Growing up in Columbus, I have seen and heard the word “design” so often that at times it can seem as commonplace as a word like “the” or “this” or “that.” I’m incredibly proud to call Columbus home, but I have started to notice an area for improvement in relation to the word design.
The relatively small percentage of Columbus residents who are involved with the design of our city understands the incalculable benefits of good design. But over the years I have noticed that the largest population of our residents views design as something “rich people talk about.” I can’t count the times I have heard people say that Columbus wastes money on design just to “look good” or to “show off.”
The motivation for this column came after reading a recent article in The Republic about Columbus being named a finalist in the All-America City competition. I will brag about what that means, but first I want to share a comment from a reader on The Republic’s website about this honor.
“An All American City Nomination and $1.59, on most days, will get Mayor Brown a Double Cheeseburger at McDonalds.”
This is a common reaction (although the burger reference can also be substituted with a cup of coffee, and Mayor Brown can be replaced with any number of Columbus leaders’ names) to Columbus’ ongoing design efforts, and the reason I think we have room for improvement. We have some serious work to do in educating our residents about the benefits of urban design.
I am certainly not an expert, but I am going to attempt to explain the benefits of above-average urban design.
Columbus leaders did not invest millions of dollars and innumerable volunteer hours in design efforts for awards and recognitions and getting mentioned in national publications. They did it to make Columbus the best place to live, work and enjoy life.
Urban design is intimately involved in quality of life. It defines our interactions with the places with which we live and work. It creates the relationships between natural environments and the public realm, which includes streets, parking lots, buildings, playgrounds and all of the spaces shared by everybody in the community.
The process of urban design is not intended to “make Columbus look good.” It brings order, clarity and harmony to the public realm of a city.
Design vastly improves the quality of life by creating job opportunities, increasing safety and security and creating a more accessible community for all. It also creates local character and a sense of belonging and pride for community members.
As an All-America City award finalist, Columbus is one of top 25 cities in the United States, and the only city in Indiana, recognized for outstanding civic achievements and inventive community-based solutions to issues. Columbus’ application highlighted its obesity-prevention efforts, workforce development system and Columbus Arts District achievements.
You can read the details of Columbus’ award application on The Republic’s website. The story, titled “Columbus updating its All-America City résumé,” was published April 26.
Columbus has certainly created a sense of pride in me. I don’t have the answer, but we need to find a way to promote pride and ownership rather than cynicism in our residents.
Paige Harden Langenderfer is a resident of Columbus. She is now a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.