What we learned from the City of Columbus vacant lot design competition, “Parcels to Places.”


Recently POD Design submitted a proposal for the design competition “Parcels to Places”, a design competition centered on redeveloping vacant lots owned by the City of Columbus. Our team proposed to build a DIY (Do-it-yourself) pocket park for the residents of the Near East Side of Columbus in an area of the city which is in the midst of active redevelopment. This site took advantage of being on a recently upgraded street connecting two larger neighborhoods of the city. Our design combined two adjacent City Land Bank properties into one urban play-scape. As a Landscape Architecture firm having relationships with many construction companies, landscape supply companies, and landscape contractors that have extra materials at the end of every season, our design sought to collect those contributions as well as any additional materials by canvasing the surrounding neighborhoods and collecting items to be repurposed, reimagined, and then meld them together to create a cohesive landscape.  In our proposal, we shared how items such as tires, shopping carts, bottles, or scrap wood could be repurposed into features such as planters, fencing, or benches. A major part of the design process for this project would be to continuously refine the design as materials became available.  Ultimately, these materials would be arranged to fulfill the design concept elements and an urban plaza with an intentionally playful feel would be formed to create a dynamic space for the neighborhood.  In this design we worked to create features with multiple uses. For example, stacked shipping palettes could be used as a table for friends having lunch, or a climbing structure or stage for children.  Innovative organization and utilization of common products would shape a unique public play space inspiring a significant sense of place within the existing environment and show that neighborhood regeneration is attainable without the need for a lot of money. 

We proposed that the installation could be accomplished with local residents and stakeholders participating in both the design and construction of the plan, therefore fostering a sense of stewardship towards the environment while actively participating in the ongoing redevelopment of their neighborhood.  This pocket park could serve as an accessible, safe, and attractive space for multiple generations. During the preparations for the semi-finalist round of review, POD Design spoke to several neighbors of the proposed park.  We informed them about the design competition and what POD Design intended for the vacant lot close to them. All the feedback we received was positive and residents were excited at the possibility of having a park and improving the current environment.  Several neighbors even pledged to help with the implementation and/or donate construction materials.

Our design was selected as a semi-finalist but, was not among the finalists. After winners were selected the competition representatives provided us with feedback to help the design team better understand their evaluation criteria. We all learn lessons in life. Every different experience provides us opportunities to grow and change. Perhaps the biggest lesson here is despite all the efforts made to fulfill requirements and the overwhelming positive feedback from the public, we are all human and clear communication can be at times challenging.

 In the original competition announcement Parcels to Places was “to showcase creative ideas and strategies for transforming Columbus’ vacant land into an asset that contributes to community needs.” The POD Design entry certainly was innovative, unique, and creative for this area of Columbus. We believed it to be a replicable idea which could be tailored to benefit and reflect other neighborhoods.

We knew it was a risk proposing a locally unprecedented concept, nevertheless we forged ahead to create a concept we were proud of and hope to one day see its implementation. We believe in the integrity of the design and the benefit to the community.  Unfortunately, sometimes the desire to see change and be innovative is often easier to say than it is to do.