The subject of this column — a neighborhood enhancement project dedicated to revamping signage in a business district — is near and dear to me.
My home in Northside, a neighborhood just minutes from downtown Cincinnati, has seen a drastic uptick as residents and business owners alike have united to rewrite its previously negative history. The best part? It’s working.
In the past few years, a one-mile stretch that used to contain many shuttered storefronts has welcomed two new restaurants, a store that curates local/handmade goods from artists and designers, a bakery and brunch hot spot, and a store that revamps stale furniture into trendy must-haves. It’s a good time to be in Northside. The challenge has been changing the perception of the neighborhood to outsiders and creating more curb appeal to entice them to enjoy its bounty.
Meanwhile, the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation was looking to leverage local assets and creative talent within the community in order to enhance economic activity and vibrancy in Greater Cincinnati. It seemed obvious to partner with an important local resource, The American Sign Museum, to not only facilitate a new program that would provide 11 businesses with new signage, but to also establish the infrastructure to train the next generation of signmakers in Cincinnati.
Eric Avner, foundation officer, walks me through a process so detailed and well-documented that the entire project could be replicated in the future by CoSign Cincy, the resulting organization of a partnership funded by the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation. Local artists were paired with businesses to design the signs through a regimented program with pre-determined timeframes, orchestrated meet-ups and a pool of local resources, such as fabricators and zoning code experts. In the end, all of the pre-planning was well worth it. In parade-like fashion, the signs were installed and revealed one-by-one on Black Friday as local business owners were raised in a bucket truck to unveil what lay beneath the plastic covering. “The sign is doing just what we’d hoped—piquing curiosity and prompt- ing folks to come in and explore,” says Libby Hunter, executive director for nonprofit WordPlay Cincy (an enterprise of the Urban Legend Institute).
Avner says that the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation is using design thinking to identify enhancement projects across the city by first defining a problem and then claiming ownership. Just like they did with CoSign. Hunter sees the benefits already: “The neighborhood is on a strong upswing … and this gives an extra layer of credibility to our established business culture.”
Interested in Designing Change?
“Just Design,” by Christopher Simmons, documents socially conscious designs for critical causes. Read these stories of how design can make a difference.