Transforming blight into economic growth
Transforming blight into economic growth

Ongoing redevelopment of Columbia’s east side is now being used as a teaching tool for community revitalization.

Columbia Assistant City Manager Jennifer Moody and Columbia Housing and Redevelopment Corporation Executive Director Trent Ogilvie gave a presentation on the implementation of goals for the redevelopment of Columbia’s east side during the Generation Maury luncheon Tuesday. The pair recently gave a similar presentation at the Power of 10 regional summit in Nashville to show other municipalities tools for turning their own communities around.

The redevelopment process began in 2009 when Maury County and Columbia passed their comprehensive plans, Moody said. Columbia then turned its focus to redevelopment the East Hill and College Hill neighborhoods, she said.

When the redevelopment process began, Ogilvie said there were more than 200 vacant or dilapidated parcels in east side neighborhoods.

“When you look at an area that side and see that number of vacant properties, it becomes a huge issue,” Ogilvie said. “When you have vacant properties, it leads to blight, crime, a decrease in property values and community decline.”

The city and redevelopment corporation brought east side residents together to target the areas assets, issues and what they would like to see the community become, he said. Residents discussed decreases in property values, crime, and a lack of recreation, walkability and livability.

“You can’t stay at the issues too long because they will just wear you down,” Ogilvie said. “You have to talk about the dreams, what we want to see in our community and what we would like to accomplish.”

Community stakeholders chose goals, including renovations of the former Carver Smith High School and Pioneer Park. Other smaller projects led to the creation of pocket parks and community gardens, renovation of streetscapes and making it easier for east side residents to walk to downtown, Moody said.

“You see the same goals for every community,” Moody said. “They are all related to quality of life. This neighborhood is really a downtown neighborhood, and they should be able to walk from their homes to downtown and support those businesses there. Neighborhood development is economic development.”

One of the largest projects undertaken was the renovation of blighted homes and properties in the community.

“To deal with the issues of vacant properties, you need reinvestment,” Ogilvie said. “You need people to not only want to be in the community but want to live in the community. How you prove that is you get them to buy a house or invest in the community.”

Moody said many communities give up on their redevelopment efforts because they have not seen any tangible improvements.

“Many of these communities give up right before they are about to see some positive change,” she said.

Ogilvie said it can be frustrating for community members and leaders when change doesn’t happen overnight.

“The community didn’t get that way in a week, so it isn’t going to be fixed in a week,” he said. “If you keep working at it long enough, eventually you will have something good to report.”

Future improvements as part of the redevelopment include additions to Fairview Park, creating more economic development through retail stores and restaurants, Ogilvie said.

Residents also want a school opened in the area, Moody said.

“One of the things the kids in the neighborhood talked about was having a school they could walk to in their neighborhood,” Moody said. “One of the things we really take for granted is that having a school in your neighborhood affects how you think about school and think about yourself.”

Both the College Hill and East Hill neighborhoods were originally built around area schools, Ogilvie said. Being able t take pride in a local school also helps people cultivate a sense of pride in their neighborhood, he said.

“Today, where schools are going to be placed has a lot to do with where they are going to put subdivisions,” he said. “Now, they are putting neighborhoods around schools. History is repeating itself.”

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Coil, K. (2014, May 17). Transforming blight into economic growth. Columbia Daily Herald, p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2015, from