Old Time Columbus had a lot more neighbors!
Are you old enough to remember heading down to Lazarus to see the Christmas display? Or getting lunch at one of more than ten dining options in the store? If you are, then your fond memories reflect a downtown with more than 20,000 people living there!
Today, our downtown has around 6,000 people. It’s a shell of it’s former glory. Neighbors for More Neighbors—Columbus supports building housing to help repopulate our city, bring new life, new businesses, and new opportunities for all Central Ohio residents.
Columbus isn’t unique in the hollowing-out of our downtown neighborhoods. It’s a trend that afflicted almost every major city. But urban living has so many advantages that folks are slowing beginning to come back to America’s downtowns. And when people come, businesses thrive and opportunity grows. To create inclusive, walkable, and accessible neighborhoods, we need more housing. At the very least, we should aim to reach the same population our neighborhoods once supported. In the old days, retail businesses were supported by thousands of local residents who walked or took transit.
Supporting local is en vogue once more, and if we want entrepreneurs to thrive, they need customers.
What caused our precipitous population decline?
It’s pretty complicated and multi-faceted. In short: the suburbs. Before the development of suburbs, the only options were to live in the city or the country. The suburbs created an in-between environment that was new for Americans. The extension of streetcar lines to neighborhoods like Marble Cliff, Clintonville, and the Hilltop allowed families to expand into single-family homes with front and backyards. This concept was taken to a whole new level with the federal funding of the interstate highway system, allowing people to live even farther from the city center.
This helped create a more fragmented community, with rigidly separated land uses. Meanwhile, the historic urban core became more desolate and devoid of activity. Here’s a chart illustrating the severe depopulation of Columbus’ historic urban boundary between 1940 and 2019. Note that the number of housing units today is still below the number in 1960—due largely to massive housing demolition programs sponsored by the federal government.