Matthew Martin will relay lessons from distant and recent history in community discussion titled 'Weinland Park: Revitalization without Gentrification' at Green Lawn Cemetery on Saturday

When Matthew Martin moved to Weinland Park in 2009, he did so for the neighborhood’s affordability, its economic and racial diversity, and the proximity to work and to church. At the time, he didn’t know much about the history of the neighborhood.

But after the move he began researching previous owners of his home and the other houses on the street to get a sense of who was living in the area when Weinland Park was first developed as a suburb of Downtown around the turn of the 20th century.

Some residents who worked Downtown commuted to Weinland Park via streetcar, while others worked at nearby factories along the railroad tracks (Columbus Coated Fabrics, Timken). “The first guy who owned my house was a drafter. He worked at a print shop Downtown on Gay Street. There were plumbers who lived on our street,” said Martin, community research and grants management officer at the Columbus Foundation. “You would have seen a combination of tradesmen and people working in the manufacturing plants, so it always has had this history of working-class residents.”

In recent times, Weinland Park has made news as the home base of the Short North Posse, but to reduce the neighborhood’s history to its connection to a once-powerful gang is to overlook the area’s rich past and the lessons it can provide for future development in Columbus. “We tend to think of a certain era, decade or generation in a neighborhood as its defining era, and yet neighborhoods across the city have changed and changed again since the 1800s. That history is important to understand,” Martin said. “Weinland Park is one of the best examples that we have in our city of trying to revitalize a place equitably and inclusively.”

To that end, Martin will lead a discussion titled “Weinland Park: Revitalization without Gentrification” at Green Lawn Cemetery on Saturday, Feb. 1. “The more we can have nuanced conversations about things like gentrification and neighborhood change, the more effective we can be at making sure everybody has a seat at the table,” Martin said.

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In order to understand the ways in which Weinland Park has avoided some of the development pitfalls that other gentrifying areas of Columbus are experiencing, Martin will trace how the neighborhood has changed over the years. At its peak in the 1950s, Weinland Park boasted around 9,000 people, but as the city grew and more people moved further out to the suburbs, the population declined to around 3,000 in the early 2000s. Many of the nearby manufacturing facilities also were shuttered, leaving a dearth of easily accessible jobs for Weinland Park residents.

“The neighborhood was characterized in the ’90s and 2000s as a really depressed, crime-ridden neighborhood, and a lot of that had to do with people — the tax base — moving out. It was white flight,” said Martin, who previously worked at Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute. “The black population of Weinland Park has actually stayed pretty steady — around 1,000 to 1,500 people — since the 1940s and ’50s, but it became proportionally much greater because of white flight.”

In the last 20 years, Ohio State began taking more notice of and responsibility for the condition of Weinland Park, Martin said. A civic association formed in 2003, and a few years later, funders such as the Columbus Foundation, United Way, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing and others got involved. When that array of partners focused on Weinland Park, they did something that proved crucial to the neighborhood’s future: Before market-rate development came in, they worked to shore up and preserve the affordability of Weinland Park.

“In neighborhoods that have seen a lot of disinvestment and are depressed economically, it seems counterintuitive to invest in affordable housing, because you're like, ‘Well, in this neighborhood, it's all affordable,’” Martin said. “But if you wait to do that until the market is engaged and kicked in, then it becomes too expensive. And I think that's one of the big challenges you see in Franklinton right now.”

While early preservation of affordable housing is a primary and replicable reason for Weinland Park’s retention of economically diverse residents, other factors have played a role, too. For one, several funders were at the table, not just one, and they prioritized civic engagement, getting residents involved in the process, Martin said.

Second, Weinland Park has a variety of housing stock, with more than 90 percent rentals. Plus, the investments came at a good time. Federal and state money was available through HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) and the Clean Ohio Fund. “Those dollars aren’t around anymore,” Martin said.

And even though the preservation of affordable housing in areas of disinvestment can help to stave off displacement, Martin acknowledged there’s no magic formula to solve complex problems involving concentrated poverty on one end and gentrification on the other.

“Both are such tough issues. Concentrated poverty happened throughout the 20th century through policies like redlining and racial covenants. We can look back at a lot of those inequitable policies and lament the impact that they had. We can lament things like white flight that happened through blockbusting and other practices in the real estate market,” he said. “And at the same time, we can look at how neighborhoods inequitably gentrified, and we can see the injustices in that, too. And somewhere in between those two — or maybe completely outside of those two — is a kind of economic and racial integration that we should really be aiming for, so that no neighborhood in our city has the burden of housing all of our city's poor or has the racialized inequity of poverty that we've seen throughout the last century.”