Tapping into Opportunity: Designs for Community Refreshment

Tapping into Opportunity: Designs for Community Refreshment

Read Time: 6 minutes

In her designs for a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) in Cincinnati’s Westwood neighborhood, SEGD member and contributing writer Lisa K. Bambach faced a big challenge: how to define an outdoor public drinking area without erecting barriers to separate the “legal” space from the “illegal.” To do this, Lisa designed a series of information touchpoints—digital, physical and even disposable—to alert imbibers about the DORA’s rules and boundaries. Read Lisa’s account to learn how she did this.

As a second generation American, I had grown up hearing stories about the "old country" from my grandparents. Through their fond memories and tragic stories, they instilled a curiosity in me to visit Europe to better understand my heritage. During my undergraduate education, I seized the opportunity to study abroad in Basel, Switzerland at the School for Visual Communications at the Academy of Art and Design within the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, one of Switzerland’s leading universities of applied sciences and arts.

It was a time of accelerated growth—and it was my first international travel experience, the first time I had moved out of my parents' house, and an immersion in developing my foreign language skills. I had the opportunity to meet the extended family I had only known through Christmas cards and connect with designers such as Wolfgang Weingart and Nadine Chahine, whose work influenced my collegiate education. Most importantly, it was the first time I was forced to break out of my comfort zone to look at myself from an outside perspective. I learned to view myself within the context of a global community, and my ears became attuned to stories about my classmates' experiences with my home country. 

While working with the community of Westwood in Cincinnati, Ohio, on their Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) signage system, I recalled one such story that stood out as an unexpected cultural difference to my 21-year-old self. One of my new classmates told his dramatic account of his first experience in America when he visited New York City some years earlier. The trip took him and his peers to several design studios in the city, where they had the opportunity to interview industry leaders about American design. On his last evening in the country, they celebrated, and he stepped outside to take a phone call with a beer in hand. This was not unusual for him, as it was custom to be able to walk outside with a beverage in the cities where he had lived.

I smiled, knowing where the story was headed, as he exclaimed that a police officer approached him and issued him a ticket for "Just having a beer outside! Can you believe it? How was I supposed to know?!" He went on to incredulously explain the ordeal of finding a courthouse the next day to pay the fine before his flight home.

While much of the United States, for better or for worse, still upholds many restrictions on alcohol that date back to the Prohibition era, my home state of Ohio has made significant headway in the last decade to update its laws. Almost 100 years later, the service of alcohol is now being positioned as a driver of economic development rather than a stain on the character of society. In 2015, the state legislature authorized the creation of Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas under Ohio Revised Code 4301.82. This law allows communities to apply for the creation of a specific zone to allow patrons of their businesses to walk outdoors, and perhaps take a phone call, with a purchased beverage in hand.

In the revised code, the permitting process is made clear, however, the implementation of the district is left to the communities who participate. This presents a complex design challenge. How does one designate the boundaries of a district without creating costly infrastructure investments? What is the appropriate amount of signage and where should it be placed? How does one communicate the rules, which might evolve over time? How does one identify participating businesses?

I encountered questions like these and more while working to find a solution for the Westwood community. For several months, community leaders spearheaded engagement with business owners, police officers, neighborhood residents, city departments, and others to ensure the solution not only satisfied their communication needs, but provided a low-maintenance, inexpensive system that was attainable to purchase. The final solution combines disposable, physically permanent, and digitally accessible information touchpoints to educate DORA customers about the rules and regulations of the designated area.

In an effort to reduce environmental impacts, the only disposable element is the beverage cup itself. All drinks consumed outside of businesses must be in a clear, plastic container, so we used this requirement as an opportunity to communicate DORA guidelines. The cups will be made of a compostable plastic, printed with a constant reminder of the rules within the boundaries to those who purchase a beverage.

Physically permanent elements include indicators of business participation, DORA boundary markers, and signage that reinforces guidelines. Businesses will be able to request window graphics to place at their entrances to indicate whether DORA drinks are available for purchase, permitted from another establishment, or are not permitted at all. Boundary markers are designed to be visually similar to the business window graphics and will be placed directly on the sidewalk to clearly mark the crossing of a boundary line to pedestrians. These are places where the law changes from permitting alcohol consumption [in public spaces] to prohibiting it. The placement on the sidewalk avoids conflict with regulatory traffic signage and avoids the installation of new signposts to significantly reduce the amount of new infrastructure needed to communicate the boundaries. Additionally, traditional signs will be placed in community spaces within the DORA boundary that do not permit beverages, such as the children's play area and community town hall.

All permanent physical elements will include a QR code for access to more detailed information. Online, people will be able to view the DORA rules, explore a Google Map that outlines the DORA and businesses within the district, and see how the community plans to expand the district over time. This will not only be an opportunity for patrons to find more detailed information but also to support the community's economic development strategy. It will create a space for potential investors to learn more about Westwood's revitalized business district and understand how the DORA may affect their future investments.  

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Westwood to influence the cultural, behavioral, and economic shift they are planning for their community. It is exciting to be able to support their vision and help make it a success. When the DORA is approved by city council and open to the public, you can bet I will be joining my friends to have a refreshing beer outside in the sun and doing what designers do best ... quietly critiquing my latest project as I observe the community's interactions with the new communication system.

The Westwood neighborhood’s DORA design elements and information touchpoints are expected to be in place before the end of 2021.

Lisa K. Bambach is a designer and educator based in Cincinnati, Ohio. As an experiential graphic designer, Lisa specializes in workplace and urban design. In 2021 she became an SEGD Chapter Co-Chair for Cincinnati. You can read more about Lisa and her design work at lkbambach.com

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