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NEXT: When Columbus’ Population Doubles, Which Neighborhoods Will Prosper or Languish?

David Staley David Staley NEXT: When Columbus’ Population Doubles, Which Neighborhoods Will Prosper or Languish?Photo via DowntownColumbus.com
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I was driving up Sawmill a few months back, allowing the retail stores, doctor’s offices, schools, child day care centers, apartments, and M/I Homes to glide by me. Although not exactly where I’d like to live, this part of Columbus is pleasant enough, perhaps a stereotypical suburban setting.

As a futurist, I frequently rely upon a well-developed imagination — or, perhaps I should say, an over-active imagination — picturing how else the world might be and superimposing that vision upon the present world. As I drove up Sawmill, I imagined what this area of Columbus would look like were it to become the next Linden or Franklinton, the next distressed Columbus neighborhood.

Let me be clear: what follows is not a prediction, nor do I want to be accused of wishing for Sawmill to become the next distressed neighborhood. Consider what follows instead as a portent or a warning. Better still, what follows could be a call to action to prevent the displacement of Sawmill and other Columbus neighborhoods.

MORPC have recently projected that, based on current trends, the Central Ohio region may grow by 500,000 and possibly as high as 1 million new residents by 2050. It would be easy to assume that those hundreds of thousands of new residents of Columbus will be engineers, doctors, designers, data scientists, biomedical researchers and entrepreneurs. But it is just as likely that a significant number of those arriving in the city will be at the other end of the socioeconomic scale.

In 2015, a report from The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management identified Columbus as the second most economically segregated city in the United States. A 2013 study indicated that Columbus “was one of the least promising places for low-income children to climb out of poverty in the country.”

Such economic segregation is a structural issue, and unless it is addressed at its root, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of new residents will very likely exacerbate the situation.

Those newly arrived software engineers will no doubt cluster in areas that are already high rent. Further, gentrification will likely crowd out lower-income residents of some Columbus neighborhoods. Peter Moskowitz observes that what is happening in San Francisco is happening in other cities: poorer residents are being pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods and into the suburbs.

“The Bay Area is maybe the best place to peek into the future of the gentrifying economy and find out what happens when the poor have literally nowhere to live in a city,” he writes. The answer is that they move to suburbs, “where they are underserved by jobs, transit, and community services.” Across the country “the suburbs are booming with the displaced.”

Many of the throng of Central Ohio’s new residents will very likely live in Columbus’ expanding Downtown. That new development on the Scioto Peninsula will house such new residents, and the city’s inner core will very likely become more dense. Unless current patterns alter, however, these areas are likely to be high rent places. Where will the poor reside? Poorer arrivals to Central Ohio will be drawn to currently impoverished areas of the city, but they might also be pushed out into the suburbs.

Suburbs will no doubt also grow in size as hundreds of thousands arrive. It is very likely that Newark, Lancaster and Marysville will become suburbs of Columbus, each growing in size and population. Will a future Lancaster resemble Dublin and New Albany, with high-end development and urban-like amenities? Or will the new suburbs of Columbus become the location of the poorer areas of the region?

A place like Canal Winchester might become an area that attracts the lower-income workers that will no doubt form a part of the population expansion predicted by MORPC. At one time, Linden, Franklinton and other distressed neighborhoods were thriving with small shops, robust communities, and middle-class residents. Today, of course, those places look very different. As new residents arrive, will a similar process turn once thriving areas of the city, like the Sawmill area, into sites for the displaced?

The word “displace” has two interesting connotations. On the one hand, to displace means to remove from a location. But the prefix dis- is frequently used to give a word its opposite meaning. Thus a place like Sawmill might, if we are not careful, be turned into a “displace.” As concerned residents of Columbus, we want to avoid turning any place in our city into a displace.

Again, this is not a prediction. Instead, I hope that what I wrote above is read by city leaders, property developers, urban planners, university researchers, and citizen activists as a call to action, to prevent displacement from occurring as our city grows.

David Staley is interim director of the Humanities Institute and a professor at The Ohio State University. He is president of Columbus Futurists and host of CreativeMornings Columbus.

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