There is certainly no shortage of urban development happening in Columbus. Mixed-use buildings and housing developments are cropping up in practically every neighborhood in the core of the city. But with each new building comes a change to the community in which it’s located. How is a building going to fit into an existing community? What does the community think about the development?
To bridge the gap between community and developer, there’s one-man shop Urban Nature. Consultant Elan Daniel offers an a la carte suite of services ultimately focused on building urban communities. It’s the sweet spot of working in-tandem with a community on how to improve their neighborhood, while at the same time facilitating the needs of a developer.
Daniel’s passion for building communities started in Washington, D.C. with a museum. While living in the city for his first job, he fell in love with the National Building Museum. He had a passion for buildings that he wasn’t really sure what to do with until a lecture series introduced him to built environments.
With a goal to change the world through improved space, Daniel headed to architecture school. However he quickly found his program to more about aesthetics than function. He was more interested in how a building works. But when a friend described his degree in city planning, “This is what I want to do,” Daniel says. “My sort of philosophy, what I do and what I want to do, are far better aligned with planning.”
OSU’s degree program in city and regional planning brought Daniel to Columbus where he would complete his master’s (also earning one in public policy and management). Through an internship with the City of Columbus, Daniel did a presentation on a tree planting program in Weinland Park. A presentation that was attended by Wagenbrenner Development. He spoke with them about some of the studies he had completed on the area, as well as a design preference survey he’d done around OSU. They needed something similar for Weinland Park.
An internship with Wagenbrenner turned into a full-time position post-graduation working on the development strategy for Weinland Park.
“I had a lot of leeway in what I was allowed to do and I learned a ton by doing that,” Daniel says.
As other communities took note of his work in the area, Daniel was able to parlay that experience into his own venture, Urban Nature.
Today Urban Nature works with entities that are focused on building communities, whether that be a community lacking representation or a developer themselves. He’ll also work directly with community development corporations that don’t have the time or resources to do research.
“I’ll look in the current market conditions and give them recommendations as far as what I think they can do with that,” he says.
“In some cases I’ll help people with community engagement,” he says. It’s a route for larger developers who aren’t accustomed to city centers and existing communities to build bridges. “I help them ease the communication barrier between them and the community.”
Urban Nature puts extensive research into creating community development strategies.
“My research process is multi-faceted, but includes geographical information systems, available market data, demographics, amenities, SWOT analysis, stakeholder interviews, environmental scanning, site visits, coordination with specific experts, among other forms of research,” Daniel says.
As for all the development that’s going on in the city, “Columbus has done a really good job with the neighborhoods around downtown and that’s where a lot of the momentum has been going,” Daniel states. He predicts a vibrant, dense urban environment within the two to three miles of the statehouse. He also notes the sensitivity being put into communities that allow for mixed income integration – something he says they were able to to in Weinland Park. It’s not a pipedream or a crazy idea, but something he thinks more cities should think about.
For ore information, visit urb-nat.com.