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Opinion: Sprawl is Alive and Well in Central Ohio

Walker Evans Walker Evans Opinion: Sprawl is Alive and Well in Central OhioEnough room to park 20 cars, just in case.
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While the development beat here at Columbus Underground tends to focus primarily on new construction happening within the urban center of our city, it’s worth noting that suburban sprawl is still going strong.

Reporter Brent Warren wrote up a well-read story several weeks ago about two large suburban developments on the outskirts of the city that will add over 1,500 new housing units to the far west side. That’s over three times the number of housing units that were completed in all of Downtown Columbus in 2018 (455 units, according to the newest State of Downtown report).

Unsurprisingly, response to this news included issues raised with roadway capacity, increases in auto traffic, and school overcrowding. All three are common concerns with this type of sprawling development, and all three will likely be addressed with wider highways, wider feeder roads and the construction of new school buildings further and further out.

It’s been proven many times over that this sprawling path is unsustainable. Widening roads adds more traffic, not less. And wider roads opens more access to build homes even further out, which adds even more people and more cars. And when all development is car-centric, no one has any choice to walk or bike or bus from the shopping center to the office park, to the residential enclave. A couple of recreational bike trails are included in these new developments, but realistically, cars are the only way to go for 99 percent of your commutes.

Meanwhile, recent announcements of urban development like this 10-story proposal in the Short North gets an equal amount of attention, as it has a higher level of visibility and appears to be a drastic change to what is currently an asphalt parking lot. No unit count has been determined for the five floors that will contain residential space, but it’s not likely that it will be more than 20-30 units. That’s less than 2 percent of the population of those large suburban projects for the sake of comparison.

Similarly, the Short North proposal also raised concerns with parking and traffic, although for different reasons. Some locals lament the loss of free and easy parking in the Short North Arts District, even though these new buildings contain a mix of uses, ample walking, biking and busing options, and plenty of places to shop, dine, work and play in the surrounding neighborhoods. This type of development has a proven track record for sustainability, as some of the highest property values all around the world are in destinations that include these types of features.

The front entry is dark, and probably rarely used. Enter through the garage, please.

Of course, the two west-side developments are not the only ones proposed or under construction at the moment. The massive 1200-acre Evans Farm in Delaware County will add 2,200 homes north of Polaris Parkway. The 320-acre Hamilton Quarter will bring another 930 residential units to an area just northeast of the outerbelt. Brent is working on a follow up story to provide additional insight on these suburban developments and more.

As the Columbus region continues to rapidly march toward a population of 3 million people over the next 30 years, we’ll undoubtably continue to see plenty of growth in our Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. But we’re also guaranteed to continue to see newly constructed homes replacing cornfields in every single suburb, along with their shopping center, office park and traffic jam counterparts. Few of those new homes in New Albany or Dublin are likely to be priced as “workforce housing” for middle-class earners, but that’s another topic for another day.

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