The Essence of Athens Process

By Posted in - Blog & Competitiveness & Public Art & Work on November 4th, 2013 0 Comments

( The following is a recap of the exciting planning and design process in Athens, Ohio in 2013. )

Athens, Ohio is a forward-thinking town that doesn’t shy away from new ideas. The city is already amazing, tucked into a pretty valley in the Appalachian foothills, but it knows it could be even more special. The leaders seem to understand how economic development (including attracting students to local Ohio University, new residents, tourists, and businesses) is tied to a place’s reputation and overall feeling. (Few of us want to spend time and money in an ordinary place!) This is why community leaders came together to discuss how to make Athens a 100% original town and an uncopyable city. They also gathered to learn about the Designing Local process.


The community was asked a simple question: “What is the Essence of Athens?” The collective answer helped the Designing Athens Committee understand and define the specific elements involved in making Athens an original city. Nearly 500 photos were contributed by the community. These photos represented what makes Athens truly special. Several essays were also submitted.


(Above) A before and after shot of an Athens garage. The colors, a refreshing departure from the typical beige and tan color schemes that are usually found in too many towns, represent the boisterousness and boldness of the community.

Based on the community’s input, the committee agreed on a framework that should represent Athens in any new civic infrastructure projects and suggestions for commercial and residential development:

The following framework offers us the opportunity to create myriad designs and forms that express the Essence of Athens while maintaining an overall unity. This a family of components that each speak to the core themes while doing so in ways that may at times emphasize one element more than another, reinforcing each other while permitting variety of expression.

Hills—defining our landscape, our neighborhoods, ascending and descending, overlapping, layered, uneven, at times lush, at times colorful, at times gray—great seasonal transformation.
meandering, graceful, flowing, cutting, rising and falling, ever seeking to break its bounds, providing habitat, both barrier and corridor, part of the city’s origin story.
Brick and Stone—also part of Athens origin, the built environment fashioned from the earth, attempting to impose an organized grid, to prop up the hills, providing pathways, containers and canvasses, ever warping with the movement of nature, reflecting the patina of time and culture.
Nature—lush, diverse in size, color and form, ever attempting to reclaim and repopulate, defying the grid, seasonally variable, edible/nourishing/delicious
Youthful—playful, whimsical, hopeful, enthusiastic, boisterous, testing boundaries, ever seeking a purpose or mate (they don’t call it Court St. for nothing)
Innovative—original, intellectually curious, creative ingenuity, forward-looking, neither stuck in the past nor ignoring its lessons, reuse/repurpose of materials, environmental respect
reflecting its Appalachian origins infused with the ongoing immigration of outside influences, variety of forms—big band, garage, orchestra, street musicians, bars and coffee shops, festivals, etc.
Little Big—we’re a little town that doesn’t feel like a little town, dynamic energy in a small space, not so much ambitious as passionate.

The Committee met over the summer to match this new Essence of Athens framework for ideas to create ATHENS! civic infrastructure (roads, sidewalk, lights and poles, parking garage, pavers, staircases, community spaces, signs, benches, and anything that can be used and seen). The meetings were passionate. Their ideas were amazing.




The Essence of Athens Plan is currently being written as designers are now working on the specifics to be unveiled at year’s end. Thanks to the great Athens community, the plan’s outcomes and reach could be vast. Stay tuned!

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