I was excited to read the headline at Columbus RetroMetro stating New Downtown Neighborhood Launch Scheduled for Monday – until I clicked over to the development’s website, The Downtown Neighborhood Launch. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see infill housing in downtowns – especially where surface parking lots currently exist (and Downtown Columbus has more than enough!). But, I also love to see mixed uses on every block and building heights of usually three or more stories. That’s why this development disappoints me.
First, let me give you some background. I know Columbus pretty well. I lived in Dayton, Ohio for 2.5 years and spent roughly 3 days per week in Columbus for the last year and a half of that time. I love Columbus. It’s the most walkable city in Ohio and has such an amazing energy. There are many great neighborhoods like the German Village, Short North, Victorian Village, Arena District, Grandview, and several others. The Downtown and Arena District are booming with new high-rise, mixed use housing developments. The Short North Arts District is my favorite in the US. That’s why this development perplexes me at first glance.
The development website says that many cities have urban townhomes and this will be the first in Downtown Columbus. The website is correct that many of those cities listed do have them, but at least two of the cities they list, New York and Chicago, do not have them in the core of the CBD. They are located in fringe neighborhoods, just like they currently are in Columbus. There are reasons for this – one being the scale of developments. There are very few one to two story developments in the core of these cities because they look and feel out of place and it’s simply more economical to build vertical. This photo example from the Arena District also raises the question of why there are several story buildings going up there, but this new development in the CBD will not be.
One or two story buildings, especially housing, seem out of place to me amongst skyscrapers. Take a walk around San Diego’s CBD and you see many examples of different scales and densities. Some of the developments work, and some do not. The ones that do seem to work for me have more than two stories and generally have retail on the bottom floor.
The real disappointment for me is that the development appears to only have residential uses. Yes, it appears as though the residences will be right across from office buildings. But, where are the shops, restaurants, bars, and other lively uses? This area of the CBD definitely needs more activity. This development seems better suited for the Brewery District or the Short North, but not in Columbus’s core. To my knowledge, Columbus scrapped its zoning code for the downtown. Perhaps prohibiting non mixed uses and establishing minimum height requirements is something that needs to be explored. I am not familiar with the entitlement process for the CBD, so it’s hard for me to speculate.
I should mention that there is a nice animated walking tour of the development, that’s how I know what it is roughly going to look like. To be fair, the development does have a nice design. The building heights at street intersections also appear to be three stories, which is definitely positive.
I do realize that there are all kinds of constraints with funding, acquiring entitlements, zoning, and whatnot. I do not deny that. I do find it hard to believe that it would be that difficult to have a cafe or small restaurant type use in a nine block area of the CBD.
I do not like to be so critical of something that I’m currently disconnected from now that I live in California. However, I still want what’s best for Columbus and I think this project needs some adjustments. You only get one shot every few decades to do something right, so it’s very important to get it right in the beginning.
I’d really love your feedback on this topic.