In the past several years, the Columbus Southside neighborhood has experienced tremendous growth and reinvestment. Yet, for many years prior, the neighborhood was one with high rates of infant mortality and unemployment, where there were limited opportunities for residents.
As redevelopment of the neighborhood began, several community leaders, most notably Rev. John Edgar, called on the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Moritz College of Law to help ensure that the redevelopment was equitable, said Kip Holley, a research associate from the institute who worked on the project. The institute received a grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement in 2014.
“They were concerned that people who have lived there a long time but may not make a lot of money, may be pushed out and they didn’t want that to happen,” Holley said. “They wanted to preserve the diversity and culture of the Southside.”
After meeting with hundreds of residents, the institute made a list of four areas that needed to be examined: housing, social capital — meaning relationships and trust — a neighborhood leadership program, and “third places” — meaning community places that are not home or work, Holley said.
The institute focused on what are considered opportunities to succeed, such as good housing, healthy food and quality schools, he said. Holley said the group worked to ensure that all people, regardless of income, had access to these opportunities.
Jillian Olinger, a research associate at the Kirwan Institute, said the housing strategic plan, developed along with community partners, identified different principles about finding the right balance of housing for all people and obtained preliminary commitments for putting those principles into action.
The seven-month process for creating the housing plan concluded in September. The institute acted as a data provider and also engaged with the community to gather information. The plan has seven goals, which include developing more affordable housing and providing residents with a path to homeownership.
The leadership academy was the result of a partnership between the institute and United Way, which already had a broader leadership program in place for central Ohio. The academy, which graduated its first class in November, focused more on the situation in the Southside, Olinger said.
The Kirwan Institute helped plan the curriculum of the academy, which includes lectures by community leaders, as well as collaborative projects for student leaders at the academy. Several projects developed at the leadership academy are now being implemented in the community, Holley said.
Olinger said the coalition that works in the Southside initially began when Edgar, who had seen work the institute had done about neighborhood building, reached out to the institute. As work began, the group grew to also include organizations like Nationwide Children’s Hospital and United Way.
The institute made an effort to engage with as many voices in the community as possible, and met with young mothers, civic associations and high school students. Olinger said in order to get input from everyone, the institute tried to reach out to residents in their day-to-day lives instead of asking residents to participate in a traditional forum. This kept the engagement less top-down and more organic, Olinger said.
“We didn’t want to be viewed as coming in and imposing an idea and we didn’t want to be replicating efforts,” Olinger said. “We wanted to be a value-add. There are a lot of organizations already doing projects — how can we assist and add to them?”
Holley said the university and the institute benefited most from the wealth of new information learned. The institute evolved from an organization that provided data and information to one that could partner with members of the community, he said. This forced the institute researchers to be more flexible about timelines and to visit new places and try new things.
“We learned about how to engage with diverse communities in an authentic way, in order to partner with them for different types of projects,” Holley said.
This knowledge can be shared with other OSU organizations, such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Holley said. A lot of different members of the university partner with the community, and the lessons of how to engage can be powerful for the campus at large, he said. The institute learned how to examine a community outside of traditional assets, such as relationship building and informal leadership.
Holley said in addition to the leadership academy and housing plan, the community also benefits from a more prolific sense of pride in the community. Opportunity for ownership over the larger process of community development is also a benefit to the community, Olinger said.
“Now people are able to begin to coalesce around a vision of the greater Southside,” Olinger said. “What is it that we value as a community and how do we want to move forward together.”
Olinger said oftentimes community development plans are not successful because they focus too much on physical assets and economic development and neglect things like social capital and engagement. All of the initial goals, which were developed when the project began in 2014, have come to fruition, Olinger said.
“All of the different plans and activities and investments really have a greater chance of taking root and growing because there is community buy in — there’s a commitment,” she said. “And we have an example where we can say it works.”
The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between The Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.