UC's DAAP Students and DCI team up to re-envision Downtown Cincinnati

After many semesters of international travel, more than 60 students from UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) recently re-envisioned downtown Cincinnati in an end-of-semester project.
 
The Design Systems II project, titled "(re) visioning Cincinnati," aims to create an ideal visitor experience with the built environment that will enable Cincinnati to be "Best In Class City."
 
The students, separated into nine groups, conceived possible improvements that could be made downtown. Sponsored by Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI), the nine groups presented their projects this past Tuesday at an event at the Taft Center that was attended by potential investors.
 
"All of these ideas have practical application, and some of the ideas easy implementation," says DCI president David Ginsburg.  "These [projects] solve issues that we deal with on a regular basis."

The groups focused on three key points: Discovery and Benchmarking, Strategy, and Design.
 
First, students looked at other thriving cities to discover possibilities and what types of designs could be applied. Strategizing how to go about implementing ideas came next, followed by the actual design process.
 
During the strategizing stage, the groups came to five conclusions and goals:
  1. Cincinnati has thriving destinations with an opportunity to connect gaps.
  2. An opportunity exists to make the city more walkable and accessible.
  3. The city's history is unique but under-celebrated.
  4. There is an array of things to do, but a lack of knowledge about where to find them and how to participate.
  5. Park space should be better utilized; 14% percent of Cincinnati's land area is dedicated to parks, compared to a median of 4.3 percent from the largest 100 cities in the U.S.
Wayfinding by Design
 
While the actual design solutions vary between the nine groups, the projects address many of the same concepts, combining lighting, wayfinding and easier access to information.
 
One group, who titled their project "Hopscotch," believes that scheduling a communal event once per month to walk the .8 miles from The Banks to Over-the-Rhine would help meet the five main goals.
 
"We find that a lot of people either don't know it or haven't walked it themselves," says Hopscotch member Ayan Daniels. "We decided to take the idea of hopping, which is starting at one location and altering to several different [locations] along your route, and making it an experience you can partake in once a month."
 
The group also thinks Hopscotch would engage local vendors and artists, making people more aware of local culture in addition to directly benefitting the local economy.
 
"The hope is that if you come to that event and enjoy the walk, you're more likely to do it outside of the organization as well," Daniels says.
 
In their project titled "Illuminating Events in Cincinnati," another group designed a system of digital, color-coordinated signage and event kiosks for intuitive wayfinding. The system proposes a way to find or discover specific locations and events.
 
"Something we identified as being a hallmark for great cities was impromptu things going on," says Illuminating Events member Dane Mason. "Users of this system can go downtown and see a sign with various events going on at the moment and make a spontaneous decision to go and involve themselves in some kind of activity."
 
Another group, their project titled "Cincinnati Parklets," aims to utilize current parklets—small spaces for pedestrians to engage and relax, which usually include benches and other amenities—as well as build new ones.
 
"In looking at other cities, especially San Francisco and New York, we saw this idea," says Cincinnati Parklets group member Elizabeth Freeman. "We wanted to bring a system of these parklets to our city, and we wanted to make sure the system was unique to our city."
 
To achieve this, the group wants to use local talent to ensure the parklets are not only functional, but also artistic, telling a story to keep people interested.
 
"We would recruit creative people in our city to design and come up with the ideas for each of these parklets," Freeman says. "And we would brief them with their story and it's up to them to interpret and tell that story in the form of a parklet."
 
Inspiration by Travel
 
Traveling and experiencing other cities is part of a DAAP education, and much of the inspiration for this project came from that experience.
 
"I think because the co-op program allowed us to explore more cities, all of us came in with more knowledge having co-oped in tons of different cities," says fourth-year graphic design student Melinda Sekela. "Coming into this project would have been completely different than if we all had just stayed in Cincinnati for four years and then were asked to design this."
 
For the students, being able to travel to other cities also illuminated aspects of Cincinnati that currently exist, but don't currently fulfill their potential.
 
"Most of the things that I like from other cities that I've been in, we have a lot of it," Freeman says. "I think we just don't play it up enough or leverage our strengths."
 
While the designs are yet to come into full fruition, for involved students and faculty, the project was about recognizing possibilities.
 
"We wanted to bring outside thinking in," says adjunct professor Kelly Kolar, owner of Kolar Design. "[The students], with fresh eyes and fresh perspectives, have gone all around the world. And what a great opportunity to help [them] help us envision what's possible here."

Photos courtesy of DAAP.

UC adjunct professors Joell Angel-Chumbley Lucy Cossentino-Sinnard, as well as Kolar Design COO and Client Leader Mary Dietrich, also assisted with the project.

The following students participated in the project: Ryan Bahm, Danielle Bradford, Ben Burns, Logan Carr, Sam Collins, Christina Coobatis, Amy Dagilis, Ayan Daniels, Katherine Davis, Grace Derosa, Margaret DiRutigliano, Megan Fakes, Patrick Fitzgerald, Catalina Florea, Annie Foertmeyer, Elizabeth Freeman, Lindsey Freson, Anna Galemmo, Arielle Giczkowski, Mark Gierl, Megan Gilbert, Jenna Harrison, Mallory Hartzler, Alexanderia Heflin, Christina Holtkamp, Aryan Hope, Loraine Jackson, Brandon Kennedy, Ryan Kennessey, Mary Knight, Audrey Koopman, Stacey Kurzhals, Alexandria Lausch, Rachel Lee, Alex Lilly, Siazhen Lin, Megan Logue, Dane Mason, J. Michael Zalla, Tommy Migaki, Owen Moore, Kerri Morabito, Megan Mudman, Shelby Murphy, Irene Musgrove, Bennett Nestok, Brittany Newell, Heather Obringer, Gael Perichon, Mason Ping, Jonathan Reynolds, Emily Rieger, Laura Rooney, David Rosmarin, Kelsey Sears, Melinda Sekela, Mike Simpson, Jacob Smith, Mandy Smith, Kevin Spencer, Patrick Steiger, Cori Stuh-Miller, Kerra Sunderlin, Paulina Thai, Rachel Thieman, Taylor Turnbull, Megan Turner, Amy Untch, Joe Walsh, Erica Weingartner, Chris Wells, Alexander Wheeler, Adam Wicktora, Patrick Williams, Laura Yoder

Read more articles by Kyle Stone.

Kyle is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati. When he isn't writing, he's making music, riding his bike and taking photos of his adventures.
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