Since Insight2050 was launched in 2014, it has changed the way Central Ohio communities prepare for growth. But the conversations that inspired insight2050 go back more than a decade earlier with MORPC member communities, as well as private-sector planners and developers, reacting to real-life challenges of the day.
Landlocked communities with aging populations and shrinking average household sizes wanted to get a share of the region’s projected growth. First-ring suburbs such as Bexley, Worthington, Grandview Heights, and Upper Arlington were looking for ways to diversify their tax base and saw that they needed to build up because they had no room to spread out.
Jamie Greene is a Columbus-area planner with 30 years of local experience – 23 of them as principal of Planning NEXT, formerly ACP. A thoughtful planner who has long focused on engaging residents to be part of their communities’ planning, Greene was a key insight2050 partner. But he already had been looking at regional challenges from the local level in Upper Arlington and other communities.
“I enjoy talking about Upper Arlington, because it’s a terrific story of the planning process,” Greene said recently. When his company began working on the city’s new comprehensive plan, the 1962 plan was 40 years old and focused on a vision of a one-high-school residential community no further north than Henderson Road.
It worked. Upper Arlington at the turn of the century was, Greene said, “a community that valued the status quo.” But local leaders recognized that more needed to be done in a city that was about 90 percent residential, with declining retail areas and no Class A office space.
Greene credits Virginia Barney, early in her tenure as city manager, among key players in the city’s comprehensive look forward, along with a “nice committee of people who really took ownership” and embraced good data and research.
“What I love is that they didn’t just launch into: ‘We need to redevelop,’” Greene said. “There was an important pre-development process – a plan for the plan. Through a discovery process, they put together a scope for the plan.”
They found the 38-acre Kingsdale shopping complex was actually a drag on the city’s budget. That led them to look at the performance of the city’s six non-residential areas, and eventually to launch a strategy to develop policies that would encourage development but balance it with the city’s plan and standards. The Unified Development Ordinance, which includes “planned mixed-use districts,” set the standards, but encouraged private investment.
The result was more places that were walkable, mixed-use, and well-designed – the same features later highlighted in insight2050 and increasingly expected by Central Ohioans. Though the plan was more focused on nodes of development, it also had the effect of shaping corridors of activity – in effect, a local version of insight2050’s Corridor Concepts, in which Greene and Planning NEXT are also involved.
He notes that new development on Lane Avenue, and across Tremont Road from Kingsdale, are a departure from old Upper Arlington, but in keeping with current needs. Those corridors – and Main Street in Bexley, among others – provide models that can help other communities become comfortable with change.
Hilliard officials, in fact, have expressed interest in looking into Upper Arlington’s development policies and its redeveloping corridors as they consider a new vision for Cemetery Road between I-270 and Old Hilliard.
“We only know what we know,” Greene said. “If you talk to people about quality development and walkability, they won’t understand if they don’t have some personal experience with it. Having local examples makes it not as scary – and people are more willing to consider changes.”