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New Study Asks: Can We Stop the Sprawl in Columbus?

Brent Warren Brent Warren New Study Asks: Can We Stop the Sprawl in Columbus?
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Preliminary findings from a new study paint a clear picture — if Columbus and its neighboring suburban jurisdictions continue to build housing and roads the way they always have, the region will sprawl an additional 480 square miles by 2050. (To put that number into perspective, the current land area of the City of Columbus is 223 square miles.)

Such growth in the footprint of development in the region, the study finds, would strain the economy and greatly increase household costs and the amount of time the average person spends in their car.

The Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), though, has a message for those who may not be excited about the prospect of long commutes and endless sprawl — it doesn’t have to happen this way. For instance, if we as a region make a concerted effort to build fewer large-lot single family homes, more homes on smaller lots and more apartments in the central city, we’d only add a total of 15 square miles to our footprint.

MORPC – along with partners Columbus 2020 and ULI Columbus – has hired the planning firm Calthorpe Associates to develop a detailed, data-based description of four different growth scenarios for the region. The idea is to show the future impact of our current development choices.

They are calling the effort insight2050, and have assembled a diverse group of leaders from the business, nonprofit and government sectors to oversee the project and get the word out about its findings.

The projections start with a baseline assumption that the region will gain 515,000 people by the year 2050. From there, the model that Calthorpe has developed will provide four different views what the region will look like in the future.


MORPC Executive Director William Murdock, who recently sat down with CU to discuss insight2050, provided this explanation of the four different scenarios;

“The first one – ‘Trends’ – shows what would happen if we continue to develop in the same way we have been. ‘Plans’ is how local governments are planning to do it right now. ‘Focus’ – what we mean by that is, based on pure market demand, and based on the demographics, this is what it would look like if we developed just to accommodate what pure market demand is telling us. And ‘Max Infill’ is taking that a step further, to do the maximum amount of infill and redevelopment.”

The final data from the study will be released by the end of the year. Murdock said that future phases of the project may zoom in and look at scenarios for specific corridors or even individual development sites.

Peter Calthorpe, Principal of Calthorpe Associates, summed up the spirit of the effort at MORPC’s State of the Region event in April:

“You know where you are. The question now is: Where are you going? And that’s what insight2050 is all about – pick your future. What is the most efficient investment? People don’t get to see that until they do these scenario studies.”

For much more on insight2050, CLICK HERE to read our interview with William Murdock and Kerstin Carr of MORPC.

For ongoing discussions on sprawl in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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