TY WRIGHT | DISPATCH Los Tres Reyes Taqueria truck, in a parking lot off Georgesville Road on the West Side, is the kind of food vendor that architect Tim Lai and his wife, designer Eliza Ho, envision for their “Dinin’ Hall,” a food court that uses food trucks to attract customers to depressed neighborhoods.

COLUMBUS, OH – Murals can perk up urban neighborhoods, but so can a cluster of food trucks.

So say architect Tim Lai and his wife, designer Eliza Ho, who will showcase the idea in an exhibit called “Good Design in Hard Times,” which they say should inspire struggling neighborhoods.

The exhibit of drawings and models opens today and runs through Feb. 4 Downtown at Ohio State University’s Urban Arts Space in the Lazarus Office Building. It will move to the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Whetstone branch in mid-February.

The effort is the couple’s inaugural project for their ALTernative , a nonprofit that focuses on creating ideas to improve neighborhoods.

One of their ideas, called “Dinin’ Hall,” is like a food court, but with food trucks. Lai’s design envisions three trucks parked outside a building — for instance, a vacant storefront — that has been equipped with tables, chairs and the like. If the weather is nice, patrons can eat outside. If not, they can dine inside the building .

“There aren’t a lot of walkable restaurants in east Franklinton,” he said. They know that from experience. Lai and Ho work in a studio in an old industrial building in Franklinton, home to other vacant and industrial sites that could be good locations for such a hub and draw people into a neighborhood they otherwise might not visit.

“The food-truck phenomenon is getting big,” Ho said. “It’s more diversified and sophisticated.”

The concept has been popularized in such cities as Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., Lai said.

In Austin, three to five trucks cluster in various areas, said Jim Ellison, who works with mobile vendors for the Economic Community Development Institute, a nonprofit group that helps new businesses in Columbus.

Ellison, who helped create the tacotruckscolumbus.com website, estimates that about 60 food trucks or carts are operating in Columbus today.

Find the entire article by Mark Ferenchik from The Columbus Dispatch <here>