Opinion: A Big-Picture Conversation on Development is Necessary

Mike Brown Mike Brown Opinion: A Big-Picture Conversation on Development is Necessary
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There is major new development in the heart of Columbus, and that is creating a needed conversation on affordability. Advocacy groups are working to drive a new generation of investment and policy in our region to spur affordable developments, along with various levels of government.

We also have some voices very critical of the new housing built in Downtown and the Short North because of high price points. No singular form of housing should dominate a neighborhood or district, but the reality is that for generations our Downtown and urban neighborhoods were the only places that affordable housing was built in quantity.

As we grow, we have to allow that market to balance out while allowing the upper end of the market (that was once exclusively suburban) to have a place in heart of city. This is a response to market demand, which many urban cities are unable to sustain.

That said, while it is currently getting headlines, the Short North and Downtown are relatively small areas of a very large city. I applaud the new development for helping build density and correct the long-term urban “donut effect” that started to happen here in the 1980s, reversing the loss of population that was a non-stop negative. From 1950 to 2010, Columbus went from approximately 30,000 residents in Downtown to around 3,000, which is untenable.

Here are a few statistical facts:

  • The total area of Columbus is 224.59 square miles.
  • The area of downtown is 2.33 square miles, large for a business district compared to most cities.
  • The area of Victorian Village is 0.44 square miles.
  • The area of Italian Village is 0.86 square miles.
  • The area of the Short North (a couple of hundred feet on either side High St. from the I-670 bridge to 5th) is 0.29 square miles.

Downtown and the Short North combined are less than four square miles out of 224 — and that is just the City of Columbus proper. The larger region is home to just over two million people.

A well-planned, equitable future must include affordable options across the region, especially on routes to jobs centers like Dublin, Rickenbacker and Easton. Development is not controlled by the City, but it can be influenced. Having hot markets is, in the end, beneficial to everyone through increased value to property owners, to developers, and to the taxing bodies that get increased revenue over the long-run, even if there are short term (generally 10 year) abatements that freeze values for a set time.

This is a public big-picture discussion, and I think we can learn a lot — from other cities that struggled with the negatives of urban decay, and from those who overdeveloped and created different problems.

MORPC, COTA, the City of Columbus and many others have a role to play. But all sides have a lot to learn, and need to agree on the shared goals of building a stronger city for all residents.

– Mike Brown, CTA

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