Committee wants old utility boxes transformed into new art


Clintonville Area Commission members last week gave their unanimous approval to proposals by the CAC planning and development committee for improving mobility in the community as well as upping the neighborhood's visual appeal.

Committee members want to develop a process for working with city personnel to identify mobility enhancement projects in the neighborhood that might eventually qualify for Urban Infrastructure Recovery Fund money, Chairman Andrew Overbeck said at the area commission's September session.

This past spring, Clintonville was awarded $475,000 in UIRF dollars to pay for six projects that included planted medians, brick crosswalks and the planting of trees.

In June, CAC members requested a full-blown mobility study from the city, only to be told the neighborhood was not scheduled for such a project for at least five years.

In light of that, planning and development committee members have embarked on what's been dubbed a "mobility lite" effort to determine ways to improve getting around for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Eventually, CAC Chairman Daniel B. Miller said, the committee's members would have a neighborhood-specific mobility plan that the commission could adopt.

An open house and online effort aimed at getting public comment regarding mobility enhancements would precede the finalization of such a plan, Overbeck said.

The committee chairman also reported on another potential project, one developed during a session devoted to "brainstorming creative ideas."

This one, which also received CAC blessing for further investigation, would build on efforts in other cities across the country to turn large traffic signal and utility boxes into public art.

"They're pretty obtrusive," Overbeck said of the 26 ground-mounted boxes in Clintonville.

Instead of being "big ugly boxes that occupy key corners in our community," these installations could be transformed into showcases of neighborhood pride, he said.

"I think it's a great idea," commented D Searcy, the District 9 CAC representative.

"I'm really impressed," said Kristopher Keller of District 8.

Planning and development committee members have been looking into how other cities have handled turning the large metal boxes into painted or vinyl-wrapped artwork, and how they have paid for them. But more research is needed, Overbeck said.

"At this point, I would say we know enough to be dangerous," he said. "It's been really successful in other cities."

He cited places as disparate as Boston and Tampa.

Miller said committee members would work with city officials and the Columbus Art Commission to develop a plan for the public art installations that also eventually would be approved by the CAC.

Clintonville Historical Society President Mary Rodgers suggested that instead of just being works of art, the utility boxes could become maps to local businesses that sponsor them, providing a source of funding.