In America, the formation of some of the poorest parts of the cities are inexorably linked to the formation of the freeways, the creation of the suburbs and the forced importance of automobiles in the post-World War II era. When the white middle class left in droves for the suburbs, their money went with them, shifting the tax base away from the city. The roads served to transport suburbanites to their city jobs. Gridlocked by the freeway, working class neighborhoods were conceived principally as obstructions to the flow of traffic.
Each of these communities contained something less tangible – neighbourhoods like these are ecosystems. They incubate communities and cultures that do not and could not exist elsewhere. German Village, then called the south end, was one such working class neighborhood, which by the late 1950's had become badly deteriorated. Like a giant knife, the Interstate sliced off a third of the old neighborhood, isolating it from downtown Columbus. Bisected, what remained of the community quickly fell into decline. The city designated the area blighted, and it was scheduled for demolition and urban renewal.
Then along came Frank Fetch, a former city parks commissioner, who is credited with spearheading the revitalization of the neighborhood. In 1960, the German Village Society was formed with the sole purpose of saving the community. The original founders of the society were mostly gay men who worked to repair their own brick streets, formed business associations, and had a vision of what could happen within 20 years.
This tidy piece of “Americana”, painstakingly restored and saved from urban renewal, is a testament to the dogged determination of a group of individuals who saw value in a neighborhood—originally built by enterprising immigrants in the 19th century—that nearly got lost to the wrecking ball of history.
Today it’s one of the premier historic districts in the country and a highly desirable neighbourhood, although integrated it is not. In the same way “white flight” defined the auto-obsessed post-war exodus of white families from American cities, now affluent “empty nesters” are flocking back to German Village for its walkability and sense of community.
Village Lights, December 2nd 5-9pm.