Monday, December 10, 2007

the folly of comparing NEO cities to columbus

Earlier last week, this blog reported on an interesting series of articles from the Columbus Dispatch on the status of Ohio's largest seven cities. Youngstown's story ran in Saturday's paper, and Sunday's paper was dedicated to the story of Columbus.

One of the comments one can hear over and over again about Columbus on places like talk radio is that tremendous growth has taken place there, making it better than Youngstown and Cleveland and our other cities in Northeast Ohio.

To illustrate this growth, check out the interactive graphic the Dispatch presented, especially the city of Columbus' borders. From the article . . .
"Columbus expanded from 39 square miles in 1950 to 210 in 2000 , adding more than 80 square miles - more than Ohio's other six biggest cities combined during that period."

And while those cities have lost a combined 886,223 residents since 1950, Columbus has added more than 357,000 and now is the nation's 15th biggest."

Which brings up an interesting question:

If Columbus, like Youngstown and Cleveland did not annex all that land, what would the current condition of Columbus be the same?"

the answer:

Columbus would be a completely different place.

Again, from Sunday's story:
"There are 100,000 fewer residents living within the 1956 boundaries of Columbus now than then, according to state Rep. Larry Wolpert, a Hilliard Republican who led a 2004 legislative study of Ohio land uses. An estimated 200,000 residents of Columbus live in suburban school districts, he said, avoiding the city's struggling educational system."

"Shopping malls are indicators of Columbus' growth pattern. They have continually chased residents as they've gravitated toward and beyond the I-270 outerbelt. City Center downtown, the Continent off of Rt. 161 and Northland Mall on Morse Rd., a shopping mecca in the 1970s and '80s, are dead. Easton on the Northeast Side and Polaris Fashion Place, which sits on Delaware County land annexed to Columbus, are prospering."

Taking a quick look at Columbus' page on wikipedia, the population of the city was 375,901 in 1950 and 471,316 in 1960. Without the time to find the exact 1956 Columbus city population, we can estimate that Columbus' (pre-annexation boundaries) population dropped somewhere between 26.7 percent and 21.3 percent - which is not as dramatic of a decline of other Ohio cities, but it's certainly closer.

For a multitude of reasons (including schools, crime, housing stock, racism, etc.), the people of Columbus were just as able to abandon the inner city of Columbus - as many of its neighborhoods are falling apart to this day. So with annexation, the larger tax base from the wealthy suburbial developments inside the city of Columbus now means more money can be reinvested in existing struggling city neighborhoods. And now, many of those struggling neighborhoods from the 1970s have turned around in Columbus, but there still are a lot of problems within the pre-annexation boundaries.

Cities like Youngstown and Cleveland don't always have the luxury of dipping into the pockets of the wealthier residents of a metro area like Columbus can. But when people see irresponsible spending that happens from time to time by a city council, that luxury becomes more politically difficult to justify.

So while Columbus should be credited on their ability to diversify their economy and their fortunate circumstance to have experienced annexation - when you come down to Columbus next time from Northeast Ohio, make sure to stop by the abandoned shopping malls and deteriorating pre-annexation neighborhoods as well.


Vince said...

Just as a sidenote, the guy who wrote the Youngstown story is a former writer at the Vindicator.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the fact that as the Capital of Ohio, tax money flows INTO Columbus from the rest of the State, but does not necessarily flow back to the cities from whence that money came. It seems the further from Columbus a major city is, the more neglected it is from the legislature in terms of development and re-development money.

Paul said...


I've lived in central Ohio for 30 years (originally from WV and moved to Cols to attend OSU).

Our fair city is a nice apple with a rotten core. The home construction industry has controlled the political arena for years, and it has led us to a metro configuration where most commercial entities are in the City of Columbus while most of the homes are in the suburbs.

It was triggered by court-ordered busing in the late 1970s (to correct racial segregation), which generated 'white flight' to the suburbs. As a result Columbus City Schools are both poorer and Blacker than before the desegregation ruling, and urban real estate values have eroded to slum levels (although the center of the city is now regentrified with DINKs).

As a consequence, the commercial sector contributes little to the cost of running the schools in the suburbs, which are growing like gangbusters while Columbus City Schools is shrinking. And because most of the suburbs are classified as 'affluent' by the state government, State Aid for our schools has been capped for the last three years.

So now many of our best school districts are suffering funding crises as voters respond to levy fatigue by voting down most operating levies.

My solution would be to consolidate to a metro area school district, but there's about zero chance of that happening...