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Giving the Olentangy River a voice in development

As the Lorax speaks for the trees, Jason Kentner and his landscape architecture students want to speak for the Olentangy River.

View of a shallow part of the Olentangy River, flanked by rocks and trees.

Kentner, associate professor in the Knowlton School of Architecture and design principal at Implement landscape architecture practice in Columbus, and his master's degree students are seeking public comment about the future of the Olentangy as part of the Olentangy River Vision Plan. In a public survey, "What Do You See?" is the central question the team is asking about the river as they work to develop a plan that best represents and reflects the role of the diverse and dynamic urban waterway.

“The Olentangy River Vision Plan is a project we started in partnership with FLOW, the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, with the idea that the river itself wasn’t getting positioned appropriately,” Kentner says. “There were lot of other factors pushing and pulling the design thoughts about transportation and real estate development, and things that were very appropriate for a growing city, but we thought the river has to have a voice in this.”

The project grew out of a need for a deeper community outreach and data-driven understanding of the corridor’s existing green spaces and for strategies to preserve them and develop new ones as the area develops with expected population growth. The goal is to produce a set of sustainable planning and design models that would improve the ecological integrity of the Olentangy River when incorporated into the larger corridor planning effort. 

“Thinking about where we started the project, we wanted the river to have a voice in shaping its future. And that’s a voice it has rarely had,” Kentner says. “When it speaks, it usually has a very strong statement. ‘I’m going to flood Franklinton.’ That’s how rivers talk to you about decisions that you should maybe reconsider.”

With its headwaters more than 50 miles north of Ohio State’s Columbus campus, the Olentangy River flows through a diverse urban, rural, and suburban landscape before its confluence with the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. Through campus, the river performs different functions for the university and adjacent communities.

During the 2017-2018 academic calendar year, university administration leadership conducted a series of workshops to help create a long-range vision to shape future development and restoration work within the corridor. The public input included increasing low-carbon transportation options through an expanded Olentangy Trail network, increasing green infrastructure for stormwater mitigation, and integrating increased tree canopy with surrounding neighborhood efforts.

The feedback that is collected will be shared with Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed and Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District in an effort to help shape the discussion and direction of public policy and planning. The project hopes to influence various parallel efforts such as Rapid 5, an initiative to connect Central Ohio’s major parks and waterways, which was announced in December.

The Olentangy River Vision Plan project is supported with a $60,000 grant from the Ohio State Sustainability Fund.

Take the survey

Learn more about the Olentangy River Vision Plan (video)

Community efforts to preserve the Olentangy River corridor (video)

Follow the Olentangy River Vision Plan on Instagram and Facebook

by the Sustainability Institute