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Grow your community with 'The Neighborhood Playbook,' a field guide for developers and advocates

Bellevue, Ky., pair share their formulas
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-04 07:00:09-05

BELLEVUE, Ky. -- They had the experience. It just made sense to work together.

Whether it was a community development corporation or an urban development firm, they had the chops. Working in similar fields, they also had similar ideas about shaping urban places -- including their own.

They knew exactly what they wanted to do.

Meet Joe Nickol and Kevin Wright.

Nickol is a 35-year-old urban designer and development advisor, and Wright is the 37-year-old executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation.

Joe Nickol and Kevin Wright have launched "The Neighborhood Playbook," a practical "field guide" to facilitate the physical and economic growth of neighborhoods.

In September, the two Bellevue, Kentucky, residents put their heads together to launch "The Neighborhood Playbook," a "field guide for community members and developers that facilitates the activation of spaces with the goal of influencing physical and economic growth in neighborhoods."

"We had a core belief about how development should be done in urban neighborhoods," Wright says.

From their own experience, and from visiting urban neighborhoods across the country, the pair saw how people were getting visitors to come to their area through events like street fairs and festivals. The residents then leveraged that popularity to lure developers.

For Nickol and Wright, it reinforced what they were already seeing in their own work.

They created for Soapbox Cincinnati a PDF teaser describing how both community members and developers can help re-mold urban areas. But with a $10,000 grant from People's Liberty -- the local philanthropic lab that awards grants to small groups to improve civic challenges in Greater Cincinnati -- Nickol and Wright were able to create the full two-sided Playbook.

A reader can read the book two ways: once as a developer, and -- after flipping it around and turning it over -- once as a community advocate.

"Our common experiences of what works in emerging markets and places off-the-beaten-path led us to believe that a new playbook was required," Nickol says, "that business as usual was unsustainable."

The idea, according to Nickol and Wright, is that The Playbook will help create places in neighborhoods where people will want to visit, interact and have experiences. That will then allow developers to further develop the area, which will then increase the value of the properties. Winning the People's Liberty grant was a bit surprising to some (including, to an extent, Nickol and Wright), because they weren't proposing a project -- they were essentially proposing a book.

"We pitched our idea as a project grant even if it was a bit weird, as it isn't a single project but a book whose real outcome was its use by a wide audience," Nickol says. "They obviously supported it with our class of grantees. It was a great community to be part of."

They then brought the idea to their own community.

This fall, residents there turned an old alley and parking lot at 700 Fairfield Ave. into the Old Kentucky Makers Market, complete with barbecue, local beer and music. Folks came from surrounding cities to shop, eat and dance.

This past fall, Bellevue, Kentucky, residents turned an old alley and parking lot at 700 Fairfield Ave. into the Old Kentucky Makers Market, complete with barbecue, local beer and music. Folks came from surrounding cities to shop, eat and dance.

"Joe and Kevin did a wonderful job with this event," says Bellevue Mayor Ed Riehl. "It exposed Bellevue to so many new people and the many great things happening here. The events were all well planned out and the execution was smooth and flawless. There was an immediate economic impact on the event nights and we are hoping for a long-term impact to follow."

After three consecutive markets, each drew a larger crowd. It helped that the food and beverages are local, as are the musical talents.

"Too often development is seen as happening to a place and not with it," Nickol says. "The Playbook helps the latter happen in organic and interesting ways that are authentic to the place. That inherently benefits the surrounding communities."

Nickol and Wright say they are starting to see new projects in places like Dayton, Ohio. Now the pair are improving the product.

Those who purchase The Playbook (at http://www.neighborhoodplaybook.com) for $20 will also get a password for extra resources that can be unlocked on the site.

Those who purchase "The Neighborhood Playbook" will also get a password for extra resources that can be unlocked on the site.

Future projects could include listing a network of clients using The Playbook across the country.

"The Playbook is a great tool, but the real magic is how it is used," Nickol says. "We are seeing the methodology work in other places and hope to see it grow. The possibilities are endless."