Letter: Stay connected with city streets

From: Laura Garrett, community initiatives lead for Columbus Regional Health’s Healthy Communities


We should end 2017 feeling proud to be a part of the Columbus story. Exhibit Columbus and other events have given us the opportunity to experience downtown in a new, energizing way. Though not as obvious, and often overlooked, our streets have played a critical role in each of these experiences.

Streets are our first ambassadors. As you travel around the community, each street creates a different experience. You may feel proud as you drive over the new State Street Bridge, or stressed as you fight State Road 46 traffic. One street may create the desire to stop, park and walk around. While another may create stress, anger and the desire to get away as quickly as possible. Our streets are the backbone of our community and have the ability to create place, encourage health, and foster connectivity.

Many think of streets only in terms of moving vehicles. They are the way we can get from one place to another as quickly and safely as possible. Cars are such a normal part of our lives that it is hard for us to imagine that our main city streets were not created for them. The streets were built for walking and horses and later streetcars and trains.

Others think of streets simply as the space left over after buildings are built. In Columbus, we have 262 miles of street and the rights-of-way account for 2,416 acres, which is about 13.5 percent of our land use. This percentage is drastically higher when you exclude the undeveloped areas on the periphery of town and include parking lots. In most American cities, streets account for about 30 percent of the land use in a downtown area.

On some level, we all know a great street when we experience it. There is something about the street that is comfortable and makes you want to stay, or come back. Think about which streets in Columbus make you feel this way. What makes them different? With so much of our public land area occupied by streets, we need to ensure each one is designed to create the type of community in which we wish to live.

There is no recipe that will be successful everywhere every time. There is a list of ingredients that make a great street such as proper scale: the presence of trees, authentic-feeling signage and lighting, protected sidewalks, flowers, accessible buildings, etc. But the key is to put the ingredients together in a way that creates a public space that is safe and functional, yet produces an attractive, energizing, socially inviting public space that encourages physical activity and social connection.

We commend our current engineer and others for their willingness to try new recipes to determine what works for our community and to create a connected, attractive, engaging public space. And, we continue to challenge them to ensure the ideals that built our downtown core into a destination attracting people from all over the world also extend to each corner of Bartholomew County.