parklet design was actually produced by BPHOGS Design. Additionally, due to a mix-up in winning project announcements, it was incorrectly stated that Hub+Weber Architects designed the coloring lounge concept for in front of Madison Gallery. Hub+Weber Architects actually designed a stationary bicycle parklet. Both items have been corrected in this story.
Just think if a vacant lot near you could be turned into a solar-powered wi-fi hub and electric car charging station, a home for egg-laying chickens, or any number of other creative and productive uses. That is what a group of thought leaders are trying to accomplish with a new program they hope will gain traction at City Hall.
In an effort to promote vacant properties as entrepreneurial and sustainable turnaround opportunities, Lots of Tiny Exposition will be held this week in Over-the-Rhine.
The brainchild of local U. S. Green Building Council activists, LOT Expo is an upcoming free two-day open air exhibit in OTR to draw attention to the “sub-prime” real estate plaguing many neighborhoods.
Specifically tied to the tiny house movement, LOT presents exhibitors that showcase inventive, small scale installations for big, immediate vacant lot impact. Exhibitors will include a tiny house on wheels, vertical garden systems, solar and wind power operations, mobile mini-chicken coops, a 1950’s Airstream retrofit, and pervious parking pads.
Organizers say that they hope visitors bring property addresses for vacant lots that they believe have potential. At that moment, they say an on-the-spot professional laptop “green diagnosis” rating report will be produced. Designers who want to stimulate new ventures for abandoned property blight will be on the lookout for those projects brought to attention.
While the idea seems easy enough, vacant lot redevelopment can actually be a complicated, multi-faceted subject requiring professional knowledge.
As a result, the LOT Forum Panels at the Expo are meant to offer public and private sector professionals to bring expertise, experience, and skills to the vacant lot syndrome – the knowhow for sustainable success. Four different panels are convening under roof at a three-minute walk from the LOT Expo venue; and panel discussions will turn attention to vacant lot gridlocks and reinvestments that lessen public subsidy supports.
Individual Lots on Massive Scale
According to Vacant Lots: Occupied – a guide produced by a group of University of Cincinnati students with the help of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, the City of Cincinnati Department of Community Development and Building Value – there are approximately 22,000 vacant properties in the City of Cincinnati. These properties are classified as land with or without a structure that have been abandoned by its owners. It is estimated that 8,000 of these are without any structures.
Though not as dismal as some other American cities, vacant properties account for about 10% of Cincinnati’s parcels.
Keep Cincinnati Beautiful has successfully ‘cleaned and greened’ vacant lots throughout the city. This typically means cleaning up the lot before planting grass that then requires continued maintenance. Not satisfied with that approach, KCB collaborated with the University of Cincinnati Horticulture Program to develop Vacant Lots: Occupied. This award-winning manual established an analytical guide to select and transform abandoned lots.
While many individuals and families are already helping to stabilize lots in their community, 8,000 is a big number. Ryan Geismar, one of the professors that led the UC students, says the guide was originally intended for KCB and other organizations, but that it became clear that collective effort is needed to address the blight problem.
From a large-scale planning perspective, Geismar says the best approach is to “Identify assets within neighborhoods and use strategic investment catalysts that inspire others to take action.”
Return on Investments
Neighborhood developers are drawn to prime property, usually clear, open lots with existing infrastructure. There is a dire need to address the marginal, by-passed lots that are an economic drain on our city and region. Though numbers aren’t available in Cincinnati, the city of Philadelphia highlights the imperative of critical action. In 2010, their approximately 40,000 vacant parcels consumed about $20 million in city services (fire, police, maintenance, pest control, etc.) and represented $2 million in uncollected property tax revenue.
Vacant properties have always been around; their numbers surged after the recent recession and spike in housing foreclosures. Many large financial institutions faced lawsuits over fraudulent foreclosures or mortgages; and Ohio’s Attorney General settled a suit against five of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses, fraud, and unfair and deceptive mortgage practices.
Blight or Bonanza
One of the few cities with data and a comprehensive approach to the problem is Philadelphia where a study concluded that blighting effect from vacant parcels reduced values by 6.5% citywide and by up to 20% in some neighborhoods. In order to counter this epidemic, Philadelphia officials responded by offering landowners adjacent to vacant properties the land for little to no cost.
Since not every lot is the same, solutions require resourceful, frugal and innovative investments. With depreciated property values and dwindling public dollars spread thin, small business opportunists may see vacant lots as overlooked economic potential or reframe the problem as an engaging community asset.
Place from Space, a design competition to transform vacant underutilized spaces into vibrant places, awarded Renaissance Covington with a $1,000 prize to transform a parking lot into a performance space after business hours. This was achieved with financial and infrastructure support from the City of Covington, and a large amount of volunteer hours from committed citizens and professional designers. The performance space, now known as MadLot, has since hosted live music, movies, and other programming since opening.
Individual efforts should not go unnoticed. Whether guerilla gardening or picking up trash, these small steps help improve appearance and reverse the effects of the broken window theory. While the sheer number of vacant lots is large, the challenge is not insurmountable. It will take economies of thrift, practical knowhow and strategic thinking to execute solutions.
A tiny house on wheels, bocce ball court, performance stage or another enhancement might find a way to a lot near you. It might not be long before you find a goat chomping down honeysuckle next door.
LOT Expo will take place from September 19-20 from 10am to 4pm each day at the New Findlay Market Playground at 1814-1822 Elm Street. The Saturday forum panel will focus on tiny living and the Sunday forum will focus on vacant lots. Both will take place between 11am and 2pm at Rookwood Pottery Company around the corner at 1920 Race Street.
The event is free and open to the public, but organizers are asking for those interested in attending to register in advance online.