Tim Fulton  00:09

Welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host, Tim Fulton. This week, we’re exploring the evolution of downtown with Michael Brown. He has been a cornerstone in the city’s development planning and worked both in and outside city government cheer on its growth. Columbus underground editor Walker, Evans and Mike delve into the city’s challenges and triumphs. The synergy between projects, the balance between iconic and neighborhood level public art investments, and the concerted efforts to address systemic issues like homelessness and affordable housing. Through anecdotes and insights, they highlight Columbus as young creative energy and the dynamic urban policies that continue to drive its growth. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Enjoy the interview.

Walker Evans  01:16

Sitting down here today with Mike Brown. Mike, thanks for joining us. Good afternoon, Walker.

Michael Brown  01:22

It’s always good to see both of you out and about. Yes, yeah.

Walker Evans  01:26

So Mike, you are the chief of staff for city council president Shannon Hardin known you for a very long time, though. Probably 20 ish, something years,

Michael Brown  01:35

we’re pushing, right. 22 at

Walker Evans  01:37

least Yeah, yeah. And I guess just to kind of kick things off, you know, I stumbled upon an old interview that we did, and I looked at the date on it, and it was 2010. And it was a lot of fun. We’ll link to it in the notes on this. But it’s fun to go back and read the conversation we’re having 14 years ago. And I’m like, You know what we should we should update this? We should have you know, and we’ve talked since then, of course, obviously. But you know, I guess let’s let’s rewind for folks who are unfamiliar with you? And can you kind of give us you know, the short version of your, your Columbus story, your Columbus history,

Michael Brown  02:10

oh, my, um, you know, I came here for a job, like, so many people will call it the late 20th century was the 1900s, then kids, and I came in for a job, you know, 2322 years old, had a, you know, that kind of vision, like I’m gonna be here for a couple years and move on. And I just, I was very fortunate early to meet a lot of just interesting characters. And someone I didn’t expect when I first got here is I just started to fall in love with the town that to me just seemed so unfinished, but have all this potential, all the right pieces were here. And one of those people was city council president at the time, Mike Coleman. And so, you know, job one leads to job two, these are job three, and I ended up working for then Mayor Coleman, for a decade. And through that role got to work on all the early downtown stuff, the 2002 plan, the 2010 plan, I you know, I helped go straight, both of them with the great teams, we had like Kathleen Murphy and Amy Taylor, and everyone, and really got to put my fingers into like just the clay of helping build a city, you know, and all that engagement that we did all these Charettes and townhall meetings and just all the input, you know, early days of Columbus underground, even, you know, we really strong dialog that came at you at the bar online, you know, when you’re paying your parking meter, and the things we were fighting about, then some of them are not that different than what we’re fighting about now. Sure, yeah. And from there, I went on and worked at experience Columbus for about eight years, just kind of being a cheerleader for the city, you know, sharing the love trying to get more national attention, which the older I get, the more I’m like, No, we don’t need any more national attention, we’re actually doing fine. But that was a great job. And it opened my eyes more to how we really do compete with other cities, sometimes in unexpected ways, and sometimes in unexpected ways. But at the end of the day, you know, a city is it’s a home, it’s a it’s a family, but it’s also a major business. And you gotta you gotta be out there doing your best, or cities do fade. And it’s kind of a thing like, you know, when you grow up with a mike Coleman and then Andy Gunther, and Shannon Hardin, we were all people who work together in various levels before they were Council presidents and mayors. And you just see that relentless, like tenacious ability to to to fight for their city. And, you know, I was speaking with Mayor Ginther just the other day because he’s doing a lot of things with the US Conference of Mayors right now. And talk about a competitive bunch of people, you know, but then from experience Columbus, you know, we did a lot of things like the NHL All Star game, and we pitched the DNC to try to get them here had a blast with all that but when Shannon Hardin was a becoming president of Council, you know, we did have a conversation and he he brought me back into the city hall family and it’s been a it’s been a really great adventure for the last six years.

Walker Evans  04:56

Nice, nice. And I want to you know, back up a lot little bit too, because I think it’s pretty easy to take for granted how much things have changed specifically with downtown but Columbus as a whole. So, you know, 90 992 1000 2001, you know, the population of downtown was a fraction of what it was today,

Michael Brown  05:14

you know, that 3000 to 11,000? Yeah,

Walker Evans  05:17

you know that one of the major issues was that there wasn’t a place to live downtown. You know, and I know that Coleman and a lot of the 2002 downtown plan was about rebuilding that residential population just to have a base to go from, you

Michael Brown  05:29

know, yeah. You you’ve hit the nail on the head. And when you do these big plans, you got to include a little bit of that kitchen sink mentality, you have to have this and this and this. But really the two biggest goals out of the 2002 plan. And all the people who worked on it, including, you know, some local business leaders who were very powerful the time were like, don’t even do this. It’s too late. Look at what’s happening in Cleveland and Cincinnati. downtown’s are fading downtown urban mall spaces are fading. People are moving to the suburbs, it’s not worth the the incredible investment that might be required to do big things. And fortunately, you know, we also had a committee of the willing who loved downtown or had great memories of like a more active downtown back in the past. I mean, there were 30,000 residents downtown in 1950. Right. So we’re still only a third of the way back to that. Yeah. And when we get to that density will be truly successful. But the at the end of the day, the plans come together with all that input. And you have to have a couple focuses and Coleman and the folks he was working with really focused in on housing. Great cities are about great neighborhoods, great neighborhoods are about the qualities of the people as a whole. You know how they all come together to be, you know, the hilltop and Westgate right next to each other, but very different neighborhoods based on who chooses to live there over generations and time. downtown’s are the same thing. They are about people at the end of the day. And if you don’t have human density, now, the other stuff is gonna work, retail won’t work. Coffee shops won’t work. Parking might be easier, but who cares? Yeah, you know. So that’s why, you know, the first downtown plan wasn’t about parking, right? It was about housing, really, at the end of day. And that’s probably the number one accomplishment we got out of it is we fundamentally built confidence that there is a market here. And that market can be successful for the private sector, if you know, they can jump through some of the hoops that make it possible. It’s harder to build downtown, right. But we were able to find a path. I don’t know, I think the current trajectory is very strong, and demand is still really strong. When we see interest rates come back down, we’ll probably even see another beginning of the pop, we’re kind of in a little bit of a gray zone, because this interest rate system right now is very difficult.

Walker Evans  07:36

You know, when when you mentioned when you first arrived here and kind of got plugged in, one of the things that I’ve always said that I love most about the city is that it’s very easy to get involved, you know, you raise your hand and before you know it, you’ll be on like six committees and all of your free time will be will be sucked up. You know, it’s nice that it’s a big city, you know, there’s plenty to do. You know, no matter what you’re into, there’s plenty to do. But it’s still a small city in that, like, you can get to know people pretty easily pretty quickly. Did you find that that was the case? That was 20 years ago and still a case now to get? Yeah, absolutely. And

Michael Brown  08:09

you’re one of the people that I found early, and nor maybe you found me, I’m not sure how exactly it worked. But you think about it in this town, if you raise your hand and have an opinion on something, and you’re willing to put some time in and make it just a little bit better. People are gonna keep calling you back. And but you do you have to step up, you have to sign up. And sometimes that means, you know, you got to acknowledge that this is gonna take a while. It ain’t gonna be easy. And there’s gonna be people out there who tell us that we’re doing the worst thing ever, and it will destroy their business or their neighborhood. When I jokingly keep going back to my head was the major fight we had. I’m gonna guess it was. Oh, 809 ish over parking meters. Yeah. Fortunately, none of the dire predictions have come true. Parking still works. It’s not not the best in any downtown Short North. But those new electric meters and all this stuff. Yeah, it works in the app. Okay. Yeah, the app is fine. People figured it out somehow. And we still have retail in the short Northern. We still have all this other stuff. Yeah. Now, did the city do some other big things, strategic parking garages in good locations? Yes. But together all these things together, then do support higher density and better retail? Yeah. Because yeah, you don’t want to be driving block to block in an urban area to find that next parking space just so you can run and get a cup of coffee.

Walker Evans  09:28

Yeah, get out walk. Yeah. And I think sometimes we’re a little too quick to take feedback from people who, you know, like there’s in every city, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. There’s a contingent of you know, I’m stereotyping. I’m generalizing. There’s contingent of suburbanites, who will complain like well, I would go downtown if there was free parking and it was exactly where I wanted it. And you know, you check all these boxes, and yes, I will go. Those people have no intention of ever going downtown. They’re just complaining on Facebook, right. So You can’t build a city for those people, you have to build an urban environment with urban tools. But once you try and start making every space parking, you tear down all your buildings, and then you have nothing but parking lots.

Michael Brown  10:11

And overtime. The other thing that people sometimes forget, yeah, we’ll change the system like maybe every decade when something like parking. Yeah, yes, city policy does matter. But if it’s not working, we do change it. We do learn from it, right. That’s one of things I do love about Columbus is not just that anybody can step up. But we can constantly have this conversation. And it’s like the, you know, the old idea of a Moveable Feast, like it just keeps continuing on in a circle. And yeah, sometimes you realize we didn’t do that, right? Or we didn’t do it fast enough. And we got to alter course, a little bit. Yeah. But at the end of the day, is it getting better every day? And are you still having fun? And are you still engaged? But yeah, getting back to your thing. The people in this town are very welcoming. And it’s a very young city. So that energy that just, you know, what’s the average age or 32?

Walker Evans  10:58

That’s below the national average? Yeah, a couple of years. Um,

Michael Brown  11:01

that to me just is one of the reasons that we’re going to continue to be successful overall, because it’s about people. But people are going to have fun and younger people are fun, and they are looking for that creative outlet. They’re looking for that next comedy club or backyard show. They’re looking for that cool band. They help drive what I think is a more interesting economy. Because the economy is not just money. It’s about where people put their eyes and their attention.

Walker Evans  11:24

Do you think that there’s a downside to having such a young population and such a transient population of you know, there’s always new people moving here from somewhere else, that they may be take for granted some of the progress and change over the past couple of years, because I’m sure there are people who have moved here within the past few years, that think that the Scioto mile has always looked like the Scioto mile, and I show them a photo of what it looked like 10 years ago, 10 years ago, and they’re like, oh, wow, I didn’t realize that this asset was something that people had to fight to get done.

Michael Brown  11:51

Right, the big brown sludge pile, yeah, through our downtown yelled.

Walker Evans  11:55

So do we, you know, it’s great to always be looking forward. But do you think we’re missing something by not, you know, by overlooking some of the achievements and not taking the time to say, Oh, we’re actually on the right path on a lot of things.

Michael Brown  12:10

I mean, I believe we are on the right path. And I believe part of it is because we’ve got that young energy. I mean, even someone like Mike Coleman moved here when he was in his 20s. It’s it’s part of our DNA of the city at this point. But it brings in a lot of creative people also with great big ideas from something they saw somewhere else. Now, does it have some handicaps in that you do have to contact set every now and then you got to be able to have the patience to learn a little history before you maybe get a big idea done? Yeah. But it’s energizing. At the end of the day, like I said before about economies, energy is a thing. Sure. And human energy does drive great cities to do big things. And if you don’t have it, you fade. And right now, Columbus is not fading. Yeah.

Walker Evans  12:53

One of the things that I’m most excited about right now, and it’s super nerdy and super technical is how many different plans there are right now. And a lot of times I think people can look at a plan and say, Oh, well, this isn’t going to happen, or this will just get put on a shelf or whatever. But we’ve seen a lot of, you know, accomplishments through planning initiatives over the past 20 years. But when you start to add up, and how all these things intertwine between rapid five Linkous zone and the updated downtown plan, the new capital line plan, and you start to think about how these things sort of intersect and interact with each other, the way that these things are going to, you know, be built out over the next five to 10 years like that, that gets me really excited. And I know you’re someone who plays a role pretty actively in coordinating with all these different groups. So it’s our try, really,

Michael Brown  13:41

there’s Yeah, magic in here with these things synergy. True. There’s really synergy. And it’s not even that they none of them exist in a separate universe. And that’s something I think that may be Columbus wasn’t good at 2030 years ago, you would have one off projects, right. And that was his massive project mentality, we’re going to do this and it’s going to be amazing, we’re going to build a convention center, they said in 1988, we’re going to build up, we’re going to move cosine, we’re going to build an east and projects are important. You’ve got to have icons, just like a confluence out here at gain high, that beautiful art piece, you have to have some iconic public art. But you also have to have public art that spread through all the neighborhoods, right. And what we’re doing better now is finding balance between the two, and making sure that as a city, and sometimes a county or the state of Ohio, and the business community, that we’re investing in both levels that both things can be true at once. It’s kind of a What’s your impossibles? Yes, and how do I get more? Yes. And here. Jeff Edwards was a part of that last downtown planning process, right? He’s had input in some of these other plans. But he’s like within this all these truths, and values and themes that we’ve identified for what we want to be. Wouldn’t this project be amazing? He was right. Yeah, it is. It’s really got people talking. And it will, you know, as it gets built, make some fundamental changes in the way we operate. For me, I’ll Look at it as it’s not how cool it is just as of itself, but the the park culture change, it will help continue in this town of getting more people out on their feet walking and more people on their bikes riding. Because this is still one of our one of our failings is still with to car centric in Columbus. And so anything we can do to make it just more fun and interesting to get out and do the thing on your feet is important. And that, as you add more people, you want more and more of that. But at the end of it, isn’t that why it’s fun to walk down Michigan Avenue in Chicago? It’s amazing people watching you feel that energy? You know, we’ve got to figure out our versions of those great assets. Yeah,

Walker Evans  15:39

I’m glad you mentioned the public art component, because that’s another plan GCSEs public art plan, which I didn’t mention as I was kind of rapid fire listing them off. Do you think you know, planning is important taking that 40,000 foot view and looking at things very holistically? How do you balance that with sort of like the controlled chaos of like something, something from the grassroots that kind of bubbles up because some of the best art is some of the stuff that somebody did, you know, in the cover of dark overnight, you’re like, oh, this spray painting sort of thing. Not that I’m encouraging, you know, graffiti on every surface. But the Banksy type of stuff that just sort of appears,

Michael Brown  16:16

you know, I’m not even gonna name names. But we all know some friends who are artists who may leave little artsy gems all over the city. Yeah. But also, huge shout out to to Hakeem, who painted my garage door, in my little neighborhood, just north of downtown, did a massive space boy mural, right on my garage door, you know, it’s, it’s six foot by 12 foot. It’s beautiful. And I love that kind of stuff. I believe that the best of public art is when you can walk around a corner not expecting it and you come upon something, I love those hidden little nuggets I was at I carry out the other day, picking up a bottle of wine, and I saw a little tiny piece of art over on a brick wall just around the side. And I love that kind of a plein air, but made modern and punk. That’s beautiful. You’ve got to have that. And that’s part of the culture of Columbus. But if we’re doing our job really well, within this public art planning process, we’re also gonna be talking about how we take a hockey team or somebody else and give them the tools and training to do more stuff. Like even, you know, look at me, Andy Caskey, and the scale of project she’s doing now. And then what is next? Well, then you start to go national things start to go international. But these artists here who maybe did start with some street art, or maybe urban sprawl in Franklinton, or Independence Day, back in the day, they’re still artists, and they’re still trying to figure out how to make a living and they would love to make a living doing their art. There. There has to be pathways when that so we’re not just buying the confluence icons that may cost millions or whatever, it’s gonna go on the prowl someday on the Scioto mile. Yeah, one of my biggest frustrations, we still haven’t answered that question. Right, we’ve got a nice little grove of trees on a spa that was made for a massive piece of public art. When’s that gonna get fixed over time? Yeah, but you got to you got to mix that with the pathway. So our local artists have a shot at actually getting good commissions that they can show their skill. And hopefully, they can learn enough from it over time that they can market that to other benefits. Nice. And it doesn’t matter what it is, you know, I mean, it can be statuary. But just because you start doing some small bronzes doesn’t mean you know how to do a 30 foot, right? There’s steps that an artist goes through as they grow their craft. And if we do this public art plan, well, there’ll be pathways within that to help bring folks up and as well as attract some of the big iconic stuff. But the end of the day, you know, I joke that I want to turn my alley, into an alley Gallery, and that every one of my neighbors also wants to put a painting on their garage door. Why not? Yeah, why not? Yeah, we can. It’s not that hard. If

Walker Evans  18:44

Jim Sweeney can do it with music on history, you can do it with art in your alley. Let’s

Michael Brown  18:48

hear for what’s happened with Walnut Street. Yeah. But a lot of stuff. He does start the grassroots. But is that not where you find a lot of the joy to a lot of the fun? Sure, you know, it’s it’s your neighbors that you spend a lot of time with. And if you can all kind of join in on that, that joint love of having visual stimulus in your neighborhood. Like, I love it. When little kids walk down my alley, and I come around back, I’m taking out the garbage, something simple, domestic. And there’s kids that are just looking at my garage door. Like who did that? And you know, that’s fine. Yeah. Should

Walker Evans  19:19

have a QR code to scan. So go to ADS, a great idea teams website, art and stuff. Yeah, follow them on Instagram. You know, one of the things that I will say, that does frustrate me a little bit as I have conversations in the community with all kinds of different people. People are really quick to look at a problem that our city is facing, and then internalize it as if we’re doing something wrong. But if you take a step back, and you look at what other other cities are facing, a lot of these are America problems. So like the cost of housing is going up. And it’s like, yeah, and that’s everywhere. Gun violence is a problem. That’s unfortunately everywhere in America. You know, we have challenges with our transportation system. Homelessness, our school system. These are like every big city has these problems. So I guess the question is, do we look for internal solutions? Are we are we trying to figure these out on our own? Do we look at our peer cities and see what they’re doing? How do we, you know, how do we face some of these things that we’re really quick to blame upon ourselves. But really, it’s it’s larger systemic issues that are the root cause. And

Michael Brown  20:23

you know, you can have like positive stress and negative stress, you can have positive information negatively, the end of the day, it’s like how you look at it, and how you deal with it. One of the benefits of working in City Hall for for far too many years, it feels like 50 is a you have way a lot of facts on who’s doing what and why it is or is not working, and how much money would take to make it better. And you may have seen that, you know, the council team, this week worked with the mayor to announce 9 million in new funding from community shelter board. That’s really good, that is really gonna help them stabilize all the agencies they work with to deliver homeless services for this year. Right. But we’re not solving the root cause of homelessness, which is in part the eviction crisis, and part of the lingering effects of the COVID crisis. In part, the fact that not everyone is sharing in our prosperity. You mentioned earlier how we’re a young city and a lot of people do move on over time. But that means we have a lot more of a rental market, maybe then some pure cities. And when you start jacking those rents up, it is going to be a pain point that a lot of people feel so so you get all this information in your head about it. And you’re also constantly like, how can we do this a little better. But also we travel also. And we do know, homelessness is a problem everywhere, every major city, especially in the warmer states, are really struggling with this right now. So as an America problem, we also think we need to be stacking hands and dealing with it on a national, state and local level. If everyone just expects the City of Columbus to solve homelessness, well, you know, I’ll take that Nobel Prize. But I’m not confident that that is actually the answer. We’ve really got to put our hearts together as a community and say, This is unacceptable. There’s always going to be some people who choose to live on the land, we do need to accept that some homelessness is partially natural, whether it’s for mental health or lifestyle choices. But a mother with three kids who just got evicted, did not choose to live in that car. Right? Right, that is tragic. And the longer you let that continue, the more likely it will be repeated. So we’ve got to figure out where we can have the biggest impact on humans. And sometimes that’s one family at a time to get it to start breaking some of these cycles. I do not see an end zone yet. But I know that with our push to increase funding to the community shelter board, we’re also in conversations with the franklin county commissioners were conversations with suburban cities. We think there’s a shared responsibility here are and for the City of Columbus has been the funder of Homeless Services for a couple of decades now the key funder. Now there’s federal pass through dollars, you know, there’s a lot of different ways that money comes into the system through the city and county. But we do believe that there’s others who are affected by it, or maybe they have pushed it out into Columbus. And we think they all should be playing a role. This is humanitarian, but it’s also at the end of the day, it’s the best for your economy. And so it goes back to our housing crisis, which I could talk about for about an hour. We have a supply problem. And you know, how you say sometimes people will bring a critique of the city’s doing this wrong, and how can you keep doing this? One of the biggest ones we will ever hear is incentives for development. And maybe 2% of the land in Columbus is incented. Right now, which to me is not a horrible number. If you’re getting 98% productive, everything’s working out. That’s actually really good for a city. Yeah. But the fact is, we have such a supply problem. Why are they not pulling those building permits? Because if they can’t make the math work, they will not build? Yeah, and if we don’t get building right now, at all price points, we can’t solve the problem, right? Because those who have means will simply buy all the cheaper product and make it more expensive product. At the end, the the lower income families are going to get squeezed no matter what. So anything the city can do to inspire more construction, I believe is the philosophy of council right now. Let’s go for it. Let’s fight for it. Yeah. And that means sometimes going up against neighborhood Commission’s that are just like, you know, this project is a monstrosity. It’s a whale. I can’t believe you’re thinking about doing that in our historic and or residential neighborhood. And then a lot of times he’s like, we don’t want those people living near us. That is a very quick way to make City Council. Not really as interested in your case. Yeah. We need every kind of housing for every kind of people. It needs to be bounced and needs to be spread. And we must do more density period in this community. We have pancaked out to 224 square miles in the city of Columbus. We have got to go up along these transit corridors that Kota Marcin the city are all working on to to fundamentally change the way we move people. By also, if you are in a very, very, very residential neighborhood, you should Super support this. Why? Because the density is going to the corridors, that actually helps protect the intact neighborhoods in a lot of areas that maybe aren’t appropriate for 10 storey buildings. Sure, sure. But to argue that you couldn’t have a 10 storey building on High Street, yeah, doesn’t really resonate. Yeah,

Walker Evans  25:14

yeah. But But you you make a really good point about there’s a lot of fear the D word density strikes a lot of fear in people. And yet, we as right before we started recording we’re talking about at us a little bit, adding an adu to a property basically doubles the density from like a single family house to to, you know, so you’ve you’ve just increased the density of that unit twofold. We’re being without building a skyscraper, right? Yeah. So So allowing for duplexes for plexes, gentle density, a lot of urban planners are kind of referring to it as that. And just getting people to understand that like, it doesn’t mean that a skyscraper is going to block out the sun next to your house. It could just mean that it’s a real

Michael Brown  25:55

argument though. It because I’ve been growing tomatoes. Yeah, in my urban neighborhood for so many years. And this skyscraper will block out the sun and I won’t able to grow tomatoes anymore, right? Exactly. True Stories. Yeah. But no, you’re right. And that’s why we’re not only changing the rules on ad because I mean, our zoning is very antiquated right now, it’s literally a last vestige of the redlining racist days. That’s bad, we must change our zoning to make it simpler to understand to make it more user friendly for everybody. And at the end to drive down the cost of developing new housing, whether it’s at use along alleys over garages, whether it’s higher density things along with the big transportation routes that Linkous will provide. If we don’t do these things, we can never reach our goals and prices will continue to flight. And I’m not foolish, and I don’t think our counselors are foolish enough to think that we’re ever going to be like, Yes, this is going to radically drop rents, right? I’ve never seen a market where they radically dropped rents. It just doesn’t happen. But we can slow down the growth. Right, right. Right. And it’s what council president Hardin talks about a lot is like we are becoming a big city. But we still want to protect that hometown friendliness, the feel that we have, the the congeniality that we can have, without just becoming polarized, like some cities get into politics become polarized, we’ve avoided that here so far. But big cities, as they grow into their stature are going to face big problems. But the caveat is, bring me big solutions, right, we’ve got a team right now that is very open minded, you’ve got a very progressive city council team, we’ve got three new members who are hitting it right now hitting the ground running. And they are passionate about these topics. They’re willing to work with the community. The key is was you know, how you approach it, how you bring in your big ideas? And what are you fighting for? But right now, if you’re fighting for affordability, and housing and housing production and quality housing, you’re probably gonna have a pretty open to your audience. Yeah,

Walker Evans  27:43

I’m glad you mentioned a second ago as well, about kind of bringing our suburban partners along for the ride in solving, you know, things like homelessness, and, you know, gaps in the education systems and the housing issues. Because the City of Columbus can only do what it can do within its municipal boundaries. You know, a lot of our suburbs want to be workforce centers have more jobs. But if an entry level job exists in a suburb, and they’re unwilling to build entry level housing for that, then you’re making a transportation problem for the region, right? You expect people to live in cheap housing in one neighborhood and drive across the city for a job?

Michael Brown  28:22

Two hours on a bus? Yeah, with a minimum wage job. Right?

Walker Evans  28:27

Right. So how do we how do we encourage them, incentivize them get the right mindset behind carrying water for some of the problems? They can’t just be like little islands where problems get pushed out?

Michael Brown  28:39

I think you’ve probably you know, those who are really watching local governments are probably seeing more bully pulpit use lately. Especially the mayor, we have a there’s a group of Central Ohio mayors and local officials who meet you know, Mayor Gunther, and others have started to force these conversations a little more with a bully pulpit can only go so far. What are the finances? And what is the market? And you know, I’m one who might criticize any one of our Suburban partners for some long term decision they’ve made and held the line on it shall always be like this. When I hear communities like literally having politicians doing advertisement saying we must stop Columbus encroaching on us agenda style development, I saw that like, that’s, that’s really divisive. For one. Yeah, it’s not rational for two and it actually won’t work for your community for the long term. Right? It won’t work. But then I see like, I’ll give kudos on name that people can give kudos to Dublin for many years was not really a participant in in density conversation. They were maybe one of the hardest places to develop. But with what they’ve done a Bridge Park, it’s truly new day. And it’s super successful, right? Because they’re bouncing out different kinds of housing densities, and they’ve created a whole new retail center that is very competitive in this market. Yeah. And now everyone’s trying to emulate them. Yeah, yeah. So I am it does give me hope that people are listening, but within that You can’t just be like, and every apartment will start at $79. Right, exactly. But we do have other partners. I mean, I gotta say, Whitehall has really, really started turning. I mean, why do I have a lot of challenges in every city has got a lot of challenges. But they have really been working very hard to build and attract more quality housing. And he’s often at a much more affordable thing tied to some of the development we’re seeing going east. And that’s why I’m excited to see places like Dublin, Whitehall, Hilliard are all on these new transit routes that link us will support. Because we do have to make sure people can get to the jobs, wherever their job is, you also gotta get to childcare. We’re also talking to the schools, the schools, I believe, are not entirely convinced they need to be in the busing game. But if they’re not, and you don’t have true neighborhood schools, then your city busing system had better be high class. And so one of the things here is Linkous doesn’t just build these new routes, right for BRT and more express service for the long hauls, but also almost a doubling of the service area, the way we serve current routes, right. And those things have to all work together for density to actually work. Because then it gets to something else we talked about briefly earlier, parking, you know, if a parking space, a single parking space is going to cost you 30 grand here in the urban core. But you can maybe in the future, build a quarter as many of them because people can get around through other methods and modes. You just radically reduced the financial demands for that project. Sure. And at the end of the day, do that enough times you reduce rents in those areas? Right. Right.

Walker Evans  31:30

I think a lot of people don’t even realize that we don’t have a downtown, a parking minimum for downtown. I think Columbus is kind of ahead of the game on on eliminating that.

Michael Brown  31:38

Fortunately, we have so many acres and acres of surface. Right. But over time, I mean, just in the time that we’ve we’ve lived here. The change downtown, starting with Gay Street, and density, moving throughout with new housing is just really beautiful. Yeah, I think a street should be a model for many streets in the city, as we do slow down traffic as we get those beautiful trees planted. And it shows that when you do develop those areas, people flocked to it. Long Street now. You know, I go to Roseville coffee a lot. Long Street is night and day different than it used to. Oh, for sure. Right or towards your house? Yeah. Yeah.

Walker Evans  32:13

Well, I mean, 20 years ago, the arena district was like just getting started. It was still mostly parking lots around the arena. Dirt.

Michael Brown  32:18

Yeah. Dirt, lots of gravel. And now it’s almost all built out. Yeah. And what did it take? It took the city in the private sector working together. At the end of the day, the city is really good at building sewer lines, we’re pretty good at building roads, sidewalks will get you some nice light light posts, you know, but we shouldn’t be having to build all the housing and do to incentivize all the things that we do, right? If the market street gets a little bit better, it takes off on its own that, you know, I mean, and it’s really, it’s really powerful to see, you know, we put in that parking garage that will pay for itself, usually in 15 to 20 years. And then it’s just pure benefit to the city. But we also get, you know, here’s 400 cars that aren’t needing street spaces, right. But those partnerships are key. And I think the readers is one of the best examples of where it actually worked.

Walker Evans  33:07

I know we joke before we started that we don’t have any peer cities call Mr. Zaheer cities. But I do think it’s been interesting to talk with some of the folks behind the zone in conversations about updating zoning, because other cities are going through, you know, eliminating single family housing and looking at what other cities have done around some of these kinds of conversations. One of the concerns that I’ve heard is that we’re trying to not have the exact same issues that places like Austin and Nashville are having. A lot of times when you talk density people look at like New York or San Francisco, you know, but really like some of our, you know, midsize cities in America that have had explosive job growth or explosive, you know, I mean, Nashville is like, it’s what is it the Vegas of the East, you know, it’s where every bachelorette party happens. It’s a country music club. It’s entertainment destination, the cost of living has just shot through the roof. And we don’t want to go down that road. So are there other cities that you’ve looked at or studied to see either things going? Well, things we should avoid? Like? What What’s your we kind of look, we

Michael Brown  34:06

do look at more, depending on which study it is, you know, there’s 15 to 23 that we really do watch a lot. You’ve just named two of them, though, because Austin and Nashville is cool and funky. And there’s still a lot of authentic, really good stuff in these cities, right. But they did not have a handle on the housing booms that they had the job booms and they did not plan their transportation along with them. Right. We are still early enough. And if you if you listen to any president hardens Lincoln’s speech because he’s talking on this topic all the time, we’re still early enough where we can still get a grasp on some of this growth and guide it along dense transit routes. That is what will define the next 20 years. And if we do it wrong, it will really get a lot worse here and you’ll have that horrible congestion and pockets of just absolutely unaffordability throughout the city, and eventually that then leads to a The other decline because people especially creative and artistic people, maybe earlier career just will not be able to find their place. Right. You know, Franklinton is awesome right now. But Franklin’s already developing fairly fast. And almost every property has been bought up, you know. So what’s going to happen now south on high as you head towards the fort, and some the new develops is going on down there what South Parsons future look like Livingston Avenue. If that becomes a route for Linkous, which I think you should, or not Livingston main. But that Livingston main corridor could be amazing. And we can really go a lot denser, while still protecting a lot of the authentic neighborhood there. If you can find that balance, then that’s the big thinking that actually helps you get it done. But though you’ve named a couple of Atlanta is one that just many years ago just sprawled, they pancake like worse than us. And we have to learn from that San Francisco right now rates, you can’t afford to live there. You know, everybody got drove out to Oakland over a decade ago. And now even that’s becoming unaffordable, that it will not work here. If we just keep doing what they’ve done in the past. Right, we need to fundamentally change transportation and density. And that is Linkous on the ballot in November, we’re hoping that people come out and support that. And also get involved with the zoning conversation. Phase one of zoning is really just about the corridors, right, the high traffic, high density potential corridors. If we do that, well, and I think we will, it will make so many things easier to get done for the long term. And to keep it somewhat affordable, because then we don’t have every penny just to put into transportation and development. We’ve got to do all the other jobs that the city has. But I think the first hearing is actually this evening, and there’s going to be three or four more hearings, they’re actually going to create like a show and tell space over here on the City Council or the city of Columbus campus where people can come in and go through all the presentation materials and stuff and ask questions. We want people to be articulate. They can be critical. But don’t just say just leave it alone, because everyone knows the variance process is not good. The fact that you can’t build a duplex basically, in urban neighborhoods right now is silly. This is a way that actually our forefathers built great cities. You know, there’s a ton of duplexes in Harrison West. But under the modern code, it’s almost impossible to get done. And why should you have to get lawyers and architects and do all this other stuff just to get a zoning variance. All that is is basically saying, you can build this, despite what the code says, right? So why don’t we clean the code up? So it’s more fundamental and balanced and fair for everybody? Yeah,

Walker Evans  37:33

it adds a lot of time lag to projects and a lot of additional costs. And so if we’re trying to speed things up, it makes a lot of sense.

Michael Brown  37:41

And but you also have to do while still respecting area Commission’s have a role they are the voice of their neighborhood. I do think that’s where some of the long term pain will be is once these things move, if we can get them all done, you know, what does the new balance look like a year from now? And then we’ll go into the neighborhood version of the zoning initiative, which will affect some neighborhoods more than others. But that will probably be even more fraught. Because nobody wants to lose the character of their neighborhood, even though some of the stuff is archaic.

Walker Evans  38:09

Right, right. Well, I think we plowed through a lot of topics and a pretty quick amount of time. As always, with the confluence cast, we’d like to ask the same closing question to each of our guests. What is Columbus doing? Well, and what is Columbus doing? Not so well,

Michael Brown  38:24

I think we’re in a golden age of planning.

Walker Evans  38:29

I agree. And there’s a

Michael Brown  38:31

plan for a little bit of everything. We have to remember that we’re also a city of doers. And we’ve got to finish some of the games. So even with the first downtown plan is revolutionaries. It really was in 2002. Grandpa brown here thinking we only got a couple of big things done. And the biggest one was one, making people think different about downtown and to a push for housing. Now, as you said, we went from 3000 to 11,000 residents downtown. net benefit. Overall, I think everybody argues that downtown’s more fun, interesting. But it’s still gonna be a lot better. So the plans have to get done. And if out of the second with the 2010 plan. You know, my favorite thing is I’m beyond. Personally just proud of the work we were able to do to fundamentally change our riverfront downtown 33 acres of new green space and parks, public art installations. It’s just beautiful. When you’re down there for a festival. Now you see people on the river and kayaks, and you see people walking their dogs every day and kids playing. It just lights up my heart. I’m so proud of the work we did there. And again, total public private partnership, you know, private sector came in with 10s of millions of dollars to help get it done. And in the meantime, we rebuild a couple of bridges. But But what we don’t do well, is the same part of the same story. When we announced some of those plans. There were people literally going around screaming, why are you spending you know, whatever it was $100 million on Uber Ah to nowhere who’s gonna pay for it, who’s gonna pay for? Why would I want that no one will ever go to Franklinton. We currently have like a billion dollars in new development in Franklinton. Okay, you do have to have faith and put the naysayers in a proper context. But you also have to have doers who are willing to put up with that and the harassment that comes with it to just be like, No, we believe this is the right thing to do for our city, but it’s also a good business decision. At the end of the day, this will make us more sustainable long term. And a lot of stuff we have been able to do with an eye towards green. That River was polluted. It was dirty. It was nasty. We did not function as a natural ecosystem. I have seen a beaver downtown now. Okay, we have fundamentally changed the life and health of that river. Is it perfect yet? Absolutely not. But from Ohio State’s campus all the way down to the Greenlawn dam. Yeah, it is a much better experience.

Walker Evans  40:51

That is nicer. Cool. Well, thanks so much, Mike for spending the time today. Always fun to talk to you.

Michael Brown  40:56

You have a way to get me going Walker. Thank you. Thank you for the time. Thank you Tim for all the help and just let us know if we can be helpful

Tim Fulton  41:13

thanks, thank you for listening to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com Please rate subscribe, share this episode of The confluence cast with your friends, family, contacts, enemies, your favorite public servant. If you’re interested in sponsoring the confluence cast get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson, our producers Phil Cogley, I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.