Destinations

Connecting Columbus

What a difference a block makes: Here's how a redeveloped overpass performed what one urban planner calls "an act of magic" in Columbus, Ohio.

It has been a while since we talked to Jeff Speck about the relationship between convention centers, meeting attendees, and walkable downtowns. But I am in Columbus, Ohio, for a press trip and I thought of Speck and his book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

This was once a forbidding and windswept overpass, not far from the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Specifically, I thought of the bridge across the interstate on High Street, which was once a forbidding stretch of chain-link fence, and now is lined with restaurants, linking the Short North district with the convention center.

Speck called the redevelopment “an act of magic,” in the way that it opened up the Short North district to meeting attendees, and gave meeting attendees new opportunities and injected energy — and dollars — into Short North. 

The new connector opened up Columbus’s Short North, above, which is now one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city.

“Attendees are natural walkers,” said Speck, who formerly served as director of design for National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design.  “And convention centers can serve to connect visitors with the fabric of a city.

“Conventioneers arrive without any preconceived notions,” he added. ” They are so ready to use the city if the city welcomes them properly. The last thing you want is a convention center/parking facility/hotel that lands like a spaceship in your downtown, one which people do not have to exit to move around.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.