A Walk Down High Street

Last night after the Ohio State game ended I walked from Ohio Stadium across campus, and then down High Street to the Short North.  It was an eye-opener.

A bit of historical context:  when I went to OSU in the late ’70s, the stretch of High Street between campus and downtown was a grim wasteland.  The sleaziness started in the South Campus area — where bars like Papa Joe’s and the Travel Agency were generally viewed as more drunken, debauched, decrepit, and derelict than their North Campus counterparts — and then went steadily downhill as you moved away from campus and toward downtown.  Most of the buildings along that sorry stretch of High Street were either X-rated “burlesque” theaters, or XXX peep show emporiums, or boarded up and abandoned, and if you tried to walk the area you definitely felt a strong sense of physical insecurity among the hard-faced people who were present.

It was an area you would visit if you wanted to get a picture of people who were down on their luck for your Photojournalism class.  There was no Short North then, and the Skid Row, porn-invested grittiness extended for block after block until you reached the area of the Nationwide building and the northern edge of downtown.  I’m sure the urban planners of the late ’70s wondered how far the area would decline, and what to do about it.

But, how things have changed!  Now the crummy South Campus bars are long gone, replaced by the bright and shining Gateway project, with its bookstores and restaurants and apartments, and the Short North has been reborn into a residential/dining/arts/hipster enclave that has been steadily inching its way north along the High Street corridor.

I thought that there would still have to be a buffer area of the old sleaziness that I would have to cross before I hit the Short North and its curved over-the-street lighting — but I was wrong.  Now the High Street walker moves past the Gateway area, heading south, and encounters . . . more pubs and apartments.  In fact, I had no idea there were so many different brew pubs in Columbus.  Sure, there are some street people present, and sure, the area doesn’t have the high-end feel that you get in the Short North, but on my walk there was never any hint of safety concerns or encounters with angry, apparently deranged people — both of which were staples of the late ’70s era.

To be sure, it was a football Saturday night, so there were more people on the streets than you would get on a normal weeknight, but the fact that people were walking from the campus area to the Short North in the first place tells you something about how the area has changed.  When I finally reached the Short North and caught the CBus to complete the rest of my journey back to German Village, I couldn’t help but be impressed at how things have changed for the better.

How The Hell Did This Happen?

IMG_5131Today we took a drive down Woodward Avenue, from Russell’s place in Pontiac all the way down to downtown Detroit.  It is a breath-taking trip that takes you deep into the dark and disturbing heart of urban decay.

Woodward is an eight-lane boulevard that rolls through tony suburbs like Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham.  At one point the road crosses over a highway and enters Detroit proper, and the landscape changes.

IMG_5177Countless structures along this major road are graffiti-covered, burnt-out, gutted, weed-grown, collapsing.  It is riveting and immensely powerful and jaw-dropping, all at the same time.  You can’t help but reflect on the loss of wealth and the loss of hope that accompanied this slow-moving, terrible disaster.

As the miles rolled by and the sad vistas passed, I had one simple thought:  “How the hell did this happen?”  Was it the hubris of the domestic auto industry?  Was it political corruption and incompetent local government?  Was it poorly conceived “urban renewal” projects that took money away from places where it could have made a difference?  Or was it just titanic economic forces that decreed that once-mighty and wealthy Detroit was due for a fall?

I’ll post more pictures about our journey down Woodward Avenue this afternoon and tonight.  But still I wonder:  “How the hell did this happen?”

Urban Decay, Urban Art

IMG_4789I was up at the Ohioana Library for an excellent Ohioana On The Road today, and as I was leaving I noticed a complex of apparently abandoned industrial buildings that I’d never really noticed before.  No doubt the neighbors see the buildings as a scene of urban blight, and the weeds and broken bottles and debris substantiate that view.  Seeing it with the eyes of a visitor, however, I thought the combination of the weathered exterior, the fading pastel colors, the rust, and the checkerboard effect of the boarded-over windows also gave the buildings a certain beauty.