The Columbus area is bountiful with five different waterways that provide natural and recreational space. Metroparks and trails surround these waterways, providing opportunities to connect with nature at different parts of our region. However, a lack of connections between the creeks and rivers fails to take advantage of Franklin County’s natural landscape. Parks and trails become inaccessible to many, especially those in neighborhoods that have been traditionally neglected by inequitable planning practices.
The Urban Land Institute and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission sought to explore the idea of connecting these major waterways into a cohesive system. As Columbus is set for major growth, it has an opportunity to rethink and organize its growth pattern and central infrastructure to include its surroundings. ULI and MORPC felt that this was the perfect opportunity to weave the natural environment into the built environment. Development of these connections requires heavy involvement of people from all over the county. Several public and private partners in Franklin County came together in early 2021 to bring everyone to the table. This partnership created the RAPID 5 Project, a formalized collaboration between all
stakeholders to create a community-led plan for greenspace development.
Example of visioning for each of the river corridors by REALM Collaborative (Big Darby), EDGE (Big Walnut), MKSK (Olentangy), AECOM (Alum Creek), and NBBJ (Scioto).
Rapid 5 is a unique opportunity to create a shared vision for an integrated open space network. It’s an opportunity to manage growth, improve equitable access to recreation and health, and preserve natural resources and environmental health. The project aims to create more than just a greenspace master plan. It aims to create a vision that reframes regional connectivity into the scope of the waterways that surround us.
"This bold vision connects over 30 communities with 146 miles of waterways, provides access to 38,300 acres of parks, and links neighborhoods with 143 trail miles. When complete, every resident in the region will be within 1.5 miles of a park or greenway." RAPID 5
Naturally, the project group needed to hear from the public. The Neighborhood Design Center led the charge into community outreach and engagement with an extensive process. NDC set up a website that allowed for comments about blue and greenways, pedestrian and bike connections, and accessibility to these amenities. The website was advertised via sandwich boards, surveys, and flyers. Through these methods, NDC reached over 4,000 visits over a two-month period. Additionally, NDC made sure to reach historically excluded neighborhoods with direct mail postcards and paper surveys. Once on the website, users had the option to add comments via an interactive map, a community idea wall, a formalized survey, or through all three.
The ideas wall served as a public forum. Respondents were asked to tag their comments into five categories: Equitable Access to Open Space, Trail Ideas, Thoughts on the Future, Safe Transportation Choices, and Outdoor Recreation. After being posted, each comment invited discussion from other community members. Other respondents could also choose to like or dislike their peers’ comments.
Examples of engagement tools: sandwich boards, project website, and paper survey.
The traditional survey was a brief, one-page questionnaire that asked directed questions to participants. The survey identified the areas respondents lived in to better understand the context of their comments, especially related to park access and conditions. Questions included responses about their typical outdoor recreational choices, concerns about waterways, and which solutions were their priorities.
Finally, the interactive map created a space for users to comment about issues and ideas for specific locations or routes in the system. Users were allowed to specify their comments around five categories: Access points, outdoor space ideas, potential recreation spots, potential routes, and comments on existing routes. These pinpoints were also made publicly available and interactive as with comments on the Ideas Wall.
An interactive map allowed users to submit comments and ideas at specific locations
NDC learned a lot from the public response. 60% of respondents most often accessed parks and open spaces by car, and just about as many respondents said they are concerned about water quality. Over 80% of respondents agree that everyone in Central Ohio should have access to open space within ten minutes from their home.
As part of a stronger outreach campaign, NDC assisted with the publishing of the RAPID 5 Project book. Now available in local libraries, the book compiled the design firm's work for all five waterways, creating visions to unify communities, expand access, and create a sustainable local environment for all. The book demonstrates what the project can look like for Franklin County parks and waterways. Moving forward, the RAPID 5 Project will increase engagement, community buy-in, and support. Under Dr. Amy Acton's leadership, the newly established nonprofit group invites you to join the movement and envision, explore and engage with RAPID 5.