City of Columbus makes walking even more enjoyable

The city of Columbus received a silver designation from Walk Friendly Communities last October. And while that sentence in and of itself probably doesn't elicit much excitement from a casual reader, rest assured the city is very proud of the work that's gone into earning it. Columbus is the only city in Ohio to have received Walk Friendly recognition.

“We're far from, ‘Check the box: We've created a great walking environment in Columbus,'” says Scott Ulrich, the city's Healthy Places program director. “But we have policies in place. We have programs in place. We've made strong progress in the last 10 years.”

One of the big success stories for the city is its Art Walks program, which includes both guided and self-guided walks highlighting the history, architecture and art of 14 different Columbus neighborhoods largely near Downtown.

Maps and audio tours are available for self-guided art walks through the Arena District, Brewery District, Capitol Square, Clintonville, Discovery District, Franklinton, German Village, Highland West, Merion Village, Near East, River South, Short North and the University District. The maps direct participants to sites of significance within the neighborhood, while a recorded message describes each site. Street signs in front of the various points of interest tell users how to access the recording from their phones. There's a main number (614-645-2646) and then a unique three-digit extension for each site. Maps can be downloaded from the city's website (search “art walks” at columbus.gov). Better yet, the walks and recordings are available on the city's MyColumbus smartphone app.

“Each site has its own script, so you can jump in wherever you want and end whenever you like,” Ulrich says. “You can create your own adventure.”

The guided Art Walks and Landmark Talks series was created in partnership with the Columbus Landmarks Foundation. The walks take place Monday evenings from 7–8 p.m., May to mid-August, and participants are led by neighborhood experts who discuss the history, architecture and art of that particular neighborhood.

Every tour guide is given a script, similar to the script for the recordings used in the self-guided walks. But the experts also are able to ad lib, respond to questions and add their own insights.

“In some cases, our guides are lifelong residents of their neighborhood,” says Phil Hanson, the city's Walking Programs manager. “We provide a basic script, but they're adding their own stories, their own personal flavor. When I first started here, one of my first questions with these walks was, ‘Do we have to find a new audience every year?' But the guides keep it interesting, engaging, and no matter how many times you've taken the same guided walk, it's definitely a unique experience each time.”

Hanson says the Art Walks and Landmark Talks average about 90 people per outing. They've become so popular, in fact, that the city has started assigning three and four tour guides to these walks, allowing participants to be broken into smaller, more personal groups—and making it easier for all participants to hear the guide.

“It's exciting that we're able to reach a larger audience and increase participation with our partners,” says Hanson. “It also allows people to enjoy and learn about different parts of the city that they might not otherwise have a reason to visit.”