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Opinion: Columbus is at a Crossroads with Historic Demolition Plans

Walker Evans Walker Evans Opinion: Columbus is at a Crossroads with Historic Demolition PlansThe building proposed for demolition — Photo by Walker Evans.
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When you ask locals about some of the biggest challenges that the City of Columbus faces, you’ll often hear responses related to the same batch of topics. Affordable housing, access to public transportation, historic preservation, responsible development and access to public health services.

And since taking office in 2016, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther has made his neighborhood-centric focus a key component of his executive duties.

“Great neighborhoods do not happen by accident, but by vision and leadership and planning,” stated Ginther in a 2018 release discussing the One Linden plan. Similar sentiments have been applied many times to many Columbus neighborhoods during Ginther’s tenure, including the Near East Side.

City Council President Shannon Hardin — who is also a Near East Side resident — has echoed similar comments when addressing neighborhood-centric concerns.

“A lot of our residents are rightly focused on public safety right now, [but] this is also a matter of racial and economic justice, and we are committed to winning that fight as well,” Hardin stated during a press event in June 2020 while touting the multi-faceted LinkUs project that aims to develop dense transit corridors that connect some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

One of the routes focused on within the LinkUs project is an East-West Corridor that passes along East Main Street on the Near East Side of Columbus.

Which brings us to the recent announcement that a city-owned historic dormitory building on the campus of the Columbus Public Health department is slated for demolition this fall to make way for… (drumroll please)… a parking lot. The campus of the Columbus Public Health department sits at the intersection of Parsons Avenue and Main Street, directly along the East-West LinkUs corridor.

According to the East-West LinkUs corridor website:

This plan will evaluate how high-capacity transit can carry more people with greater reliability, more frequent service, fewer stops and shorter travel times. We are envisioning integrated, high-capacity transit that gives residents community access to jobs, education, thriving business communities and the city’s vibrant, unique culture.

With nearly three million residents expected in our region by 2050, now is the time to reimagine how we can move faster, safer and smarter from east to west.

This proposed demolition to build a city-owned parking lot seems to go entirely against the city’s smart and future-focused transit corridor plan.

The demolition also appears to go against a neighborhood-centric vision, sacrificing an 86-year-old brick structure (that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) in a neighborhood that has already seen far too many buildings lost to neglect and bad decisions.

This demolition also goes against the priorities of providing more affordable housing and social services, as it provides a unique opportunity to address some of those concerns with direct access to Columbus Public Health programs.

Lastly, this demolition goes against all environmental and ecological plans at the city, national and global level. Prioritizing taxpayer subsidies for fossil-fuel transportation instead of mass transportation alternatives contributes to the increased rate of climate change.

Concerned residents on the city’s Near East Side are taking a stand, but it may not be enough to halt the demolition. And preservation groups like Columbus Landmarks are forced to continue to play a reactionary and defensive role in news cycles where leaders seem to have clearly made up their minds that demolition is the only path forward.

Columbus leadership is at a crossroads right now, and we can’t have it both ways. We’re either choosing to “reimagine how we can move faster, safer and smarter,” or we’re headed in reverse.

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