Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Meet Me In Columbus

Dateline: 3:13 pm October 14, 2009 Filed under:

It’s not everyday you hear someone tell you to visit Columbus, Ohio, but I highly recommend it. Columbus has more examples of progressive urbanism than most cities its size. It deserves a look.

True, I was there in January. And yes, I had to deal with an ice storm that sealed my car shut. As I scraped my car with my hotel key card (always ask for two!) on a cold Saturday morning in Columbus, I remarkably was able to roll down the driver’s side window and the ice stayed in place! I knocked it out with my elbow. But the rest of my day there was foggy and 35 degrees. With no wind, that kind of weather is perfect for walking and exploring a city.

And so a little fog and ice didn’t deter me from some great urban sightseeing. I managed to see the Rickenbacker Global Logistics Hub, Easton Town Center, Germantown, the Arena District, Short North and the OSU campus, and was impressed by it all.

View my Columbus photos here at Picasaweb.

Columbus has some real design gems, both old and new. For starters, I stayed in the Westin downtown, which was originally the Great Southern Hotel, dating to 1897. (Recessions and January weekends make for very good hotel deals. I even got a free bottle of wine, although I’m not sure why.)

Second, Germantown is located south of downtown in a world unto itself. When in Columbus, I recommend starting there. It is an intimate, historic neighborhood full of lovely red brick homes, churches, commercial buildings and brick streets. Start at the Book Loft, a wonderful independent bookstore with a labyrinth of rooms. After browsing, wander the neighborhood a bit before grabbing a cup of coffee and reading one of your new books.

I managed a tour of Easton Town Center, led by the developer Yaromir Steiner himself. Easton was built in 1999 and a forerunner of so many of today’s mixed-use town centers. Check out the work of Steiner + Associates here.

On to downtown. My surroundings at the Westin are that sort of urban awfulness that found at the edge of so many American downtowns – lots of surface parking lots, a few newer, bunker-style brutalism government buildings and one lonely, out of place bar in an old building that somehow defied the wrecking ball.

That said, between the Westin and th lovely state capitol building, along High Street, is a former shopping mall called City Center, that is just over 20 years old, and is currently meeting its fate. In its place will be Columbus Commons, a downtown park, a wonderful urban green space that promises to be a favorite gathering place for residents and visitors.

I wandered down to the Scioto River to gaze at the mist hanging over the water, and then north to the Arena District, a development by Nationwide Realty Investors. It has been done in phases and is quite nice, including several restaurants, residential development and a very nice green. The Arena is home to the NHL’s Blue Jackets, and the district’s old and new buildings are primarily clad in smart red brick. I sought out O’Shaughnessy’s, an Irish pub, before moving on in search of a good dinner.

Wandering north along High Street, I was unaware I was crossing a freeway. I made it up in to the Short North neighborhood, which is centered along High Street and contains numerous restaurants and storefronts for window shopping, all in a wonderfully scaled mixed-use neighborhood. Numerous arches, placed at regular intervals, span and define the street. On this chilly evening, they were lit up and blended in to the fog in the distance.

Like I said, I didn’t know until the next day that I had crossed a freeway. But I had traversed the Cap at Union Station, a one-block infill development along High Street completed in 2004. It makes the transition as a pedestrian from downtown to Short North seamless. Where there once was a bridge like any other crossing an interstate (that had no right to be built through an existing neighborhood in the first place), there is now a row of restaurants and stores lining the street. The only clue was both sides of this one block stretch of street shared a similar design.

The Cap is really three briges over the interstate, one for cars and one on either side that support one-story retail buildings with 25,000 square feet of space. It is a great example of a project that reconnects two urban neighborhoods divided by a freeway. The cost of $7.8 million (yes, over $300 per square foot) isn’t cheap, but the neighborhoods on either side already supported rents that were close to the $25 to $35 charged at the Cap. As an observer, I’d argue the project not only justifies the rents at the Cap but they also increase the value of properties in neighborhoods on either side – a benefit to all.

One last really neat project is The Brunson, a condo building on High Street in downtown Columbus. The project is part renovated historic building and part new construction at the same height and scale. It is proof that new an old buildings can look good next to each other, given the right massing, scale and relationship to the street.

So next time you are in Columbus, even in January, take a nice stroll and soak it all in.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.