Want to help Columbus have more vibrant public spaces? Check out what this group is doing

New section of the Dragonfly Trail Network officially opens

The official opening of the first segment of the Dragonfly Trail Network was Wednesday in downtown Columbus. The Dragonfly is Columbus' network of off-road greenway trails people can use for recreation, transportation and interaction.
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The official opening of the first segment of the Dragonfly Trail Network was Wednesday in downtown Columbus. The Dragonfly is Columbus' network of off-road greenway trails people can use for recreation, transportation and interaction.

Any day now, the second segment of a planned 70-mile greenway around Columbus that runs along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard should be ready for walkers and bikers to use.

The first section, completed last spring, connects where the Fall Line Trace rails to trails route ended on 10th Avenue at Piedmont Medical Center to the Riverwalk. Several other connecting segments have also been proposed.

The greenway is a significant piece in the the city’s effort to create a more vibrant and connected community as part of the Columbus 2025 initiative. The multi-year development plan is aimed at reducing poverty, increasing prosperity and creating a better quality of life for residents of the Chattahoochee Valley.

Betsy Covington, chair of the Vibrant and Connected Places action area of Columbus 2025, said the greenway is a low-stress way to get around in a city without cars.

Covington and others met earlier this month to gather information on what parts of Columbus are currently vibrant or connected.

The goal of the meeting at the Columbus Public Library was to “create new metrics to measure local leaders’ ability to foster healthier communities,” according to the group’s website.

Those metrics will help government and non government agencies as well as the tax-paying public understand where they are getting a good return on their money for various improvement projects.

“Philanthropic money is a precious resource and public money is a precious resource,” Covington said. “Before we invest public-private partnerships in civic resources, we need to know what we’re investing in and what the outcome is.”

Will Burgin, chair of the metric committee, said “... the issue is that measuring vibrancy and measuring connectedness is not as easy to do (as other community goals.)”

That’s where Fourth Economy, a community and economic development consulting firm, can help, officials said.

As part of the meeting, participants placed stickers on maps showing where they live, shop and go for entertainment, as well as where they feel safe going and where they don’t feel safe going. Fourth Economy will use the information to help create the new metrics.

“We will be able to compare where people are shopping, going to church, going to school, etc. with where they are biking, walking and riding public transit, and we can start to see if there are any stretches of road or trail that need to be addressed to improve connectedness,” said Emily Brown, Fourth Economy’s director of economic strategy.

“We anticipate adding in lots of data from the city and our other partners too, which will give a much more robust understanding of how connectedness functions.”

One challenge is that there is no model for this kind of system, because no other cities have created one.

“A whole part of Columbus 2025 is that we are going to measure our results, we’re going to see where we’re having success and celebrate those. And where we have issues, we’re going to highlight and understand and try to get to the root of those things. And that’s the same with vibrant and connected spaces,” Burgin said.

Covington said the group’s work is less about starting certain projects and more about celebrating what the city is already doing well and helping accelerate the process.

While the group works to figure out how to measure success, it is also keeping an eye on three other projects besides the second segment of Dragonfly Trail that will increase connectedness and vibrancy in different areas in Columbus.

Wynnton Streetscape Project

A project to beautify Wynnton Road between Brown Avenue and 13th Street is about 30 days from being completed and is in the final review stage.

13th Street improvements

Plans are to remove one lane of 13th Street between 5th Avenue and 13th Avenue to provide for better sidewalks, bicycling and street parking.

Second Avenue corridor improvements

Columbus is working to create a Second Avenue Streetscape Plan, encompassing the corridor between JR Allen Parkway and 18th Street.

Covington said Fourth Economy will be back in town mid-May to continue their work. Meanwhile, residents can participate in a survey to help determine public space needs in Columbus.

The Vibrant and Connected Places action area’s work is being funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, Covington said.