Columbus, OH

University District tackling residents’ concerns of safety, walkability with new BeWell initiative

The Lantern
Nora Gerber, executive director of University District Organization, addresses the crowd about the BeWell initiative. Credit: Kyrie Thomas | Lantern Reporter

Safety and housing concerns of those in the University District are being addressed, as the University District Organization looks to improve residents’ quality of life.

The UDO’s BeWell initiative will address concerns about housing, safety and feeling connected as a community, Nora Gerber, executive director of UDO, said at the University Area Commission Sept. 21.

Gerber said the BeWell initiative , which kicked off Sept. 20, 2021, is a collaboration between the UDO and the Neighborhood Design Center. The initiative’s team has used surveys to collect resident feedback over the last year, connecting with community leaders to improve the experience for those visiting and living in the area, she said.

“This could look like advocating for policy, or helping long-term residents be able to age in place and stay in place,” Gerber said. “We know we have a lot of investments here, so how do we help [investors] feel comfortable?”

The University District is a 2.8 square mile area that encompasses the 13 neighborhoods that surround Ohio State, according to its website .

Gerber concluded her presentation Sept. 21 by leading the commissioners and other attendees at the conference through a series of interactive survey questions about main issues the initiative plans to focus on.

“We’re taking all this data and putting it into our final report,” Gerber said. “We want to hear information — your insights about what is most important to you.”

Gerber said repopularizing and rebuilding local stores and neglected areas of the community would allow the University District to preserve its character as the area continues to develop.

Tom Wildman, a long-term resident and university-area commissioner, said he found the emphasis on affordable housing to be “disturbing.” Wildman said the initiative should instead take a closer look at walkability.

“I think [affordable housing] is lower on my list because a neighborhood becomes walkable if you make the neighborhood safer, and that’s where the focus should be,” Wildman said.

Gerber said the survey showed concerns about walkability and safety near campus due to an increase in traffic accidents.

“We are probably one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Columbus,” Gerber said. “But, if people don’t feel safe riding their bike or skateboard or walking, then we’re not utilizing the amenity that we have here.”

The University District had been under a lot of scrutiny in the fall of 2021 with safety concerns from parents and students living in the area. However, The Lantern found crime occurring in the area has decreased compared to the number during the same time period a year before.

Gerber said BeWell will seek out strategies to improve safety and visibility at pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes — such as those near Summit and Fourth Streets —where the district has recorded a rise in collisions.

“How can [the initiative] provide better walkability, better safety, for our residents?” Gerber said. “Especially because the University District has a great core infrastructure for walkability, for biking and for mobility transportation”.

Gerber said the growth of “renter-occupied housing” was a main concern for long-term homeowners in the University District.

Despite the solutions Gerber proposed as part of the BeWell project’s strategies, she said the main pathway to resolving community issues is by encouraging residents to unite.

“To actually create community and to actually feel like this is a home, we want to be able to bring both our long-term residents and our short-term residents together to create that sense of community,” Gerber said.

More information about the BeWell initiative and how University District residents can get involved can all be found on the program’s website.

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