In America, the formation of some of the very poorest parts of the cities, or “ghettos” as they are sometimes called, are inexorably linked to the formation of the freeways, the creation of the suburbs and the forced importance of automobiles. When the wealthy whites left, their money went with them. Gridlocked by the freeway, working class neighborhoods were conceived principally as obstructions to the flow of traffic.
German Village, then called the south end, was one such working class neighborhood, which by the late 1950's had badly deteriorated. An Interstate highway had been cut across its northern edge, furthering its decline. Like a giant knife, it sliced off a third of the old neighborhood, isolating it from downtown Columbus. 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. The area became a designated National Landmark, but also a city-designated historic district.
Today, it is one of Columbus's major attractions, with house and garden tours attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. This tidy piece of “Americana”, painstakingly restored and saved from the wrecking ball and urban renewal, is a testament to the dogged determination of a group of pioneering outsiders who saw value in a neighborhood—originally built by enterprising immigrants in the 19th century—that others had overlooked and discarded.
Village Lights, December 2nd 5-9pm.