The Ohio State University at Lima

Building opportunities for community, students and researchers

The City of Lima recently received a $4.5 million grant thanks in part to the data collected through a project known as the Ohio Land Exchange or OH/LEX, spearheaded by Ohio State's Knowlton School of Architecture and in collaboration with The Ohio State University at Lima.

“OSU’s partnership with us was critical to placing Lima and Allen County ahead of other applicants in the funding competition,” said Lima Mayor David J. Berger. “Data was provided on Lima vacancy patterns and demolition needs, as well as detailed maps of locations, flood plains, and potential reuses.”

The team from Ohio State consisted of Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning Mattijs van Maasakkers and Landscape Architecture faculty Kristi Cheramie and Jake Boswell. They won the Van Alen Institute’s Future Ground competition with their idea for a projective framework designed to move vacant parcels from tax delinquency to productive lands.

“We saw a need for an integrated strategy that combines data management and active stakeholder engagement. A lot of relevant information and revitalization efforts are scattered across agencies, community organizations and individuals” said van Maasakkers. “We noticed that agencies, businesses and community organizations are working in creative ways but not communicating with each other.”

The gathered information and easier access opened up new opportunities for the city and the recently established Allen County Land Bank. Currently, the city would need $7.8 million to demolish all the vacant and derelict properties in the city. Because of the work that had been done for OH/LEX, the City and Allen County Land Bank were able to apply for a Neighborhood Initiative Program grant that can begin to make that happen.

“It wouldn’t have happened without OH/LEX,” Sackman-Odum said. “The data makes it possible to get grants.”

The team was looking for an opportunity to test the process in Ohio, since all the principal investigators are based at Ohio State. After meeting Charlene D. Gilbert, Ohio State Lima’s dean and director, and Lima mayor David Berger, the researchers applied for a grant that would bring their ideas to Lima in a collaborative project between the Knowlton School, Ohio State Lima and the city.

“Thank you to Ohio State University for making this connection, for bringing a project with national stature from New Orleans and bringing it back home,” said Amy Sackman-Odum, Community Development Director for the City of Lima. “They brought it to a campus that would engage in a meaningful way.”

The first step for the project was to get out into the city and map the vacant properties and note their characteristics such as the presence of significant trees on the lot, if any buildings remain and whether or not there was evidence of use. Ohio State Lima students were recruited for a two day-workshop to fan out in the various neighborhoods of the city. Eventually, 726 tax delinquent parcels were identified and mapped.

One of the students, Engineering sophomore Kenna Rice, continued with the project and earned a paid internship with the City of Lima for the summer of 2016.

“I am fortunate to have had this opportunity,” Rice said. “One weekend of a workshop and learning how to use GIS turned into even more opportunities for me.”

The students weren’t the only ones making the most of the opportunities brought to town by OH/LEX.

“The team at OH/LEX helped define where the vacant properties are,” said Sackman-Odum. “We didn’t have the tools for doing an assessment of this type or the staff and technology to synthesize the information.”

Researchers also spent time talking to 15 different organizations in the city from arts groups to hospitals about what they could do with vacant parcels to improve the community.

The collected data and information from the community stakeholders and organizations was used to narrow the focus of OH/LEX to the St. Johns Corridor Cluster.

Once an area of concentration was identified, the stakeholders came back for a negotiation simulation that allowed each to assume the role of a different type of stakeholder in the vacant land equation. The resulting discussions and brainstorming sessions produced several creative ideas on how to work together to activate some vacant parcels. Taking those ideas, architecture students from the Knowlton School have developed designs for several set pieces, to be displayed on those lots to highlight what these reuse strategies could look like. These structures are now being built by students in Dan Matthews’ theatre service learning class at Ohio State Lima. The finished pieces are meant to be mobile, temporary installations that can be set up on different parcels during a summer 2017 event that will be held in collaboration with the city, county and the research project. Matthews adapted an existing OSU service learning class originally intended to build productions to go to elementary schools for OH/LEX. His students are accustomed to building things for the theatre productions on campus. The OH/LEX installations need to be both mobile and sturdy. That kind of skillset will make the students more marketable if they choose to pursue careers in theatre design and technology.

“The more you can do, the better off you will be in the world,” Matthews said. “I hope we can continue this class in the future and perhaps develop an internship for some of the students at the festival next year.”

The set pieces being built now will be used to help activate vacant land and pull it back into productive usage for the community even after the research project is complete. Eventually, the researchers hope to extend the project to the cities around the state, starting with the other urban OSU satellite campuses in Mansfield, Marion and Newark.

“This is a community project with national implications,” van Maasakkers said.