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Miami University students help Hamilton redesign a neighborhood

Posted at 12:45 AM, Sep 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-25 01:00:49-04

HAMILTON, Ohio — Hoping to revitalize its Second Ward neighborhood, Hamilton turned to two unusual sets of urban planners.

The first: A group of 11 Miami University students finishing their degrees in urban and regional planning. Through their Advanced Urban Planning class, they would get an opportunity to work for a real-world client and put their skills to practical use.

The second: People who live there. When the students met with them to learn more about the Second Ward, they had the chance to shape the future of their own community.

“The residents got to sit down with marker, and literally say, ‘This building specifically is weak. It’s an eyesore,’” senior Molly O’Donnell, who participated in the project, said Tuesday night. “Or, ‘I’d like to see new development here,’ or, ‘this park is the center of our community, and we really value it. We’d love to see more programming for the park.’”

She and her classmates envisioned ways to bring vacant buildings to life and fill empty public spaces with community gardens or food trucks. Even touches as small as new signs and brightly colored crosswalks could create a more unique, welcoming space.

The suggestions the exercise produced won’t become reality right away, city planning director Liz Hayden said. But she’s excited about the possibilities and actively looking for funds.

“We’re having meetings where we can do those colorful crosswalks,” she said. “I was excited to find out it’s much more doable than I thought it would be.”

The Second Ward collaboration is the latest of Hamilton’s efforts to energize the city. Others have focused on downtown, the conversion of an abandoned paper mill to a multimillion-dollar sports facility and the creation of an entertainment district that allows visitors to drink outdoors.

“Improving our housing stock is one of the two key areas they want to focus on this year,” Hayden said. “You have a community that’s proud of where they live. People that feel like they’re part of something that’s positive.”

O’Donnell said she loved the project, which allowed her class to function as real urban planners. Hayden said she would be happy for the city to continue collaborating with Miami University in the future.

“I think they’ve done such a fantastic job,” she said. “We’d be lucky to have them every year.”