With a little imagination, we can envision Columbus' future
By Theodore Decker The Columbus Dispatch
The future of any big city is heralded, paradoxically perhaps, by the backup beep.
That monotone declaration that construction equipment is moving in reverse blares from all corners of Columbus. Hear it for yourself. Drive this city with your windows down and tune your ear.
You might hear the beeps at E. 5th and Cleveland avenues, where Rogue Fitness is wrapping up construction on a $36.5 million, 600,000-square-foot manufacturing center on the site of the Timken bearings factory that was shuttered in 2001.
The beeps sound at what used to be Poindexter Village on the Near East Side and Riverside Bradley in Franklinton, two public-housing projects that have fallen almost entirely to the wrecking ball and are destined for redevelopment.
You'll hear the beeps along North High and East Main, on the Northwest Side and down Groveport way.
Last year they sounded at South Side Settlement Heritage Park, a greenspace constructed on the former site of the venerable South Side Settlement House, a neighborhood institution for more than a century that closed in 2011 and was demolished two years later.
On a warm afternoon this spring, Christina Simmons sat on a park bench there and watched as her 5-year-old daughter, Kaitlynn, clambered around the jungle gym with a classmate of hers from the South Side Learning & Development Center.
The park, Simmons said, was welcome proof that her neighborhood, and Columbus, were on the move. But where will we be in 20 years? What are we moving toward?
Starting with this section today and continuing each month through December, The Dispatch is taking an in-depth look through its lens and those of central Ohio's people in an effort to figure that out. We're asking the experts and the Everyman what our future might hold.
Let's hope, at least, that Hollywood has it wrong.
We never see future Columbus in "Zombieland," a dystopian horror comedy released in 2009 that is set in a zombie apocalypse. Based on the dialogue, that is probably a good thing. We learn of our fate when Jesse Eisenberg interrupts a silent car ride to ask a testy, wandering Emma Stone if she's passed through his hometown.
"I've actually been meaning to ask you," he says. "Did you hear anything about Columbus, Ohio?"
"You've heard of the quiet game?" Stone asks, angry that he's broken the silence. "No? Well, they're playing it in Columbus, Ohio. It's a total ghost town, burned to the ground."
We should fare slightly better in "Ready Player One," a Spielberg film due out next year. In the novel by Ernest Cline, the company that created a virtual-reality universe infinitely better than humankind's bleak reality was based right here in Columbus.
That Spielberg decided to film the Columbus scenes amid the industrial grit of Birmingham, England, doesn't bode well for our egos. But in the book at least, we're graced with the world's fastest Internet connections.
If Columbus is not to become Hollywood's dystopia, neither can we declare it utopia.
On that same spring afternoon filled with backup beeps, a homeless man slept in the sun on the steps of St. John's Cathedral on E. Broad and another on a bench in front of Trinity Episcopal Church at S. Third and Broad. There is poverty, inequality and too much violence. The challenges are as obvious as the elderly man pushing a shopping cart full of scrap metal, and the rusting bulk of the closed Columbus Castings foundry on Parsons Avenue.
A short walk from the foundry on her bench in the park, Simmons believes the city is on the right track.
"We're definitely growing," she said.
She remembers how much worse it was for her in the 1990s, when dealers dealt dope in front of her house and the Fifth Street Gang kept her and her neighbors indoors.
"Just to sit on the front porch was like, 'Oh no,'" she said. "I've seen it from bad to better."
What does better still look like? Affordable mass transit? A visionary school system? One percent unemployment and continued wage gains? The Blue Jackets holding aloft a Stanley Cup?
It's impossible for the adults to say, not with any certainty. But 5-year-old Kaitlynn and her classmate, who have climbed atop another bench, now offer a way forward.
They strain to peer into one of the still-glossy trash cans that have been placed around the park.
To the grown-ups, this is folly. Kids. It's a trash can.
Not so to Kaitlynn and her classmate. They are distracted from their efforts only by the passing wail of sirens on Parsons Avenue. Then they resume craning their necks, desperate to see inside the can.
They look together, with perseverance and curiosity and imagination.
It is dark in there. Who knows what it may hold?