Bellevue events serve as testing ground for urban-planning playbook

Bellevue put its home state on display this fall in a series of events aimed at supporting local businesses and artisans in an open-air community market atmosphere.
Three Old Kentucky Makers Market events over the last several weeks drew hundreds of residents and visitors to the riverfront town and featured Kentucky-bred musicians, food and drink vendors like Eli’s Barbecue, Lil’s Bagels and the West Sixth Brewing Company and locally handmade arts and crafts.
Makers Market organizers took cues from the recently released Neighborhood Playbook, an urban-development manual authored by Bellevue residents Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol with the tag line “Dare to Build Different.”
Bringing a community to life, play by play
Kevin WrightWright serves as executive director for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation in Cincinnati. Nickol is a senior urban designer for local landscape architecture and planning firm MKSK. Nickol also consulted on Cincinnati’s Form-Based Code as part of the city’s land development coding process.
The pair began working together two years ago, when Nickol joined Wright as a Bellevue resident.
Once the two became neighbors, casual conversations over coffee revealed shared interests and ideas about urban design and planning. Those conversations led them to co-write an articled called “5 Steps to Activating Your Neighborhood this Weekend.” It was received well by communities and residents looking to bring a little extra energy and attention to their communities.
That early concept morphed into the Neighborhood Playbook and brought the pair’s ideas to a broader market, in published form.
By definition, according to the group’s website, the playbook is a “field guide for community members and developers that facilitates the activation of spaces with the goal of influencing physical and economic growth in neighborhoods.”
The playbook offers a five-play process for bridging the gap between the community’s desires and the planning and investments necessary to make them happen. Expanding on that notion, Wright says the playbook provides a hands-on formula for increasing demand for outside investment in a neighborhood. But, unlike other methods, he said, “It puts the conceptualization in the hands of the community itself, which should mitigate fears about gentrification and provide more meaningful engagement.”
This type of urban development sends a message to potential investors that, as Wright says, “If they build it, you will come.”
Joe NickolNKY Thrives sat down with Nickol this month to discuss the project’s nexus and progress, as well as its overarching goals and meaning for Greater Cincinnati neighborhood development.
NKY Thrives: Whose idea was the Neighborhood Playbook

Joe Nickol: It really came out of those early conversations (with Wright). We then co-authored, with our respective organizations, “5 Steps to Activating Your Neighborhood this Weekend,” which spread all over the place fairly quickly. So, we thought we had something. We were originally going to call it the Neighborhood Ownership Manual but as we refined the approach, it became what you see today in the playbook. 
Why did you choose Bellevue as a pilot neighborhood?
The two kind of chose each other. That we live there was also an influence, but both Bellevue and the Makers Market location have all the issues the Playbook seeks to address and capitalize on, so it's a great fit. Bellevue's size also is nice, since a question we get a lot is about how this works in small towns. 
Was the Old Kentucky Makers Market addressing any specific community issues, or was it just a positive community event that fit the bill for the Playbook?

It did a lot of things. For some, it was a great community event and its value was just that. But the site was selected because of the particular block on Fairfield Avenue, where several buildings were about to go dark and needed new users. The intent of the event series was largely to stem the losses on that block and flip the script to create a destination. This is a great use of the playbook methodology. It has shown the community how there is unmet demand, with regard to things to do at night and places for people to come together. We are confident that (the playbook) will shape the reuse of the buildings on the block.
How does the playbook work, exactly? Do you simply give communities access to it, or will you work with them to develop their plans?

It's both. One can certainly use it and innovate with it and with their communities. Oftentimes, however, we are asked to be the coach or work alongside. We are also doing this in places like Dayton, Ohio. 
Is the playbook adaptable to all neighborhoods — urban, suburban, rural?
It is, but not necessarily to all contexts within each of those scales. Selecting a space, for instance, requires some degree of inherited buildings and structures that are close enough to make an outdoor room. That doesn't exist everywhere. Can you make it out of nothing? For sure, but it takes more work and investment.

What is next for the Neighborhood Playbook?
Kevin and I use its approach extensively in our professional roles, as he is working in Walnut Hills and I’m working with communities and developers all over the place. It has become part of our culture and operating system as consultants. In addition to sharing it in presentations and workshops around the country, we are often asked to give advice or work with neighborhoods and developers to create these kinds of places. Ultimately, this has tapped into a worldwide movement, and we've been amazed at the stories and feedback we've received. We see it continuing to grow and inform how extraordinary urban development happens in an inclusive and authentic way that also happens to be good for the public and private bottom line. 
 The Neighborhood Playbook was funded in 2015 by a $10,000 grant from Cincinnati-based philanthropic organization People’s Liberty. It was officially released in late September 2016 and is now available for purchase online. The city of Dayton, Ohio, will be testing the playbook in two neighborhoods in spring 2017.

Signup for Email Alerts