July 2018 Missed Opportunity of the Month

July’s entry into the list of dumb ideas isn’t about something bad with the development itself, but rather the unfortunately common plague of NIMBYism that festers in so many urban neighborhoods, and how it can kill good urbanism because some people have delicate sensibilities that need stroking.

A while back, Kaufman Development proposed a 10-story, mixed-use project at 23 W. 2nd Avenue that spanned part of the block between Price and 2nd, most of which was already a vacant grass lot. The project proposed renovating the 91-year-old IBEW building and incorporating it into the overall project, which included a mix of apartments, retail and office space.

—Last rendering in July 2018.

Victorian Village, the neighborhood of which the project fell under, was of course completely apoplectic about it. After the first neighborhood commission meeting, at which commission members and neighborhood busybodies expressed deep concerns about the design and size, Kaufman went back to the drawing board. Over time, Kaufman redesigned the project more than 20 times, the height changing from 10 to 9 to 14 and then back to 10 stories, with the number of apartments, uses, scale, etc. being changed over and over again to please the fickle nearby residents. These residents (and let’s not forget commission members, which admittedly, faced a 4-4 tie in the vote because the commission was lacking its 9th member, something the City hopes to rectify in the near future) complained about traffic and that the project would “block the sun”, among other roll-of-the-eyes nonsense. It was the kind of shenanigans that even Clintonville might suggest had gone too far.

So after 7 straight months of trying to please those that cannot be pleased, the actual preferred outcome inevitably occurred:

Instead of continuing to deal with unreasonable people, spending more time and money for something they couldn’t make work, Kaufman decided to walk away from the project altogether. Though they still own the property and may eventually come back to the table with another proposal, it seems unlikely to be anywhere near the scale originally proposed. The NIMBYism aside, this speaks to the disconnect between the real estate conditions in Columbus and the pushback on building new development that would actually help resolve some of the existing problems. Columbus is currently in the midst of a housing crisis. Population estimates show that the city has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing. This growth, combined with a historically-low inventory and record sales, has put a huge strain on the housing market, including pushing prices to ever-higher levels. Simply put, residential construction hasn’t been keeping pace with the influx of population into the city, and this has been the case since at least the 2009 recession. Instead of intentionally limiting developers to go smaller in prime locations- such as in the very-high-demand Short North off of High Street- development commissions across the city should be welcoming more housing. Instead, projects are being downsized or rejected by local populations left and right. Let’s look at a few reasons why commission members and some residents opposed this particular project.

The argument that traffic would be a problem is silly and misguided for many reasons, but I’ll just review a few of them. First, the project plan provided parking in a garage for its residents and at least some for retail customers/visitors, and the extra cars driving around wouldn’t have been significant enough to make any noticeable difference in an already busy area. Second, Price Avenue was said to be too small and narrow to handle cars going in and out of the garage entrance per the project, but it’s clearly wide enough for 1-way traffic (its 1-way already) and 2 more lanes of curbside parking, so that reason seems equally bunk. And entrance/exit from the project would not have taken up many existing curb spots, and no configuration changes to the street would’ve been needed except for perhaps a very small end section of Price.

—Price Avenue looking toward High, about where the Kaufman project would’ve gone on the left.

Third, traffic and parking shouldn’t be used as a hammer to squash development, but as the catalyst to demand better transit and pedestrian options. Whether those include buses, rail, bikes, better sidewalks, etc. can be debated, but transit is an important part of the picture in urban neighborhoods, whether people like it or not. Furthermore, this area is already highly served by bus and bike, as well as car-share and Uber. The idea that people even have to drive here, or even to the Short North in general, is simply not true. Given that the Short North is highly walkable, many of the residents that would’ve lived here would’ve been less likely to use their cars for all trips, anyway, thereby further reducing the impact on local roads.

It’s Too Big for the Neighborhood!!!
To this, I say, bullshit. Multiple projects just as big or larger have already been built or are under construction on both sides of High Street, including in Victorian Village, which this site falls under. To say that the Kaufman site is not appropriate is completely arbitrary, even if the site is not on High itself, but set back slightly. To the east is the High commercial corridor and to the west is an alleyway. 4 single-family homes exist to the east of the alleyway, and would’ve been the only ones really directly near the project. The complaint that there would be significant “sun blocking” is ridiculous. It wasn’t a 50-story tower, and the orientation of project meant that any sun loss would have been minimal at worst.

The Historic Character of the Neighborhood is Being Lost!!!
This one comes up with virtually every single development in this particular neighborhood. Victorian Village is indeed a beautiful neighborhood with some of the city’s best-preserved historic housing. But the Kaufman project would’ve had no impact on that, whatsoever. No demolition would’ve taken place, as this particular land lost all of its historic buildings before 1980. It’s just a vacant lot now. More importantly, the proposal would’ve renovated an actual historic building, the IBEW, helping to preserve it for the future. The histrionics on preserving the neighborhood rings hollow when nothing was actually under threat.

In any case, the project is probably dead. Whatever might be proposed in its place will likely do that much less to help address the housing crisis or to keep the neighborhood progressing. It’s a shame that some people can hold entire neighborhoods hostage with outdated thinking, and how a 40-year-long vacant lot- and counting- can be preferable to the fear of change.

Suburban vs. Urban Growth in US Metros

Now that we have the full set of 2017 population estimates, I wanted to examine a popular claim a little more closely. The claim is that suburban growth far exceeds that of core cities/counties, and it’s often repeated in media throughout the country. One of the things that always bothered me about this was the constant use of basing this claim largely on % change. This has a major flaw, one that I will go into more below.

For this little study, I will look at the top 50 largest metro areas.

First, let’s look at the total change in the whole metro area, the core county and the core city between the 2010 Census and July 1, 2017. They will be ranked here by total metro change.
1. Dallas, TX: +973,431
2. Houston, TX: +971,941
3. New York, NY: +754,396
4. Atlanta, GA: +597,993
5. Miami, FL: +592,525
6. Washington, DC: +580,228
7. Phoenix, AZ: +544,141
8. Los Angeles, CA: +524,946
9. Seattle, WA: +427,240
10. Austin, TX: +399,507
11. San Francisco, Ca: +391,784
12. Orlando, FL: +375,432
13. Riverside, CA: +355,705
14. Denver, CO: +344,635
15. San Antonio, TX: +331,458
16. Charlotte, NC: +308,313
17. Tampa, FL: +307,930
18. Boston, MA: +283,935
19. Las Vegas, NV: +252,810
20. Minneapolis, MN: +251,760
21. San Diego, CA: +242,343
22. Nashville, TN: +232,162
23. Portland, OR: +227,167
24. Raleigh, NC: +204,590
25. Columbus: +176,724
26. Sacramento, CA: +175,740
27. San Jose, CA: +161,523
28. Jacksonville, FL: +159,382
29. Indianapolis, IN: +140,524
30. Oklahoma City, OK: +130,746
31. Philadelphia, PA: +130,427
32. Kansas City, MO: +119,574
33. Salt Lake City, UT: +115,297
34. Baltimore, MD: +97,572
35. Richmond, VA: +86,117
36. New Orleans, LA: +85,903
37. Chicago: +71,499
38. Cincinnati: +64,396
39. Louisville, KY: +58,247
40. Virginia Beach, VA: +48,429
41. Memphis, TN: +23,433
42. Birmingham, AL: +21,751
43. Milwaukee, WI: +20,282
44. Providence, RI: +19,912
45. St. Louis, MO: +19,575
46. Detroit: +16,685
47. Buffalo, NY: +1,239
48. Hartford, CT: -2,139
49. Cleveland: -18,427
50. Pittsburgh, PA: -22,924

Now that we have the total growth, let’s break it down a bit more.

How much of the total metro change occurred in the core county of each metro? This will be ranked by the highest to lowest % occurring in the core county.

Core County Change—————-Core County % of Total Metro
1. Las Vegas: +252,810———————-100.00%
2. San Diego: +242,343———————-100.00%
3. San Jose: +161,523**———————100.00%
4. Buffalo: +6,488——————————100.00%
5. Salt Lake City: +105,994——————91.93%
6. Phoenix: +489,916————————–90.03%
7. Raleigh: +171,210————————–83.68%
8. San Antonio: +243,805——————–73.56%
9. Columbus: +128,567———————–72.75%
10. Los Angeles: +344,902——————65.70%
11. Sacramento: +111,827——————63.63%
12. Seattle: +257,400————————-60.25%
13. New York: +447,565*——————–59.33%
14. Tampa: +179,340————————-58.24%
15. Houston: +560,521———————–57.67%
16. New Orleans: +49,463——————-57.58%
17. Jacksonville: +88,902——————–55.78%
18. Riverside: +198,100———————-55.69%
19. Providence: +10,870———————54.59%
20. Orlando: +203,019————————54.08%
21. Oklahoma City: +69,325—————-53.02%
22. Louisville: +30,052———————–51.59%
23. Charlotte: +157,209———————50.99%
24. Austin: +202,432————————-50.67%
25. Miami: +255,361————————-43.10%
26. Memphis: +9,317————————39.76%
27. Minneapolis: +99,599——————-39.56%
28. Indianapolis: +46,689——————33.22%
29. Philadelphia: +41,866——————32.10%
30. Portland: +72,221———————–31.79%
31. Denver: +104,463**———————30.31%
32. Nashville: +64,663———————-27.85%
33. Boston: +75,916————————-26.74%
34. Richmond: +22,818**——————26.50%
35. Virginia Beach: +12,441**————25.69%
36. Dallas: +250,009————————25.68%
37. Chicago: +16,588———————–23.20%
38. Milwaukee: +4,350———————21.45%
39. Kansas City: +24,737—————–20.69%
40. Atlanta: +120,843———————-20.21%
41. San Francisco: +79,128**————20.20%
42. Cincinnati: +11,448——————–17.78%
43. Washington, DC: +92,249**———15.90%
44. Birmingham: +731———————-3.36%
45. Hartford: +1,374————————-0.0%
46. Baltimore: -9,313**———————-0.0%
47. St. Louis: -10,668**———————0.0%
48. Detroit: -66,968————————–0.0%
49. Pittsburgh: -300———————– -1.31%
50. Cleveland: -31,608——————- -100.00%

*New York includes all 5 main boroughs, so it is different than core county, but still represents the urban center of the metro area.
**Core County and City are consolidated, or city exists as separate entity.

Going down even further, let’s compare the core city to the total metro, again ranked by %.

Core City Change————————Core City % of Total Metro
1. New York: +447,565————————-59.33%
2. New Orleans: +49,463———————–57.58%
3. San Antonio: +184,539———————-55.67%
4. San Jose: +89,375—————————55.33%
5. Columbus: +92,137————————–52.14%
6. Oklahoma City: +63,649——————–48.68%
7. San Diego: +112,114————————46.26%
8. Jacksonville: +70,278———————–44.09%
9. Philadelphia: +54,857———————–42.06%
10. Charlotte: +127,611————————41.39%
11. Louisville: +24,012————————-41.22%
12. Austin: +160,325—————————40.13%
13. Los Angeles: +207,138——————-39.46%
14. Las Vegas: +64,468———————–36.68%
15. Phoenix: +180,446————————-33.16%
16. Raleigh: +65,098—————————31.82%
17. Denver: +104,463————————–30.31%
18. Indianapolis: +42,557———————30.28%
19. Chicago: +20,852————————–29.16%
20. Portland: +64,029————————–28.19%
21. Nashville: +64,562————————-27.81%
22. Seattle: +116,085————————–27.17%
23. Richmond: +22,818**———————26.50%
24. Virginia Beach: +12,441**—————25.69%
25. Kansas City: +29,156———————24.38%
26. Boston: +67,500—————————23.77%
27. Memphis: +5,347————————–22.82%
28. Houston: +212,454————————21.86%
29. San Francisco**: +79,128—————20.20%
30. Sacramento: +35,413———————20.15%
31. Minneapolis: +41,412———————16.45%
32. Tampa: +49,721—————————-16.15%
33. Washington, DC: +92,249**————-15.90%
34. Dallas: +143,259—————————14.72%
35. Salt Lake City: +14,104——————-12.23%
36. Providence: +2,351————————11.81%
37. Orlando: +41,957—————————11.18%
38. Atlanta: +66,287—————————-11.08%
39. Miami: +54,122——————————9.13%
40. Cincinnati: +4,356————————–6.76%
41. Riverside: +23,857————————-6.71%
42. Milwaukee: +518—————————2.55%
43. Birmingham: -1,527———————–0.0%
44. Buffalo: -5,218——————————0.0%
45. Baltimore: -9,313**————————0.0%
46. St. Louis: -10,668**———————–0.0%
47. Detroit: -40,673—————————-0.0%
48. Pittsburgh: -3,297———————– -14.38%
49. Cleveland: -10,889——————— -59.09%
50. Hartford: -1,375————————- -64.28%

*Again, I used the 5 boroughs of New York here, so the numbers don’t change.
**See above.

Finally, because core counties and cities can be absolutely huge, like in Phoenix, I wanted to take see the ratio of people moving vs. the area size. To do this, I divided the growth by the land area of each core county and city.

So basically, how many people moved there per each square mile.

Core County Ratio——————————-Core City Ratio
1. San Francisco: 1,687.52————————-1,687.52
2. Washington, DC: 1,511.04———————-1,511.04
3. New York: 1,475.51——————————-1,475.51
4. Boston: 1,308.90———————————–1,394.05
5. Denver: 681.30————————————–681.30
6. Richmond: 379.67———————————-379.67
7. Houston: 329.14————————————354.33
8. Philadelphia: 312.43——————————-408.83
9. Charlotte: 300.02———————————–428.66
10. New Orleans: 291.95—————————-291.95
11. Dallas: 286.38————————————-420.73
12. Columbus: 241.67——————————-424.26
13. Atlanta: 229.30———————————–497.65
14. Orlando: 224.83———————————-398.75
15. Raleigh: 205.04———————————-455.87
16. Austin: 204.48————————————538.18
17. San Antonio: 196.62—————————-400.36
18. Minneapolis: 179.78—————————–754.32
19. Tampa: 175.82————————————438.38
20. Portland: 167.57———————————-481.42
21. Salt Lake City: 142.85—————————129.28
22. Miami: 134.54————————————-1,503.81
23. Nashville: 128.30———————————128.01
24. San Jose: 125.21———————————503.49
25. Seattle: 121.64————————————1,384.11
26. Indianapolis: 117.81——————————117.72
27. Jacksonville: 116.67——————————94.02
28. Sacramento: 115.88——————————361.65
29. Oklahoma City: 97.78—————————-105.89
30. Los Angeles: 84.99——————————-441.90
31. Louisville: 79.08———————————–63.11
32. San Diego: 57.84———————————344.76
33. Phoenix: 53.25————————————348.59
34. Virginia Beach: 49.96—————————-49.96
35. Kansas City: 40.96——————————-92.57
36. Las Vegas: 32.04———————————474.73
37. Cincinnati: 28.20———————————-55.89
38. Riverside: 27.49———————————–293.70
39. Providence: 26.51——————————–127.08
40. Milwaukee: 18.05———————————5.39
41. Chicago: 17.5————————————–91.72
42. Memphis: 12.21———————————–16.97
43. Buffalo: 6.22————————————– -128.52
44. Harford: 1.87————————————- -79.02
45. Birmingham: 0.66——————————- -10.46
46. Pittsburgh: -0.41——————————— -59.53
47. Cleveland: -69.16——————————- -140.14
48. Detroit: -109.42———————————- -293.14
49. Baltimore: -115.12—————————— -115.12
50. St. Louis: -172.34——————————- -172.34

So what’s all this mean? Columbus performs particularly well here. Franklin County attracts a high percentage of the total metro population, and Columbus itself is one of only 5 cities with more than 50% of the metro growth entering the city limits. Even accounting for area size, Columbus does fairly well. This suggests that urban growth there is stronger than in most cities.

“Missed Opportunity”: The New Columbus Buzzwords

Okay, so ever since the urban movement resurfaced in the last 10 years or so, I have been patiently waiting for Columbus to get with the program. In some cases, it has… and here is pretty much the entire list of examples of the city being forward-thinking, or at the very least, following established urban development principles:

1. The Scioto Greenway and Scioto Mile
This project, completed in 2015, removed the low-head dam south of the Main Street Bridge. This lowered the water level of the Scioto River through Downtown, allowing for the creation of more than 30 acres of new park space. Walking and biking paths, landscaping and public art was included in the project, which also improved water quality in the Scioto and allowed for a more natural flow.

Scioto River restoration.

Scioto Mile

2. Getting rid of the City Center monstrosity for Columbus Commons park.
The 1989 City Center Mall, built in the typical suburban style that lacked any real street-level interaction, died a slow death due to competition. It was demolished in 2009 and Columbus Commons replaced it, complete with landscaping, restaurant space and a carousel. The park has been popular for warm-month events, and new development has sprung up around it.



3. CoGo Bike-Share.
What started as 30 stations with 300 bikes a few years ago has grown to more than 40 stations, with future expansions planned.

4. Adopting the Complete Streets Infrastructure Program
The concept of Complete Streets is the idea that public infrastructure should think about more than just cars. It allows for the principles that all roads should have pedestrian infrastructure, and where possible, multi use paths and bike lanes.

5. The C-Bus
The Downtown circulator bus has been very popular, particularly because it is free to all.

I literally couldn’t think of any others, but perhaps someone can help me out with other examples? In any case, this part will focus largely on Downtown, with the next installment focusing on other areas of the urban core.

Back in 2002 when former mayor Mike Coleman helped initiate the first Downtown plan, it was built around the idea of a strong urban center, which Columbus hadn’t really had in decades, the Short North and German Village notwithstanding. His goal was to add 10,000 new residential units to Downtown by 2010. The city offered incentives like tax abatements to help make it happen. Unfortunately, the housing market in Columbus, like in just about every city, was severely impacted by the double recessions during the 2000s and Downtown ended up with less than 1/4th of the goal by 2010. While the economy was not Coleman’s fault and he was in fact fighting the good fight, the effort still ended up fairly underwhelming. Consider the very sobering facts about Downtown Columbus. In 2010, Downtown had 7,416 residents according to the Census report called “Distance Profiles for US Metropolitan Areas 2000 and 2010”. In the report, population profiles were given for each mile out from “City Hall”, or basically the center of each city’s downtown. Mile 0 measured the CBD, and Columbus’ 7,416 total was shockingly low for a city its size. In fact, of the 92 Midwestern metro areas of any size, Columbus’ downtown had the 15th lowest population. Out of major cities, it ranked dead last. The only bright bit of news was that it was just one of 22 Midwest downtowns that saw population growth between 2000 and 2010 (oh, and that the #15 worst ranking was actually an improvement from #8 worst in 2000), perhaps the only tangible result of the 2002 plan. I’ll get back to the population problem in a bit.

The lack of reaching 10,000 units during the 2000s was not the only casualty of the recession years. Coleman also revived the discussion about bringing rail to the city, but he did so in the form of streetcars, which seemed somewhat like a half-measure attempt. Ultimately it didn’t matter anyway. As soon as the economy crashed in 2007-2008, the plan was shelved without even getting on a ballot. Rail discussion has come and gone several times since then, but only in the context of multiple studies on potential routes and costs, but there have been zero serious discussions since 2007 about rail being something that is on its way to the city. Columbus remains the largest US city in the nation without passenger rail service of any kind, even as the economy has returned to normal and many other cities continue to expand or begin building systems of their own.
But rail is not the only transit misfire of recent years. Let’s talk about BRT. Dubbed the CMAX, a proposal to put Columbus’ first BRT (bus-rapid-transit) line on Cleveland Avenue was announced a few years back. The problem? It really isn’t BRT. BRT traditionally has dedicated lanes, fewer stops and bus stations that more closely resemble train platforms than the traditional bus shelter. Because of this, these buses typically run up to 50% faster along routes than a normal bus. With the CMAX, however, no dedicated lanes are planned whatsoever. Instead, the buses are supposed to get “signal priority” rather than separated lanes. This ensures that the bus will inevitably get stuck in traffic, and studies done on BRT systems overwhelmingly make the case that BRT in mixed traffic doesn’t significantly reduce route times or increase ridership. Technically, it isn’t even BRT. Oh, the stations will be fancier, as shown below, but fancy stations don’t actually make for a BRT system. Why transit leadership would make such a stupid mistake is beyond me, especially when there are already plenty of examples of better systems out there.

CMax station.

But wait, there’s more! Without rail, and with half-assed BRT that is still years away from being built on a single road, those wishing to use transit in Columbus have to rely on COTA and its bus system. Long using the outdated spoke system from Downtown, COTA finally decided it was time to redesign its system, which will include adding more express routes, extending hours and rearranging existing routes to better serve areas where people actually live and work. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is still COTA will all its problems. You still need actual money to ride, as there is no rechargeable card, something cities across the country have used for years, and there is no live tracking system to show where buses are relative to bus stops. COTA actually paid a firm to design such a live tracking system, but it failed miserably and they were forced to go back to the drawing board. So far, there is no word on when or if a 2.0 version will arrive.

So let’s face it, transit sucks in Columbus. The city has long had a reputation as a car-first city, and it is hard to argue otherwise. This brings me back to Downtown and the urban core in general. Once upon a time, Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods were some of the most dense in Ohio. Population peaked by 1950 around 30,000 just in Downtown alone, but then followed several disastrous decades of “Urban Renewal”. I can’t say for a fact that UR affected Columbus more than most cities, but it is hard to argue with the results. Block after block after block of densely-built historic buildings were demolished for parking lots, most of which still exist to this very day. The population Downtown plummeted to barely 2,000 by 1980 before beginning its slow ascent again to the still pathetic 7,416 in 2010. This indiscriminate destruction was compounded by the highways that were deliberately plowed through urban neighborhoods, something which even Eisenhower, proponent of the national highway system, was appalled by. The Near East and Near South communities like German Village and Old Towne East were suddenly cut off from Downtown. While the historic German Village did better given that it had a dedicated group of proponents to revitalize the area, OTE and King-Lincoln saw their populations collapse. Thousands of historic homes not destroyed by the highways were left to rot, and many of them succumbed to the Urban Renewal wrecking ball eventually. The bottom line is that the urban core was hurt badly, and for a long, long time, no one understood the consequences of that.

By the mid-1980s, Downtown alone had over 65,000 parking spaces, but as I said above, very little population. It had become a place for office workers to abandon after 5pm on weekdays, and weekends were a ghost town. City leaders had long been discussing ways to bring life back to the core, but in a classic Columbus folly, thought the best way to do that was to build a suburban enclosed mall in the middle of Downtown. To do so, blocks of historic buildings that had managed to survive nearly 4 decades of destruction were demolished. When City Center and its monster Capital South Parking Garage were opened in 1989, it lacked the necessary characteristics that encourage pedestrian activity. People literally drove into the garage and went into the mall without ever stepping foot onto a sidewalk. Not surprisingly, Downtown retail not associated with the mall collapsed and the area ended up even more dead than before. Exactly 20 years later, in 2009, the mall itself came down after failing to compete with newer suburban malls. Some people mourned its loss, but not me. Unfortunately, the city-block sized parking garage remained. As mentioned above, City Center was replaced with a park, Columbus Commons.

The park plan received a LOT of negative feedback. Many were convinced that it would just become a place for the homeless to squat in or piss on new landscaping, or for criminals to lurk behind bushes waiting to strike. It was all pretty silly, and ultimately, none of that happened. The park, with the help of a robust schedule of yearlong activities planned by the city, became an almost instant success. A new stage on the north end allowed such events like Picnic with the Pops, from the Columbus Orchestra, to move Downtown from elsewhere. Also, even before the construction of the park, part of the new land was set aside for mixed-use construction. It was assumed then that it might take a decade to fill in the sections along High Street or the corner of 3rd and Rich. However, the new park being the success as it was, combined with the new Scioto Mile a few blocks away, made this area attractive to new development. All good so far, right? Here is where things took a turn towards “missed opportunity” in a big way.

An Atlanta-based developer, Carter, and Moody Nolan proposed a 6-story project called HighPoint at Columbus Commons for the entire section of the park along High Street. The problem? High Street is arguably the city’s most prominent urban commercial corridor. The city had, not long before that, instituted recommended standards for High Street Downtown that called for minimum 10-stories. Worse, the design for HighPoint was terrible. The materials were cheap, and it was basically just a large box with tiny windows. The 300+ residential units (in 2 buildings) were a plus, as was the ground floor retail, but the scale of the project was simply too small for such a large site. The bad design just made it worse. Initial excitement over development coming to the Commons so soon after its construction faded pretty quickly with such a mediocre proposal. Unfortunately, the project received all the variances it needed and was built pretty much as proposed. It looked even worse in reality than it did in proposal form. It is now considered one of the worst projects built in the core in the last decade. Worse still, the retail sections have struggled to fill, and only very recently has there been any news on the spaces being rented.

HighPoint as it was originally proposed.

HighPoint completed.

HighPoint wouldn’t be Downtown’s only recent development missed opportunity. With such low Downtown population, one would think going for the most underwhelming result shouldn’t be the goal, or at least following recently adopted guidelines would be a priority, but that has proven to not be remotely true. While great developments like the Commons, Scioto Mile and the Scioto Greenways have activated RiverSouth construction, more often than not, the proposed projects have been vastly underwhelming for their Downtown locations. Before getting to the missed opportunities, let’s talk about the few RiverSouth projects that have bucked the trend.
At the northeast intersection of S. High and E. Main, a parking lot had existed since the late 1980s, when construction of the adjacent Capital South Garage was completed for City Center. The narrow lot had once had a proposal for a 4-5 story apartment project around 2003, but that never got very far. The 12-story, 250 High project was announced in 2013. The mixed-use project would contain 156 apartments, office space and ground floor retail. Completed in 2015, the project has been very successful with high demand for its office space in particular.


Another decent project for the area is the LC at RiverSouth project at S. High and Town, which consists of an 8 and a 10-story mixed-use building with over 200 residential units and ground floor retail. Construction has been extremely slow on this project, but finally may be going vertical over the next few months.

Finally, we have the Julian, a 90-unit renovation of a former factory building at S. Front and W. Main.

Before in 2009.

The completed Julian in 2015.

3 solid projects. Moving on to the problems though, there is a project in the RiverSouth that came about during the 2000s that is every bit the missed opportunity that later projects in the area would be- The Annex at RiverSouth. Lifestyle Communities, or LC as it is commonly known, took advantage of Coleman’s tax incentives to propose a condo project on two giant surface parking lots between W. Rich and W. Town along S. Front Street. These sites had been transitioning to parking since at least the 1950s and all buildings had been demolished by the 1980s. They remained this way through the mid-2000s, when LC, which had largely focused on building suburban apartment complexes previously, decided to enter the Downtown market with the Annex project. The two lots were pretty much some of the most prime real estate in all of Downtown, as they were just a block west of High and a block east of the river. A project of height could’ve taken advantage of some fantastic views of Downtown and the riverfront, as there were mostly low rise buildings between the site and the river itself, and the large sizes of the lots- the largest left west of High Street Downtown, were perfect for signature development. Instead, LC decided to bring suburbia into the city. It proposed a 4-story condominium development. There were no mixed-use elements, such as retail, associated with the project in any way. Yet again the Downtown Commission let the project fly through approvals with nary a change from the original proposal. To be fair, the design of the Annex is significantly better than HighPoint, but the scale was and is massively undersized for the location. Its lack of retail meant that anyone living in the complex had to go elsewhere to shop and eat. This would really be the first project that the Downtown Commission would ignore its own development guidelines to approve. HighPoint was next… and then there were a lot more.

LC somewhat redeemed itself a few years later with the proposal of the LC RiverSouth project mentioned above. Similar name, but a much different development from the Annex, so perhaps LC learned a few things in year years between them. Or maybe not, considering its most recent proposal for the northwest corner of W. Main and S. Front. Named The Matan, the proposal would include 117 apartments and retail. Unfortunately and once again, the 5-story proposal is far too small for its prime location.

Now, for some, the prospect of this project is a major positive, because it replaces a surface lot and adds population density and retail to a part of Downtown that needs it. It also has a bit better design and it restores a neighboring historic building instead of demolishing it. This is not a missed opportunity because of those factors, but because it does so in the most bare minimum of ways, much in the same way that HighPoint or the Annex did before it. Adding something where nothing currently exists is of course a positive, but it is also setting the bar as low as it can possibly go in terms of development. Consider the proposal for just across the street, at the southwest corner of W. Main and S. Front.
The 75-unit, 5-story apartment building, as yet unnamed, is even worse than the Matan. Besides also being far too small for the location, it also completely leaves ground floor retail out. Instead, the first 2 floors will be, what else… parking. So rather than building pedestrian level momentum on Front, which severely lacks it, the Downtown development commission is allowing projects to move through without encouraging even mixed-use elements. Why?

For being called RiverSouth, it seems developers don’t believe that anyone actually wants to see the river.

RiverSouth is hardly the only area seeing underwhelming projects Downtown. Take a look at some others.

Northwest corner of Gay and N. High Street.

This 230-unit, 3-building project will be just 6 stories on some of the very last surface lots on High Street Downtown, once again in a corridor that adopted standards stresses a minimum of 10 stories. And while the design itself is not terrible, and there is retail, the design setbacks only enhance the fact that the project is far too small in scale for an entire block of High Street.
Southwest corner of Front and Long:

This 8-story city office building is, once again, underwhelming in scale and design. Its design actually looks very similar to the Franklin County Courthouse building constructed a few years ago. See below:

Very similar, right? Also, the project includes a new parking garage on the northwest corner of Long and Front. Front currently has more than half a dozen large parking garages already. Not a single one of them has any mixed-use elements, such as residential or office above, or retail on the ground floor. This new garage will not have it, either, creating one more dead zone when the city could’ve been more forward-thinking.
Northwest corner of S. 3rd and E. Rich:
Original proposal.

The southeast corner of Columbus Commons was originally proposed to be developed by something 20 stories or above. When the proposal for 17-story Two25 first came out, it was already a little disappointing. The news release, however, suggested the mixed-use project could go higher depending on demand. However, it was recently announced the Two25 would instead have its height cut by 5 full floors and would only be 12 stories. No real explanation was given, beyond the developer claiming that Columbus had not reached adequate $-per-square-foot returns for the larger project, despite extremely high demand for Class A office space and high 90s occupancy rates with residential. So basically, the developer didn’t buy into the idea that there was enough demand, despite every other mixed-use project, including 12-story 250 High, filling up rapidly.
Northeast corner of E. Long and N. Fourth:

An as yet unnamed 10-story proposal is a missed opportunity for a few reasons. Originally, this was supposed to be 5 stories taller and for some reason, in what has become an all too familiar story, was reduced. Further, a good chunk of the site will be yet another parking garage for Downtown (there are now almost 30 garages and nearly 300 surface lots- think about that for a minute). The parking garage will not have retail on the ground floor, but rather office space for the developer. So instead of putting the offices on the 2nd floor of the garage and having retail/restaurant space on the ground floor to activate the street, this section of Fourth will remain a dead zone. Worse still, the garage will be the prominent look at the intersection, rather than the residential. Rather than address these flaws, the Downtown Commission caught the vapors and swooned in approval.
Basically all of Neighborhood Launch:
Okay, so I am going to get some flack for this, but hear me out. Overall, I do like this development. The quality of construction is there, design is good and it is replacing several surface lots and creating a much more vibrant area. However, there are some flaws that need to be mentioned. First of all, it is simply too small in scale, like many other developments Downtown. While there are a few 5-story buildings, most of it is 3 stories. The height/density is less of an issue, though, than the complete lack of mixed-use elements in a development that has several hundred units. Even in the 5-story buildings on E. Long, there is no retail. Part of creating an urban neighborhood is not just about getting people to live there, but also giving them amenities, and Neighborhood Launch lacks those amenities. There seems to be little to no regard for giving residents something to do. Even a corner café would be something, but just like in the Annex at RiverSouth, residents currently have to go elsewhere.

While in this post I have focused largely on Downtown, this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is going on around the rest of the city, and the situation may actually be worse elsewhere *coughClintonvillecough*. If Columbus wants to be a major, vibrant city, it has to act like one and not simply pay the concept lip service. Things like expanding transit should be a priority and development should not only match demand, but in order to reach the potential of what could be, it should be encouraged to push the envelope of what is possible rather than merely meeting the bare minimum of standards, or sometimes not even meeting them at all. Columbus should not be a city of missed opportunities, but rather one of exceeding expectations whenever possible. When its downtown is already one of the least populated of nearly 100 Midwest peers, it seems clear that going bare minimum is not going to get the job done. You can do better Columbus.

Columbus Area Murders by Zip Code 2008-2015

I have been wanting to do these maps for awhile now, as there have been several searches on the site for them and they weren’t available. It took a lot of work, but here they are!


In 2008, almost all murders were contained within the I-270 boundaries. The East and South Sides were the worst areas.


In 2009, there began to be a bit of diffusion on where murder was taking place. While parts of the urban core remained the worst areas, suburban areas also saw the occasional murder.


The diffusion continued in 2010.


And in 2011.


2012 was the most diffuse of all the years, with no heavily concentrated areas, even in the urban core as much. Meanwhile, most of the suburban zip codes within Franklin County saw at least 1 murder.




By 2015, most activity was on the eastern side of the city, particular South Linden and the Far East Side around Whitehall and Reynoldsburg, but all areas along the 270 area on the Far East Side had the highest levels of murder in the county. The central core generally stayed a lot lower, creating a much more prominent donut shape than what existed back in 2008.
This seems to indicate that as the central core gains in population and income, crime is also being pushed further out.

2013 Census Tract Estimates

The Census released updated tract estimates for 2013, and they showed some interesting things. There are 285 census tracts that make up Franklin County.

First, let’s take a look at the Franklin County trends 2000-2013.

In regards to the above map, it’s a mix of both the 2013 official estimates and some that I did. For example, the official estimates had the Downtown tracts 30 and 40 losing population, as well as most of the Short North. That’s rather absurd considering the level of residential construction in these areas, as well as population estimates the city has done in the last few years for Downtown. In fact, the 2013 official estimates have Downtown tract population BELOW 2010. That’s just not the reality. So I looked over the tracts and adjusted them according to their long-term growth/decline trends. Most of them I left alone, but some adjustments had to be made. However, I was very conservative with any changes, and several tracts that the official estimates showed gains, I actually had losses.

Here are all the tracts that grew by at least 300 people between 2010 and 2013 in Franklin County, as well as their locations.
Blacklick #7395: +1,609
Dublin #6230: +1,214
Columbus-West Side #7951: +1,002
Columbus-Northwest #6372: +966
Columbus Northeast #6931: +963
Hilliard #7921: +955
Columbus-East Side #9361: +952
Columbus-West Side #8350: +951
Columbus-Northwest: #6384: +949
Dublin #6220: +933
Columbus-West Side #8141: +921
Columbus-Easton #7551: +793
Columbus-Southeast #9373: +749
Hilliard #7933: +688
Minerva Park #7112: +675
Columbus-South Side #8340: +652
Hilliard #7954: +643
Columbus North Side #7044: +636
Columbus Northeast #7132: +615
Columbus Northwest #6396: +557
Dublin #6386: +549
Columbus North Side #6921: +540
Columbus Northwest #6393: +492
Columbus-West Side: +489
Gahanna #7492: +473
New Albany #7209: +472
Columbus-Hilltop #8321: +466
Columbus-Southeast #9374: +455
Grove City #9740: +441
Columbus Northeast #6945: +438
Hillard #7931: +432
Columbus-West Side #7812: +427
Columbus-South Side #9590: +411
Columbus-South Side #8710: +407
Hilliard #10602: +407
Columbus-South Side #8822: +403
Whitehall #9230: +398
Columbus-West Side #8163: +397
Columbus-East Side #9362: +389
Columbus-Downtown #30: +387
Hilliard #7953: +382
Columbus-West Side #6330: +371
Columbus-Northwest #6387: +361
Columbus-East Side #9322: +352
Columbus-South Side #8825: +349
Columbus-Southwest #8161: +346
West Side-Marble Cliff #43: +345
Columbus-Southwest #8370: +340
Grandview #85: +332
Columbus-Downtown #40: +321
Hilliard #7922: +320
Dublin #6371: +312
Grove City #9751: +304
Columbus-Campus Area #13: +303

As far as the core of the city, the 1950 boundaries, here are the results.

There are 78 tracts that make up the original 1950 city boundary. Using the official estimates, 38 of the 78 tracts grew between 2010-2013, yet had a total loss of 3,229. However, again, it had all the Downtown and adjacent tracts inexplicably losing population, yet the opposite is occurring in these areas. For Downtown, the combined loss was about 370, and for the Short North, it had the loss at more than 700.

Using my adjusted estimates, 35 tracts are growing, adding 1,166 people 2010-2013. Most of the gains were made in the Downtown and adjacent tracts, and some of the losses were simply not as steep. For example, the official estimates had tract #10, in the Campus area, losing nearly 1,300 people since 2010, which is a ridiculous loss, especially considering it grew by almost 8% 2000-2010. In fact, most of the largest losses from the official estimates were around Campus and the Short North. Nonsense.

2013 Residential Projects and the Year Ahead

2013 was a pretty significant year for Columbus, if only because it saw its busiest residential development year in and around the urban core in many years. Here are the highlights of some of the biggest.

1. The South Campus High Rise and Addition Project
# of New Units: 360
Project Cost: $171.6 Million
Project Height: 7-8 Stories in Multiple Buildings
Some might suggest that this isn’t strictly a residential project because it was student housing. However, I disagree with that. The projects added significant additions to already existing Park, Stradley, Steeb and Smith Halls by connecting the pairs together with what essentially amounted to a brand new building stuck in-between. It also involved significant renovations to other residential buildings in South Campus. This was the first part of a major renovation and expansion project for housing on OSU’s campus.

Some links to this project complete with site maps and construction photos:

2. HighPoint at Columbus Commons
# of New Units: 302
Project Cost: $50 Million
Project Height: 6 Stories in 2 Buildings
HighPoint was a rather unexpected surprise for Downtown. When Columbus Commons was being constructed, the plan called for residential buildings running along High Street on the west side of the park. Unfortunately, that plan was not supposed to happen for perhaps a decade or more, depending on development interests. Within a year of the completion of the park, however, HighPoint was being proposed. While not exactly the most inspired design or preferred height for such a prominent location Downtown, the projects potential 450+ residents will greatly help the neighborhood’s goal of increased vitality and 24-hour activity. In fact, it may not be too much to assume that this project has encouraged others, such as the 12-story 250 High Project and LC’s double 8-story tower project, both of which will begin construction soon just across the street from HighPoint and the park. Collectively, they will add, at minimum, over 650 new residents.

Links for the project:

3. Liberty Place, Phase II
Address: 250 Liberty Street
# of New Units: 207
Project Cost: $25-$30 Million
Project Height: 4 Stories
Liberty Place, in the Brewery District, was completed in 2006, the last of a slew of development projects in the Brewery District beginning in the 1990s and came in the middle of a relative quiet period that began when the Arena District stole some of the neighborhoods momentum. That momentum has returned in recent years as urban living has gained significant traction in public opinion. Phase II of Liberty Place was supposed to have been built years ago, but the recession and the uncertainty regarding the exact layout of the rebuilt I-70/I-71 split which runs past the site put the project on hold. All told, Liberty Place now has 342 units.

Links for the project:

4. Tribeca
Address: 700 West Third Avenue
# of New Units: 205
Project Cost: Unknown
Project Height: 4 Stories
Tribeca, from Edwards Communities, was built along Third Avenue in the 5thxNW neighborhood. While adding significant density to the area, the project is mostly known for its strange layout. Dubbed the “Fortress” or the “prison”, the project has a long, blank wall along Third Avenue with tower-like structures along it, resembling the fortifications of a prison. The ugly design and lack of interaction with Third because of this layout caused the project to receive a lot of criticism.

A link to the project, the criticism and photos:

5. Lennox Flats
Address: Kinnear Road, Lennox Town Center
# of New Units: 194
Project Cost: Unknown
Project Height: 3 Stories
Lennox Flats was built over two phases, the first with 92 units and the second with 102. Built in a mostly vacant lot just to the west of Lennox Town Center (across the railroad tracks), these were built in modern-styles and were targeted at students from OSU.

Link with photos:

6. 600 Goodale
Address: 600 West Goodale Street
# of New Units: 174
Project Cost: Unknown
Project Height: 5 Stories
600 Goodale is likely the most strangely located new project of 2013. It was built on a small strip of land located north of Goodale Street across from White Castle’s HQ building. The location is strange because the land is bordered by the Olentangy River on the west and a highway exit ramp to the north and east sides. In fact, the site sits on a section of land between 315, 670 and major ramps for both to the north. The land is not directly connected to any major neighborhood. Despite the strange location, the modern building was, at last count, 96% leased.

Photos of the project:

So those were the top 6 largest projects from 2013. More than 2,200 total units were completed in the urban areas of Columbus.

But what’s coming for 2014? Here are the top 5.

1. Jeffrey Park Phase 1
Address: E. 1st Avenue and N. 4th Street, Italian Village
# of New Units: 334
Project Cost: $180 Million+ For all phases.
Project Height: 4 Stories
The Jeffrey Manufacturing site has long been planned for redevelopment. It is, by far, the largest undeveloped site in Italian Village or anywhere in the Short North. Previous plans from the early-mid 2000s fell through, but were revived by a new developer in recent years. The first phase calls for the completion of a mix of townhomes and apartments in a mix of styles. A community center is also planned with a gym and pool. Although this project was supposed to start in the fall of 2013, calls are now for it to begin before winter is over. This may delay the finish for this project into 2015, but for now, it’s still the biggest project for 2014. The entire Jeffrey site will eventually have more than 1,300 new units.

Photos and project information:

2. Taylor House
Address: 5005 Olentangy River Road
# of New Units: 329
Project Cost: Unknown
Project Height: 4 Stories
This project along Bethel Road will go into the site of a former K-Mart. Construction began over the fall and should wrap up toward the end of the year.

Renderings and more information:

3. View on 5th
Address: 965 West 5th Avenue
# of New Units: 285
Project Cost: $50 Million
Project Height: 6 Stories
The View on 5th, in 5thxNW, is a 2-building complex along 5th and Holly Avenues. The 6-story building along 5th will contain 153 apartments with ground-floor retail, while the Holly Avenue building would be 3-stories and contain 132 units. The project is scheduled for completion this coming summer.

Link with info and renderings:

4. Berkeley House
Address: Bethel Road and Riverside Drive
# of New Units: 256
Project Cost: Unknown
Project Height: 4-5 Stories
Berkeley House is being built by the same company as Taylor House, only on opposite ends of Bethel Road. This will be a mixed-use complex featuring apartments and offices. There was some controversy surrounding this project as it sought to demolish a small stone house from around 1808. Unfortunately, no one seemed to realize the historical significance or age of the structure until the project was set to begin construction. The lack of time made it impossible to raise the money to move the house, so it was demolished. The Upper Arlington Historical Society saved the stone from the house and plans to build some type of marker with it.

Unfortunately, I have not seen any renderings for this project yet, but it has begun construction.

5. Neighborhood Launch
Address: East Long Street, Downtown
# of New Units: 130
Project Cost: Unknown
Project Height: 5 Stories
Neighborhood Launch is an ongoing project Downtown. About 200 units have already been completed along and near the Gay Street Corridor. The project is continuing with the first of 2 buildings, each containing 130 units, along Long Street. The first of these 2 should be complete later this year, with the 2nd beginning construction over the summer.

Renderings can be found here:

So there you have it. 2013′s and 2014′s largest projects. These, of course, represent just a small sample of what’s being built.

Is Columbus Walkable?

“Walkability” is the new buzzword when it comes to urban neighborhoods and what new generations want. Based on the Walkscore.com criteria, and with scores from 0-100 (100 being the most walkable), here are Columbus’ most walkable neighborhoods.

Top 25 Most Walkable Neighborhoods and Total Score
1. Downtown: 86
2. Dennison Place (Short North): 85
3. Italian Village (Short North): 85
4. Weinland Park (Just northeast of Short North): 85
5. Indiana Forest (Northeast Campus Area): 84
6. Necko (South Campus): 81
7. Victorian Village (Short North): 81
8. Old North Columbus: 80
9. Glen Echo (North Columbus): 80
10. North Campus: 80
11. German Village: 79
12. Tri-Village (5th Avenue West): 79
13. Brewery District: 78
14. OSU: 77
15. Iuka Ravine (North Columbus): 76
16. Clintonville: 75
17: King-Lincoln (Near East Side): 74
18. Schumacher Place (Near South Side): 73
19. Busch (Northwest Columbus): 72
20. Indianola Terrace (North Columbus): 71
21. Merion Village: 69
22. Governours Square (Bethel and Henderson): 68
23: Harrison West (Hilltop): 67
24. Old Beechwold (North Columbus): 67
25. Olde Towne East: 67

Together, the top 25 neighborhoods contain a little over 100,000 people.

Overall Columbus Neighborhood Walkability Score Breakdown
90-100 (Walker’s Paradise-daily errands do not require a car): 0
70-89 (Very Walkable- most errands can be done on foot): 20
50-69 (Somewhat Walkable- some errands cand be done on foot): 72
0-49 (Car Dependent- most or all errands require a car): 120
Average Columbus Score: 47

So less than half of Columbus’ neighborhoods are walkable, and only a small amount are very walkable, where most tasks do not require a car. The overall score shows that Columbus is still largely a car-dependent city.

Walkability, however, is just part of the picture. There are also scores for biking and mass transit access, both of which are also measured on the 0-100 scale.

Top 25 Bikeable Neighborhoods
1. North Campus: 89
2. Harrison West: 88
3. Northmoor (North Columbus): 80
4. Old North Columbus: 80
5. Clintonville: 77
6. OSU: 75
7. Brewery District: 74
8. Dennison Place: 74
9. Glen Echo: 74
10. Victorian Village: 74
11. Indiana Forest: 72
12. Iuka Ravine: 72
13. Necko: 71
14. Italian Village: 70
15. Merion Village: 68
16. Tri-Village: 68
17. Weinland Park: 67
18. Downtown: 66
19. Indianola Terrace (North Columbus): 66
20. North Hilltop: 66
21. Whetstone: 66
22. German Village: 64
23. Mount Vernon (Near East Side): 64
24. Riverview (North Columbus): 63
25. Schumacher Place: 63

The majority of Columbus’ most bikeable neighborhoods are also the most walkable.

Bikeable Neighborhood Score Breakdown
90-100: 0
70-89: 14
50-69: 45
0-49: 153
Average Columbus Bikeable Score: 45

Similar to its walkability, the majority of Columbus’ neighborhoods are not particularly bikeable. This has a lot to do with the further out and newer suburban areas of the city being built almost exclusively for cars. Only in the last 10 years has the city become more interested in promoting bike use. The city is adding several hundred miles of bike lanes and bike infrastructure, and it recently launched its own bike-share system.

Finally, we have the transit scores, which are based on access to mass transit options.

Top 25 Most Transit-Friendly Neighborhoods
1. Downtown: 64
2. Brewery District: 57
3. Italian Village: 57
4. German Village: 55
5. Victorian Village: 55
6. Dennison Place: 54
7. Weinland Park: 54
8. Necko: 52
9. Olde Towne East: 52
10. Schumacher Place: 52
11. Indiana Forest: 50
12. Harrison West: 49
13. King-Lincoln: 49
14. North Campus: 49
15. OSU: 49
16. Franklin Park (Near East Side): 49
17. Beechwood: 47
18. Iuka Ravine: 47
19. Milo-Grogan: 47
20. South of Main (Near East Side): 47
21. Livingston Park North (Near South Side): 46
22. Mount Vernon: 46
23. Old North Columbus: 46
24. Woodland Park (Near East Side): 46
25. Franklinton: 45

Transit Score Neighborhood Breakdown
90-100: 0
70-89: 0
50-69: 11
0-49: 201
Average Columbus Transit Score: 29

Clearly, based on these numbers, the city’s transit system needs a ton of improvement. COTA, or the city’s bus system, is really the only form of mass transit available, and beyond a few areas near Downtown, seems to struggle to provide access. The city is currently studying BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) with a first line proposed from Downtown and up along Cleveland Avenue to the North Side, with future lines coming after that. This will help, but there is still much to be done. Some type of rail system should also be part of near future development, as the city remains one of the largest in the US without any type of passenger rail.

So what is the overall picture of the city? First, that too much of the city is built for car use only. The boom in urban development has been significant, but the vast majority of it is occurring in areas that have the highest scores. Correlation or coincidence? Densification of neighborhoods further from the core is entirely possible, and these areas can and should be built with walkability and transit in mind. The city is taking steps for improvement, but it is, at least in my opinion, one of the weakest points of Columbus.

To see where your neighborhood stands, check out http://www.walkscore.com/