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Central Ohio’s growth requires innovative housing solutions, planners say

Knowlton School discussion kicks off ‘Inclusive Cities’ exhibit

Central Ohio is the fastest growing region in the state, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Intel’s plans to build two new leading-edge chip factories in Licking County are expected to accelerate that growth and highlight the need for additional housing in the region, design professionals said during a recent panel discussion hosted by The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School.

In January, Intel announced a $20 billion investment to build the new factories. The company also pledged an additional $100 million toward partnerships with Ohio State and other educational institutions to develop talent and bolster research programs in the region. 

While central Ohio’s educational resources, prime location and transportation and logistics systems enable the region to attract such developments, there is a need for more housing to accommodate the resulting population growth, said Jason Reece, assistant professor of city and regional planning at the Knowlton School.

“Now is the time to start planning for building differently, building more densely, having a more seamless regulatory process and having the hard conversations we need to have about NIMBYism,” he said, referring to the “Not In My Backyard” mindset of individuals who oppose new developments in their communities. “These are things we really have to take care of now if we’re going to be a region that can sustain a workforce in the future.”

In addition to Reece, the Feb. 18 panel discussion featured Curt and Jonathan Moody of Columbus-based Moody Nolan, the largest African American-owned architecture firm in the United States, and Lark Mallory, CEO of the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County. Christian Joosse, a project coordinator at Moody Nolan, moderated the discussion.

The discussion coincided with the opening of the exhibit “Moody Nolan: Building a Legacy of More Inclusive Cities,” on view through March 25 in the Knowlton School’s Banvard Gallery, 275 W. Woodruff Ave. on the Columbus campus. The exhibit highlights Moody Nolan’s work to reduce socioeconomic disparities in communities that have historically been deprived of resources.

Boosting the availability of affordable housing throughout central Ohio will take innovative solutions, said Curt Moody, Moody Nolan’s founder and chairman of the board. Moody is an alumnus and a member of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Hall of Fame.

“There’s a reason people are concerned about smaller houses,” he said. “They look at what their house is worth and they think it’s not going to be worth as much if a small house is built nearby, that they’re going to lose value. There are ways to offset that, and we have to be more aggressive in doing that.”

Zoning codes that restrict the construction of smaller homes and multifamily units must be re-examined and updated to meet market demands, said Moody Nolan President and CEO Jonathan Moody.

“Everybody agrees, ‘We need housing, we need more, we need to build it. Where should we put it? Over there,’” he said. “Everybody agrees that we need it, but everyone says, ‘Yeah, but I don’t want those things in my neighborhood, in my city.’”

Attracting more affordable housing – which ideally should cost no more than 30% of an occupant’s income – will require an approach that is more comprehensive than how real estate has traditionally been developed in central Ohio, Mallory said.

“We’re going to have to address the sizes of our homes,” she said. “We’re going to have to address the density of our homes. You talk about transportation. You’re going to have to address all of those issues if we’re going to attack the affordable housing crisis.”

Mallory encouraged the Knowlton School students to use their creativity to design spaces that will meet the region’s immediate needs and accommodate future demographic and economic growth.

“We need your voices at the table,” she said. “If you have a creative solution, speak up, advocate, get out there and make change happen.”

“The more we can find ways to say, ‘We need different ideas,’ it’s going to come from people like you,” Jonathan Moody added. “We need your ideas now more than ever.”

For more information about the “Moody Nolan: Building a Legacy of More Inclusive Cities” exhibit, visit the Banvard Gallery website.

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