‘Essence Of Athens’ Is Unveiled

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Keep Athens funky. It’s a phrase that can be seen on bumper stickers and heard muttered around the city. But the completion of an 18-month planning project to find the “essence” of Athens could do just that.

Last May, the city kicked off the Essence of Athens project led by Athens City Planner Paul Logue and Ohio State University city and regional planning program professor Kyle Ezell. Planning firm MKSK was also involved. Ezell had reached out to Logue about launching a planning project that would build upon the unique characteristics of Athens.

Ezell came up with the concept of his Designing Local initiative after he realized that cities across America are simply copying off one another when it comes to design elements. He turned to the city of Athens to be the first city to undertake the project.

“I wanted to start with Athens because I considered it to be open-minded and the people who live there really seem to love it. Athens is a very expressive place,” Ezell previously told The Messenger.

To help define the essence of Athens, residents were asked to submit photos, drawings, essays depicting what they thought best characterized the city. An ad-hoc committee was then formed to sift through the submissions and condense the information into one document. The result is a 160-page color booklet that describes what Athens is all about and lists some ideas that the city, private developers, business owners and residents could incorporate into future projects to make Athens unique.

Logue says he sees the document as a “menu” of different ideas that people may want to implement.

“It’s not meant or intended to be a rigid list of rules or guide for specific designs. Some are suggestions. But it’s also to get people who might be doing developments to get them thinking of other ideas and concepts to integrate into their projects,” he said. “This document is intended to inspire citizens in our community and the people who build our city by clearly defining the physical elements that make Athens a unique, one-of-a-kind place.”

Some of the things that were identified as making Athens unique are the hills, the Hocking River, nature, music, the region’s brick and stone, its youthful outlook, its inventive spirit, accepting attitudes and its “little bigness.”

“A dynamic energy can be felt here that is more passionate than ambitious,” states a news release about the project.

The document lists several design suggestions, but some of the projects were identified as being “doable, being affordable, and providing the highest impacts” on the community. Some of those projects include “love alleys” off of Court Street that would give people who fell in love on Court Street the opportunity to lock their love with padlocks along chain-link panels that spell out the word “love;” a Passion Works-inspired parking garage design; and crosswalks throughout the city that feature the patterns from the window grates on the buildings at The Ridges. Another suggestion was Athens Block shaped bicycle racks.

Logue said implementation of some of these concepts could happen if funding can be found. He said he anticipates having a public Essence of Athens kick-off in September.

The full document can be viewed online here. A limited number of hardcopies are also available by contacting Logue at 592-3306 or