How the city and surrounding areas manage the population boom will be key to a maintaining a healthy Columbus
When I moved back to Columbus last year, I knew I wanted to live in the city. I got a 450-square-foot apartment in the Brewery District, bought a CoGo Annual Membership and started collecting dollar bills so I could take the bus when I needed to. The city had changed a lot in the five years since I moved away, and I wanted to experience it as much as I could.
Turns out I'm not alone. One of the big stories of the early 2010s was the “return of the city.” For the first time in decades, urban counties across the country were outpacing suburban counties in population growth.
While this trend is largely reversing nationwide, Franklin County's growth continues to outpace that of its suburban neighbors. According to census bureau data out last month, Franklin County added more than 27,000 new residents last year, for a total annual growth rate of 2.2 percent. That's a 50 percent faster growth rate than the average of its neighboring suburban counties, and a faster rate than every one of those counties besides Union County, which grew by 2.3 percent.
While “new urbanist” millennials such as myself like to trumpet the benefits of city life over suburban life, a healthy metropolitan area has a good mix of both options. Mid-20th century economist Charles Tiebout famously argued that diverse local jurisdictions allow for people to self-select into neighborhoods that fit their needs for public goods. While families may opt for neighborhoods with high school spending, younger people may opt for neighborhoods with parks and older people may opt for neighborhoods with strong senior centers.
Columbus has been able to avoid some of the central city challenges of more suburb-dominated metropolitan areas like St. Louis and Detroit, partly because it has aggressively expanded its borders to keep its tax base inside city limits. At the same time, Columbus has vibrant inner-ring suburbs such as Bexley, Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington, and strong outer-ring suburbs such as Grove City, Delaware and Westerville that give families different options for schools and city amenities.
As the metropolitan area continues to grow, city, county and suburban leaders are facing new challenges around land use, financing of local amenities and the relationship between the city of Columbus and its suburbs. While Columbus can continue to annex unincorporated land, the cost of maintaining more roads and other city infrastructure is likely to put additional strain on city finances.
The Planning Department has taken the lead in addressing this problem by prioritizing infill development. Another way the metro area could manage its growth would be to follow the lead of the Twin Cities tax-base sharing program. This innovative program pools new tax revenue from fast-growing local jurisdictions in a shared fund that is used for redeveloping struggling cities and neighborhoods in the metro area.
It is vital that Columbus and its suburbs are intentional and cooperative in managing metropolitan growth over the next 30 years.