Every year, Columbus becomes a more diverse place. You see it in the city's evolving arts, cultural and dining scenes, and you see it in the thriving LGBTQ, Somali and other minority populations. This transformation, long a point of pride in Columbus, has taken on deeper meaning in the wake of the country's increasingly divisive politics. Columbus—and the rest of the country—is at a crossroads. And many respondents want to double down on inclusion in the face of President Trump's increasingly restrictive immigration policies. “Columbus can and should take every measure available to create a climate that not only protects immigrants living here, but also welcomes and supports them,” wrote Columbus attorney Brad Koffel. Added Columbus Jazz Orchestra artistic director Byron Stripling: “When a community invites you in with open arms, that simple embrace is a powerful community investment that will pay exponential dividends for years to come.”
The soaring Columbus real estate market is leaving some behind. Trendy suburbs and neighborhoods are turning into playgrounds for young professionals and wealthy empty nesters, with fewer options for middle- and working-class folks. “As Columbus continues to grow, we need to ensure that there is space for folks of all income levels,” wrote Columbus City Councilman Shannon Hardin.
So what to do? Bela Koe-Krompecher, clinical director of housing with the Downtown YMCA, suggested establishing rent controls in gentrifying neighborhoods, while Kent Beittel, director of the Open Shelter, called for “legally mandated, economically integrated housing stock.” E.J. Thomas, Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio CEO, wants more affordable housing built near job centers, often located on the outskirts of the city, and Jeff Lyttle of JPMorgan Chase in Columbus calls for better understanding of the city's unusually high eviction rate. “Evictions are a root cause of homelessness,” Lyttle wrote.
Don't be modest, Columbus. You're great. Really. “Stop complaining about how imperfect we are,” wrote Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. “Columbus is the best place to be in America right now. I'm on the road almost weekly. I've gotten to know the creative and entrepreneur cultures of America's top cities, and I wouldn't trade what we have for any of them.” Yes, former Mayor Mike Coleman, Columbus' swagger-in-chief for 16 years until leaving office in December 2015, helped make the city bolder and more confident. But our inferiority complex, apparently, hasn't completely disappeared. Britton Bauer supplemented her response with a visual aid—a photo of a “Cow Tipper in Training Columbus” T-shirt she found at a John Glenn Columbus International Airport gift shop. “We need to get rid of these kind of messages at the airport,” she wrote. “They play into an untrue stereotype of our city, and they're not going to go away unless we demand it. It's insulting and deflating to come home to this, but it's worse if this is your first impression of Columbus—it's going to take a lot to flip that back around.”
Columbus is getting sloppy. Several respondents complained of litter, especially along roadsides. “Columbus needs a program designed to keep the streets and freeways clear of debris and trash,” wrote Christine Garcia, director of economic integration and partnerships for US Together. Recycling was another concern. “Columbus should have more accessible recycling options for anyone living in the city, regardless of landlord policies,” wrote James O'Bryant of O'Bryant Public Strategies. Then there's the area's greenspaces. CoverMyMeds CEO Matt Scantland wrote the Metro Parks system is underappreciated: “These treasures could enrich more of our citizens' lives, and more buzz would improve our image as a city that uses the outdoors.” Meanwhile, Wolf's Ridge Brewing co-founder Bob Szuter wrote greenspace itself isn't enough. It also should be interesting. “Not just open grass areas, but parks with trees, lots of trees, water, an oasis in the urban environment.”
Support the Arts
Music, dance, theater, the visual arts—they aren't just pretty things. They also are economic development tools—and they need Columbus' support, a familiar refrain made by several respondents. “We need to be even more aggressive about supporting our arts,” wrote Shadowbox Live CEO Stev Guyer. He said the arts offer the best way for Columbus to compensate for its lack of appealing natural features like mountains or beaches that other places have. “It's the only equalizer we've got,” he wrote. For veteran advertising executive David Milenthal, one local arts organization especially deserves support: the Harmony Project, the nonprofit that uses song to bring together people across racial, ethnic and class divides. “Elevate the national image of our unique Harmony Project,” Milenthal wrote. “It absolutely reflects Columbus in a very appealing way.”