The Columbus, Ohio, region could support the construction of more than a billion square feet of mixed-use development on existing parking lots and commercial sites — but only if planners get their act together, says researcher Arthur C. Nelson. Photo: Richard Webner
Columbus, Ohio, is a convenient microcosm of the United States as a whole.
Demographically, Columbus closely resembles America. That’s one reason the city ends up being a battleground for presidential candidates every four years, and why fast food chains like to test new menu items there.
Because Columbus is so, well, typical, the city also has a lot to teach us about where the average American city is headed. Esteemed urban affairs researcher Arthur C. Nelson recently took a look at Columbus as part of a report for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and he found that the city is on course for “sweeping demographic changes” that could transform the local housing market.
The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet in the Columbus region, while demand for more compact dwellings is expected to swell. Image: NRDC
Columbus is growing at nearly the same rate as America as a whole. By 2040, the region will have added roughly half a million people, bringing its population to about 2.2 million.
But those new households will look a lot different than today’s, and that will have huge implications for the local housing market. New households will be older and much more likely to be childless than current households.
Between 1990 and 2012, for example, about 78 percent of population growth in the Columbus area was among households headed by people between 35 and 64 years old. That stage of life is the period of “peak housing demand,” when homeowners favor detached houses on large lots. But by 2030, that age group will make up just 22 percent of population growth — while homeowners over 65 will make up 56 percent of new households. Many of these older homeowners will want multi-family housing or single-family homes on small lots, according to Nelson.
It turns out that Columbus’s current housing stock is woefully mismatched to future needs. By 2040, as much as 40 percent of the demand for housing could be for attached, multi-family units, and another 30 percent will be for single-family homes on small lots, Nelson estimates.