As part of Ohio State’s Earth Day 2021 activities, the Sustainability Institute recently hosted a virtual presentation to discuss the Rapid 5 project, a partnership among the Columbus District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI Columbus), Metro Parks, MORPC, Franklin County and others. Erin Prosser, Ohio State’s director of community development for Planning, Architecture and Real Estate (PARE), and Alicia Gaston, ULI Columbus senior director, presented the latest details and the comprehensive vision behind the project.
“Everyone is really hungry for this idea of looking at our natural resources from a regional perspective,” Prosser said. “There’s an opportunity to connect university expertise with the goals and interests of these communities in a framework that is flexible and allows for creativity and innovation.”
The innovation to shape the extensive greenspace system unparalleled in the nation came from Keith Myers, in his role as chair of ULI Columbus. Myers also serves as Ohio State’s vice president of Planning, Architecture and Real Estate.
“There’s an opportunity to create five major greenways through Franklin County,” Myers said. “The goal is to put parks, greenways and waterways within 1.5 miles of every resident of Franklin County.”
Rapid 5 will interconnect Big Walnut, Alum Creek, the Olentangy and Scioto Rivers and Big Darby. The concept also calls for including low-income neighborhoods that have historically been cut off from nature. A timeline for the project is still being determined.
“We need to have a broad conversation about public spaces,” Prosser said. “I can happily get in my car and drive myself to a metro park anywhere in the county. That’s my privilege. That’s not true for a lot of residents.”
Expanding waterways for long distance kayaking and cross-city biking and running trails that connect most parks in Franklin County and creating extensive environmental, economic, and health and equity benefits for the region are key factors of the plan.
“It’s an opportunity that few if any cities in America have today,” Myers said.
In fact, more than 80% of land by public waterways is publicly owned, according to Gaston, which is unique to central Ohio.
More than 100 miles of vegetation along the rivers, tens of thousands of acres of parks and greenspace, hundreds of miles of trails and connections, and more than 300 miles of on-street bike and pedestrian paths make central Ohio the ideal area for growth.
“It’s looking beyond jurisdictions and neighborhoods to build a framework around waterways,” Gaston said.
Those waterways were considered with several aspects in mind. They include health and wellness, mobility choice, environmental stewardship, economic vitality and social equity.
“One of the key things that we are looking to do is not look at our natural resources as destinations, but as part of the fabric of how we grow,” Prosser said.
Themes that will have a major impact on the people of Central Ohio like students, workers, residents and neighbors, cultural institutions and marginalized communities.
“In the COVID era, there has been a need for the connection to nature more than ever,” Gaston said. “Metro Parks has seen a 30% increase since last March in visitation.”
Gaston says the Rapid 5 concept is similar to Georgia’s Atlanta BeltLine that features 33 miles of multi-use paths to be built, including trails connecting to neighborhoods. The former railway corridor has been considered a success as a regional system. Gaston says Rapid 5 could be much larger.
“The need to not have a personal vehicle to navigate this city is a really big opportunity,” Prosser said. “To be able to construct a system that takes parking out of the equation and allows us to densify is an extraordinary opportunity.”
“We’ve never seen anything catch fire like this initiative,” Gaston said.
Ohio State has contributed $50,000 to the project.
To learn more about Rapid 5, visit www.rapid5.org. Members of the university community are urged to log into the community engagement platform on the website and leave their feedback on the project.