Guest Blog: Designing for a Growing Columbus
By Curtis J. Moody
In recent decades, Columbus has managed to thrive amid economic downturns that battered Ohio’s other major cities. Even when the rest of the state struggled through the Great Recession, Columbus continued to grow.
Building trends within our city reflect this vitality. Major new public and private projects are contributing both to quality of life and more economic growth, providing another arrow in the quiver of corporate recruiters and economic development professionals who can cite Columbus as a shining star in the Midwestern sky.
All of which brings to mind two primary questions: First, what is causing our growth? And second, assuming we continue to grow, how should we design our infrastructure to meet future needs?
The first question is relatively easy to answer. Columbus is growing because it is endowed with a highly diversified economy, strong corporate and government leaders, an advantageous location and a high quality of life.
While the city has some light manufacturing, that has never been the core of our economy. Instead, financial services, retail, education and government, healthcare and other predominantly professional industries turn the gears to the engine that makes Columbus run.
Education and healthcare are two of the biggest drivers and attract smart, young new residents. We boast the state’s largest university—the Ohio State University—and the state’s largest economic impact project—the $1 billion Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center expansion. Yet, we’re also home to Ohio’s largest community college, numerous smaller private colleges, two other major healthcare systems and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Major banks, insurance companies, attorneys, architects, engineers and similar professions make Columbus a major Ohio services center. We are one of the largest fashion centers in the country, due to LBrands and other clothing retailers. Having state government and its support structure here doesn’t hurt either.
Finally, Columbus has also emerged as a growing transportation hub, benefiting from both a strategic location and a core logistics infrastructure supporting commerce by air, rail and truck.
These stable and growing industries mean Columbus is continually creating new jobs and attracting new businesses. But to entice new workers and employers, we need to make Columbus an attractive place to live, work and play. That requires offering engaging infrastructure in the form of housing, office space, hotels, shopping, entertainment and neighborhoods. This will become even more important in the next two decades.
Projections indicate that the central Ohio region will need 250,000 new residential units by 2050. We will likely accommodate the demand both with new housing and by filling current vacancy rates.
We’re beginning to see more people who want to live within urban settings that feature mixed-use properties, higher population densities, entertainment options and public transportation. Consequently, the city of Columbus has made bold efforts to attract new residential development within the city, and that effort is paying off. During the first decade of the 21st century, the population of Downtown Columbus grew by 40 percent.
While residents are demanding more housing options, businesses face new needs as well. During the recession, some downsized their quarters, while others did not. However, one thing practically all are emphasizing is sustainability. We, as architects and engineers, are increasingly employing greener, healthier designs and fitting buildings with recycled materials, right down to the carpets.
What’s the future of Downtown, and how can we design for future growth? While development is occurring along High Street in the historic Downtown area—consider the Columbus Commons and 250 High, the new mixed-use development next door—you have to also include in our “Downtown” the Short North and Ohio State University. Today, there is activity at all three locations, which has not occurred for many years.
The activity we’re seeing points to the need both for urban housing and ancillary developments that accommodate the work, living and entertainment needs of a wide range of residents: families, “creative class” singles, empty nesters and college students.
At the same time, we must not neglect the public sector projects that also improve quality of life. Reclamation of the Scioto River is a wonderful thing for the city, but we have a bountiful collection of city parks that also must be maintained to assure our city is a place people want to be. Amenities like new library branches, which the Columbus Metropolitan Library is building, and providing multipurpose public recreation facilities are also the kinds of things that improve and reclaim neighborhoods and help our city to grow.
The stars are aligned in Columbus. We are fortunate to have visionary leaders and talented developers, architects, engineers and construction managers who are helping us to design for the future. Once a trait of the suburbs, these trends have moved into our urban core. Success for our city is sure to follow.
Curt Moody is the President and CEO of Moody Nolan, a Columbus based architectural firm and the largest African American owned firm in the Nation. Visit the Moody Nolan site to learn more: http://moodynolan.com/