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Tactical Urbanism deploys in Covington

A group of eight University of Cincinnati students have designed seven projects that will bring creative elements to existing, underutilized spaces in Covington. The projects this semester focus mainly on the area around Pike Street and Madison Avenue, but in the future, the class hopes to have a continued impact and involve community members in Covington and other areas in the region.
 
The students are members of Matt Anthony’s Tactical Urbanism class at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio. It’s the first year for the class, but many elements of it have been seen in other classes where students have engaged and built projects that focus on changes in urban areas. Soapbox sat down with Anthony to discuss the impact of the class.
 
Q: Why are the projects based in Covington when there are opportunities in Cincinnati to revitalize the city’s urban core?
A: “Recently, the CDC has been engaged with a few projects in Covington, including some involvement in the studies or development of their Center City Action Plan. Covington itself offered a unique set of issues to address and also a territory that was largely unfamiliar to students, even though we are so close to this very central and urban area.

When we first started talking about doing this project, Frank Russell, director of the CDC, was the first to suggest Covington as a prime location. We’ve been fortunate to have a great relationship with some city officials, such as Natalie Bowers, who is the arts district director in Covington. She has been a great internal champion of arts projects and knows the right channels to get more official approval for some of our projects that require it. Katie Meyers from Renaissance Covington has also helped organize some business and commercial-oriented work.

There are more communities in our region on both sides of the river that we’d like to work with. Our hope is that there is some excitement with these projects and we can take what we learned in Covington and apply it elsewhere. There was interest in some temporary installation projects around the Pendleton neighborhood recently, so that is a possibility.”
 
Q: Has anything like this ever been done at UC before?
A: “I don’t think there have been many projects of this specific type at UC. There have been many design/build activities over the years for both architecture and art projects, especially in urban areas, but I think this is one of the few that have allowed the students to identify the opportunity area themselves through personal research and viewing existing urban studies and then planning a temporary installation.

The studio is called “Tactical Urbanism” after a more recent movement to try to empower people to create temporary projects that have a potential to create long-term change. The idea itself isn’t new, but there is a renewed interest and a growing movement around it right now—I recently heard someone call it ‘urban prototyping.’”
 
Q: What about in Covington?
A: “In Covington, I know there have been various arts engagement projects around the city, including a class from NKU that created an installation under one of the train overpasses, so I don’t think we’re claiming a lot of firsts. The Awesome Collective has also been talking a lot about doing more subversive positive messaging and advertising to make people aware of Covington. But again, I think the student’s control of the projects and the kind of blitz we’re putting on with eight projects is more unique.”
 
Q: Does the Tactical Urbanism class partner with any organizations for projects and/or events?
A: “We’ve done a lot of work with the people from Renaissance Covington and the City of Covington, CSX for train overpass inquiries and various small businesses have been generous with their support of projects in effort and materials. One of our students is collaborating with holiday storefront installations that Covington merchants are planning, and another is working with the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center to transform student drawings into life-size renditions that will enliven a train underpass. So the students have been a whirlwind through Covington and various organizations there.”
 
Q: There are lots of rejuvenation efforts going on throughout the Tri-State area. Why do you think it’s important for students to get involved in rejuvenating a city?
A: “I’ve seen more and more students looking for a way to make a difference in the world by utilizing the skills they are learning in school. I wanted to find a way to connect students with real problems that they could identify and physically make something that could make a difference that they can and should detect, even if it’s limited in scope.

I think it’s important from a civic engagement perspective both from the city’s and the student’s sides. Design and creative problem solving will continue to grow in importance as our cities grow, and empowering students now with experiences in affecting their environment is an important step.”
 
Q: What do you hope to see come out of the tactical urbanism class?
A: “I’d like to see students execute successful projects that are well attended that positively influence the City of Covington. But of equal importance is that the students understand the impact it had and the implications or suggestions they could make to the city regarding the issue they hoped to affect.

A number of students have projects aimed at changing perceptions of areas or creating some awareness around spaces and problems, so I think seeing people gather or talk about those things would be good as well. A number of students have ideas that they are documenting that could successfully be executed again, or have a version that with a few more local champions and perhaps a small cash infusion could scale up to be nice civic projects. So we’re looking for partners whose interest may have been peaked by some of the events to keep the ball rolling.”
 
The projects for this semester kicked off on Nov. 16 with Chalk Walk in the Arcade, and Covington’s first urban golf tournament was held on Nov. 17 on top of City Center Garage. The other projects will be popping up in Covington throughout the month of November.
  • Through Nov. 31, images of what Covington looked like in the past will be juxtaposed with what the vacant commercial properties look like today.
  • Weekends in November: Empty planters along Madison will see new plant life and help beautify the area.
  • Until Nov. 23, signs were on display along sidewalks to encourage people to visit local attractions.
  • Friday, Nov. 23: The Covington Urban Spaces Installation Project put up holiday storefront installations in windows near the corner of Pike and Madison, which will be on display until New Year’s.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 28: A pop-up park and café will appear under the overpass on Pike to bring together residents and visitors.
By Caitlin Koenig
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