It’s kinda nice to read a story about the housing crisis that isn’t set in my backyard (Cleveland) for once.
This time, my hometown of Columbus is front and center in the sad story of houses without owners. A neighborhood in west Columbus was found to have the highest vacancy rate in the country, according to an Associated Press analysis, based on Housing and Urban Development and Postal Service data.
This is kinda unusual because Columbus is generally regarded to be the golden child of Ohio in these parts.
I know the Columbus neighborhood well. It is generally referred to as Westland, after the grand, suburban mall that once stood at the center of the community. Even the neighborhood high school is named Westland High School.
When my grandfather was building interstate highways in the 60s, they built Route 23, Broad Street, right through this neighborhood and it was the place to be.
Even when I was in middle school, we used to hang out at the mall and drink Orange Julius. But then, the some mall developers decided to build new malls in the newer, trendier, farther-away suburbs and you know what happened after that.
Columbus retail tycoon Les Wexner spent a bizillion dollars building Easton. I think this was one of the first “lifestyle center malls.” He built it in a farmtown he personally converted into a first-rate McMansion patch called New Albany.
Anyway, few years ago, they started having gun shows in Westland Mall, it was so empty. I think they recently tore it down, as they have venerable old Northland and soon-to-be demolished City Center.
I’m tempted to pick on Columbus, but I guess you really can’t blame them. The new malls, with the exception of one, were built outside city limits, and I’ve got to credit Columbus with the shrewd maneuvering it took to annex Polaris Mall.
Columbus is a mall town if there ever was one.
I heard an urban theorist say the malls are the new downtowns and I think he has a point. Development, residental and retail, follows these malls like those little fish that eat the scraps from sharks. He said malls were like downtowns with all the “scary people” removed.
So there’s my account of the undoing of Columbus’ Westland neighborhood.
Funny thing about this new study is Indianapolis, which along with Columbus, has managed to avert the massive population declines that have plagued its neighbors, also fared poorly.
Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood gets prominent play as well. Story authors say despite recent development, the neighborhood is still suffering from population declines that occurred in the 1980s.
Of course, Buffalo and Flint get mentioned in the article too.