The ways in which the growing immigrant population in Northland is helping shape the Morse Road corridor makes it a fascinating subject for a service-learning project by a group of Ohio State University students, their instructor said last week.
Jesus J. Lara, an associate professor in the City and Regional Planning Section at the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture, attended last week's Northland Nonprofit Summit accompanied by four of the 10 students who will participate in the project.
Northland Alliance Chairwoman Joyce Bourgault has been convening the gatherings to help nonprofit organizations avoid duplication of services and identify unmet needs in the community since May 2011.
"It's exciting what's going on and we want to share it in the community," Bourgault before introducing Lara.
Lara said service-learning studios enable city and regional planning students to work in an office-like setting with actual clients, while at the same time offering real solutions to problems and issues in the neighborhoods undergoing study. Previous areas of focus for these projects have been Weinland Park in 2010, Linden Village in 2011 and the West Side in 2012.
As part of the West Side project, student Brian Kinninger said, 47 acres of vacant, city-owned property along Wilson Road were identified for use as a possible urban campground, with some sites on raised platforms. The next-closest camping site is in Xenia, he noted.
The business community and civic groups on the West Side were so taken with the idea, including its possible use by students in nearby schools, that they have raised $400,000 to make the concept a reality, Lara said.
A similar project focusing on the areas of the Morse Road corridor that connect Interstates 71 and 270 might help continue the momentum for redevelopment of the area and bring in more investment, student Nicki Martin said. The service-learning studio has four phases, she said, two of which are already completed or well under way: qualitative and quantitative analyses of the area.
The former examines basic existing infrastructure, Evan Bunner said, while the latter, according to fellow student Matt Jenks, focuses on things such as demographics, housing types, zoning and business trends.
Community involvement is the third phase, Martin indicated.
"That's crucial for us," Lara said.
To start that part of the process, Bourgault and Lara decided to hold a community meeting on Wednesday, March 19, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Haimerl Center, 1421 Morse Road. Those attending will be asked to comment on what improvements are needed in the corridor and also to fill out brief surveys.
"What we're doing here is essentially helping the community prioritize needs," Lara said. "It's a reflective process. We need your input. The more people we have who represent the community, the easier our job will be."
"I'm looking forward to that," Bourgault said. "We've got a lot of work to do before that."
The process will eventually conclude around April 21 with a final report offering a "strategic vision" for the corridor, including things such as adding green space currently occupied by vacant buildings and unused parking lots.
Future groups of city and regional planning students may be involved in helping residents implement aspects of the final report, which would be published in book form like the past three have been, if the project receives funding from the Columbus Foundation, according to Lara.
"It's not just one semester and we're gone," he said.
Several representatives of nonprofit organizations in the audience were asked to provide people who can translate for speakers of Spanish, Somali, Nepali and other languages at the March 19 gathering.
"The idea is to reach as many segments of the community as possible," Lara added.