Preserving Diversity in the Southside Revitalization

By Melinda Cassidy
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern

Map of Columbus' SouthsideIn neighborhoods of steep economic and racial diversity, such as Columbus’ Southside, divides between the wealthy and impoverished can cause certain demographics to get pushed elsewhere during times of revitalization.

With the City of Columbus and Nationwide Children’s Hospital putting forth efforts to restore dilapidated areas of the Southside to their former glory, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State has partnered alongside them to help preserve the treasured diversity that the Southside has cultivated.

Bordered by I-70 to the north, Route 104 to the south, Alum Creek to the east and the Scioto River to the west, Columbus’ Southside is home to one of the most economically and racially diverse populations in the city. According to data from the Kirwan Institute, the neighborhood is 50 percent black, 42 percent white and half of the total population is younger than 34 years old. Home values can range from about $20,000 to nearly $1 million.

With gentrification occurring during the renaissance of areas such as the Short North, Jason Reece, director of research at the Kirwan Institute, is hoping to avoid the same in the Southside with an approach focused on building “bridging” social capital. (Bridging social capital is a type of social capital which develops between individuals who have very different backgrounds, and can be a unifying relationship to link people from different classes, races or ethnicity.)

“It’s all about building a sustainable community where all those folks have a place in that neighborhood, and can work together in a way that improves outcomes for everybody,” he said. “People really value the diversity of the neighborhood and that gives us a lot of hope that we can preserve that.”

After receiving a 2014 Engagement Impact Grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement this past spring, Reece and his colleagues were able to get the ball rolling and teamed with Community Development for All People, a nonprofit community development corporation in the Southside, to come up with a few different ways to bridge social capital.

One method is through children’s programming – activities for which kids and their parents can gather and mingle, since “children’s activities are common concerns.”

Along with this, the collaboration is also working to implement “third places” – spaces where rich and poor alike can gather and communicate on a level playing field.

“Those are places in the community that people come together and interact on a regular basis – a neighborhood diner, a park, a particular school,” Reece said. “To support those spaces … all of this is building off the diversity of the neighborhood. It’s unusual to find a community that’s as diverse as the Southside.”

One such third place is “Bikes for All People,” located at 934 Parsons Ave., a program based around bicycle building, repair and maintenance. Through “Bikes for All People,” community members can meet and build solidarity.

But it provides even greater opportunity to a particular group of Southside residents who attend – 35 at-risk African American boys, ages 10 to 14, who are also participating in another Community Development for All People and Kirwan Institute program titled “More Than My Brother’s Keeper.”

Designed to provide around-the-clock engagement, learning and mentorship, “More Than My Brother’s Keeper” officially started in September and will run until December 2015. The program is supported by Franklin County Jobs and Family Services and emerged from the Community Development for All People and Kirwan Institute partnership. The boys involved will be able to connect to resources and be exposed to higher education through visits to Ohio State’s campus.

Reece said he and his partners hope to have a framework by spring for translating the collaboration’s ideas into actions that will aid the community.

“It’ll be a great experience as we all work together toward this goal in keeping the area a place of opportunity while maintaining that character that makes the Southside, the Southside,” he said. “It’s nice to be in a neighborhood that, despite some of the problems, there’s a lot of people who have hope. We feel very privileged to be a part of that.”

Contact: Jason Reece, reece.35@osu.edu