By Dedra Cordle
When Kayla Davis and Malik Moore walk through their neighborhood on the Hilltop, they see so much potential despite the abundance of barren and blighted spaces.
“We love our community but there are areas out here that are in need of attention,” said Davis.
“They’re in need of a lot more than just attention,” Moore replied. “They are in need of financial investment from the city and there needs to be a buy-in from residents who have felt neglected for so long.”
As advocates for their community and members of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, they have each taken steps to transform the westside but they admit they could use extra hands, eyes, and ideas to get things moving along faster.
“We know there are so many creative and talented people living out here on the Hilltop who want to see positive change, who are dreaming of positive change,” said Moore. “But a lot of these people, these would-be highly engaged residents and organizations, are still hidden and unknown to us so we cannot help them try to see their vision of positive change become a reality.”
He said he is hopeful that a recently announced initiative would bring these dreamers out of the shadows so that they can shine a ‘beautiful’ new light on spaces and places within the Hilltop.
On Sept. 22, officials with the city of Columbus launched a new program in partnership with the Neighborhood Design Center called 614 Beautiful.
“614 Beautiful is a grant program that invites teams of neighborhood residents and community organizations to come together to submit their ideas for beautification projects that would not only enhance the aesthetics of their community but also create a space that everyone can enjoy,” said Lisa Snyder, project manager of the Neighborhood Design Center.
Winning teams and organizations could receive up to $10,000 in grant funding. Some of the beautification projects listed within the program overview include landscape enhancements, placemaking signage, pocket parks, public art and streetscape improvements but it is not limited solely to those suggestions.
“We have left a lot of the beautification ideas deliberately vague because we truly want to leave it open to what the community wants to see,” said Snyder. “We didn’t want to cap that creativity by saying, ‘You can only do the projects that we have suggested.’”
Carla Williams-Scott, the director of the city’s department of neighborhoods, said that component is what makes this new program so promising.
“It gives them an opportunity to put things where the people want them to go and not where the city thinks they should go,” said Williams-Scott. “This is input that will come directly from the residents and it will be done by the residents within that community.”
City councilwoman Lourdes Barroso de Padilla agreed with her assessment.
“I envision this as an opportunity to bring residents together so it really is about people coming together and working together and advocating for your community and have this space be a place that is a true point of pride,” she said.
“We want this program to fund a place that feels like it is the center of the community where community members come together and build a community.”
Because there is a fiduciary element to the 614 Beautiful program, neighborhood teams that are comprised of individual residents will have to be connected to local non-profit organizations or stakeholders so they can provide assistance with that aspect. Moore and Davis said they are working on a plan to help them do just that.
“Several months ago, we started a BOLO – a Be on the Lookout – for residents and organizations and businesses in the area who are working to make positive change in the community,” Moore said. “We went door-to-door and sent out surveys to find them and we have at least 35 known organizations or businesses that can provide, and are willing to provide, help with improvement ideas.”
Moore said they plan to make that list available at the upcoming full commission meeting scheduled for Oct. 4. They will meet in-person at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilltop Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 511 S. Hague Ave. and also stream their meeting on Facebook and YouTube.
Both Davis and Moore said they are excited about the ideas that will come from 614 Beautiful and are hopeful there will be some Hilltop teams that receive grant funding through the citywide program.
“I am very excited but the proof will be in the pudding,” said Moore. “Today is the day it was announced but the proof will be a year from now when we’ll see who actually has received the funds and if they are using it in a way that is bringing our community together.”
Davis said that while she does not have a preference with the beautification project suggestions, she would like to see places within the community where people can sit and/or gather.
“We love seeing all of these murals but there is not a seated space where you can sit and enjoy looking at them (for long stretches of time),” she said. “I want there to be a space where people can actually congregate and have a safe place to just be able to enjoy the weather and enjoy being outside and just enjoy one another’s company while being ourselves.”
More information on the 614 Beautiful program can be found at www.614beautiful.org. The website goes over the finer points of the program such as eligibility, submission requirements, and design evaluation criteria. There will also be a virtual Q&A period from now until Oct. 14. The first virtual session was held on Sept. 27 but additional sessions will take place on Oct. 1 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Oct. 5 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Snyder said 614 Beautiful representatives are always willing to help provide additional assistance via email or via phone.
All submissions are due on Nov. 4, 2022. The award announcements are slated to take place in early December with the project implementation period taking place throughout March and May of 2023.