Neighborhood Profile #1- Olde Towne East

Olde Towne East, as the name implies, is one of Columbus’ oldest neighborhoods. It began as a series of farms and modest homes, but began to consolidate as a neighborhood when the National Road (now Broad Street) reached Columbus in 1833. This new road acted much like later highways would, allowing those with the means to live a bit further out from the hustle can bustle of Downtown Columbus, which during the 1800s was rapidly growing. So essentially, Olde Towne became one of Columbus’ first suburbs. These early suburbanites tended to be the wealthy elite of Columbus, and they built large, extravagant homes for the period, many of which still exist today.

As the city and neighborhood prospered, residents began to clamor for alternative modes of transit. In 1863, Columbus began service of its first horse-drawn streetcar with a route to Olde Towne East along Broad Street. This allowed for further growth of the area and made it easier for those of more modest means to take part in building the area, and the population continued to grow. This prompted the city to annext Olde Towne in 1870.

By the 1880s, transportation improved again when trolley tracks were laid. The streetcar barn that served the trollies still exists, although currently in desperate need of maintenance. Further development prompted much of the area to be converted to a gridded, residential area, and the affluent continued to flock to the area to build their dream homes. It is likely that the neighborhood reached its peak sometime between 1890-1915, before new suburban areas, such as Bexley, began to pull the rich from Olde Towne.

From the 1920s through 1940s, Olde Towne East transitioned from a neighborhood of the rich to a middle class enclave, and much of its former luster began to slowly disappear. Old mansions were gutted and turned into apartments and nursing homes, while others slowly rotted until they were demolished. This trend was accelerated in the 1950s, as a new highway system was being constructed, and the urban core of Columbus gradually declined due to pollution, crime and worsening schools. This suburban flight, better known as the “White Flight” movement, left Olde Towne wholly transformed. Over time it became a neighborhood dominated by low income families mostly of African American descent. African Americans had not been able to take advantage of the surburban exodus, and instead had simply replaced those who had already left.

What happened in Olde Towne was happening in many urban neighborhoods across the city, exacerbated by the “urban renewal” movement. Urban Renewal is now considered one of the absolute worst disasters to ever befall cities. Leaders believed at the time that the best way to fight urban blight was to basically bulldoze everything in sight. Because the automobile had become such a dominant force, it was believed that the best way to bring people back to the city was to provide large amounts of parking vs a smaller amount of buildings. The theory was that if it was easy to drive and park Downtown, those businesses that were left would be able to tap into all those customers. Beyond that, there was a lack of appreciation for anything of real historical value or age. Old buildings, more often than not, were just considered blight that needed to be removed, far too cost inefficient to maintain. Therefore, if there was more parking for the increasing suburban population along with less blight, urban areas would again become revitalized. It was a ridiculous theory and basically accomplished the exact opposite.

The worst blow, however, was the highway system. Olde Towne East was connected to Downtown with dense, urban development. I-71 changed that. It carved a path through the heart of the neighborhood, destroying hundreds of historical homes and permanently severing the two areas with a highway canyon. All highways did was allow more and more people to escape to the far suburbs, and by the 1970s, Olde Towne East, along with most other urban neighborhoods, was in freefall decline.

The 1980s began to provide a ray of hope. The principles of urban renewal were rapidly becoming obsolete, if not shunned. The damage the philosophy had caused was obvious everywhere one looked in the urban core. But while Olde Towne had lost so much and was in bad shape, some people saw potential. Many of the original mansions had survived, though in extreme disrepair. Real estate had become very cheap in the neighborhood, and house flipping was beginning to take off. Renovations began to take place and the very slow process of turning the neighborhood around began. It was not without controversy.

By the 1990s, gentrification was well underway in Olde Towne East, but not everyone was thrilled. Many in the African American community saw these new urbanists as a threat. Why? Because the inevitable result of fixing up a neighborhood is higher rents, higher mortgages and higher taxes. These lower-income residents, who had been there for decades, saw this revitalization as their eventual push out of Olde Towne East altogether. This controversy became the subject of a 1990s documentary called Flag Wars. The documentary centered on the gay community, in particular, being a force of revitalization, and the conflict it created with African American residents who felt they were being bullied to leave.

The 2000s were a slow time for Olde Towne East. Double recessions hit house flippers and developers hard, and the housing market overall crashed. Revitalization slowed and it looked for awhile that perhaps the process had stagnated. However, within the last few years, the city, along with private and public investment, such as with Ohio State, has pledged millions of dollars to fix up homes and infrastructure in and around Olde Towne even as small-scale renovations have gradually ticked up once more. These new partnerships signal a new era for Olde Towne and other urban neighborhoods that we are once again serious about the urban environment. In the years to come, Olde Town’s incredible architecture and history will become an increasingly important selling point to a society that, at least in the past 5 years, has taken a second look at urban living and not found it to be all that scary anymore. It may take time to rebuild infrastructure and population, but the seeds are there for a true rebirth of one of Columbus’ oldest and best neighborhooods.

Olde Towne East Historical Population and Demographics

2010: 4,950
2000: 5,572
1990: 7,090
1980: 7,941
1970: 12,463
1960: 17,860
1950: 16,823
1940: 14,627

% of Population by Race
2010: 32.0%
2000: 20.2%
1990: 21.6%
1980: 22.9%
1970: 23.7%
1960: 62.7%
1950: 90.3%
1940: 93.7%
2010: 62.1%
2000: 74.8%
1990: 75.9%
1980: 75.9%
1970: 75.3%
1960: 37.3%
1950: 9.7%
1940: 6.3%
2010: 2.1%
2000: 1.1%
1990: 0.6%
1980: 0.2%
1970: 1.0%
2010: 0.6%
2000: 1.1%
1990: 0.9%
1980: 1.0%

*Hispanics were not counted separatrely until the 1970 Census.
**Asians were not counted separately until the 1980 Census.
***Prior to 1970, many were largely counted as either White or Black. This partially explains the rapid changes from 1960-1970 in demographics, but is not the entire story. This was also the same period that Interstate 71 was constructed through the neighborhood (early 1960s). Almost 5,000 residents were forced to relocate or simply left the area between 1960 and 1970 and completely reversed the racial makeup of the neighborhood.

Is Columbus Getting Younger?

This article:
from New Geography suggests… maybe. It was one of only two Midwestern cities (the other being Indianapolis) that saw its population of people aged 15 and younger grow from 2000-2010, and actually scored at #18 for the best growth in this catergory in the 51 largest metros. The 15 and younger population grew by almost 32,000, or 9.2%. Columbus has long been a young city, especially within Ohio, where the median age is almost 37, higher than the national average. In 2010, Columbus’ median age was just 31.4. Should its young population continue to rise, that median age may actually drop over time. It’s long been established that younger cities tend to do better economically and with growth, while aging cities tend to see sustained decline, so this is good news for Columbus’ future.

Age Demographics for the City of Columbus 2000-2010
Under 5
2000: 52,638 7.4%
2010: 61,122 7.7%
5 to 14
2000: 95,251 13.4%
2010: 99,143 12.6%
15 to 24
2000: 122,768 17.3%
2010: 133,796 16.9%
25 to 34
2000: 139,327 19.6%
2010: 147,584 18.7%
35 to 44
2000: 112,361 15.8%
2010: 110,342 14.0%
45 to 54
2000: 80,668 11.3%
2010: 97,782 12.4%
55 to 64
2000: 45,949 6.5%
2010: 74,265 9.4%
65 to 74
2000: 33,718 4.7%
2010: 35,816 4.5%
75 and Over
2000: 28,964 4.1%
2010: 30,089 3.8%

Age Demographics for the Metropolitan Area 2000-2010
Under 5
2000: 115,002 7.1%
2010: 127,350 6.9%
5 to 14
2000: 233,018 14.4%
2010: 253,211 13.8%
15 to 24
2000: 233,784 14.5%
2010: 264,784 14.4%
25 to 34
2000: 256,992 15.9%
2010: 270,931 14.7%
35 to 44
2000: 270,406 16.8%
2010: 260,069 14.1%
45 to 54
2000: 213,906 13.3%
2010: 265,770 14.4%
55 to 64
2000: 127,707 7.9%
2010: 202,911 11.0%
65 to 74
2000: 89,876 5.6%
2010: 109,390 5.9%
75 and Over
2000: 72,003 4.5%
2010: 86,215 4.7%

Ongoing Project #2- 1999 to Present- Easton Town Center

Post Update 7/10/2013.

Easton Town Center

Easton Town Center
Easton Town Center was in the planning stages as far back as 1990. The area where Easton would be built was mostly undeveloped land at the southwest corner of Morse Road and I-270. Les Wexner of Limited Brands fame imagined a large mixed-use development for the 1,300 acre site, to be anchored by a central retail complex. Some of the intial designs resembled more traditional malls, but as planning evolved, the retail complex emerged as an outdoor town-center style shopping experience. While some parts of the large site were developed as early as 1996, such as Easton Market, Phase I of the town center most recognized as simply “Easton”, did not open until 1999, with Phase II opening in 2001. Easton Town Center was eventually nationally recognized for its design and has since been copied around the nation. Today, Easton remains successful and continues to evolve and grow with new shops and fashion names.

Easton Town Center Stats

Start of Construction: 1997
Opened: 1999
Current Status: Under Construction
Cost (1999-Present): $1.0-$1.3 Billion
Stores: 240+

In this aerial, the land that will become Easton is mostly farmland and scattered buildings.

In this aerial, the land that will become Easton is mostly farmland and scattered buildings.

Easton aerial in 2002.  This shows the explosion of development at the site, with the Town Center in the center of the image.  The 270 Easton exit ramp has also been constructed.

Easton aerial in 2002. This shows the explosion of development at the site, with the Town Center in the center of the image. The 270 Easton exit ramp has also been constructed.

The area has filled in a bit more in this 2011 aerial.  Phase III is supposed to be built on the northeast corner.

The area has filled in a bit more in this 2011 aerial. Phase III is supposed to be built on the northeast corner.

Fenlon Square Expansion
Fenlon Square was recently completed on the northwestern side of the main Easton Town Center complex. Aimed to be Easton’s most family-oriented area, Fenlon Square includes several new stores such as doll-crazed American Girl and a new concept Build-a-Bear. Other tenants include clothing stores C. Wonder, Children’s Place, Flip Flop Shops, Hot Mama and Stride Rite Shoes. Food stores/retail include Le Chocoholique and Fuzziwigs Candy Factory.

Easton Gateway, or Phase III…
Easton Gateway, or Phase III, will be built on a 54-acre site just south of 161 to the east of the main complex. The Gateway will add 542,054 square feet of new retail space and parking for nearly 3,000 vehicles. Some tenants include REI, the outdoor store, and Costco. Construction will begin later this year and be completed in 2014.

Easton Gateway

In-Planning Project- 2014 and Beyond- Scioto Peninsula

The history of the Scioto Peninsula in not really all that positive. Bounded by 315 to the west and on all other sides by the Scioto River directly across from Downtown, this area currently contains Veteran’s Memorial, COSI and not much else. Even as far back as the 1950s, a large chunk of the peninsula, especially around Central High School (which still exists as COSI), was just vacant land. Otherwise, what existed were warehouse buildings and other commercial buildings. What people lived there were mostly confined to a few public housing projects. Being so close to the Scioto River, the area repeatedly flooded over its history, especially in the Great Flood of 1913 and to a lesser extent in 1959. This prevented much development here and in Franklinton in general. Federal standards were actually in place that banned most new construction or even renovations to most types of buildings. This allowed all of Franklinton, including the Peninsula, to stagnate and go through steady decline.

Help was coming, however, in the form of a giant floodwall. Conceived as far back as the 1980s, the Franklinton Floodwall would not be completed until 2004. It took another 4-5 years before people began to seriously look at the area for redevelopment and then for that development to actually start taking place. Eastern Franklinton, so far, has been the focal point of that redevelopment, and a big project to help tie in Downtown with the neighborhood is the planned redevelopment of the Peninsula.

Almost all the buildings that existed in the ’50s are now gone, even the housing projects. COSI uses much of the land for parking, as does Veteran’s Memorial. The rest is grassy lots primed for redevelopment. Some projects have already taken place. The two new Downtown bridges at Main and Rich Streets provide a nice access onto the Peninsula, along with the Broad Street bridge. A 4th, a planned pedestrian bridge, will be located on the north end crossing from Vet’s Memorial to North Bank Park in the Arena District. This bridge is probably still a few years off, as there is another, large project planned. The low-head dams along the Scioto River in the Downtown area are going to be removed, starting sometime next year. This will lower the river level and create a more natural flowing waterway. It will also create acres of new riverfront parkland that new paths and landscaping will be added to. This will create an inviting, park setting to both sides of the river.

The Peninsula has been planned for redevelopment several times in the last 30 years, but there was a lack of momentum for urban projects for decades and no serious plans ever seemed to emerge. That was until the last 10 years, starting in 2002 with the first Downtown development plan by Mayor Coleman and the city. A new version was released in 2010 and contained a dozen projects planned to help Downtown become a destination again. While the Scioto Peninsula was not specifically mentioned, fixing the riverfront was. That’s where Scioto Mile park came from and is now a very popular spot for residents. With all this momentum, the Peninsula needed a serious plan. Right now, meetings are taking place and a development plan is now in the early stages. Some early ideas include a lot of residential, retail and entertainment space, along with a more interactive riverfront and even a transit station for light rail. The first draft of the plan is likely to be released in 2013 and construction could begin as early as 2014.

This is the area for redevelopment, bounded by the railroad tracks to the west and the river to the east.  The large skinny building is COSI, and the large building to the north is Veteran's Memorial.

This is the area for redevelopment, bounded by the railroad tracks to the west and the river to the east. The large skinny building is COSI, and the large building to the north is Veteran’s Memorial.

Completed Project #3- 2001- Polaris Fashion Place

Polaris Fashion Place
The rush to the suburbs had been going on for the better part of 60 years by the late 1990s, and seemed to show no real signs of ending. Although the 1990s had been somewhat of an improvement over previous decades for cities and urban life, suburbia was still by far the expected destination for most. Sprawl had exploded during the 1990s and most suburbs had experiened record growth. Southern Delaware county, especially, saw massive building as the population there climbed quickly. Polaris Fashion Place was built to take advantage of the suburban trends. Built largely on farmland, Polaris was to be one of the largest malls in the state and offer high-end fashion names like Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. Planning began in the mid-1990s and construction began in 1999, finishing up in 2001…and just in time. Polaris is one of the last enclosed malls built in the entire United States, as they quickly fell out of favor once the town-center concept, like Easton, became popular. Malls, and retail in general, also suffered from the double recessions during the 2000s. Polaris itself continues to be a popular mall, and development in the area, while not quite at the same pace, has continued.

Polaris Fashion Place Stats

Start of Construction: 1999
Opened: 2001
Current Status: Complete
Cost: $200 Million
# of Stores: 200

From this 1995 aerial, the Polaris site is just one big farm.  I-71 is on the right, but otherwise there are almost no roads through the area.

From this 1995 aerial, the Polaris site is just one big farm. I-71 is on the right, but otherwise there are almost no roads through the area.

Fast forward to 2002 and suddenly the farms are gone.  A new exit off 71 is Polaris Parkway.

Fast forward to 2002 and suddenly the farms are gone. A new exit off 71 is Polaris Parkway.

The Polaris area has continued to add new development through this 2011 aerial.

The Polaris area has continued to add new development through this 2011 aerial.