The Quaint Columbus Neighborhood That Is Ready to Get Smart

As the largest privately funded historic district in the country, Columbus's German Village, named a Great Neighborhood in 2011, is extolled for preserving its past. The neighborhood has remained true to its mid-19th century history, architecture, and character, with quaint cottages and their meticulously maintained lawns lining its brick streets.

At face value, German Village doesn't seem like the kind of neighborhood that would benefit from Columbus winning a $50 million Smart Cities grant in June — but don't judge a book by its cover.

German Village Houses. Photo by Flickr user Friscocali (CC BY-NC 2.0).

The connection between Smart Cities and German Village wasn't immediately obvious to Sarah Marsom, Historic Preservation Advocate at the German Village Society, either. She works mainly with local homeowners to extol the benefits of living in a historic district and promote preservations best practices while also advocating for historic preservation alongside city officials. But though preservation was not integrated directly into Columbus's transportation-focused grant application, Marsom soon realized the German Village had a lot to gain from the proposed changes.

The Smart Cities grant is specifically to improve Columbus's city transit by exploring innovations like driverless vehicles and electric charging stations.

"People don't often associate electric cars with historic districts, but it would affect German Village," Marsom explains. Driverless cars are less likely to violate the neighborhood speed limit and damage the historic brick streets. Likewise, the neighborhood will have to determine how best to integrate features like electric car charging stations into its historic fabric.

Smarter vehicles could also lead to smarter parking. The difficulty of parallel parking along the narrow streets of German Village has exacerbated the damage to its historic sandstone curbs, which have been in place for over 100 years. Automated vehicles would prevent inexperienced parallel parkers from clipping the curb while trying to finagle their way into the slim spaces.

German Village streetscape. Photo by Dale Winling (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Marsom also anticipates that German Village will benefit from the Smart Cities grant's public transportation developments. Even though there is no stop in the neighborhood itself, German Village has already seen benefits from the CBUS, Columbus's free downtown circulator bus. The transit authority has put brochures for German Village at its stations, and the bus stops surrounding the historic district appear on all the neighborhood maps.

Though establishing a bus stop in the village itself is difficult due to the narrow streetscape, the secondary benefits of improved public transportation are clear: fewer vehicles on the brick streets lead to smoother streets and safer pedestrian areas. "Even our 90-year-old volunteers at the visitor center are promoting it," Marsom says.

CBUS isn't the only public transportation innovation embraced by German Villagers. In light of the CoGo bike share's popularity, German Village planners are looking to make the neighborhood even more bike-friendly. Because brick streets make for a bumpy ride, there are plans to add smoothly paved bike lanes to the upcoming redesign of the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, Third Street.

CoGo Bike Share. Photo by Flickr user Jared Cherup (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Innovation and preservation are often considered to be at odds, but not at German Village.

"From my perspective as a preservationist, we can look at the past and save the past, but we have to acknowledge that our communities continue to move forward," Marsom explains. "We want German Village to continue to grow and flourish for the next 150 years."

About the Author

Samantha Schipani is APA's Great Places in America communications intern.

Top image: German Village. Photo by Flickr user GPS (CC BY-SA 2.0).

September 2, 2016

By Samantha Schipani