By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator
Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) staff attended the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) session Lessons from Weinland Park. The session was moderated by Columbus Dispatch reporter Mark Ferenchik and featured guests Michael Wilkos of the Columbus Foundation, Carla Williams-Scott of the City of Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, and Eve Picker, a city planner and community development strategist from Pittsburgh. The CMC session followed the release of OSU’s Kirwan Institute’s release of its findings from a recent survey done on the redevelopment of Weinland Park, a Columbus neighborhood which sits just east of Ohio State’s campus.
Wilkos began by explaining the importance of focusing on both people and place simultaneously, as a means of successfully committing to revitalizing an underserved area. Too much effort to rebuild the physical environment of the area could lead to the displacement of residents who perhaps become priced out, while efforts with excessive focus on guiding residents themselves could lead to them leaving the neighborhood for new opportunities, which would leave behind others. Wilkos noted that the Weinland Park Collaborative has been critical in ensuring that Weinland Park’s revitalization has seen both people and place-focused approaches. Williams-Scott added that the City operates at neighborhood level with residents’ opinions as a top priority, which is a necessary feature of any successful revitalization strategy.
Despite all of Weinland Park’s progress over the last few decades, Wilkos stressed that there is still a lot of work to do in the neighborhood. In 2014, GOPC released, with support from the Columbus Foundation, Achieving Healthy Neighborhoods: the impact of housing investments in Weinland Park. That report found that the neighborhood has exhibited increased housing and overall economic stability but that it has a long way to go to become fully a sustainable area. Since 2013, the market has rapidly strengthened in Weinland Park, yet many challenges still persist for some residents, especially families who are still in poverty. On a positive note, the recent Kirwan study concluded that, in general residents believe that the neighborhood is improving. However 51% of residents still rely on government assistance, and the high rate of people who rent is unchanged from 2010, when their last study was conducted. Wilkos emphasized that because incomes are generally stagnant, it is increasingly difficult for families to pay an affordable rate for housing in a market where living costs are constantly rising.
Lastly, Williams-Scott discussed the City of Columbus’ work in the neighborhoods of Linden and the Hilltop. While there are important lessons that can be learned from the Weinland Park undertaking, she noted there are unique circumstances in Linden and the Hilltop, such as the absence of having an anchor institution like Ohio State right in their backyard. In general, the City’s focus in underserved neighborhoods is on increasing employment opportunities and expanding access to transportation. GOPC works with state and local partners and supports policies that boost multimodal transportation systems and thus expand access to jobs. As Williams-Scott noted, it is of paramount importance that workers and potential workers have a reliable means of transportation in order to get to job sites.