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The Planning Process

The goal of the Hilltop Community Plan’s public engagement was to let the voice of residents lead the process each step of the way. Participants gave meaningful input throughout the year-long outreach process. At regular monthly meetings, people worked independently and in groups to communicate their top priorities and vision for the future. Activities were designed to stimulate conversation, encourage group discussion, and get to the root of problems.

What we heard...


Hilltop Plan Events

Community Plan Kick-Off          Sept. 24, 2018
Envision Hilltop Event                Oct. 8, 2018
Envision Hilltop Event                Nov. 13, 2018
Landlord Focus Group               Nov. 14, 2018
Recreation Focus Group            Dec. 13, 2018
Envision Hilltop Event                Dec. 13, 2018
Envision Hilltop Event                Jan. 10, 2019
Library Youth Engagement        Feb. 7, 2019
Community Workshop               Feb. 23, 2019
Social Services Focus Group     March 4, 2019
Envision Hilltop Event                March 14, 2019
K12 Professional Discussion       March 25, 2019
Envision Hilltop Event                April 11, 2019
Envision Hilltop Event                 May 9, 2019

Our Approach

The Hilltop Community Plan public engagement process was designed to be comprehensive, resident-driven, and transparent. Monthly resident meetings represented the core of this process, where residents completed individual and group activities designed by the planning team. The activities ranged from discussion-based brainstorming to mapping exercises, always with the goal of gathering concrete opinions and recording results in a thorough—yet concise—way.

In addition to the regular monthly meetings, there was a Kick-Off event on Sept. 24, 2018 and a Winter Workshop on Feb. 23, 2019 with slightly different formats. All events, except for the Winter Workshop, were hosted at the J. Ashburn Boys & Girls Club at 85 Clarendon Avenue. Keeping the location consistent throughout the planning process was an intentional strategy designed to keep the process predictable and familiar to residents.

Outside of monthly meetings, the planning team organized focus groups with relevant stakeholders to allow for pointed discussions with experienced professionals. These were highly valuable events that contributed greatly to the planning team’s understanding of the Hilltop focus area. A less formal approach to public engagement were the “pop-up planning” events hosted throughout Summer 2018 and into 2019. These were existing community events attended by the planning team to hear perceptions and ideas about the focus area. This was also a critical component of building an audience, establishing relationships, and gathering contact information that was used for the duration of the engagement period.

Events Attended

Hilltop Senior Discussions
Westside Stakeholders    
Westgate Farmers Market       
Hilltop Bean Dinner             
Highland West Civic Association     
Hilltop 5K Run              
Westgate Farmers Market   
Summer Jam West  
Westside Stakeholders   
Block Party (Veritas Church)  
Westgate Farmers Market  
National Night Out 
Greater Hilltop Area Commission 
Westgate Neighbors Association 
Westgate Farmers Market  
Greater Hilltop Area Commission   
Highland West Civic Association   
Hilltop Community Festival 
Sullivant Avenue Litter Clean-Up
Westgate Farmers Market 
Trick or Treat Corner  
Greater Hilltop Area Commission 
Greater Hilltop Area Commission  
Glenwood Youth Engagement
Glenwood Youth Engagement  
Sullivant Avenue Litter Clean-Up         
Legal Aid Society Hilltop Clinic       
Hilltop Bean Dinner 
National Night Out, South Central Hilltop 
Neighborhood Leadership Academy  
Highland West Civic Association


May 10-12, 16, 23, and 31, 2018
June 13 and 25, 2018
June 16, 2018
June 30, 2018
July 5, 2018
July 7, 2018
July 7 and 21, 2018
July 14, 2018
July 26, 2018
August 2, 2018
August 4, 2018
August 7, 2018
August 14, 2018
August 28, 2018
September 1 and 15, 2018
September 4, 2018
September 6, 2018
September 22, 2018
September 29, 2018
October 6, 2018
October 31, 2018
November 13, 2018

February 5, 2019
February 28, 2019
March 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2019
May 4, 2019
June 13, 2019
June 29, 2019
August 6, 2019
September 14, 2019
November 7, 2019


Planning Process Timeline

Outreach & Communication

How did people
first hear about events?

At nearly every event, attendees were asked what prompted them to come. These results show that email/text communications were effective, followed by word of mouth. Flyers and postcards were less commonly marked.



To reach as many people as possible, two rounds of postcards were delivered to each residential and business address within the focus area. The first set was delivered in advance of the Sept. 24 event to 7,782 addresses along 11 mail carrier routes. The second set was delivered the first week of January to announce 2019 events. The delivery area was increased to 9,929 addresses along 14 mail carrier routes. Postcards contained event dates and highlighted the website to encourage residents to learn more, contact the planning team, and provide input.



To spread the word about the planning process, two banners were placed in the focus area. The first was outside the fire station at 2250 W. Broad. The second was at the police substation at 2070 Sullivant. Near the W. Broad banner, 2016 traffic counts estimate that 18,834 vehicles pass daily. Near the Sullivant banner, traffic counts from 2014 estimate 16,172 vehicles daily. The banners in prominent locations were intended to maximize both community awareness and participation in the planning process by residents and stakeholders.



To reach people in the community, the planning team attended 15 events from June 2018 through February 2019. The idea of “pop-up planning” is to build on the momentum of existing community events by attending and speaking informally with residents. Conversations sought to gain insight from neighbors as well as to share the details of the community planning process. The approximately 450-person contact list was composed primarily of emails and phone numbers received when attending pop-up planning events.


DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT was created in Spring 2018 to serve as the online home of the planning process. The website contains a range of information and engagement opportunities, from focus area maps to historic imagery. Activities at monthly events were uploaded so residents could see the results of their contributions and to maintain a high degree of transparency. A community Wikimap allowed 100 unique individuals to add 357 points with 843 interactions on a dynamic map of the neighborhood to mark issues or leave positive comments.



Throughout the summer, the planning team attended events in the Hilltop to meet residents and let people know about the planning process. At the same time, people were asked to provide feedback on whatever topics they wanted. This feedback, provided on post-it notes and through conversations, was collected and shared at subsequent events.

Comments received varied widely and touched on a variety of topics. These comments formed the earliest stage of public engagement and served as the foundation of public feedback for the public meetings. At the October 2018 public meeting, attendees were given these comments to digest and distill into their top priorities.


Event Details

September 24, 2018

The Kick-Off Event was held at the J. Ashburn Boys & Girls Club (85 Clarendon Ave.) on Monday, Sept. 24 at 6pm. The primary goal of the event was to formally introduce the Hilltop community planning process to the community, although many in attendance were already aware of the effort due to summer outreach and communication with groups like the Greater Hilltop Area Commission and other stakeholders. To encourage attendance and thank participants for their time, a buffet dinner was offered.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther welcomed residents and stakeholders, emphasizing his focus on strengthening neighborhoods and encouraging people to participate in the community plan. Nick Bankston, Project Manager in the Department of Neighborhoods, led a presentation to introduce the audience to the planning process, outline activities to date, and explain the framework moving forward.

Following the presentation, participants were encouraged to interact with different stations to learn more and provide feedback to the planning team. The event ended with a raffle of $25 Visa gift cards.



At the October 11 event—the first regular monthly meeting—residents evaluated issues brought up by others through summer outreach and indicated their preferences for where to locate future housing and retail investment through an independent mapping exercise.

The first activity split participants into two groups per category—People, Place, and Home—to discuss which resident-submitted issues were most important to them. Each group distributed twenty coins among four categories to indicate priority level. The mapping exercise asked residents to illustrate where they believed future investment in housing and retail would be most beneficial. 

Residents split into six groups to discuss which resident-submitted issues were most important to them. Individually, they read through all the public comments recorded from summer outreach and identified which rose to the top for them. The group members then reached concensus about what comments represented the most pressing issue in each category. Each group then recorded these top statements on a small poster (displayed right) and then distributed 20 coins among the four categories to indicate priority level. The combined results are shown below, indicating that Health, Safety, and Homeownership rose to the top across all groups.

Retail & Housing Investment Mapping Exercise

As an individual activity, we asked residents to mark on a map which areas they would like to see investment, using yellow strips for residential and red for retail/commercial investment. Then we put a grid over the map and counted how many marks were in each square of the grid. The darker the area is, the more marks were made in that spot.

The areas that received the most recommendation on the retail map were W. Broad St. between Wheatland & Richardson, and on Sullivant Avenue between Highland and Terrace. In general, most of the W. Broad and Sullivant corridors were recommended.

The area in highest need of housing investment, according to participants, was between W. Broad and Olive St. from Richardson to Wayne, as well as near the intersection of Wayne and Palmetto. As expected, recommended housing investment is less concentrated than retail investment. In general, the residential section between Broad and Sullivant was of high concern.

October 11, 2018

Mapping Exercise Grid Results with legen
Mapping Exercise Grid Results with legen

November 8, 2018

Two activities were designed for the November 8 event. A group activity asked participants to consider how they would want vacant parcels or underutilized parcels to be used in the future. Residents worked together to imagine ways to re-activate neglected spaces, like new housing, retail, or green space uses such as rain gardens and public art installations. The second activity asked individuals to think about how they want the Hilltop to look in the year 2038.

Participants were asked to work in groups to select their preferred uses for vacant and/or underutilized parcels in the Hilltop focus area. The suggestions from residents are listed below. The results show that many neighbors want basic amenities like shopping, grocery, pharmacies, and laundromats. Green space is also important, as is fostering social diversity. For the most part, sites in the residential interior of the neighborhood were imagined as being used for future residential or low-impact uses like gardens, playground, or picnic areas. Sites along commercial corridors were generally suggested for re-development into mixed-use, mixed-income, and/or retail amenities to serve nearby residents.

Hilltop Vision 2038 Activity

Participants were asked to imagine leaving the Hilltop for 20 years, and returning in 2038. What would the challenges and successes of the Hilltop be in 2038? Below are the categories of answers, shown by icons for people, place, or home. Key themes: Housing affordability and resident displacement; condition of homes, including litter and trash as well as maintenance and aesthetic appeal; followed by an availability of retail and business amenities for residents. Full results are available here.


December 13, 2018

The December event offered a deeper analysis of public input received to date. The individual Cause & Effect exercise challenged residents to think about multiple dimensions around particular issues, like litter, crime, and unsafe driving. Residents discussed with one another the interrelated nature of many of the problems—and that complexity was also revealed in the results of the exercise. A web of connected issues arose, demonstrating the enormity of the problems facing the neighborhood. For example, some people listed addiction as a cause of sex work, while others listed sex work on the Hilltop as a deterrent to visitors and business investment. That lack of investment leads to an overall lack of economic opportunity, said others—which then drives some to engage in illicit activities to earn money, like sex work or drug trafficking. This cycle was illustrated through many of the 38 completed worksheets, acknowledging that solutions cannot focus on just one issue.

For the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis, participants worked together in two groups. The results are shown below.


January 10, 2019

The primary goal of the January 10 event was to begin the process of transitioning from a focus on problems to a focus on solutions. An exercise allowed residents to rank problems within each subcategory in order to reach consensus.

In addition to ranking issues, the event also presented participants with draft Guiding Principle statements (which were also shared before the meeting via email) to be edited by each group. The results of both activities are shared here.


The community plan needs guiding principles under which recommendations will be developed. We asked meeting participants to divide into three groups—People, Place, and Home—to collectively edit draft guiding principles. The results of these edits are shown to the right. They are intentionally broad, visionary, and ambitious statements.


All children will be prepared for diverse living wage jobs by integrating
workforce development with academic and vocational experience.

Every person deserves unrestricted access to high-quality physical, mental and
emotional healthcare, including addiction, rehabilitation services, and primary care.

Opportunities and assistance for living wage employment will be accessible, achievable, retainable, and include the ability for advancement.


The Hilltop will be a safe, secure, and inviting community for residents.

The Hilltop will support and sustain a variety of businesses to create a foundation of amenities and economic activity for residents and visitors.

Hilltop infrastructure will embrace a multi-modal transportation network that is responsive to the needs of the community today and in the future.


People will be encouraged and empowered to buy homes for neighborhood stability
and community pride.

The Hilltop will be home for a range of incomes, while staying true to its diverse heritage.

Housing in the Hilltop will be safe inside and out, and properties will be well-maintained.


We heard from Hilltop residents for months about issues that are facing the neighborhood. At this point in the planning process, it was critical to begin prioritizing issues and moving forward toward solutions. We asked all 51 participants at the Jan. 10 meeting to rank five issues under each category. The results of this exercise are shown below.

To calculate the results, a weighted scoring method was used. Issues were valued higher if they received a higher ranking from the participant. Disregarding subcategory groups, the issues that received the highest priority across the board were:
    (1) Living wage jobs and training—score: 1.6
    (2) Drug addiction and trafficking—score: 1.8
    (3) Home repair, maintenance, and curb appeal—score: 1.9


February 23, 2019

Winter Workshop

Residents and stakeholders were invited to attend the workshop, opening at 9am with refreshments and beginning at 9:30am with a presentation from Nick Bankston, Project Manager of Neighborhood Transformation Strategies for the Department of Neighborhoods. The presentation covered the premise of the community plan, the planning process, and shared preliminary results from public engagement. The second component updated the community about initiatives happening on the Hilltop (listed to the right).

After the presentation, residents explored the room to discuss intiatives with city staff, learning more through conversations and exhibits until 10:45am. Next, attendees split into three break-out groups to discuss three top issues as determined by vote on Jan. 10. After the break-out groups, residents re-convened to share results, enjoyed lunch, participated in the raffle ticket drawing, and repeated the coin investment activity offered on Sept. 24.

  • Pre-K center, Dept.
    of Education

  • Blueprint Columbus

  • Slow Streets Initiative

  • W. Broad Streetscape

  • CelebrateONE

  • United Way’s Neighborhood Leadership Academy

  • Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy

  • Central Ohio Transit Authority

  • Land Use Plan Update



Building upon the work of previous community planning sessions, the planning team actively engaged participants to identify and prioritize solutions for the community’s most pressing concerns. The goals of the events were to:


  • Provide community members the opportunity to problem solve and ideate together.

  • Focus on strategy development for priority areas.

  • Determine the resources and people that would need to be engaged in order to make their strategies a reality.

Participants were randomly assigned to three different breakout groups; each of these sessions addressed one topic (identified by residents in previous activities) from the People, Place, and Home categories. Click here for more complete results.

In collaboration, participants were challenged to develop solutions for the three priority areas identified in each category. Each small group shared with the room the idea they liked the most. Once all ideas were collected, the entire group voted on one idea to flush out more. This process was repeated two more times to address the other two topics.


March 14, 2019

There were three main activities at the March community planning event. First, residents learned about the results from the February 23 workshop. Next, they learned about the results of historic Hilltop business research, discussing changes in the retail environment of the neighborhood throughout the 20th century. Lastly, residents participated in a land use voting exercise in conjunction with the City of Columbus’ Planning Division.

Residents were asked to provide additional clarity on certain sections of the February 23 results to give the planning team more insight into how specific key ideas were reached by the group.

The dynamic Hilltop retail environment was briefly discussed, sharing results from an analysis of business listings between 1915 and 2005 that revealed a major decline in the number and variety of commercial establishments along Sullivant and W. Broad in the focus area. A handout was shared and discussed, and residents were directed to visit for additional details. Historic business listings were framed as an important foundation to understand how desirable amenities existed when population and density were higher—in the 1950s and 60s. This helped transition to discussions about potential development and levels of density that would be appropriate for the future of the Hilltop focus area. Resident opinions on density were gauged through the activities are featured below.



To learn what scales of future development along the W. Broad and Sullivant corridors would be preferable to residents, a poster voting exercise featured three levels of density: Low (0-24 dwelling units per acre), Medium (25-45 dwelling units per acre), and High (+45 dwelling units per acre). Residents were asked to place one of three stickers on each section to indicate their highest, middle, and lowest preference of density level. Ranked results analysis show that for Broad and Sullivant, the most preferred density level was medium.


April 11, 2019

The topic of discussion on April 11 was neighborhoods, neighborhoods, neighborhoods. We introduced the meeting by covering the results from the March 14 land use exercise. Next, participants completed a mapping exercise that asked them to think about the geographic boundaries of their neighborhood. Residents used maps to mark their own ideas of what neighborhood means, and suggest new boundaries for various entities. For example, the Greater Hilltop Area Commission was a topic of discussion due to its very large size—encompassing nearly the entire southwest quadrant of the City of Columbus. Some residents suggested that the commission be divided to more accurately represent the differences between the historic Hilltop core and the remainder of the Greater Hilltop area.

After completing the mapping exercise, the meeting transitioned to a large group discussion of what “low-hanging fruit” strategies should be employed to improve the Broad and Sullivant commercial corridors in the focus area. Residents brought up a multitude of issues and solutions, primarily focused on ending blight and spurring reinvestment in currently vacant storefronts. The aesthetic appeal of the corridors was voiced as a high priority during the conversation.



  • After 6 months vacant commercial building, begin taxing at a higher rate.


  • Hilltop placemaking

  • Colorful displays, banners

  • Unifying visual themes

  • “Turn blight into beauty”


  • Stop inaccurately reporting story locations as Hilltop, spreading misperceptions


  • Trash/litter

  • Create hyperfocused curb appeal efforts

  • Publicly fund trash teams

  • Empower neighbors to clean up

  • Spray/control weeds along curbs/sidewalks


  • Improve direct outreach for housing programs/services

  • Proactive and targeted code enforcement


  • Market available retail space through community events, inviting people to come see storefronts, etc.


  • Tree-clearing/restoration along hillside at Glenwood Park


  • Community quarterback

  • Paid staff

  • Economic development

  • Connect people to resources, to each other

  • Implement plans, strategies, execute projects and policies


This map is intended to be inspirational. It does not exactly represent these subdivision lines and some very small subdivisions were left out. The original map was provided by the Highland West Civic Association.


Participants completed a mapping exercise designed to get their thoughts on particular neighborhood boundaries. Most responses indicated that residents acknowledge the existing boundaries of neighborhoods like Highland West, Westgate, and Wiltshire Heights. These appear to be the most identifiable and well-known “neighborhoods” in the Hilltop focus area.   Some people indicated the influence of large arterial roads in defining sections of the focus area—such as the area north of Broad St. being known as “North Hilltop.” These types of boundaries are also used on the Near East Side, which is typically discussed as a collection of neighborhoods, including the King-Lincoln District and Olde Town East.

The exercise demonstrated that the study area could benefit from having smaller, more identifiable districts within the broader area known as the Hilltop. The Greater Hilltop Area Commission encompasses such a large area that it is hard to communicate the unique aspects of neighborhoods like Highland West within such a massive region. Overall, responses to the mapping exercise show that participants each view their slice of the Hilltop differently.

May 9, 2019

At the May 9 community meeting, participants discussed results from the April 11 meeting and heard announcements from a few community stakeholders, including the Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab (FUEL) and Mount Carmel West. The first activity was an individual safety mapping exercise in which people marked three spots on the map where they feel most safe and three spots where they feel least safe in the neighborhood. Next, the group discussed the Preliminary Objectives and provided feedback, which resulted in some changes reflected below.


Health & Recreation

  • Improve conditions, amenities, and availability at parks and community centers

  • Address the impact of substance abuse on family and community

  • Increase access to mental, physical, and financial wellness opportunities.


  • Position schools as community hubs

  • Expand on-site wraparound services

  • Increase pre-K enrollment and improve childcare availability.

Employment & Income

  • Create pipeline to vocations from education and training programs

  • Encourage higher wages

  • Consider innovative concepts like wealth-building and worker-owned businesses.


  • Reinforce and strengthen key gateways into the neighborhood

  • Consider incentives to re-use existing structures and locate in historic business district

  • Support customer access and positive impressions of the corridors


  • Prioritize active mobility

  • Address hazardous vehicle behavior

  • Improve access to employment centers


  • Focus on prevention by investing in people

  • Tackle physical environment attributes that contribute to criminal activity

  • Expand proactive and community policing


  • Property management and maintenance

  • Incentivize rehabilitation and renovation of rental properties

  • Use carrot and stick approach to proactive code enforcement


Mixed-Income & Affordability

  • Offer a variety of housing at levels affordable to multiple income incomes

  • Focus housing investment in strategic areas

  • Reduce barriers to development


  • Improve financial capacity for current and prospective homebuyers

  • Support a culture of shared homeowner prosperity to build community pride

  • Enhance and add amenities to draw new homebuyers


To learn what locations in the Hilltop focus area make people feel safe and what locations might raise some concern, we designed a mapping exercise that allowed individuals to rank their top three most safe and top three least safe locations. We also asked people to explain why.

Where do people feel safe and unsafe?
The map illustrates the lack of consensus among participants, except for a few locations. Areas perceived as safest appear to be around the Hilltop Library at Hague & Sullivant, as well as the area around Glenview Park and Holton Recreation Center north of Broad St. Areas where people felt least safe appear along Sullivant Avenue, and more generally in the area bound by Broad, Sullivant, Highland, and Hague.

We also asked people to list the reasons they felt safe or unsafe at each location. The number of people who listed a reason in each category is also listed. Reasons are not listed in the context of the rankings.


Live nearby/know people        12
Active parks                               5
Clean and/or well-lit                  5
Institutional bldgs. nearby        4
Slower traffic                              4
Well-kept homes                       3
Cameras                                     2
Security guards                          2
Away from crime/trash              2
Active sidewalk                          1


Speeding/unsafe traffic             18
Gun activity/violence                 10
Drug activity                                7
Abandoned homes/
Run-down   7      
Sex solicitation                            6
Loitering                                      3
Pitbulls                                         3
Criminal activity                           2
Unruly youth                                2
Lack of activities/
destinations    1
Litter/garbage                             1





In addition to pop-up planning and monthly meetings, the planning team organized a series of focus groups to receive targeted feedback from subject matter experts and practitioners working in the Hilltop. A focus group is a small gathering of deliberately selected people who participate in a planned discussion intended to elicit perceptions about a topic in an environment that is non-threatening and receptive. The focus groups allow group members to interact and influence each other during the discussion and consideration of the ideas of others. The purpose of a focus group is not to arrive at a consensus, but to identify the feelings, perceptions, and thoughts about a topic. For the Hilltop Community Plan, we organized four formal focus groups and attended one Legal Aid Society of Columbus clinic in the Greater Hilltop. These events provided a critical perspective from neighborhood stakeholders that was sometimes absent from monthly resident meetings. Across our four formal focus groups, more than 25 people participated. Each session lasted about an hour and most offered snacks or lunch for participants. Participants were encouraged to speak freely and were ensured they would not be quoted directly in any materials. The focus group environment allowed participants to influence one another and each focus group’s discussion developed organically, with follow-up questions based on previous comments. Results are summarized here, as well as key themes from each discussion. For the most part, focus group attendees were not involved in the monthly resident meetings and had no other role in the planning process apart from attending the focus group.

Landlord Focus Group, Nov. 14, 2018

The discussion at the Hilltop Landlord Focus Group included a landlord who accepts HUD vouchers and an employee of a permanent supportive housing site. Discussion touched on a number of topics, but focused on physical deterioration of infrastructure and housing, as well as socio-economic factors. Participants noted the intense impact of drug use on the lives of tenants and their families. Vacant units were pinpointed as a magnet for crime, and participants claimed many break-ins occur from acquaintances of tenants or by tenants who are locked out.

K12 Professionals Focus Group, March 25, 2019

One dominant challenge facing the Hilltop, according to many in the K12 professional group, is student trauma on an individual, family, and community level. Many students don’t know how to process this trauma, leading to mental health issues.  While there are some mental health professionals in schools, there are waiting lists and schools must send some children elsewhere for services. Participants wished there were more wraparound services located in the school—especially related to mental health. There is some distrust of outside organizations, and many participants believed on-site services would make a huge difference. Positioning schools as the hub for resources such as medical, vision, and mental health would be extremely beneficial.

Recreation Focus Group, Dec. 13, 2018

The recreation focus group brought together employees from the library, YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and city recreation centers to discuss conditions and challenges in the neighborhood. Conversation touched on transportation as a barrier to participation, as well as lack of funding to provide additional programs. Most attendees recognized that with more funds, they could expand hours and opportunities to serve Hilltop children, teens, adults, and older adults. Others stressed that many people just don’t know about their programs, so more outreach is essential.

Social Services Focus Group, March 4, 2019

Social services professionals from The Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, and Lifecare Alliance attended this focus group at the Hilltop Library. Discussion revolved around the services they offered, the problems facing the Hilltop community, and how residents access programming. Some participants shared that human trafficking/sex work in Franklinton and the Hilltop has worsened in recent years, while other neighborhoods have potentially declined. Participants highlighted gaps in food service on weekends and in the summer, when people may be going hungry.

Legal Aid Outreach, June 13, 2019

At the monthly Legal Aid Society of Columbus clinic on the Hilltop, we spoke with four women about their neighborhood experiences. They all expressed similar views about issues plaguing the Hilltop—drugs, crime, violence, and trash. Two of them mentioned prostitution along Sullivant Avenue. Two of the women were newer to the Hilltop, while the others had been there for decades. These two long-term residents expressed pride in being from the west side, one proudly proclaiming that her entire family has relocated to the east side but she refuses to move. They still love their neighborhood and are proud to live there despite the issues they face.

“Sometimes services are disjointed because we are in silos.” -Social Services Focus Group

“It’s hard to get parents involved because a lot of the parents don’t have access to internet and have different phone numbers like every week.” -Recreation Focus Group


A strong online strategy is critical for modern planning and community engagement efforts. The primary motivation for the Hilltop Community Plan web-presence was transparency. The planning team wanted to ensure the public that all activities, documents, and results were shared back with the community, not filed away. Through multiple online channels, results of planning activities and historical data and research were shared with the public. The e-newsletter was the primary method of communication with residents. In it, recipients were introduced to the planning process, informed of upcoming meetings, shown the results of previous meetings, and more. 

Envision Hilltop Website

The website was home to all content, announcements, and activities related to the planning process. After each meeting, photos and exercise results were posted. The website contains sections on history and other interactive elements, like an aerial imagery comparison tool and links to the Issuu library and Wikimap.


As of May 2019, the website was visited by 1,642 users in 2,673 different sessions with 6,723 pageviews. The average session duration was 1 minute 53 seconds and the average number of pages viewed per session was 2.5.

Community WikiMap

The goal of the WikiMap was to get geographic-based data from residents. Without logging in or leaving personal information, the map allows people to leave categorized notes as points on a map of the focus area. The categories, such as speeding vehicles, crime, crosswalk/pedestrian, and transit issue were useful, but most comments were left under the category of “other” by users. Many comments specifically called out properties by address and cited concerns about illegal activity or code violations. The top category was “speeding,” indicating how prevalent people believe the problem to be. In general, comments about traffic and illegal drug activity were the most common.


Email Newsletter

Once or twice a month, an email update was sent to 552 subscribers. During the public engagement process, subscribers received 12 emails that announced upcoming meetings, discussed previous meetings,
and shared interesting information and community events.


All newsletters can be viewed on the homepage.


Following the public engagement process, continued updates were sent about the planning process and future events.

Select WikiMap Comments

  • "Cream and Sugar is a bright, positive oasis in the Hilltop business desert"

  • "Sidewalks along Broad end up buried when snow plows come through. Places that don’t have people on standby at all times can end up with with as much as a foot of snow piled on the front walkway, which is also a bus stop."

  • "Permanent traffic calming needed. Speed trailers seem to be the city’s only answer which has proven ineffective or is being used as a tool to silence us..."

  • "Speeders are out of control."

  • "S. Harris/Sullivant is known as Ground Zero for drugs and prostitution. Last year we picked up at least 24 syringes in the area."

  • "Pawn shop encourages and purchases stolen items from the surrounding homes."

  • "Beautiful old bank could be repurposed into event space, co-op work space, dance hall, business incubator, etc."

Issuu Online Document Library

A free online document viewer, Issuu allows viewers to flip through multi-page documents online. The planning team used Issuu to share dozens of documents with the public, from obscure historical studies to the results or agendas from our most recent public meetings. The document library allowed people to view the extent of work done regarding the Hilltop in the past and stay up-to-date with current planning activities.

Social Media & Text Messaging

Monthly meetings were shared as ‘events’ on Facebook through the Hilltop Community Plan page, which were then shared to various Hilltop groups like block watches, civic associations, and discussion groups. The planning team also used text message reminders to notify people of meetings—generally the day before or the day of the event.


The planning team worked with students from the City & Regional Planning Department at The Ohio State University to create a series of weekly events with students at an after-school program at Glenwood Community Center from February 28 to April 4. Each meeting included two to three activities that engaged students in a conversation about their community.



The first meeting centered around perceptions of the neighborhood. This included a survey asking students about the current conditions of their community and their perception. Results showed favorite places were mostly spaces for formal activities like football practice or after-school programs. The students had major concerns about gangs, schools, and their area being a “bad neighborhood.” The students were asked to write one thing they like about their community and one thing they do not like about their community. The most common “like” was the people in the community including their friends and family, and “dislikes” included poverty, litter, and crime.



The second meeting addressed parks in the Hilltop. Activities included discussing potential changes to existing parks as well as designing their own park with limited resources, encouraging them to prioritize what was important to include. They were also asked to connect different amenities around the park. Both groups included open space, a picnic area, playground, footbridge, ice cream shop, basketball courts, parking lot, restrooms, and shade trees. Students were asked to choose one thing they would take away, keep, or add to existing parks. Common answers to take away were trash, rocks, metal slides, and poles. 



The third meeting focused on how the students used and viewed transportation. It began with a survey and discussion about what modes of transportation students use, where they go, and how safe they feel. The five modes discussed were ranked in the following order using a 1-5 scale: Car (4.57), Bike (4), Walk (3.21), School Bus (3), COTA  (2.5). Only three indicated that they used COTA, likely due to safety concerns and destinations not easily accessed by current routes. However, all students indicated they walk to the homes of relatives and friends, and noted that they would like to see more streetlights and quality sidewalks.



The fourth meeting asked students to imagine their own plans for development in the neighborhood by designing a circulator route and planning for a vacant lot. For the circulator activity, paired students split added key locations to their maps and drew a Hilltop circulator route. The three routes were distinct but all had the common theme of connecting areas such as parks or strip malls with multiple restaurants. They were then given a site description and map of a lot located near Clarendon & Highland Avenues and tasked with designing a use for that space in the context of its surroundings. All the proposals included a mix of storefronts and open space for activities.


Ideas for Vacant Land

Ice cream shop (2)

Candy store (2)

Skate park (2)

Toy store

Park (2)

Swimming pool (2)



Youth football/soccer

Starbucks/Bubble tea

Basketball court

Water park

Art store


Parkour playground

Food truck


School clubs

Animal center/Little zoo

A shelter


Community garden 


The final meeting wrapped-up previous sessions and included a final survey. Students were given eight coins to place in boxes labeled health, retail and shopping, education, employment and income, recreation, transportation, police and fire, and housing. This activity mirrored one completed during two Hilltop community meetings. Students decided how many coins to put into each box based on their personal priorities. Health, education, and housing had 18, 16, and 16 coins respectively. The remaining boxes had less than 10 each. A final survey was given asking students what they would like to see in the area. The general consensus was that the students want better schools, housing, roads, as well as a safer and cleaner environment.

Over the course of the five weeks, the students indicated strong interests in the quality of their education, the condition of the roads in the neighborhood, and safety issues. It was clear that fast food restaurants and parks are the main “third places” for socializing, and they were either dropped off there or walked. Throughout the discussions, there was a desire to see move investment in the public spaces of their community—particularly in removing trash and improving the road conditions.



The Highland West Civic Association was incorporated in 2006 with the intent to advocate for and assist in the revitalization of the largely neglected neighborhood on the east side of Hague Avenue and north of Sullivant Avenue. Their desire was to create a sustainable and diverse community, complementing the City’s efforts at the time to do the same in their plan entitled "The Economic Development of West Broad Street." This resident-involved plan called for the re-branding of a portion of the West Broad Street Corridor east of Hague Avenue. The City Department of Development created “The Highland West District” in 2004 which extends from Highland Avenue to Terrace Avenue and is the subject area of the Highland West Visioning Charrette, which was completed by residents of the community in 2006. The original boundaries established by the civic association were I-70 on the east, Sullivant Avenue on the south, Hague Avenue on the west, and the railroad tracks south of Valleyview Drive on the north, surrounding the new district on W. Broad St. In 2016, the southern boundary shifted two blocks north of Sullivant Avenue in the hopes of spurring new civic groups to form along Sullivant Avenue and to the south. All are welcome to HWCA events and to become members. While all residents of the Highland West Community are considered valued members for which they advocate, there are also dues-paid memberships available for those who wish to play a greater role.


One of the HWCA's primary goals is to create an economically, racially and ethnically diverse community, building on the diversity we already have. To accomplish these goals they advocate for the following:


  • Responsible development that is sustainable and increases the value of our community;

  • Marketing our existing housing stock to new buyers in Highland West and from other parts of the City, encouraging home ownership for people of all income levels;

  • The upgrading and improvement of our roads and alleys to better serve our residents and visitors;

  • Restoring adequate City Services for trash, sewer, street cleaning, etc.

  • Eclectic and diverse business development along West Broad Street;

  • The restoration of all City parks within our boundaries;

  • Meaningful programs that further these and other goals of our association.


Residents involved in the Envision Hilltop public engagement process were updated consistently throughout the year-long engagement process, and activities were shared immediately after each meeting online. The monthly resident workbooks were critical to keeping a record of all resident input and activities, and allowed residents to see how their feedback would shape the plan recommendations.

Envision Hilltop Resident Activities

Activities completed by participants at Envision Hilltop events were summarized and added to each monthly workbook, but the activities themselves were also uploaded to the online Issuu document library for full transparency. Residents could go online and review results from other participants, seeing details that were summarized in the resident workbooks.

Envision Hilltop Resident Incentives

To encourage attendance and reward residents for their time and contributions, gift cards were distributed at each Envision Hilltop public meeting. Loaded with values of either $25 or $50, they were a small token of appreciation to the Hilltoppers that spent hours working to improve their neighborhood. 


Public Engagement Evaluation Survey

A survey was taken by each participant at the May 9 meeting to learn how people felt about the public engagement process.


Results for the 31 respondents showed that there was a degree of positivity about the Envision Hilltop meetings. Here are a few takeaways:

  • 97% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that their opinions were valued during Envision Hilltop meetings

  • 97% of respondents Agreed or Strongly Agreed that meetings were primarily focused on getting resident input and feedback.

  • Average age: 42

  • Average years in Hilltop: 15

  • 75% attended a previous Envision Hilltop meeting

  • 59% were Hilltop homeowners

Monthly Resident Workbooks

Each month, the planning team developed a resident workbook to serve as the agenda for the meeting as well as an anthology of all previous activities and discussions to date. The booklets were important to keep residents up-to-date if they could not attend meetings and to increase transparency throughout the public engagement process. Booklets included results from previous exercises as well as maps and data.



The Hilltop Community Plan draft was available for public review and comment at the Hilltop branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (511 South Hague Avenue) for a total of 50 hours between Tuesday, November 12 and Friday, November 22.


Residents and other interested library visitors browsed through the booklet, asked questions, and made suggestions about certain aspects of the document. Some people offered clarifying remarks about historical components, while others were intrigued to read the plan's goals and recommendations in their areas of interest. In total, there were 30 visits from people (not including many insightful discussions with library staff).



Tuesday, 11/12: 4pm to 8pm
Wednesday, 11/13: 4pm to 8pm
Thursday, 11/14: 4pm to 8pm
Friday, 11/15: 9am to 3pm
Saturday, 11/16: 9am to 3pm
Monday, 11/18: 9am to 3pm
Tuesday, 11/19: 4pm to 8pm
Wednesday, 11/20: 12pm to 6pm
Thursday, 11/21: 4pm to 8pm
Friday, 11/22: 9am to 3pm

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