Sarah Al-Khayyal


It’s Halloweekend which means it’s time to throw together that last minute costume for your spooktacular shindig. We’ve rounded up some dope last minute DIYable ideas.

Sam & Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom

This is amongst my all time favorite couple’s costumes, and it probably will be yours too if you’re a Wes Anderson fan. Both Keiko Lynn and Liz from Say Yes have done beautiful renditions of this one.


This is one of 4 easy iron on costumes by Brittany from The House That Lars Build. Just grab a black dress or jumpsuit and adorn it with iron on stars! Easy as pie.

Brawny Man or Marty McFly

If you’ve got blue jeans and a flannel, you automatically have several options. These are two of the best, courtesy of Brit + Co.

Lisa Frank Characters

Dressing up in a rainbow of colors is foolproof fun– also, why isn’t this a more popular costume?! You can achieve one of these looks with some basic clothing items + some multi colored felt pieces. For the best effect, go as a group!

Prince & David Bowie

This David Bowie and Prince couple’s costume from Brit + Co is everything. No better way to pay tribute to two magnificent icons. Hopefully you own something metallic– other than that, you just need some duct tape and a few other odds and ends you can probably find at the thrift store.

Header photo by Saksham Gangwar on Unsplash

Raise your hand if all of this development and civic engagement jargon is getting confusing *raises hand*. This is a lot for me to process and I’m the one writing it! (In case you missed part 1 and part 2 of this series, check them out then come back here.) We’ve talked about participatory planning, social impact assessments, community land trusts, community benefits agreements, inclusionary zoning, workforce development, and transitional employment opportunities. There’s a lot of overlap amongst those subjects and you frankly can’t look at any single one in a silo– there are much greater and more complex systems at work.

Figuring out how all of these pieces fit together is quite the task. Luckily, there is already a pretty comprehensive systems approach that incorporates a lot of what we’ve talked about– it’s called community wealth building. It isn’t perfect, but it’s arguably the most reputable model for inclusive economic development to date. Read on to find out how it compares to traditional development, and why you should be advocating for it in your community.

Community wealth building

Community wealth building is “a systems approach to economic development that creates an inclusive, sustainable economy built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership.” The term was coined in 2005 by The Democracy Collaborative to describe a range of strategies that help anchor jobs in a community, democratize wealth and asset ownership, and make communities more economically stable.

Too often, traditional development operates based on the implicit assumption that everyone will benefit from a city’s economic growth. And sadly that’s pretty much never true. So community wealth building proposes a new model that puts people first, especially communities that are in most need of economic opportunity. The overarching goals are to enable residents to build personal wealth through stable well-paying jobs, to create opportunities for community ownership through employee stock ownership plans or cooperative business models, and to keep wealth within the community by reinvesting in locally owned businesses.

Source: Democracy Collaborative

In doing these things, communities are afforded greater control over their economic destiny. Residents are stabilized from displacement pressure, they build more socioeconomic mobility, and the neighborhood experiences growth and vibrancy. So that all sounds nice and rosy– but how do we achieve it?

First things first: there are 7 drivers that build community wealth, as outlined by The Democracy Collaborative. They are:

  1. Place: place-based planning demonstrates a loyalty to geographic place– it involves investment in assets that can’t simply be picked up and moved elsewhere.
  2. Ownership: ownership should be broadly distributed across the community, not just through local and family owned businesses, but also through employee owned coops and stock options.
  3. Multipliers: local institutions like hospitals, museums, and universities can have a multiplier effect on community wealth by implementing buy-local strategies that keep money circulating locally.
  4. Collaboration: a wide variety of stakeholders are included in decision-making, including non-profits, local businesses, and residents.
  5. Inclusion: economic inclusion involves deliberately creating living wage jobs that enable all families to enjoy economic security.
  6. Workforce: job training should be linked to employment opportunities, with a particular emphasis on jobs for those with barriers to employment.
  7. System: ultimately new supportive ecosystems will be developed that exist to reinforce a thriving local economy.

There’s a wide array of potential strategies that can be used to build community wealth, all of which deploy the aforementioned drivers. They include things like: using community benefits agreements to get local institutions to commit to procuring a certain amount of resources locally, mobilizing federal and city funds to support the growth of cooperatives, and creating community land trusts.

Source: Democracy Collaborative

Encouraging businesses to transition to employee ownership is another strategy being successfully implemented across the country, including in our great state of Ohio. The Ohio Employee Ownership Center out of Kent State University has helped employees buy all or part of 92 companies, creating more than 15,000 employee-owners and to date $344 million in wealth for said owners.

Closer to home, we have the Affordable Housing Trust for For Columbus & Franklin County, which provides loans for affordable rental and home ownership projects. We have several entirely employee owned businesses, like Star Leasing and Ketchum & Walton Co. The Columbus Foundation, the eighth largest community foundation in the country, continues to support important community assets like the Franklin Park Conservatory. Plus, we have at least 7 Community Development Corporations (CDCs) that help guide more equitable development projects across the city.

So clearly, Columbus isn’t totally out of the community wealth building loop– we have some great organizations and resources at our fingertips, we just need a more comprehensive plan that connects these resources together and ensures they’re mobilized equitably.

Civic Engagement School: The Way Forward

My hope is that with a greater understanding of the potential strategies for inclusive development, you will feel empowered to have thoughtful discussions around this topic and advocate to your local representatives for what you believe is right. As I’ve expressed from day 1 of this series, no one strategy is a panacea, and you yourself can’t possibly advocate for the implementation of everything I’ve outlined. Instead, I suggest you pick one or two things that resonated with you, maybe community land trusts and job creation for people with barriers to employment, and get even more familiar with case studies, methods, and challenges. The Democracy Collaborative and their Community Wealth website are fantastic resources. Attend local community and city hall meetings and start advocating for these things. Find other people with similar interests and collaborate on small scale neighborhood projects. You’re capable of creating more change than you know. Active citizenship is a powerful thing.

As for later stage development projects that seem too far along for changing course, as some people feel about Franklinton, it’s not too late. What is important, as I covered in part 1 of this series, is to find out what aspects of the development designs are negotiable or still in flux. There may still be a chance for compromise.

And remember Chad Rochkind of Human Scale Studio, the urban strategy firm in Detroit? His final advice for a community like Franklinton– “get people in the room together in a low stakes environment.” Rochkind recommends hosting community dinners that are not about development with the developers, local leaders, and residents. “There’s no agenda, aside from getting to know each other. The desired outcome is just to build bridges.”

Speaking of building bridges, we’re hosting a community conversation around the issues that fast-growing neighborhoods like Franklinton experience. Check out the event and RSVP here.

Feature photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

Civic Engagement School is a series where we focus on how citizens, developers and government can work together to do neighborhood development better. Collectively, the methods and processes outlined in this series will arm you with a better understanding of what is needed to ensure equitable development. Read more about the context for this series in Part 1: How To Get a Developer to Listen.

This time we’re talking about strategies to help prevent or minimize displacement. Development induced displacement is when residents are priced out due to rising rents and costs of living, or evicted (and sometimes resettled elsewhere) to make way for new developments or higher income residents. Displacement is not only a threat to people’s homes but also to the greater community’s fabric. There are two major things that need to exist to mitigate displacement: affordable housing and livable wage jobs.

Affordable housing

Affordable housing is a beast. It’s one of the biggest talking points for politicians on every level, and yet it’s something that we just can’t seem to get right. And without reliable affordable housing, some degree of displacement in the wake of development is inevitable.

A few years ago I sat down with Don Carter, the Director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon, to talk about “gentrification”. Carter has over 40 years of urban design experience and serves on a number of boards including this Pittsburgh land trust’s. When I asked about what we can do to stop or mitigate the negative effects of development, he declared without an ounce of doubt in his voice, “It’s a natural force, and the only way to counter it is to keep affordable housing in the neighborhood.”

Therein lies the problem– we more or less know how to provide affordable housing, but too often there aren’t safeguards in place to keep that affordable housing in place when it’s suddenly surrounded by rising property values. Carter went on to list two methods for combating the displacement of affordable housing and its residents: land trusts and community benefits agreements.


Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are non-profit community-based organizations that own and steward land in a way that ensures housing prices remain affordable. The CLT retains ownership of their parcels of land in perpetuity, while prospective homeowners buy their condo or house and enter into long-term renewable leases for the land under them (generally 99 years). When it comes time for the homeowner to sell, the resale price is based upon a predetermined formula that provides a reasonable rate of return on the investment while keeping the home’s price within reach for future low to middle income buyers. While CLTs are better known for their owner-occupied housing, they have renters too. This innovative approach to community development provides a more stable housing market to low income residents and a bridge to the private market for first time buyers.

Unsurprisingly, CLTs haven’t caught on everywhere. Real estate professionals aren’t keen on the idea of a fixed value for a home’s appreciation, banks aren’t accustomed to giving out loans for solely the structures but not the land they sit on, and tax assessors charge taxes based on nearby properties rather than the value outlined on the CLT leases. Fortunately, some states have made CLT properties tax exempt, and hopefully more will follow suit. We’ve got a long way to go to normalize community land trusts, but it’s important to note that this is really the only truly foolproof way to prevent displacement.


Community benefits agreements (CBAs) are another helpful method that Carter suggested. Essentially a CBA is a contract between developers, public officials, and community organizations that guarantees certain benefits to the residents of the affected neighborhood. The benefits can range from a guaranteed percentage of affordable housing, job creation for pre-existing residents, investment in local businesses, recreational facilities and parks, to improvements of educational opportunities. Negotiating a CBA ahead of development is a good public engagement practice and has the potential to avoid community pushback later on. When a CBA is structured appropriately, it is legally binding and enforceable. However, a number of CBAs end up being non-binding resulting in developer non-compliance and community discontentment. You can read more about the features and limitations of community benefits agreements here.


Inclusionary zoning is a tactic that governments can employ to ensure a presence of affordable housing even when they’re not doing the developing. Inclusionary zoning policies encourage or require that new developments include a certain percentage of affordable housing units. To offset the costs of incorporating affordable housing, developers are offered benefits like density bonuses (allowing them to construct more units than conventional zoning allows) or fast-track permitting to allow them to build more quickly. It should be noted that the best inclusionary zoning policies require the affordable housing to be developed in proximity to or as a part of the market rate development to advance economic and racial integration. Read a policy brief on the effects of inclusionary zoning here.


Job Creation & Workforce Development

Long term job creation and workforce development programs help low-income residents build community wealth and socioeconomic mobility. This ensures that low and middle income residents will continue to be able to pay their rent or mortgage, even if prices go up. If we can’t control rising property values and if affordable housing isn’t incorporated into a development, then livable wage employment opportunities seem like the ideal way to enable residents to stay where they are.

In the article “7 Paths to Development That Bring Neighborhoods Wealth, Not Gentrification,” authors Marjorie Kelly and Sarah McKinley outline a number of strategies to be incorporated into a systems approach of neighborhood development. When it comes to employment, they offer a few key ideas that go beyond traditional social services.


One proposed strategy is to de-prioritize absentee-owned companies and invest in locally owned businesses instead, ideally creating opportunities for employee ownership in the form of cooperatives. Cooperative businesses are owned and run by a group of members, often employees, who get one share and one vote for all business decisions– this ensures that decisions balance pursuit of profit and the needs of the members and their extended communities. According to Kelly and McKinley, “when employees not only have a job but an ownership stake, they enjoy greater control of their economic fate”.


Another strategy is to link workforce development to the needs of employers and large local institutions like hospitals and universities. By creating a pipeline for opportunities supplemented with ongoing support, this prevents participants from being strung out to dry after completing a skills development program. In setting aside a number of well-paying jobs for local residents, you help keep the wealth in the neighborhood. A prime example of this type of program is the Step Up to University Hospitals in Cleveland. Two weeks of pre-employment classes prepare participants for jobs in environmental and nutrition services at the hospital. University Hospitals then sets aside a number of spots which they fill specifically with individuals from the Step Up cohort, and then offers continued support and training for internal advancement. Read their case study here.


Employment opportunities in low income neighborhoods must be inclusive to be effective. That’s why the final strategy is to provide training and transitional employment opportunities for those with barriers to employment, like criminal histories or disabilities. One noteworthy example is the nonprofit organization in Minneapolis called Emerge, which runs four social enterprises that provide job training and employment for ex-offenders, at-risk youth, and homeless fathers and their families. Locally, Franklinton Rising is a good local example of transitional employment for youth.


So when development appears inevitable, affordable housing and employment opportunities should be amongst the first things you rally around. Listed here are some of the most effective solutions to our housing, employment, and income crises, but no one strategy is a panacea. Solutions should always be systemic, place-based, and human-centered.

In part 3 of the Civic Engagement School series, I’m digging into community wealth building . Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it.

Photo by Terrah Holly on Unsplash

Cover photo featuring mural by Jacob Tanner and Mandi Caskey. 

A few months ago, a thread on the Columbus subreddit caught my eye– Redditors were discussing the plans for the upcoming Short North Art on High project led by the consultancy Designing Local.

Someone joked (I think), “I hope they pick a Revolutionary or Civil War General sitting on his horse.” Another commenter was not as light hearted, stating “‘consultants’ and ‘public art’ should never appear in the same sentence.” The conversation underneath it developed into an interesting debate about the commodification of art. Some argued for more murals and artwork by local artists, while others contended that planners, consultants, and strict processes were necessary. All of this got me thinking about the public art scene here in Columbus.

I decided to go out and speak with some key voices about the state of public art in Columbus. I wanted to find out: how supportive the city government is of public arts, how local artists view the public art scene, what are the employment opportunities for local artists, and how the greater community is being engaged in the planning of public realm projects like Art on High. Here’s what I found.

Columbus’ public art ecosystem is very young.

Relative to other large cities, Columbus has been late to game on creating a supportive ecosystem enabling public arts and artists to thrive. According to David Gentilini, Director of the Schumacher Gallery and member of the Franklinton Arts District Board, the public art ecosystem has changed “drastically” in recent years, because previously there wasn’t an ecosystem at all. Gentilini expressed in a recent email exchange, “there is NOW a concentrated effort to bring art to the city. Before, the best we really had was Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes at the airport, some of the short north murals (like American Gothic), and the Topiary Garden. Anything else was private or corporate enterprise bringing it to fruition. Now there seems to be a real push by both the private and public sectors.”

Lori Baudro, the Public Art Project Coordinator for the City of Columbus, has aided the progress in recent years. Baudro articulated to me that funding for the arts is an issue of priorities in the local government. “We’ve had opportunities to implement public art programs like the percent for art program,” Baudro explains, “it just wasn’t a priority… When you pit [public art] against other city programs, like social service programming, it can be hard to get people to vote for it.”

The Short North Mural Series is very controversial.

Betsy Pandora, director of the Short North Alliance, explained the Short North Temporary Mural Series to me this way: “Created [by the Short North Alliance] in partnership with galleries in the Short North Arts District, these vinyl murals are applied to the sides of buildings and change annually. With the current sidewalks providing such little public space for permanent public artworks, the temporary series has served as a remarkable way for our community to celebrate artists in a big way without occupying big space.”

Going back to that Reddit thread, one commenter lamented “the way the Short North currently displays art on the sides of the walls is really canned. It’s devoid of expression and feels like someone just slapped a print on the wall. There’s even a description tag like a museum, which makes the whole thing feel inorganic.”

When I asked the Designing Local team about the vinyl murals, city planner Josh Lapp disagreed with that sentiment, explaining that the Short North Alliance is “driven by their property owners and they’re looking to expand the impact of the galleries in the neighborhood and draw more people into the businesses. So I think it’s a pretty innovative program actually.” His business partner Amanda Golden quickly chimed in, “I do too.”

Local public artists don’t find the series innovative, though. When speaking with Columbus-based muralist Mandi Caskey, I inquired about her and her friends’ thoughts on the matter, to which she responded with conviction, “the vinyls distract from what we’re trying to accomplish as a progressive and artistic city. They’re doing the opposite, pretty much posting up advertisements for galleries. And that’s what it is– selected artists from the galleries in the Short North.”

Local artists are leaving or are tempted to leave Columbus for cities with more opportunities.

Unfortunately, when it comes to public art– in particular murals– it seems as though Columbus is lacking paid opportunities and public acceptability. Consequently, artists are being pushed out or drawn elsewhere.

According to Mandi Caskey, the street art population has grown in the past few years thanks to a few key individuals who have set an aesthetic standard and helped teach the community that public art can, and should, look professional. However those same artists aren’t necessarily sticking around. Caskey’s friend and fellow artist Covert has been wheat pasting his art around the city for years. But in certain neighborhoods, like the Short North, it repeatedly gets taken down. And now, as Caskey explained to me, “he’s being paid to go to Sharon, Pennsylvania to put some of his art up. They’ve classified their city as an art desert, and they’re bringing in graffiti and street artists to add some life.” There’s an irony in that– that his free work isn’t acceptable in his own city, but he gets commissioned for paid work elsewhere. How are we supposed to keep our artists here if things like that keep happening?

Meanwhile, Caskey and her fiance, who is also a muralist, have been frequently traveling back and forth to Louisville, Kentucky where they’ve had better luck landing paid gigs and exciting collaborative opportunities. Caskey gushes about Louisville and how supportive the city is. She has gotten to work with their chapter of Habitat for Humanity and a number of private funders, and notes that there is a general understanding amongst business owners that “street art is good, and artists get paid for it.”   

“I want to put all of me into [Columbus], but if I’m not allowed, I’m going to put my efforts elsewhere,” Caskey says. “I just did a 200 foot long mural in Louisville. Columbus would never let me do that at this stage. Ever.”

And comments from Josh Lapp of Designing Local reinforced what Caskey told me: “when there’s not an ecosystem of paid art calls, then there’s just not going to be a group of people that are able to respond to those frequently. We have to support our own artists, and we have not, as a city, done a great job of supporting our public artists, because we haven’t really up to this point put a stake in the ground and said, ‘hey, we are really going to focus on doing large scale public art.’” Josh went on to explain that Lori Baudro at the City of Columbus has been “pushing something up the mountain” for years and it’s finally starting to pay off with projects like the Art on High plan. Baudro herself added that the public art ecosystem is “something that needs a chance to grow”.

So it looks like we’re going to have to figure out how to keep artists around while those opportunities are still growing, and part of that will involve figuring out how to embrace some non-sanctioned art too. Caskey puts it best when she says, “it’s supposed to be a freeing thing, it’s supposed to be street art, and it’s supposed to be for the public.”

There’s a disconnect between local artists and the city government artist calls.

Even when there are paid artist calls, the City has a hard time getting responses. “It’s a real struggle getting local artists to respond to our artist calls,” Baudro, the Public Art Project Coordinator for the City of Columbus, explained to me. “Every single public art call that we’ve done we’ve had to extend by 2 weeks to a month, and really beat the ground to try to get people to respond.”

Caskey says she hasn’t seen many official calls for murals or street art, and postulates that Baudro’s experience isn’t due to a lack of interest amongst local artists, but rather a failure to reach them with the calls. Caskey suggests doing more direct outreach to the underground street artists and muralists who are moving away, or even putting the calls out in local publications with young readership.

Historic buildings pose challenges for public art integration.

Historic buildings are a sore spot for public art. Neighborhood commissions and building owners are often not in favor of disrupting historic buildings’ materials with murals (this is part of the reasoning for the temporary vinyl murals in the Short North). And this is a countrywide phenomenon, in which public art and historical preservation clash. However, there are ways to work around these challenges that should be explored further in Columbus. One option is to create a mural or painting on a board that is then temporarily adhered to the wall. Another option, which Caskey has used in projects on historic buildings, is to use non-toxic paints and pigments made from less harsh ingredients. Caskey’s medium of choice: spray paint with a sugar cane base, which she says won’t deteriorate brick or other historic building materials. It’s important that we have these conversations and attempt to pave new ways forward that find a healthy balance of honoring the past and improving our cities for the future.

The Art on High Strategic Plan will be overwhelmingly guided by community stakeholders.

The City of Columbus’ most recent public art undertaking is the Art on High Strategic Plan, which is being led by Columbus-based placemaking and planning consultancy Designing Local. Designing Local is collaborating with three other entities on this plan: Marc Pally (art curator), MKSK (lead streetscape designers), and Kolar Design (experience designers). With an anticipated November reveal of the Strategic Plan, Designing Local has been busy engaging with the community since August.

Josh Lapp, principal planner and co-founder at Designing Local, noted that “ we already know there’s a lot of controversial things happening in the neighborhood. High Street is changing rapidly, there’s already a lot of construction underway. And this project is really about tapping into the existing spirit of the neighborhood. And so we want to try to do everything we can to engage in a positive manner with people, to help us make these art pieces a continuum of where the neighborhood was and where it’s going into the future.”

So far, Designing Local has organized and hosted: an intro meeting for the public to meet the Art on High team, the GoLive event which filled the Short North with live musicians and opportunities to provide feedback on what art community members like and hope to see in the future, and three “Charrettes in Motion,” which were group walks along High Street with the chance for community members to share their thoughts and ask questions about the Strategic Plan. (There is actually one Charrette in Motion remaining, this Sunday October 8th at 10am. Go!) Lastly, Designing Local has set up an ongoing online survey where you can share your feedback at any time.

Proponents of a truly community-driven design process, Designing Local has not been asking people to respond to preconceived ideas or plans. “We’re engaging and then creating a plan based on the community’s suggestions,” explained Amanda Golden, Managing Principal of Designing Local.

There’s a lot of hope for the future of public art in Columbus.

I think we can all agree on one thing: we hope the future holds more funding and more opportunities for public art by local artists. Designing Local’s team and Lori Baudro are hopeful that when they ultimately put out RFPs for Art on High artwork, the local artists come running. Meanwhile, Mandi Caskey wants the contemporary mural scene to be given space to flourish here, ideally with our own version of an Art Basel festival. In her words, “why wouldn’t you want something so spectacular and forever changing and growing?”

What does Caskey want the most though? “I want quality [art] and I want opportunities for local artists so that they don’t have to leave to get paid to do what they love.”



These days, many of us are too quick to cry wolf (or cry “gentrification!”) when development projects start cropping up. The latest wave of investment is pouring into Franklinton and people are scared. But believe it or not, there are more productive things we can be doing other than flat out opposing new developments.

Here’s the thing. We know how to develop equitably and avoid displacement. We’re just not doing it. I dialled up Chad Rochkind of Human Scale Studio, an urban strategy firm in Detroit, and asked him about this in particular. Here’s what he said:

“We know how to develop buildings that are green. We know how to make places that are mixed income. We know how to do all of this. So it’s not a design challenge. It’s a cultural challenge and a political challenge.”

Let me repeat that: It’s a cultural challenge and a political challenge.

Part of that challenge is getting everyone on the same page. When I say “we know how to develop equitably”, the “we” refers to educated urban planners and others interested specifically in sustainable development practices. That expertise is currently siloed, and if we want any hope of truly inclusive development standards, then the knowledge must be democratized and then enforced. Which is why I’m writing this right now.

Before I dig into some of those actionable and distinct strategies for inclusive development, let’s look at the main players. On one side there’s the community, which is generally anti-development for fear of neighborhood changes and rising rents. Then on the other side there are the developers, who are–needless to say–pro-development and concerned with the bottom line. Then somewhere in the middle there are the government representatives, who are often demonized and rarely trusted by the community (even when they have good intentions).

A lot of our issues stem from the inability for community and developer to see eye to eye. As Rochkind conveyed to me, often developers see the community members as agitators, and the community sees any and all development as negative for their neighborhood. But there generally is no other conversation going on about what type of development the community would like to see.

It’s this sort of hasty blanket opposition that leads to less than optimal outcomes for the community. As opposed to fighting an uphill battle in which laws, zoning codes, and trends favor development, Minneapolis consultant and author of the book “How Real Estate Developers Think” Peter Brown urges neighborhood activists to “focus on what aspects of a proposed development are actually changeable.” Rochkind echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of understanding what design decisions are still in flux and what is negotiable, no matter what stage the development is in.  

So that being said, I’ve put together a three part series laying out some strategies and tactics that are key for inclusive development and anti-displacement practices. Understanding these concepts and being willing to meet developers where they are will help you conduct fruitful conversations around the topic of development in Columbus and beyond. Today I’m starting with two notable community engagement methods.

Community Engagement Methods

Participatory Planning

Historically people have been taught that neighborhood change prompts residential displacement. And while that’s actually not always the case, it has certainly happened. Rochkind says that Midwestern cities in particular have been at risk, since in recent decades they have been so starved for development that the city will sell out and bypass community engagement processes just to get some development done. So it’s also in these cities that residents feel particularly jaded about development projects. This is why transparency and early involvement are crucial for building trust.

Throughout Rochkind’s experiences and observations, the most successful development projects bring the community in at the earliest stages possible. When feasible, community members themselves should help to shape the call for proposals that is put out before a developer is even selected. The ultimate key is to ensure that the residents feel a sense of ownership over the process, and that’s easier to facilitate when the relationships are built early.

Here’s an example: Rochkind and his team at Human Scale Studio recently worked on a large scale streetscape improvement project on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. They installed the longest protected bike lane on a state controlled road in the entire country, and the second longest protected bike lane (period) in the country. Usually when cities put in protected bike lanes, the residents and business owners are the first to come out in opposition because of decreased parking space and the association with gentrification.

To get ahead of these negative sentiments, Rochkind and his business partner Jessica Meyer spent one year holding community house parties in the surrounding Corktown neighborhood. Rochkind and Meyer would bring together 5-10 resident and business owners to hang out and talk about the neighborhood. At these house parties, Michigan Avenue kept coming up as something the community wanted to see improved. Community feedback guided Human Scale Studio’s iterative design process; there was a lot of back and forth engagement as Rochkind and Meyer shared the evolving plans with the community throughout the year. So when it finally came time for implementation of the proposed bike lane, the community was united behind a vision– they weren’t up in arms about the plan, but instead they were the ones who crafted letters to the mayor to convey their support for the plan.

This sort of process takes more time, more patience, and a lot more flexibility, but it leads to more enduring solutions that are better embraced by the community.

Social Impact Assessments

Certain types of development projects and policies require that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is completed before the project is given a greenlight– this is to ensure that potential environmental impacts, both negative and positive, are accounted for and that plans are adjusted to minimize negative repercussions. Less common but equally important are Social Impact Assessments (SIA).

Per the International Association for Impact Assessment, a Social Impact Assessment “includes the processes of analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Its primary purpose is to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment.”

So, great! Again, we know how to do these things. The framework for SIAs is in place. No one can say that there isn’t a protocol for evaluating the potential social impacts of a development project in advance. We just (usually) aren’t employing it.

For us lay people, here’s what actually goes into SIAs and why they’re important.

Source: Public Private Partnerships

SIAs seek to answer questions like: what will change, what range of consequences could be seen, what will be gained, what will be lost, who is contributing to the change, who will benefit, and who will suffer. More specifically in the context of an SIA for urban development, the assessment would look at effects imposed on housing affordability and quality, services and amenities, access to reliable transportation, experienced health and security, demographic inclusivity and integration, and quality of life.

This case study about the redevelopment of a low-income neighborhood in Israel followed a process that involved:

  • Understanding the potential impacts
  • Understanding socio economic backgrounds of affected residents
  • Understanding the roles of each stakeholder party
  • then determining the “relative influence power” of each stakeholder to shed light on the likelihood of their needs being addressed.

The SIA team then worked on predicting and analyzing the impact pathways, and concluded by presenting methods for alleviating adverse impacts and enhancing positive impacts.

A combination of demographic data, planning document analysis, field observations, archival data, and interview data were used for this SIA. Ultimately, a number of suggested mitigation measures were laid out for all stakeholders involved, but the most impactful of all fell to the municipality. These measures included the likes of affordable housing policy, educating developers about socially sustainable housing models, improving public transit, and developing social impact management plans.

Another study that reviewed development appeals in Queensland, Australia concluded that many legal cases could be avoided if an SIA were appropriately conducted. As opposed to using top-down development and then receiving legal backlash from the community, this study suggests that SIAs provide a means “to identify conflicts early, identify development or design alternatives or negotiate an agreeable outcome with stakeholders.”

The point is that considering human impact is crucial to development. And it needs to be done early. Developers, designers, and city governments need to be held to higher standards of community engagement. So the next time you’re in conversation with a developer or a neighborhood commission, you can ask about how they’re implementing participatory planning processes or if they’ve considered conducting a Social Impact Assessment.

In part 2 of the Civic Engagement School series, I’m tackling affordable housing, job creation, and workforce development. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it.

Header photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash


One decade ago the Washington Township Fire Department approached Matt Wenning, a world record holding powerlifter based here in Columbus, to see if he could help reduce injury rates amongst their firefighters. Today, Wenning is helping the department save $250,000 per year in health insurance expenses.

But how?

Simple. He helps the firefighters get stronger.

Born and raised in Muncie, Indiana, Wenning was introduced to powerlifting at an early age. After being hit by a car at the age of 6, he spent the better part of two years in a wheelchair and then in a full-leg cast. Once he was cleared for exercise, his legs were too weak and stiff to join his friends for football and other team sports. So he started strength training.

With the help of a few national caliber powerlifters who happened to train at his local YMCA, Wenning made leaps and bounds on his strength throughout middle school and high school. By the time he was 17, he was attending national and world class meets.

In 2004 Wenning went pro in powerlifting, and shortly thereafter, at the age of 26, he began to set world records. In 2006, a few military officials saw Wenning featured in a magazine. He then received a phone call from a special unit in Fort Benning, Georgia– the unit invited him to come down to their base to teach them about strength training. The unit liked what he brought to the table and soon saw declining injury rates amongst their personnel. Wenning has been doing contract work with the military since then.

Wenning at his gym, Ludus Magnus, in Franklinton.

Around the same time, Wenning relocated to Columbus to train at the world-renowned, invite-only powerlifting gym, Westside Barbell. Before long, Wenning’s work with the military gained notoriety amongst the local fire departments. The first department to approach Wenning was Washington Township in Dublin. Over the past ten years, he has been collecting both the strength and insurance data for the department. Notably, as the firefighters’ strength numbers have gone up, Washington Township’s insurance expenses have gone down. When Wenning began to coach and program workouts for their 135 firefighters, the average deadlift was under 200 pounds. Today, the average deadlift has doubled to just under 400 pounds, and the department is spending $250,000 less on insurance costs.

So why does being strong reduce injury rates? According to Wenning, it’s because society is getting heavier. In the 1960s, the fitness tests for fire departments were created with dummies based on the average weight of an American male at the time, 165 lbs.

“Shit, that’s a small girl now,” Wenning remarks. And he’s kind of right. The average American today weighs about 30 pounds more than they did half a century ago, which also means that what the average male used to weigh is now what the average female weighs.  

“Today, 300 pound people are everywhere,” Matt says, he himself weighing in around 300 pounds. “That’s a big problem when you’re dealing with an average strength [firefighter] with a deadlift under 200 pounds.”

So the problem is quite simple: injuries can occur when firefighters aren’t strong enough to do their job. It follows then that the solution is quite simple too: firefighters need to be stronger. And Wenning’s data supports this. He assures me that he is one of the first people in the country to have long-term data of this kind that suggests that getting stronger decreases injury rates in the special forces. Because of the rarity of this data, Wenning has been invited to speak about his work all around the globe.

“A lot of people don’t know that we’re doing some groundbreaking work here in central Ohio,” Wenning notes.

He is now in charge of 500 firefighters’ strength training programs across Columbus and continues to help these local departments lower their injury rates and health expenses. Wenning also advises for the Seattle and Los Angeles Fire Departments, as well as a few sports teams including the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers.

So what is it about his coaching that makes him so successful?

He practices what he preaches. Wenning’s methodology is based on the style of training that has allowed him to last 25 years in a sport that a lot of people burn out of in just a few years. The key component to his training philosophy is an understanding of compression versus traction (or decompression) movements. Since most everything a firefighter does in their daily life is compressive, Wenning selects mostly traction-based movements to get them stronger. For instance, instead of barbell squats which compress the spine, Wenning has the firefighters use a belt squat machine, which pulls you down by the hips.

“So I basically take the philosophy that has let me last 25 years in powerlifting, and apply it at a lower level to the fire departments, and it creates this perfect scenario,” Wenning says with a smile.

When he isn’t coaching firefighters and military personnel, Wenning is coaching powerlifters and serious recreational lifters at his gym, Ludus Magnus, in Franklinton. Since a significant portion of his time is dedicated to working with special forces, his gym member base consists of people who can train around his irregular schedule. Ludus Magnus doesn’t even have a sign on the door– Wenning likes to remain off the beaten path. His gym is not the right fit for your average commercial gym client. Walk in on a normal day and you’ll probably encounter blaring music, lots of grunting, and the occasional bloody nose.

You come to this place and it’s time to work. It’s a strenuous environment,” Wenning explains. “I find that human growth is not comfortable– it’s painful, whether it be lifting or jobs or anything else. And I try to live my life that way. I used to travel two and a half hours every weekend to lift at Westside where I was the weakest guy at the time. That’s what made me what I am today. If I was just comfortable with being the strongest guy at the Lifetime Fitness or YMCA, how strong are you really?”

In the Experience Makers series, we highlight local professionals who are crafting meaningful interactions and building community through shared experiences. There is a national trend driving businesses to go beyond the simple transaction to create an experience around their products, or in some instances, the experience is their product. Today we talk to Amy Gillespie, founder and CEO of The Campfire Experience. The Campfire Experience is a local start-up that rents out vintage inspired teardrop campers and furnished bell tents for events and getaways. But The Campfire Experience goes beyond rentals– their driving mission is to empower people to connect with nature, with themselves, and with others. Find out how Amy and her team are inspiring exploration and cultivating local community in the digital age.

Tell us about the origin of The Campfire Experience. 

Back in early 2013 when I was newly pregnant, I was struggling with an identity crisis. Who was I? What else would I have to give up as I got older and became a mother? At about 6 months into my pregnancy, our favorite music festival, Nelsonville Music Festival (NMF), was coming up and we had decided to skip it. I was too uncomfortable and the thought of camping and laying on the ground was enough to keep me away. But on a Friday afternoon, I was scrolling through Facebook looking at all the the pictures friends were posting and couldn’t take it. NMF was a tradition that I loved. So I messaged my husband who was suffering from FOMO as well and we agreed to hightail it out of work and meet each other at home. By the time I got home, I saw him in the street stuffing our guest bedroom mattress into the back of his SUV. That man was on a mission. And I was in love!

Then we grabbed a bag of clothes, jumped in the car and took off! It was a perfect weekend. I slept comfortably had an incredible time at NMF and bonded with my friends around the campfire at night. It was then that I knew I had to create options for people like me. I wasn’t going to change who I was. I was going to create the life I wanted to live.

For me, the hurdle to going on our adventure that weekend was pregnancy. After that it was caring for a young child. In the future, my challenge may be an aging body and back issues (which is already happening!)– so I wanted to create something that could help me feel more comfortable and yet not miss out on the experiences I loved.

How do you collaborate with other Columbus small business?

As a local business ourselves, it’s important to us to partner locally. We worked with Clintonville Outfitters early on as our partner for our teardrop camper pick-up location. We wanted to be sure to share this amazing store with our campers who may not have had the chance to visit it yet. They always keep the highest quality items in stock and have their finger on the pulse with incredible innovations in outdoor gear. Additionally, we have had custom furniture pieces made for events by both Re:Work and A Carpenter’s Son. We’ve also collaborated with Yokel, a women-owned start-up focused on connecting the curious with the heart and soul of Columbus, on their bloggers brunch. They partnered with @Alicia.Wanders and @for_the_love_of_cbus to host a bloggers brunch last year to meet local women business owners and experience each one of their crafts, including Planthropy, Balanced Yoga, Darista Dips, Natter Doodles, and of course The Campfire Experience.

You’re amongst a growing number of brands that seek to empower and enable people to unplug from technology– but at the same time it’s vital for businesses like yours to be extremely active on social media.  How do you think we can achieve a good balance between unplugging and having our phones glued to our hands? 

This is such a great and important question. And it is tough. At the beginning of the year, when I was camping or at Campfire events, people told me I needed to pay more attention. At the same time, we all know content is king and I felt I needed to capture it as much as possible. I was completely off balance. For myself, I had to come to the realization that making time to truly unplug was meaningful and important and I had to learn to do it. However, I had to allow myself to work some of those times rather then enjoy them. Because for me, that’s what it is– work. Now, I mindfully allow myself a couple of hours at any event to capture as much as I can and be shamelessly attached to my phone. Then, I tell myself, that’s enough and just enjoy where you are right now. Letting myself just be fully immersed in technology and then completely shut off from it works best for me. It allowed me to stop feeling guilty.

I felt guilty if I wasn’t enjoying the moment and guilty when I was (and not working).  Now, I create rules for my technology and practice acceptance.

Additionally, we have a house rule to put away all forms of our technology by 10PM. They have to be out of our rooms so that we don’t feel compelled to “just check one thing real quick”.  That alone has been pretty incredible. It sounds crazy to say that – but I forgot what it was like to fall asleep to the hum of my own thoughts.

What are the Campfire Sessions?

So the Campfire Sessions were born out of my love for the combination of good music, good beer, and great people around a fire. At the time, I was obsessed with watching La Blogotheque online which captures incredible musicians in single-take, natural shots typically in Paris and usually in random places (alleys, elevators, buses). I thought how cool it would be to capture an intimate performance in unique locations here in Columbus. So I teamed up with Kevin McIntyre and his team at FWD Creative Content to turn this idea into a reality. It’s awesome because people get a taste of what we at The Campfire Experience can do and they can be part of a really unique experience much more affordably than if they hired us for a private party. It has been a great way to capture what we do and share it with a wider audience. Plus it has given us a chance to meet a lot of our Instagram followers face to face which is a treat!

What is your favorite thing about running The Campfire Experience and hosting the Campfire Sessions?

There are so MANY rewarding things about running The Campfire Experience and the Campfire Sessions. When I think about the Campfire Sessions, the collaboration and sense of community with the FWD team, the bands, and Rockmill Brewery (who has hosted most of the sessions) is humbling and inspiring. It keeps reaffirming this belief I have in the supportive nature of our local community.

And with both The Campfire Sessions and The Campfire Experience as a whole, the team and I get such a sense of purpose from seeing people’s faces light up with joy when they explore what we have created for them. We work REALLY hard and there is a lot of heavy lifting, spiders, and bruises but it is ALL worth it when we see our guests and campers having an incredible time. We see it on their faces and we have been lucky enough to hear directly from them how amazed they are. We work hard with a serious goal of helping people experience a childlike enthusiasm when they immerse themselves in the spaces we create. And witnessing that transformation from discerning adult to gleeful child-at-heart is the very best thing in the world.

“To have great ideas, you have to have different people in the room,” Creative Control Fest (CCF) co-founder Corey Favor tells us during a recent interview. “That’s what CCF is all about.”

Discussions of diversity have become the norm in many industries, with several large companies adopting diversity and inclusion training programs or staff dedicated exclusively to the cause. However, many professional spaces still remain quite homogeneous.

As young creative professionals, Favor and his co-founder Marshall Shorts Jr. attended numerous conferences where there were very few other people of color in attendance. It was this experience of “being in other spaces and not seeing anyone that looked like [them],” according to Favor, that inspired the duo to launch Creative Control Fest six years ago.

Creative Control Fest is an annual “confest” (conference + festival) aimed at fostering diversity and empowering creatives of color through workshops, networking, conversations, lectures, and more.

“It was important for us to contribute to the creative community, but also to be ourselves,” Favor explains.

In addition to offering community connections and resources for attendees, CCF is also about highlighting the creatives of color already working within these industries. There are companies that look to Favor and Shorts Jr., and the community they have built around CCF, when they’re trying to find talented creatives of color to hire.

CCF recently opened up a job board on their website, along with a blog and email newsletter, in the hopes of continuing to foster impact and create opportunities beyond the 3 day event.

“We can be that conduit,” Favor says emphatically. “We want to let people know that there are a lot of people out there that can diversify your team, so use us as a resource.”

Creative Control Fest 2017 is already underway, but most events are tonight and tomorrow (9/8-9/9). Check out the full schedule here. CCF is an inclusive space open to people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.  

Interested in the job board? You can post a job listing here, or browse listings here, after creating an account.

Our world is urbanizing at light speed. In 2016, an estimated 54.5% of the world population was living in urban areas. By 2030, that number is expected to exceed 60% and continue to grow– so how we develop and manage urban spaces now will determine how successful cities are in adapting to snowballing populations, climate change effects, and growing inequality.

Striking a balance between embracing change and honoring legacy is difficult. There is quite literally no way to do that and keep everyone happy. We can strive for a perfect equilibrium of social, economic, and environmental interests, but in our messy world, it’s unrealistic.

The most important thing that we can do, then, is to ensure that what we do do is done in an inclusive way. Sometimes that looks like participatory planning. Sometimes it looks like shifting power back down to grassroots level and allowing citizens to create their own solutions. It might even necessitate a widely embraced ethical framework around development, although that sounds a little lofty in a society obsessed with the bottom line.  

There is no playbook for this. There is no formula that developers and neighborhood activists can follow to co-create the Franklinton of the future. There is no gold standard city or neighborhood that is getting everything right. But, there are some examples that we can look to around the globe which may help us to think about development differently.

I spoke with Chad Rochkind of Human Scale Studio in Detroit, an internationally recognized urban strategy firm providing people-centric solutions to cities, neighborhoods, and businesses. Here’s what he had to say:

“The challenge is the narratives that are out there about cities right now–there’s either the press release from the developers which is like any development is good development, and then there’s the other side which is like any development is just awful and equals gentrification. And there isn’t another conversation happening of what is the development like that we want to see? What does socially generative development look like?”

So what does socially generative development look like? Let’s take a look at a few real life examples.

Via Verde, South Bronx, NYC
Mixed-income mixed-use development

Credit: Via Verde

A lot of cities, including New York, have tax exemption programs for developers who build 50/30/20 mixed income housing (50% market rate housing, 30% subsidized housing, 20% public housing). Via Verde one-ups this model with 151 low-income rental units and 71 middle-income co-op housing units.

Not only is Via Verde economically inclusive, but it’s also environmentally sustainable. Residents who rent and own in these LEED Gold Certified buildings must be educated about environmental impacts and participate in various facets of green living, such as specific recycling procedures and using green cleaning products. Additionally, Via Verde was designed to address community health issues, as the South Bronx population exhibits high rates of asthma and obesity. A rooftop vegetable garden and orchard, tended to almost entirely by residents, provides access to fresh produce and programming for childhood education about nutrition. The first floor of Via Verde is home to a 5,500 square foot health and wellness center operated by the Montefiore Medical Center and staffed by four full-time family medicine physicians and nurse practitioners.

Another area in which Via Verde excels is in community building– according to Rochkind, with most 50/30/20 or similar developments, developers usually try to provide some amenities specifically for the market-rate buyers and renters and then separate amenities for the people in the public housing. However, Via Verde was designed for social interaction– all residents are encouraged to commune at the community garden, in common areas, and at events organized by staff on site.

You’re probably thinking, wow, a project like this must’ve cost a lot more than a normal development… But it didn’t. Via Verde cost only about 10% more than a typical project of its size, and the majority of that 10% can be attributed to the cost of remediation of the brownfield site that Via Verde was built on.

Lessons learned:  Place-based design that addresses the local community’s greatest challenges can be both embraced by the community and successful in the market. When implemented intentionally, mixed income developments can yield successful, positive integration and interaction between residents of different income strata. Additionally, Via Verde demonstrates that affordable housing that also addresses health and sustainability can be financially feasible if you are creative with funding mechanisms (through a combination of grants, loans, tax credits, etc.).

Read Via Verde’s case study by the Urban Land Institute here.

Blackland Community Development Corporation, Austin, TX
Community Development Corporation

Credit: Blackland CDC

Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are non-profit organizations that aim to build community wealth through affordable housing, social services, and other forms of support for an underserved neighborhood. The most successful CDCs tend to have boards made up of entirely or almost entirely local residents– the board guides the decision making, with significant input from the surrounding community members.

Many CDCs fold for lack of funding and resourcefulness, or sell out and lose sight of their people-first orientation– but Blackland CDC is different. BCDC has been around for nearly 35 years. What started as a fight against UT’s impending annexation of much of Austin’s east side in the 1980’s has given way to a focus on preserving affordable housing. BCDC owns and operates 50 rental units in the Blackland neighborhood, serving low income families, people transitioning from homelessness, seniors, and people with disabilities.

The Board is entirely resident run and remains committed to development in the interests of the pre-existing neighborhood, even in the face of private development occurring around them. Per the BCDC website, “the nonprofit’s presence informs prospective buyers and realtors that the neighborhood will remain inclusive — that community characteristic attracts some new homebuyers and self-eliminates others.” One of their more recent endeavors is to provide learning opportunities for the newcomers in the neighborhood to understand and advocate for the need for affordable housing and diverse communities, which the CEO believes will be key.

Lessons learned: CDCs should lean heavily on their community’s assets and volunteer hours to ensure that they can stay true to their mission of community wealth building. Franklinton actually has a few CDCs, including the Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab (FUEL). FUEL does a nice job of coordinating and supporting meaningful community events, while also rehabbing houses in the Franklinton area for sale. It would be nice to see them make a bigger push towards providing more affordable housing, for both purchase and rental, especially that which caters to a diverse community, including a variety of income brackets, ages, abilities, and life stages.

Learn more about Blackland Community Development Corporation here.

Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s 20/20 Campaign for Fair Development
Community land trusts and job creation

The Baltimore Housing Roundtable is a coalition of individuals, non-profit developers, community associations, policy experts, and other stakeholders, with the mission to realize a Baltimore City where everyone has the right to affordable and accessible housing as well as equitable economic and community development.

BHR operates under the belief that, “the incoming tide of development can lift all boats only if it is principled and based on human rights values.” To work towards more principled development, the Roundtable advocates for policy, their largest undertaking being their 20/20 Vision for Development without Displacement. The 20/20 Vision calls on the city leaders to commit $20 million annually to creating permanently affordable housing, largely through community land trusts, and another $20 million annually to construction and development job creation that provides opportunity for those facing employment obstacles, such as the formerly incarcerated and the homeless.

Community land trusts (CLTs) are non-profit community-based organizations that steward land and ensure housing prices remain affordable. The CLT retains ownership of their parcels of land in perpetuity, while prospective homeowners buy their condo or house and enter into long-term renewable leases for the land under them (generally 99 years). When it comes time for the homeowner to sell, the resale price is based upon a predetermined formula that provides a reasonable rate of return on the investment while keeping the home’s price within reach for future low to middle income buyers. This innovative approach to community development provides a more stable housing market to low income residents and a bridge to the private market for first time buyers.

Lessons learned: If BHR can garner enough support to get Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to allocate the 20/20 funds, then they will become a prime example of how community stakeholders can band together to successfully advocate for policy. Policy should prioritize the creation of land trusts owned by the community, as well as complementary job creation policy that helps the local low-income community obtain and retain jobs that allow them to stay in place.

Read the Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s comprehensive report and 20/20 Vision here.

Veridian at County Farm, Washtenaw County, Michigan
Living Community

Recently, the Washtenaw County commissioners selected the cutting-edge plan for Veridian at County Farm to be developed on a plot of county owned land. Veridian’s proposal was largely inspired by the Living Community Challenge— a standard for development that integrates a mixed income community while also being environmentally generative. CEO of THRIVE, the firm behind the Veridian at County Farm proposal, hopes that this project will “shift the paradigm toward communities that are ecologically restorative, socially just, and culturally rich.”

Credit: Veridian at County Farm

Veridian is slated to offer 40% affordable housing units, 16% micro housing, 34% market-rate houses, and 10% cottage homes. Powered entirely by renewable solar energy, and potentially geothermal heating systems, the development aims to eliminate all energy bills for its residents. Rainwater harvesting and re-use will minimize water needs, passive house design will reduce energy use and ensure non-toxic construction materials are used, and edible landscaping will improve soil health and cultivate local food ecosystems.

Lessons learned: While a design like this will seem utopian to most, Veridian at County Farms demonstrates an integrated systems approach to solving our affordable housing, energy, food, water, and transportation challenges. These issues do not exist in silos and must be addressed as such. It does us no good to plop down affordable housing units if there are no supporting services and policies in place to ensure that the residents can stay employed, the community can stay healthy, and the environment can thrive and continue providing ecosystem services. Further development in Franklinton should take some notes from Veridian and the Living Community movement to design holistic solutions to our varied challenges.

 Read THRIVE’s proposal for Veridian at County Farm here.


So those are all great examples of what socially generative development may look like– but many would say that it’s too late for Franklinton. We understand that a lot of the deals in East Franklinton are done, and thus cannot be modeled after these projects. However, future development in the city and unfinished plans in other parts of Franklinton can and should learn from progressive solutions around the country.

One of the most notable things that Rochkind of Human Scale Studio left me with? It’s crucial that we understand what is and isn’t negotiable as pre-existing plans come to fruition. Check back in the coming weeks for more on this and other tactics that Franklinton stakeholders can implement to ensure that Franklinton is developed inclusively.


Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash


It’s a charged word. Often we have heated conversations around gentrification without first defining our terms. This can lead to knee jerk reactions and idea entrenchment. What does “gentrification” even mean?

In 2014, The American Futures Project, a documentary series about resilient American communities coordinated by The Atlantic, published a video about development in Franklinton titled “Gentrification ‘without the negative’ in Columbus, Ohio.” It left some people scratching their heads, thinking isn’t the defining characteristic of gentrification that it is inevitably negative for the portion of the population that gets displaced?

Most of us probably think of gentrification in a simplistic way– the process by which a neighborhood evolves from a low income minority neighborhood to a high-income predominantly-white neighborhood. You’ve heard this story before: bohemian artists and gay people move into a blighted, low-income neighborhood and over time they improve the desirability of the area, causing wealthy people to start frequenting the area and then developers take notice… Voila, a return to investment in the neighborhood leads to rising housing costs that price out the legacy, lower-income residents.  

But it turns out that there isn’t really a singular definition of gentrification. Rather, people use it loosely as an umbrella term to refer to a combination of processes and events that may take place as a neighborhood undergoes change by way of development.

Some define gentrification as rising property values that will inevitably price people out of the area. Another phenomenon commonly associated with the term is the removal of public housing– leading to deceptive eviction of low income residents in order to make way for new high-end apartment complexes. And frequently people believe that gentrification is signaled by improvements to amenities and services–usually things like juice bars, coffee shops, and other businesses associated with yuppies and hipsters– that change the culture and character of the neighborhood.

With those sorts of definitions, it’s no wonder that the G word has drummed up such a negative connotation. But according to several studies, what most people think of as gentrification, well…. doesn’t really exist.

At least not on the scale that we’ve been led to believe, and it doesn’t have as many negative effects as is commonly thought. 

In the past decade or so, an increasing number of social scientist researchers have come to this conclusion. It turns out that in several cities and neighborhoods, the low-income residents of “gentrifying” neighborhoods were actually less likely to move out (i.e. be displaced) than their counterparts in non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Not what you’d expect, right? Me neither.

One of these studies was co-authored by Columbia urban-planning professor Lance Freeman and economist Frank Braconi. While their work acknowledges the potential negatives of gentrification– things like declining housing affordability and conflicts between long-time residents and newcomers– Freeman and Braconi ultimately conclude that “gentrification brings new amenities and services that benefit not only the newcomers but long term residents too”. And they’ve found that many long term residents are able to stay. Based on city survey data from the 1990s in New York City, Freeman and Braconi found that in the 7 “gentrifying” neighborhoods, low-income households were “19% less likely to move than poor households residing elsewhere.” In Freeman’s own book “There Goes the Hood,” he admits that to his surprise he has been unable to find solid evidence that gentrification causes displacement.

New Yorker contributor Kelefa Sanneh discusses another interesting perspective in the article “Is Gentrification Really a Problem?” Sanneh cites a few studies indicating that people of color benefit from moving away from traditionally low-income neighborhoods, including one by Deirdre Pfeiffer that suggests that racial minorities experience more equitable neighborhood conditions in the suburbs relative to central cities. These findings lead Sanneh to propose “the call to save a neighborhood is most compelling when it serves as a call to help a neighborhood’s neediest inhabitants. That might mean helping them stay. But it might also mean helping them leave.”

I’m not going to wax on any longer about how gentrification might not be as bad as we think, so if you want to read some of these studies yourself and make up your own mind, you can find a few of them linked above, or here, here, and here.

Don’t mistake this as an endorsement of gentrification. Throughout my study of Sustainable Development, I spent several years experiencing mounting anxiety over all of the challenges we face to build socially, environmentally, and economically equitable communities. So I’m in no way endorsing any sort of development that has the potential to perpetuate inequity– instead, I’m trying to show that gentrification is not as simple and one sided as you may think.

More importantly, I’m arguing for more nuanced discussions of neighborhood change, development, and displacement.

When we talk about Franklinton, or any neighborhood for that matter, let’s not be so quick to drop the G-bomb. If you’re concerned about the risk of displacement, talk about displacement. If you’re advocating for more accessible health services and reliable public transit, then talk about those issues by name. If you’re worried about what the influx of artists and entrepreneurs to the neighborhood would mean for your legacy business, say just that. But don’t reach for the vague and polarizing term “gentrification.”

If we’re going to solve our problems as a city, we need to define our terms, identify the root issues at hand, and all get on the same page.

Let’s start by retiring the G word and saying what we really mean.