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Students’ Project Seeks to Bring Value to Vacant Lots

UC architecture, planning and horticulture students envision the revitalization of vacant lots, producing recipes for reuse in partnership with the city and local nonprofits.

Date: 4/12/2013 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Jennie Russell

UC ingot   Vacant lots can put property values at risk.

For that reason and others, University of Cincinnati students have been working in partnership with nonprofits, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, Building Value and Lawn Life, as well as the City of Cincinnati Property Maintenance Division, to produce a hands-on, practical guidebook with simple, low-cost solutions to make use of vacant lots in the short term as well as potential steps for larger, long-term uses and solutions.
Students working on vacant lot project
A UC team worked with local non-profits and the City of Cincinnati on solutions for local vacant lots.

Project partner Jenna Hudson, environmental educator and Vacant Lot Program manager with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, said that the students’ work contains multiple layers of ideas, some that could be implemented quickly while others would set the stage for later implementation: “We asked the students to identify ideas for use on about 200 lots in the near future. Other lots will need to be addressed in the long term.”

According to Jennie Russell, associate professor in UC’s top-ranked School of Architecture and Interior Design and one of three College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) faculty working with students and their partner organizations on the project, “The students' work to develop a book of patterns for vacant lot development and maintenance will give the agencies associated with them the guidelines that can be adapted to fit the individual conditions of each lot. Because it’s forecast that there will be as many as 6,000 vacant lots in the inventory within a few years, this tool will be invaluable, and we hope to continue to work with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful to improve and update the templates for the future.”

Other faculty working with Jennie Russell include Frank Russell, director of UC’s Community Design Center, and landscape designer Ryan Geismar, adjunct instructor. They are working with nearly 30 students all told, including graduate architecture students, graduate community planning students and undergraduate horticulture students.

Said Geismar, “The project requires knowledge of both planning and planting in order to benefit the six neighborhoods we are looking at. And while the current or expected vacant lots are a real problem, they also represent opportunity, and we’re seeking to define some of those opportunities.”

Horticulture student Maggie Rigney, 21, a junior from Perrysburg, Ohio, agreed, “The most important thing I’ve learned by participating in this project is that it takes people from all professions to create great assets for the community. It also takes a lot of listening to the people from the community itself!”

But, the effort has been worth it “to work on something that is really going to happen and a project that would help to create nice communal space throughout the city.”

While the project examined reuse of vacant lots throughout the city, target neighborhoods included Avondale, East Price Hill, Mt. Auburn, North Fairmount, South Cumminsville and West Price Hill are the key study areas for the project.
UC team working on vacant lot project
A UC team worked with local non-profits, the City of Cincinnati and guest experts in order to find solutions for vacant lots.

In addition to the basic scenarios for creating spaces that are clean and green – scenarios or patterns that could be implemented as needed on the city’s vacant lots, the guidebook includes detailed suggestions for 13 vacant lots in order to help neighborhood residents “envision more concretely the possibilities that exist,” according to Hudson, who added, “This does not necessarily mean these particular scenarios will be implemented at these exact address, but it shows – in a tangible way – what can be done.”

In order to show these more-concrete possibilities, the students made detailed scenario suggestions for
  • Two current vacant lots site side by side at 960 and 962 Wells Street in East Price Hill. The lots sit behind a community learning center with an inadequate play area, currently consisting of a small play set on a thin rubber mat in the parking lot. As part of their recommendations, the UC students suggest that Keep Cincinnati Beautiful partner with the learning center to transform the lots into a play area, if the private owner of the lots would donate them for that use.
  • The students suggest that another vacant lot in East Price Hill, at 925 Woodlawn Ave., might be transformed into a community garden since a Farmer’s Market is already being planned nearby.
  • The vision for another vacant lot, 2923 Glenway Ave. in West Price Hill, is use as a terraced botanical garden and meditation space.
The students presented their final recommendation scenarios to city officials in mid-March.