The Columbus and Franklin County Land Banks hold several vacant parcels around the city looking for a new purpose. At one point in time, these lots were homes or businesses, but eroding structures and safety concerns turned these into empty plots. However, these plots are prime opportunities for redevelopment. Communities have little interest in keeping these lots vacant, so in 2016, the Neighborhood Design Center, together with the City of Columbus, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, The Columbus Foundation, and the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County developed the Parcels to Places competition.
The competition sought creative, community-driven proposals to reactivate parcels from the land bank, allowing residents and organizations to apply for a total of over $180,000 in grants to transform idle properties into catalytic community spaces. A jury comprised of partner institutions and design experts reviewed 23 applications and selected 13 semi-finalists to present their proposals at a public review session. In the end, nine winners were selected, each receiving between $9,000-$30,000 in grant funding to support the development of their proposals. Today, eight of the winner’s concepts have been implemented, and in many cases expanded, serving their communities and creating a sense of place. We look at four of the winners and the impact of Parcels to Places on their sites and communities.
Patrick Kaufmann Memorial Learning Garden
In 2016, Franklinton Farms was awarded a prize that converted the lot into the Patrick Kaufman Memorial Learning Garden (PK-LG), the home base for the organization’s garden education programs. The one-third acre space provides students with opportunities to rest, reflect, dance, swing, hide, and gather. The natural playspace is carefully crafted to incorporate social-emotional learning in the gardening program providing a safe space for participants to connect with and benefit from the land.
Previously vacant lot that has become Franklinton Farms
The initial Parcels to Places funding supported the construction of the fence enclosure around the site, pathways, and 3 weather-proofed high tunnels on site. Since then, Franklinton Farms has outfitted the site with new inclusive infrastructure, including wheelchair-accessible paths, a squash tunnel, six raised beds, plant propagation tables with adjustable heights, prolific rows of berry bushes, pollinator and mushroom gardens, wild edible and medicinal plants, hugelkulturs, open green space, maple trees with stumps, storage shed, and a shaded pavilion that houses the outdoor kitchen and woodfire oven.
Franklinton Farms is a vibrant space for urban farming and educational programs
This investment has led to a tremendous impact on the community. The PK-LG is now able to host year-round weekly programs and summer day camps for 110 children and hosts a bi-weekly neighborhood recovery program for women. Family-friendly seasonal festivals and interactive learning opportunities accompany the programs, generating enthusiasm for urban agriculture and community outdoor spaces. Thanks to the Parcels to Places program, the Learning Garden is able to better serve its community through urban agriculture.
Olde Towne East Pocket Park
Previously vacant parcel at S. Ohio St. and Madison Ave.
When the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association acquired the parcel at 54 S. Ohio in 2015, wheels began to turn on how to transform a grassy yard into a community gateway. By the time the Parcels to Places grant was available, an entry pergola, lending library, and landscaping efforts were already underway. While initial plans to acquire an adjacent site fell through, the transformation of the lot as one part art space, and one part community gathering space are now on display for the community to see.
Updates to the Olde Towne East Pocket Park
Recycled cable spools provide a colorful backdrop and enclosure to the space while simultaneously creating a barrier from visual eyesores along the service access alley. Large letters spell out the name of the community visible from E. Broad Street welcoming in visitors and residents to the neighborhood. Additional benches and plantings allow the casual passerby to take in seasonal changes while a branded bike rack welcomes multimodal transportation users. The space has been used to host community movie nights and neighborhood gatherings and was often a stop along annual home and garden shows pre-pandemic. Today the pocket park continues to support the mission of the competition by creating a new community asset and reintroducing the neighborhood to visitors, old and new.
Healthy Homes Community Garden
At 941 Carpenter Street, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Healthy Homes program sought two vacant lots to complement some of the nearly 450 homes that were renovated or constructed in the South Side. The sites were previously a dumping ground filled with weeds, old tires, and trash before being acquired by the Land Bank. Supported with funding by Parcels to Places, Healthy Homes added the Urban Food Forest to their portfolio, adding and maintaining gravel pathways and hosting gardening events while hosting volunteer cleanup events.
Transformation of vacant parcel to the Healthy Homes Urban Forest
Healthy Homes has a long history on Carpenter Street. Beginning in 2008, Healthy Homes has assisted homes along this street with home repair grants or acquisition and rehab. Their investment in the Urban Food Forest is an essential part of their mission to create a thriving community on and around Carpenter Street. Because of this garden, local groups and residents are able to use the urban garden as a gathering and fellowship space. This provides a unique, welcoming landmark for the community instead of the eyesore that existed before.
MPACC Box Park
The Maroon Arts Group (MAG) started as a grassroots organization in 2015, became a non-profit in 2016, and in 2018 officially welcomed the community to the grand opening of the Movement Pursuing Arts, Commerce & Community (MPACC) BoxPark with support from a variety of organizations and the Parcels to Places competition. The once vacant field at 925 Mt. Vernon Avenue has become a destination outdoor event venue and opportunity space to spotlight the work of Black creatives citywide. Repurposed shipping containers house a performance stage, rotating gallery space, and a food serving space operated in partnership with Willowbeez Soulveg.
Transformation of the vacant parcel to MPACC Box Park
Since 2018, BoxPark has expanded to include an urban growing space with raised beds and a greenhouse, providing education and food opportunities to the community. A new mural on the gallery container and artful fencing add pops of public art to the historic neighborhood. MAG encourages the use of this space by the public, especially for projects that center around social justice, cross-cultural collaboration, and youth-oriented events among others. The nearly 24,000 square foot space has transformed into a neighborhood asset that provides a space to learn, grow, and celebrate together.
Parcels to Places provided communities with great ways to immediately improve their urban environment. Because of these grants, there are more gathering places, learning opportunities, and points of pride at once vacant lots. Infill alleviations like these can become catalysts for more community-focused investment. For now, these redevelopment parcels are the newest hidden gems of the local urban landscape. Show your support by visiting one near you!