Editor's Note: What does Columbus need?

Katy Smith
Cranes are plentiful in downtown Columbus.

Columbus, this is our big chance to get it right. We are remaking the region, transforming it physically—so much so that some areas are unrecognizable to me, and I grew up here. A million new neighbors are projected to move here by 2050. It might sound like a long time from now, but we have a lot to get done before then. We need to find affordable places for all those people to live, and we need to figure out how we’ll all get around town instead of sitting in traffic for hours every day. Most importantly, we need to figure out how to make sure everyone in this region can prosper, not just some people.

There are really smart people at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the Urban Land Institute studying these issues, and in this month’s Breakdown, you’ll see some of the results of their latest work. They’re saying it would be a good idea to adopt a coordinated, high-density development strategy that will concentrate our lives along urban corridors, saving us money and preserving greenspace. That would also be a great way to meet all our new neighbors—by living near them. Think of the block parties we could have!

For this issue, which is dedicated to our region’s most influential civic organization, the Columbus Partnership, I’ve been asking our business leaders what Columbus needs to do to get ready for 2050. Here’s what some of them said.

Steve Rasmussen, CEO, Nationwide Insurance: “We’ve got to think our way through transportation. I mean, that’s job No. 1. We’ve got to figure that out. If [a million people are moving to Central Ohio], that implies certain transportation realities. Maybe it’s driverless cars, maybe it’s buses—who knows what that is. But you’d better start planning for it.”

Dave Blom, CEO, OhioHealth: “Columbus needs the engagement of business leaders in a really deep way. I think that’s been part of the secret to what has been transformed here in Columbus in the last 15 years or so—you have a very engaged and cohesive business community. Business leaders who like each other, work with each other, communicate with each other and with city, county and state government to get on the same page with the issues that are important to the community.”

Nick Akins, CEO, American Electric Power: “The one thing we have to work on is that there are two different worlds within Columbus. There’s the one you see externally—the top city in real estate, in job creation and the top city in the Midwest. But there are people who don’t have a wage they can live on. There are still areas where people don’t have the basic necessities of life, whether that’s food, shelter or the skills to be able to participate in this economy. Columbus [has a great] can-do attitude—we have to focus on making sure people are not getting left behind.”

Brett Kaufman, CEO, Kaufman Development: “We need a continued focus on elevating the design aesthetic and really encouraging creativity in architecture and design. And really understanding the value that has in attracting residents, new companies, restaurants and retailers here and keeping people who graduate from Ohio State University in the region. The aesthetic and the focus on creativity and design is often still underestimated in just how valuable it is as an economic development engine for the city.”

Katy Smith is the editor of Columbus CEO