At just 50% of it’s former population, today’s German Village is too quiet

At just 50% of it’s former population, today’s German Village lacks it’s former vitality!

Did you know that in 1960 there were thousands more people living in the area now known as German Village? It’s true!

German Village is a national historic preservation success and one of Columbus’ largest tourist attractions. It is also one of the few areas of Columbus that looks almost identical to how it looked 150 years ago. Countless people have worked for decades to make this neighborhood a beloved urban success. However, before the neighborhood received historic protection, the area was home to more than 10,000 people. The previous density supported hundreds of businesses on nearby commercial corridors and nestled throughout the quaint narrow streets. Imagine walking to cheese shops, tailors, bakeries, diners, drug stores, doctors—anything you needed was on the South End.

“Ghost Doors” are previous front entrances along the street that have been removed in favor of another entrance, often a private entrance away from potential interactions with neighbors. Strong communities are built on a high potential for resident interaction and friendship, not prioritizing personal privacy.

These businesses had plenty of customers living nearby. Today, German Village businesses must often rely on a tourist-based economy, thriving off of visitors patronizing businesses and restaurants.

The benefits of local businesses over national chain stores is well documented in returning more to the local economy. In places like German Village it is hard to find the retail goods and services people need regularly. If you support local retail and want more amenities like pharmacies and grocery stores, our neighborhoods need more people to support those businesses. And more people means more housing.

To truly revitalize our communities, we need to bring back the life they once had. Part of that equation is building more housing units.

With your cursor, drag the slider to see how population density has decreased in German Village and the South Side since 1960.

In the German Village area, there were butchers, beauty parlors, doctors, dentists, drug stores, photography processing, cheese manufacturing, dry goods stores, and trades like plumbers, roofers, and machinists scattered throughout. With 18 groceries, the area had a plethora of options for purchasing food, as well as options for running into friends and neighbors.

By 1963, the number of small groceries declined to 12 and today there are no groceries within the boundary of the German Village historic district. Some of this change can be attributed to an evolution of retail at a national and global scale, but the decline in businesses also occurred in tandem with the neighborhood’s renaissance as a residential enclave.

Select business types, 1926 to 2014.
Business TypeYear 1926Year 1963Year 2014
Pharmacy or Drug Store522
Flower shop111

The photographs in this slideshow illustrate how former retail or public buildings have been privatized and removed from community use since the architectural restoration of German Village beginning in the 1960s. Without consumer demand to fuel retail stores like groceries, pharmacies, and dry cleaners, those types of services cannot survive. As a result, urban neighborhoods may become “destination” areas, visited by tourists and hailed as exclusive residential areas without basic services.

To create complete neighborhoods with access to a variety of goods and services, cities need appropriate levels of density.