The Other Columbus: A Very Gentrified Episode of 'Miami Vice'
And also a love letter to those places that resist change, and where one can go to once again be made whole
Here is a TV movie idea I'm willing to give away for free so long as I get credit: A “Miami Vice” reunion where the two former detectives, Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), meet up after many years to bar hop and trade old war stories.
Everything is going fine until they're recognized by an old gangster with a grudge. They're chased into the streets of Miami but discover at nearly every turn that the city they used to know has been transformed by gentrification. Old nightclubs they used to go to have been converted into mixed-use retail spaces or torn down altogether. All of the neighborhoods are different; some are more mainstream, while others are even more abandoned than they remember, awaiting their turn at the trough or gallows of capitalism, depending on their proximity to the shoreline. Finally, they are chased to a beach with nowhere left to run, two grizzled warriors spent and filled with regret, staring at the ocean and what might very well be their last sunrise. Their end is uncertain, or perhaps it is.
Someone can pay me to punch that up into a proper story, but while we’re waiting, I don’t mind telling you that I made myself laugh out loud thinking about how every time these former undercover cops went someplace that they thought might provide safety and succor, they were stumped by artist enclaves and microbreweries. Or the neighborhood that they used to drag race through in their loaned Ferrari Daytona Spyder now has a gate around it.
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There are places in Columbus that feel a lot like the world of that show would, and you wouldn’t have to go back 32 years to feel it. Different areas are in different stages of change — Linden is firmly in the disinvestment stage, while areas like Campus and the Short North are on their third or fourth wave of “development,” depending on the block. Many of these changes lie at the feet of its proper designation: gentrification.
In the last couple of years, a mixed-use enclave has popped up on the corner of East Broad Street and Hamilton Avenue, east of what used to be Town & Country, right at the top of Whitehall. There used to be rentable units and some small shops there as recently as a few years ago. That was all replaced seemingly overnight by much fancier apartments and a sparkling Old Bag of Nails. Across the street is the Woodcliff area, which used to have blocks of reasonable townhome rentals. That neighborhood — all 150-plus buildings of it — is now abandoned and fenced in, a literal ghost town.
The East Side has long been impervious to a lot of the hardcore gentrification that you can find all over the city. There are probably many reasons for that, not the least of which is its concentration of non-white populations. And yet, the machine of gentrification has seemingly found its way in. As an East Sider, I get regular calls about buying my house. Apparently, they don’t like the asking price. But those calls weren’t coming 10 years ago.
My personal places of power are still largely intact. My barber has had to move, but I can still eat in the same hole in the walls I did a decade ago, at least for now. I can still buy a drink or a piece of sushi where I always have. I still have a connect on a foil pan of seasoned wings or a Styrofoam tray of “well done” Boston Blue when I want. And where there is consistency, a rhythm can form, and then familiarity.
I don’t know if the greeting I get at my favorite East Side Asian restaurant is because they like me or because I generally tip like I’m Anthony Bourdain. I do know that it usually takes 10 times what I spend on other sides of town to get that level of appreciation. And when the rest of the city feels restricted or cold or foreign to me, I know the places I can go to be made whole again. I don’t know if they’ll hide me in the back room from a roving band of gangsters with a speedboat to grind, but at least I know they’re there. And they know I’m here. And maybe that’s enough to ask from a city some days.