Business density along the Morse Road corridor, coming in at nearly 90 per square mile, is higher than in New York City.
But many of those businesses, including a wide array of ethnic shops and restaurants, are "hidden gems," according to a group of Ohio State University students who have been looking into ways to improve the major corridor in the Northland area since January.
The City and Regional Planning Program Design Studio Team -- graduate and undergraduate students of Jesus J. Lara, an associate professor at the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture at OSU -- gave their final review last week of the "Strategic Visioning for the Morse Road Corridor."
Among their recommended approaches for polishing those "gems" is the creation of three "hubs" along the corridor. These would include an eye-catching pedestrian and bicycle suspension bridge hovering above the intersection of Morse Road and Cleveland Avenue.
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission annually identifies this as one of the most dangerous intersections in the region. The suspension bridge, which would be similar to the "Hovenring" created by a Dutch design and engineering firm, would at least take pedestrians and cyclists out of the equation as far as accidents with motor vehicles are concerned.
The students' report, which is to be issued as a PDF this week and published later in book format through a grant from the Columbus Foundation and United Way of Central Ohio, anticipates that the pedestrian bridge would draw national attention and the avid interest of architects from all over.
The report also suggested the creation of a bicyclist-oriented hub where the Alum Creek Trail intersects with Morse Road. This would have restroom and shower facilities, along with storage space, on the first floor and classrooms and meeting space on a second story.
The third hub proposed in the students' report would be located on currently vacant land where the Northland Mall once sat.
It would in the short-term host a series of "popup markets," temporary recurring outdoor gatherings for existing businesses, food trucks and ethnic eateries. In the long term, along with becoming the permanent home for community festivals in the Northland area, the site could become home to a "nonprofit mall," which has long been promoted by Northland Alliance Chairwoman Joyce Bourgault.
The "design studio" done by Lara's students came about through a series of meetings Bourgault has been holding for nonprofit agencies serving the area and looking for ways to eliminate duplication of services.
In researching the corridor-improvement project, Lara and his students completed visual inspections and conducted surveys and public meetings with residents. The key strengths identified by residents for the area are the presence of the Menards home-improvement store, the Gillie Senior Center, a major grocery store, the Alum Creek Trail, good housing stock and the proximity to Easton Town Center.
Residents weren't so thrilled with how pedestrian-unfriendly the corridor is, and they also had concerns about safety, lighting and access to transportation.
After the students presented their proposals, Lara asked those attending the April 30 presentation at the Haimerl Center if they had any questions.
Sandy Baker, a resident of the nearby Beaumont neighborhood, wanted to know about a time frame for these suggestions to be implemented.
"It's a vision," Lara replied.
"Is it always going to be a vision?" Baker asked.
"It's always nice to have a fresh take on everything," said attendee George C. Hadler, chief executive officer of the Hadler Cos. "It's a good, creative exercise, for sure."
However, he added, the "devil is in the details" and funding for any aspect of the proposed improvements is far from assured.
"I think it's exciting," said Emmanuel V. Remy, president of the Northland Community Council. "It gives a vision we can take to the city and say, 'Listen, there are opportunities here.' It will be our jobs as community leaders to engage city officials in these plans."
"It gives us something to strive for," said Dave Paul, chairman of the NCC development committee. "We need to get the business community involved. I don't see a lot of these things happening in the next five to 10 years."