Kwodwo Ababio owns the New Harvest Urban Arts Center on Cleveland Avenue in Linden. In the lot next door, he shows off their garden.
“Well, these are our raised beds, you can see where people have stolen a lot of the collard greens,” he says, laughing. “But they didn’t steal them. You know, we want them to eat.”
While Columbus grows, areas like Linden are stagnating or even regressing. City leaders are hoping they can reverse the trend by focusing public and private resources on the neighborhood.
The city's "One Linden" plan promises housing, infrastructure improvements and maybe even a grocery store. But officials will have to overcome skepticism after similar efforts in the past have fallen short.
Details are still slim, but part of the One Linden plan would help grow businesses along the Cleveland Avenue corridor. Ababio says that would make sense, given its history.
“They had a hardware store around the corner,” he says, pointing out toward the street. “A five-and-dime on this location, you know, and so this would be the appropriate place to make that happen. Make this the business district right down here in the heart of what’s happening down in Linden.”
At a Columbus Metropolitan Club lunch, Ohio State University urban planner Jason Reece showed a slide of a storefront with graffiti along the side wall and cracked sidewalks out front. He asked where the photo was taken.
“Linden, I heard Linden,” Reece said, looking around the room. “What if I told you that was the Short North, 30-some years ago?”
Reese changed slides to a picture from present day: The store front is a modern looking building with floor to ceiling walls of glass.
“What I’m going to suggest to you is that neighborhoods that are about to go through transformation, most of us don’t see it,” Reece says. “We have the bias of now.”
Carla Williams-Scott, who heads the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, acknowledges that many in that area have seen big plans fall flat in the past. So her department is focusing on efforts that can yield results in the short term—sort of a proof of concept to help maintain community involvement.
She says one opportunity is housing, after major declines in neighborhood population.
“Upwards of high 20, low 30,000s in 1960, to about 18,000 now,” she says. “And so there’s actually room for growth in Linden with the current housing stock that we have.”
The city, as it does for many initiatives, is trying to bring together private groups to bolster its efforts. Williams-Scott says Habitat for Humanity is already pitching in.
“They’re working on new builds and renovations,” Williams-Scott explains, “and some of those houses will be coming online within the next few years because they’ve already started that process.”
Still, the neighborhood lacks a key element: a grocery store. Kroger pulled out of the Northern Lights shopping center on Linden’s Northside last winter, leaving the neighborhood without a reliable source for fresh fruit and vegetables.
Mayor Andrew Ginther admits a traditional big box grocery store might not work.
“But I think there is a market, and the research plays this out, that we believe that a smaller market, fresh fruits and vegetables and some of the other items that you might find in a smaller market store might be best located in South Linden,” Ginther says.
He says if the local population rebounds the area might prove more attractive to larger grocery stores..
Ababio has his doubts about the broader plan, but he says having it down on paper is a good sign. He hopes "One Linden" will serve as an idea the community can rally behind.