Opinion: New Urban Plan Must Offer Equal Opportunities For All
The Columbus region will add 1 million new residents over the next three decades. While that rate of growth will feel relatively steady in the coming years — that’s around a 1.5 percent annual increase in population — the long term effects will add up to be a very drastic change to central Ohio.
While Columbus and a handful of suburbs have densified recently in a few targeted areas, the majority of this new growth will come in the form of suburban sprawl if no intervention takes place. Thankfully, many of our local leaders and regional governments have collaborated on the Insight 2050 Corridor Concepts report, which was recently unveiled to the public.
If you’ve not taken the time to read this 40+ page report, it essentially says that by enacting incentives and removing red tape, we can focus a large portion of our growth into five (or more) existing corridors. That process would help to negate the negative impacts of traffic congestion, air and water pollution, sprawling infrastructure maintenance and taxpayer household burden related to transportation expenses.
From the 30,000 foot view, this plan makes all the sense in the world. There should be nonpartisan support behind simple concepts like “less traffic” and “cleaner air.” But as the saying goes with even the best of planning efforts — the devil is in the details — and those details don’t even exist yet for this new initiative.
We’re still very early in the process, but we need to make sure that we include protections for the people and the culture that could get lost along the way as these changes take place. The five corridors outlined in the plan are filled with plenty of low-density suburban-style development that has outlived its original shelf life. But they are also home to many businesses, destinations and neighborhood amenities that may not be able to easily make the transition into a new building with higher rents.
Strip malls built between 1960 and 1990 along Bethel Road, West Broad Street, Cleveland Avenue, East Main Street and Parsons Avenue may have once been home to brand-name stores and destination shopping before the wealthier residents sprawled further outward from the city, but their function today serves a new purpose. Laundromats, dollar stores, ethnic grocers and barber shops serve the working class residents in many of these neighborhoods.
Additionally, as property values and the cost of living rises in these areas that have long been more affordable, the residential populations will have to adapt in a similar fashion. Middle class and lower income residents may have no choice but to move elsewhere, away from this new wave of dense transit-oriented development, and will then become less likely to take part in the household savings that come from living in an area where car dependence is optional.
We don’t have easy solutions to these concerns today, and it’s unlikely that one “silver bullet” solution exists that would serve the entire region equally. But we should certainly be exploring some of the programs that other cities have implemented, such as residential rent control (which was recently passed at the state level in Oregon), the establishment of TIFs (Tax Increment Financing) and SIDs (Special Improvement Districts) that can help direct some of the new tax revenue generated directly back into community programs, or homeownership incentive programs that can provide renters with tools needed to have more investment in their neighborhoods in advance.
These types of concerns should be examined block-by-block and property-by-property to make sure that we get the details of this plan right in the coming months and years.
The Insight2050 plan presents a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life in Columbus in some very important neighborhoods — both for the one million future residents, as well as the two million existing ones.
Co-Founder, Columbus Underground