Check out the New Tract Data Page!

I’ve been working on gathering tract data for every Franklin County and Columbus City census tract and their populations since 1950. Not an easy task, as tracts have a tendency to be split apart or absorbed by others over time. So it was a matter of finding the lists of changes and going from there. I am currently in the process of updating the new page to eventually have data for every tract that has existed in the county and city, along with their life span, location and population. Hopefully I will be able to put together some graphs as well for some of the more prominent tracts, expecially for individual neighborhoods.

The Recovery of Downtown vs Cleveland and Cincinnati Part #2

Yesterday I talked about how the 1950 core population had changed the last 50 years. Today I want to focus just on the Downtown, or the Central Business District. This is a much smaller area for all three cities so there are far fewer tracts involved.

First, let’s look at the total Downtown populations since 1950.

This graph, I think, will surprise most people. The first surprise is that downtown populations in 1950 were not nearly as high as most would have you believe. Cincinnati did have almost 22K people there, but even a city like Cleveland had less than 10K, and that was during the absolute peak of its city population. Another surprise is that Columbus was not always the lowest populated downtown and was more populated than Cleveland’s in 1950. Finally, the last surprise is that while all the downtowns are now growing, Columbus has regained 2nd place and Cleveland has seen the most growth so far.

What about tract trends for the downtowns? Well first, here are the population trends for each downtown.

For Cincinnati, Tracts #4 and #6 were combined into #265 in 2010.

So no city had a single Downtown tract that was not growing in 2010. This is good news.

Here is the total population change by Downtown.

What about if these current trends continue, what might the downtown populations look like in 2020 or 2030?

If you think Cleveland has a very rapid rise for its Best Case scenario, that is because, to get the best case, I used the last decade’s growth rates and just assumed they would continue and compound growth. One of Cleveland’s tracts had a growth rate over 80% while another grew 271%. Still, while it’s the best case, it’s also highly unlikely to maintain growth rates that high for that long, so a more likely case is somewhere closer to Most Likely.

Finally, I wanted to look at more of the downtown area than just the central business district. “Downtown” for many includes more areas than that and may be a “Greater Downtown Area”, the measurement between the full 1950 boundaries and just the CBD.

Here are the tracts I considered to be the Greater Downtown area for each city.

Cincinnati: 2, 9, 10, 11, 263, 264, 265, 268
Cleveland: 1033, 1036, 1042, 1071, 1077, 1078, 1082, 1083, 1084
Columbus: 21, 22, 29, 30, 36, 38, 40, 42, 52, 53, 57

And the graph for the population of these tracts since 1950 and a projection out to 2020.

Cincinnati reached it’s lowest population for the past 60 years for this area in 2010, but just barely. It should be growing again by 2020, but I didn’t project the growth to be that high because it was still coming out of its lowest point. Cleveland’s greater downtown had the bottomed out in 1990 and had the fasted growth the past decade. Columbus managed to maintain the highest population in its greater downtown, bottomed out in 2000 and has grown since. However, not nearly as fast as in Cleveland. I expect Columbus to have better growth this decade and remain on top, but with Cleveland’s area closing the gap.


The Recovery of Downtown vs Cleveland and Cincinnati Part #1



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Columbus’ downtown has seen many many changes, especially over the last decade. Developments like the Arena District, Columbus Commons, the Scioto Mile and more have brought new life to the area. Dozens of new restaurants have opened the past year or two alone, and a new grocery store will be opening for area residents in February. More developments coming up include the Scioto River restoration project that will create acres of new Downtown park space and pathways, and the redevelopment of the Scioto Peninsula behind COSI should connect the two sides of the river. All of this had led to rising population, now approaching 7,000. More than 1,000 residential units are currently under construction and more is on the way. So the question I was wondering is how has population been changing not only in Columbus’ downtown, but in comparison to Cleveland and Cincinnati. Both of those cities have also seen major projects in their downtown cores and are seeing an uptick in their downtown populations.

First, I examined the 1950 city limits for all three cities. This was the last census year before sprawl really took hold and changed the city dynamics and growth patterns. 1950 is also when most cities in Ohio reached their peak urban population, so I thought it would be interesting to see how those old boundaries had changed over the years. I went to the US census website and began to look up all the census tracts that existed in each city in 1950. Those would represent my base area that I would use to see the changes in the city core. All of the 3-Cs have grown beyond those 1950 boundaries, especially Columbus, but these areas were the hardest hit when the urban decline came the last 50-60 years while the suburbs grew. The results are both sobering and hopeful.

Population by year for the area within the 1950 city limits.

1950 Boundary Population Change 1950-2010
Cincinnati: -225,489
Cleveland: -536,351
Columbus: -141,319

1950 Boundary Population % Change 1950-2010
Cincinnati: -44.7%
Cleveland: -58.6%
Columbus: -37.6%

So what do these numbers show? Well, it’s clear that all 3 cities had urban core population declines the past 60 years just like just about every other city in the nation did. This was mostly a result of the suburban movement.
In Cleveland, the rate of loss had gradually been slowing down since the 1970s, but suddenly skyrocketed again in the 2000s. I’m not sure what exactly caused this. The double recessions made it more difficult for people to move, so if anything, the losses should’ve not accelerated. Cleveland lost over 90,000 people in its urban core from 2000-2010, the highest lost by % and total of any Ohio city.
In Cincinnati, population loss had peaked in the 1970s and the rate of loss fell substantially the following decade. However, the past 2 decades have actually seen a gradual acceleration of losses. The 2000-2010 period saw the second biggest total loss for the urban core.
For Columbus, it’s been the opposite picture. Like the other 2-Cs, losses peaked in the 1970s. Since then, the urban core losses have been in gradual decline. The 2000-2010 period had the smallest rate and total loss of any decade the past 60 years.

So interesting results, but these numbers don’t show any trends of what’s going on inside the 1950 boundaries, especially not the relatively small part that would be the downtowns. So let’s break the numbers down to the tract level.

# of Tracts in 1950*
Cincinnat: 107
Cleveland: 201
Columbus: 48

*The number of tracts changed from 1950 on as some were split or consolidated. This made it more complicated, but luckily the Census gives lists on how tracts changed over time, so one can figure out what tract became what and reasonably keep up with the same boundaries that existed in 1950.

So with this breakdown, we can see more of the trends within the 1950 boundaries. In Cincinnati, a long decline was followed by a recovery in 1990, only to have the next 20 years show an increasing decline. The 2010 census showed the fewest number of tracts growing on record. This is the worst performance of the 3-Cs. Cleveland also had a steep decline followed by a recovery, but it too declined more at the last census, but not nearly to the low point it reached in the 1970s and 1980s.

Meanwhile, Columbus also faced an initial steep decline and barely had any tracts growing during the 1970s. Since then, the trend has been up. The 16 growing tracts in 2010 were the highest since the 1940s. This is the best performance of the 3-Cs, and Columbus had the highest % of growing tracts in its core. Still, those 16 represent less than 1/3rd of the total tracts within the 1950 boundaries. So while there appears to be recovery ongoing in Columbus, especially compared to Cleveland and Cincinnati, it’s not where it needs to be.

So let’s look to the future. All these tracts are trending in certain directions themselves. While they may be losing now, they may be trending toward an eventual gain, and vice versa. If we follow the trends ongoing for the urban core tracts, where might the picture look like in say, 2020?

Tract Trends for Those Tracts Growing in Population in 2010

Trends are listed from what, in my opinion are the most positive to the most negative.

Growing in both 2000 and 2010, but Growth Accelerating Over Time and % of Total Tracts
Cincinnati: 0- 0%
Cleveland: 7- 4.6%
Columbus: 5- 11.3%

Shrinking in 2000 but Growing in 2010 and % of Total Tracts
Cincinnati: 10- 9.5%
Cleveland: 20- 13.1%
Columbus: 10- 18.9%

Growing in both 2000 and 2010, but Growth Slowing Over Time and % of Total Tracts
Cincinnati: 1- 1.0%
Cleveland: 1- 0.7%
Columbus: 1- 1.9%

Shrinking in both 2000 and 2010, but Loss Slowing Over Time and % of Total
Cincinnati: 28- 26.7%
Cleveland: 21- 13.7%
Columbus: 15- 28.3%

These tracts are those most likely to switch to positive growth come 2020. This is arguably one of the more positive trends and may deserve to be bumped a bit higher on the list.

Growing in 2000 but Shrinking in 2010 and % of Total
Cincinnati: 18- 17.1%
Cleveland: 42- 27.5%
Columbus: 5- 9.4%

Shrinking in both 2000 and 2010, but Loss Accelerating and % of Total
Cincinnati: 48- 45.7%
Cleveland: 93- 60.8%
Columbus: 17- 32.1%

These are the worst of the worst tracts, likely representing the most declined parts of the urban core. It’s pretty surprising to see that almost 2/3rds of Cleveland’s tracts are in this condition.

The tract trends paint a very interesting picture about each city’s urban core future. If we expanded these trends to the next census in 2020, this is what you might see.

All this information, however, deals with the entire urban core. What about just the Central Business Districts, or the downtown ares for each city? In Part #2, I will examine those numbers and trends for the very heart of these cities.



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Columbus Retail History Part #2: Shopping Centers



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Columbus and the shopping center have been together for a long time, and there is a strong argument that the city has had them longer than anywhere else in America. Even today, retail is a powerful player in the city’s economic and social picture.

As the automobile began to grow in use and importance, the concept of shopping changed. Previously, stores had been set up right against the sidewalk or street and customers would walk or find some other way to reach it. When the automobile came about, on-street parking was added. This was soon deemed insufficient for the steadily growing number of drivers, and developers and engineers began to think of new shopping experiences to adapt to this changing environment.

Don M. Casto Sr, in 1928, the year he opened the nation’s first strip shopping center.

One of the first major changes to come about was the strip center. Prolific in every suburb in America today, the strip center got its start in Columbus. The first one was developed in Grandview Heights and named the Grandview Avenue Shopping Center (also known as the Grandview Avenue Bank Block). Opening in 1928, the center included 30 shops and incorporated parking spaces for up to 400 cars, one of the first major retail developments to design for cars. It was also the first regional shopping center and the first to have more than one national grocer (it had 4). The opening was a big deal at the time. There was a parade that featured child actors from the “Our Gang” films (Alfalfa, Spanky, etc), a street fair and musical acts. It was, of course, an instant success, and copies began to sprout around the city, and eventually, the nation. The center was built by Don Casto Sr., and Casto Construction still is a Columbus entity, recently announcing a local HQ move to the Bicentennial Plaza building Downtown. The Bank Block also still exists, and although not functioning today exclusively as it was designed (it is now mixed-use), it is on the National Historic Register and continues to be a part of the Grandview Heights landscape.

The 1928 Bank Block at 1269 Grandview Avenue. The parking lot is directly behind the building.

During the 1930s and 1940s, as suburban strip centers expanded and prospered, another idea began to emerge: The suburban shopping center. They were to be larger in scale than any strip center so far, with many stores, abundant parking and perhaps entertainment venues. Don Casto Sr., once again, took the lead. He proposed a new center at 3772 E. Broad Street, ironically, in order to relieve traffic congestion of shoppers in the Downtown area. Town & Country Shopping Center in Whitehall, was the result, opening in 1949. It was still strip-style, but much larger and with the parking lot set in front of the buildings. This became the dominant layout of all strip centers (and all retail development of any kind) for much of the next 60 years. Today, Town & Country has been renovated and reworked several times over, and shows little sign of its age.

Town & Country Shopping Center in 1976.


Town & County in July, 2009.

Casto followed up Town & Country with a string of new strip shopping centers that included Northern Lights Shopping Center on the North Side (1954), Great Western in Hilltop (1955), Graceland Shopping Center at 5155 N. High Street (1955) and Great Southern Shopper’s City on S. High Street (1957). Most of these new centers also featured some type of local attraction. At Great Southern, there was a Pan American flag display, while at Great Western, there was the famous Walk O’ Wonders, where a large section of the parking lot featured scale models of the world’s major architectural and natural wonders, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Niagara Falls. Today, all of these centers still exist, though none of them are particularly popular. Most of them now have low-end retail or non-retail establishments, victims of the shopping mall.

Niagara Falls at the Walk O’ Wonders at Great Western Shopping Center. The attraction lasted about a decade.

By the 1960s, the regional shopping mall was the next big idea in retail, and malls were sprouting up all over the country. Columbus was no exception to this trend. Columbus’ first major mall was Northland, which opened on August 13, 1964. Built for a modest $11 million, the enclosed mall featured 43 stores and 4,500 parking spaces. It was soon to be followed by Eastland Mall in February 1968 and Westland Mall in February 1969. The Westland Mall site was already a retail destination, having the first Lazarus branch store in the nation, opening in 1962. The mall was also built as an open-air shopping plaza, a very early version of the Easton Town Center concept, but the design proved unpopular, especially in bad weather months, and the mall was enclosed in 1982. The last retail destination was The Continent. Opening in 1973, The Continent was an open-air shopping center that featured European-style architecture and walkways that resembled the cobblestone alleys of Europe. As of today, only Eastland still functions as a full mall. Northland closed in 2002 and was demolished in 2004. The site is being redeveloped into a mixed-use site with offices, restaurants and small-scale retail. Westland still has a few stores, but the main mall section is now closed. The new Hollywood Casino opened in October 2012 across the street, and plans for the mall’s redevelopment are in the works. These plans are expected to be announced sometime this year, perhaps in the spring, although the owners have said it will likely not be a mall any longer and that the building itself may not remain. As far as The Continent goes, many of the stores began to move out in the 1980s and today the area is a collection of motels, low-end retail and not much else.

The Continent in 1976.


Westland Mall under construction in 1968.

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A photo of Westland Mall in its post-crowd days. This photo could’ve just as easily been taken at Northland by the time it closed.

Why did these malls fail? Pretty simple really… too much competition. This brings us to the the later arrivals on the retail scene. First up, was City Center. This mall was conceived as the savior of Downtown, to pull in shoppers from the suburbs and bring back traffic to the area. This $100 million, 100+ store enclosed mall was completed in 1989. For awhile, it did function as a destination mall, but also pulled business from Northland, Westland and Eastland malls, though it did not kill them.

City Center’s Grand Opening, August 18, 1989

Three new suburban shopping malls opened between 1997 and 2001: Tuttle Crossing, Easton Town Center and Polaris Fashion Place. Each was a bigger blow to the traffic at the older malls, and one by one most of them perished. Eastland was the only survivor, and only because it was the furthest away from the new destinations.

Tuttle Crossing was completed in 1997 with 150 stores. A traditional enclosed mall, this 2-floor building has been largely successful and has remained busy through its lifespan so far. The future of the enclosed mall, however, is not as bright.

Tuttle Crossing Mall’s main entrance.

Easton Town Center opened in 1999. The nearly $1 billion retail center brought back the open-air concept that had been absent in Columbus since the 1980s. However, instead of just lines of stores, the center was built as a small town, complete with streets, public plazas, landscaping and other amenities. Easton proved to be extremely popular, adding a second phase in 2001 and is currently planning a 3rd phase, perhaps for completion by 2014. As it stands now, there are already over 200 stores, a 30-screen movie theater and dozens of restaurants. Easton’s design was hailed as innovative and revolutionary to the mall concept, and has since been copied around the nation, much like Don Casto’s early strip centers.

Easton Town Center’s small town-like streets.

Polaris Fashion Place was the last major retail center to be built in Columbus, a $200 million 200-store enclosed mall in the southern part of Delaware County just west of I-71. It was the largest mall in Central Ohio and one of the largest in the state. It introduced the Columbus market to new stores like Lord & Taylor and Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and Polaris was considered to be the high end fashion destination for the area at the time. Development around the mall has since exploded, requiring the construction of two exits to be built off of 71 to handle the traffic levels.

Polaris’ interior.

So what is the future of these most recent places? City Center is, of course, gone. The mall was demolished in 2010 and the site converted to Columbus Commons Park. Tuttle Crossing and Polaris are still popular, but enclosed malls are increasingly falling out of favor. No new ones have been built in the US since 2006, and there may not be another built anywhere for a long time to come. Retail has evolved from just mere shopping to an overall experience. In that sense, Easton looks to have the brightest future of the bunch, so long as it can keep updating itself in the way it has for the past 14 years. Polaris may be the most in trouble of the bunch. A recent proposal by the Ohio Department of Transportation is to rebuild the 36/37 interchange in Delaware County. Along with this rebuild, retail is being proposed for the site. This retail may include one, or perhaps two, outlet malls similar to the one in Jeffersonville, about an hour southwest of Columbus. If these get built, the cycle that killed off Westland, Northland and City Center may be repeated. Customers are likely to get pulled from Polaris to this new development unless Polaris can update itself in the way Easton has. It remains to be seen. Studies have suggested that Columbus cannot absorb much more retail, even as a growing city, so the construction of more large-scale retail is bound to have ripple effects across the metro area. In future posts, I want to highlight some of these retail places a bit more, especially City Center and its ultimate demise. Until then, happy shopping!


February 2010 Snowstorms x4 Part #2

February 2010′s second snowstorm came just 3 days after the major event on the 5th-6th. This second low pressure system tracked from Louisville, Kentucky and then up along I-71 to Cleveland. Even though the track was through the heart of the state, the majority of the precipitation in most areas was snowfall. This storm followed so closely on the heels of the February 5th storm that the cold air it had brought down was still in place on the 9th. This allowed for snow despite the far north track.

Snow began in Columbus in the early morning hours of the 5th and continued into the 6th. Snowfall rates reached their peak in the late morning hours of the 5th, falling at 1/2″ per hour at times, but never quite reached the intensities of Storm #1. While some parts of the state had 7-8″, the Columbus area had 5-6″, about half of what it got in Storm #1. Still, cleanup from the first storm was still ongoing, and this latest snowfall severely complicated the process. Traffic and airport delays were common, and many schools were cancelled. Snow depths in Franklin County reached 10-16″ after the storm.