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Creating Encounters in Urban Art and History
By Jennifer Hambrick
May 2005

MSI Design of Buttles Avenue

Imagine walking south on High Street and being assaulted at Buttles Avenue by a riotous band of bright red geraniums. Or imagine being swaddled by the stillness of trees and sculpture in the secluded oasis of a tiny park at High Street and West Lincoln.

A plan to enrich the Short North district aims to bring these imaginings to life. The Short North Neighborhood Foundation (SNNF), in conjunction with the Short North Special Improvement District (SID), is leading “Creating Encounters in Urban Art and History,” a campaign to create two small parks enhanced by art, public seating and stories from Columbus history in the Short North district.

The Columbus-based firm MSI Design has created preliminary designs for the new parks at Buttles and High and West Lincoln and High. The SNNF is currently leading a campaign to raise funds to implement the parks. If the campaign is successful, more detailed park designs will be presented to the Victorian Village Commission, the Italian Village Commission and, eventually, the City of Columbus for approval.

Short North Neighborhood Foundation communications director Nancy Bohman says the current project is an expansion of the Short North “pocket parks” project, which planned and implemented three landscaped parks for the Short North between 2002 and 2004.

“The pocket parks have been really well received,” Bohman said, “so we got some more people involved and we’re taking it to a new level.”

Like the original three pocket parks at Greenwood and High, Millay Alley and High, and Poplar Plaza, the two new parks would contribute green space and gathering places to the trendy neighborhood. In addition, the new parks also would weave original artwork and details of Short North history into their designs.

“The mission is to create beautiful public spaces that are for gathering to enhance our community with beauty, history and art,” Bohman said. “We’re really trying to create an urban arts district. This is unique from anything else we’ve seen.”

If the current plans are approved, artwork in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, murals and kinetic art, will adorn the new parks. At the North Lincoln/High park, a grassy area containing trees and sculpture will be sealed off from High Street by brick pillars supporting a mesh metal screen. The screen, which will be lit by lights at night, will appear different day and night.

Buttles Avenue Before

As the “gateway” between Goodale Park and High Street, Buttles Avenue will be enhanced with a colonnade of iron pillars topped by colorful floral plantings in season.

The “Creating Encounters in Urban Art and History” campaign also seeks to bring to light aspects of Columbus history, particularly the history of the Short North district, that have fallen into oblivion. Historians Judith Williams and Jeff Darby are researching possible historical topics to feature. One park may spotlight the life of Columbus painter George Bellows. Other topics include how Columbus came to have the nickname “Arch City” and Columbus’ transportation history, in which a trolley that once clanged its way through the Short North on High Street played a prominent role.

The campaign leaders also have envisioned innovative ways of incorporating Short North history lessons into each park design. A mosaic embedded into a sidewalk, for example, may replace the typical wall-mounted plaque narrating historical detail, or a kinetic art installation may electronically project historical facts onto a park surfaces.

As with the first three pocket parks, the SID would oversee the implementation of the proposed new parks by professional landscapers and volunteers and also would maintain all of the implemented parks. SID was the force behind the new High Street arches and also the concrete sofa installed last year at Greenwood Park.

As many as 20 locations for parks have been identified in the Short North. Although project planners dream of implementing parks at all of them, Dan Koch, co-chair of the “Creating Encounters” campaign, says at present there are no firm plans to do so.

“The idea is that with long-term vision we would build as many of these [parks] as possible, dependent on how much private funding we can raise,” Koch said.

For now, Koch sees the addition of the two proposed parks as another step forward for the already vibrant Short North neighborhood.

“We want to keep this dynamic neighborhood but make it even more dynamic.”

For further information about the "Creating Encounters in Urban Art and History" project
or if you would like to make a contribution, please contact Nancy Bohman at 614-888-3297.


©2005 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. all rights reserved.