Mid-Ohio Planners Discuss If Region Can Get Better As It Gets Bigger

Originally published by Hannah News Service

Leaders from communities around Central Ohio gathered in Columbus Friday to discuss the strategic framework needed for the region as the population is projected to grow to over three million people by 2050.

A large part of that plan for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) includes the LinkUS project that would greatly expand zero-emission mass transit throughout the region through expanded bus service, more connections to rural systems and increased on-demand transit systems. (See The Hannah Report, 3/6/24.)

MORPC Executive Director William Murdock says that in addition to significantly improving transit service in the region, LinkUS would also include the construction of five major mass transit corridors and hundreds of miles of sidewalks and trails with the goal of better connecting people’s homes and their jobs.

Murdock also announced that the LinkUS project got a boost earlier this week as a $42 million Reconnecting Communities grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was awarded to jumpstart an infrastructure project on West Broad Street in Columbus. That project is set to include improvements along a nine-mile route approaching downtown Columbus, 17 new transit stations and a park-and-ride center.

Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin framed the LinkUS initiative, which will ask Franklin County voters for a half-percent sales tax increase in November 2024, as a grand experiment in “can we get better as we get bigger?”

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jack Marchbanks was also on hand to discuss the goals for the Mid-Ohio region for $106 million in recently granted 383 transit projects throughout Ohio. (See The Hannah Report, 2/13/24). Marchbanks said ODOT is preparing for the growth in the region and trying to ensure cities and towns are growing into places people want to move to. Another important aspect of the region’s growth, said Marchbanks, is ensuring people can move between places where jobs are growing. ODOT is also looking into how to best link the Central Ohio region to the rest of the state.

Author, real estate developer and urban revitalization strategy consultant Majora Carter delivered the keynote address at MORPC’s 2024 “State of The Region” lunch. Carter’s theme to the regional planners in the room was “you don’t have to move out of your neighborhood to find a better one,” and she detailed how she had helped transform her home neighborhood in South Bronx, NY from a “low-status” neighborhood.

Carter discussed talent retention strategies for poor neighborhoods along the lines of talent retention strategies used by businesses to keep their best workers. Carter discussed how deindustrialization or highway construction through neighborhoods can sap places of their previous vitality, and often crime and poverty result.

Carter found her neighborhood in South Bronx in such a position, and she made a point to ask the high school students who lived there what they thought the neighborhood needed. She also asked the students if they planned on returning to the neighborhood after they left for college. Many of the students answered that they didn’t plan to return, and that compelled Carter to think of how to improve the neighborhood to cultivate the talent that was already there.

In Carter’s case that meant transforming an abandoned train station in the neighborhood into a social venue for pop-up shops, music events and even a pro wrestling show. She also talked about her efforts to build a coffee shop in the neighborhood as a community space. After the shop’s opening, many in the community pushed back on what some saw as gentrification of the area. But Carter said that the day after a demonstration by locals against the shop, the shop was hosting an event for people in the neighborhood to get information on zero-interest housing loans.

Carter said drawing people to stay in a community to help improve it includes commercially viable year-round space that promotes community and looks high-quality and natural. She said one knows they’re in a low-status community when they see dollar stores as the main retail option or check-cashing centers and pawn shops.

“Good uses will drive out bad uses,” said Carter.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on March 15, 2024.  Copyright 2024 Hannah News Service, Inc.

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