A lesson in revitalization
The historic Near East Side of Columbus is making a comeback, writes Trudy Bartley, executive director of PACT, an organization devoted to creating a healthy, sustainable community.
Everyone loves a good comeback story. The classic narrative of resilience, endurance and victory is something we can all relate to and root for — and it's what’s happening right now on Columbus's Near East Side. I can tell you from firsthand experience, the one thing more inspiring and exciting than hearing that comeback story is actually being a part of it as it happens.
Evolution of the Near East Side
For me, growing up on the Near East Side — a historic neighborhood near downtown Columbus — meant waking up in the fall to the sounds of the East High Marching Band, learning to play tennis at Beatty Park and then playing for the Columbus School for Girls, where I was a student. Franklin Park was my backyard and I remember my father picking me up from school and driving down the bustling commerce scene that was Mount Vernon Avenue.
So much of my youth has been crystallized in a time when the neighborhood was a thriving community. At its peak, the Near East Side had a vibrant arts and culture scene; the community was ripe with opportunities for growth; and families flourished under the neighborhood’s teeming economic wealth.
However, the construction of the interstate highways in the 1960s essentially separated the neighborhood from downtown Columbus. Families began to feel disconnected from the city and, for the first time in decades, business in the neighborhood began to struggle.
I was young, but old enough to understand what was happening to our community. Once the Fair Housing Act was in effect, some families left to pursue other housing opportunities. Like many inner-city neighborhoods across the country, the area gradually fell into decades-long decline due to a variety of external factors that followed after the new highway construction, such as poverty, drugs and crime.
Partners in transformation
The comeback story began in 2010, when The Ohio State University, the city of Columbus and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority struck a partnership with the goal of developing a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood.
Through this partnership, Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT) was created to revitalize the Near East Side into a healthy neighborhood of choice. Now an independent nonprofit organization, PACT is spearheading groundbreaking initiatives that will address the vital needs of the community and set it on a path for a strong revitalization.
Ohio State’s partnership with PACT, in particular, aligns well with the university’s land-grant mission of teaching, research and the commitment to public service. Through its partnership with PACT, the university has become one of Columbus’s strongest supporters, working to develop innovative initiatives to tackle some of the community’s most pressing issues.
Expanding the educational landscape
Understanding that innovative schools are the nucleus of a thriving community, PACT has partnered with Columbus City Schools, the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and the university’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences to create the Health Sciences Academies.
Designed for grades pre-K and K-12, the Health Sciences Academies provide students with a high-quality educational experience that weds the Common Core Curriculum with a health sciences-themed approach. Students enrolled in academies will engage in exploratory experiments and experience hands-on learning led by experts at the Wexner Medical Center and other local health sciences employers.
PACT is also in the early implementation phase of several other key projects and initiatives.
For example, the nonprofit is working with Celebrate One — the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force — to disrupt the pattern of infant mortality. PACT also has convened a working group to create solutions for the neighborhood’s lack of access to fresh and nutritious food. And the organization is working to expose neighborhood children to more diverse learning experiences. On June 3, students from the Near East Side will experience the PGA Tour firsthand through Junior Golf Day at the Memorial Tournament.
I love the Near East Side, and PACT is actively listening to and working with its residents to reinstate an authentic sense of community. Being able to do this for one of Columbus’s oldest neighborhoods is both professionally rewarding and personally touching. I feel like everything I’ve done in my career thus far has been preparing me for this opportunity, and I couldn't be more excited.