Sep 26, 2022 - News

Mapping out our "ghost neighborhoods"

A 3D rendering of former Columbus neighborhoods overlaid on top of modern highway locations.

A 3D rendering of past Hanford Village buildings overlaid on present-day Route 70. Courtesy of OSU Center for Urban and Regional Analysis

What did Columbus look like before highway construction divided and destroyed neighborhoods across the city?

  • An OSU research team is hard at work trying to piece them back together, business by business, home by home.

Why it matters: The Ghost Neighborhoods of Columbus project can offer both insight on the past and a lesson for more responsible development practices as the city continues growing.

What they're doing: The university's Center for Urban and Regional Analysis is fusing modern technology with old-fashioned research methods to digitally recreate once-vibrant communities.

  • Students use hand-drawn fire insurance maps dating back to the 1800s to get an accurate sense of how each block was once laid out.
  • Old photographs and land parcel data are helping to fill in any missing pieces.

What they're saying: “Our ultimate goal would be to come up with 3D visualizations that are realistic enough to give people a visceral feeling of what those neighborhoods were like,” Harvey Miller, a geography professor and the project's director, said in a news release.

A 1956 news clipping with the headline, "Ohio leads nation in highway construction."
From the Aug. 26, 1956, edition of the Coshocton Democrat, via Newspapers.com

State of play: The choices made by highway planners in the mid-20th century are still evident on today's map.

  • In the latter case, the highway displaced residents, split the neighborhood in two and cut it off from downtown — the resulting economic ramifications are still felt today.
  • Flytown, a melting pot community near the modern-day Arena District, was decimated by Route 315 construction that forced its residents to relocate.

Meanwhile, highway construction avoided white-majority neighborhoods such as Bexley.

Separately, the research team hopes to map out Franklinton as it looked before a devastating 1913 flood.

Worthy of your time: The Columbus Dispatch's 2020 feature "How highways destroyed Black neighborhoods in the '60s, as told by elders who were there."

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