By Ris Twigg
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther often publicizes his top three priorities as “neighborhoods, neighborhoods, neighborhoods,” and with the Jan. 14 release of a new community plan, the Hilltop has made the list.
“Envision Hilltop” is a 27-goal action plan hyper-focused on people, place and home developed in collaboration with residents and city officials over a span of 18 months during community meetings and events.
The plan aims to overcome the decades of disinvestment in housing and businesses experienced in the Hilltop, Ginther explained.
“It’s mentioned in the media often times for its decline,” Ginther said during the plan’s release at Glenwood Recreation Center. “But the Hilltop has a sense of pride among residents and an incredibly strong community spirit. That’s what we tapped into when we began the process to envision Hilltop.”
The plan’s 27 goals focus primarily on increasing opportunity throughout the neighborhood, stabilizing housing prices and population decline, as well as finding solutions to crime and safety concerns.
Out of those goals, officials dedicated a good portion of the release on increasing employment access and opportunity for the area’s 19,000 residents as a way to uplift the entire neighborhood and reduce crime.
“Our strong blue-collar neighborhood here – those factory jobs are not probably coming back,” said Nick Bankston, project manager for Columbus’ neighborhood transformation programs. “So how do we re-tool the community and get them prepared for the different jobs in the city and around the region.”
According to the most recent U.S. Census data obtained by the city, a mere 84 people live and work in the plan’s focus area boundary. More than 2,400 people live outside the plan’s focus area but work within it, and roughly 7,000 people live within Hilltop but work elsewhere.
Matt Adair, senior planner at the Neighborhood Design Center and chief architect behind the Envision Hilltop plan, said the “shockingly” unbalanced live-work dynamic in the Hilltop is a big problem.
“In 1950, the Hilltop’s income exceeded that of Franklin County, and since then it’s been declining,” he said. “The (income) gap between the Hilltop focus area and the region has gotten wider, which points to increasing economic segregation — which is a theme throughout the country at this point.”
But not only do residents need more opportunities to fill the income gap, they need access to those opportunities through improved transportation, Adair said.
Transportation by car is limited for those living in the Hilltop; 17 percent of residents do not own a car and 44 percent of residents share a car with friends or family. The majority of Hilltop residents commute by foot, bike or bus.
The plan aims to improve sidewalk and pedestrian amenities, make streets safer for pedestrian use and encourage employers to locate near high-frequency transit lines to make it easier for residents to safely get to work.
In addition to transportation and employment, home ownership and proper rental management were touted as other major components of the plan.
As in many other neighborhoods within Columbus, city officials are trying to focus on increasing mixed-income housing to stabilize the current population of residents while welcoming new residents, in addition to encouraging the rehabilitation of the Hilltop’s current housing stock.
“Home prices are increasing really, really fast, so we want to get in there and make sure we are stabilizing housing,” Bankston said.
In doing so, the city hopes to both increase the number of amenities for incoming residents, but also for those currently living in the neighborhood.
Each of the top priorities were voted on by residents who attended the 15 meetings held by the city to create the plan.
The entire plan can be viewed at envisionhilltop.com.