Italian Village, Columbus, OH

When my Dad grew up in Columbus, OH in the neighborhood around High and Goodale Streets, they didn’t call it Italian Village. Back then, when this neighborhood was an ethnically-mixed, working-class ghetto you wanted to get out of, the poor folks who lived there called it Flytown.

Union Station mural, Columbus, OH

Last weekend while day-tripping in Columbus, Gary and I took a stroll through the Short North, the now-gentrified neighborhood near the area where my Dad grew up. The murals in this upscale gallery- and boutique-laden strip between downtown Columbus and the Ohio State University campus quickly clue you into the fact that this is a place trying to recreate itself. Downtown’s Union Station is long gone, only a single archway having been preserved…but the grandeur of the grand building’s facade is replicated on one side of a High Street parking lot while the trains that would have thundered in and out of the station are depicted on a nearby wall (click on the image below for a larger version):

Trains

Cup O Joe

My Dad’s name is Joe…but this posh Short North coffee-shop isn’t named for him. When I last lived in Columbus in 1980s, the Short North was not a neighborhood where you wanted to stop for coffee…unless, of course, you were a cop stopping for caffeine after another night of busting teenage prostitutes and the shady businessmen who patronized or pimped them.

In the ’80s, “Short North” was the Columbus police department’s shorthand term for an urban strip of High Street where not much good was going on. Still, when developers came in and began gentrifying the working class neighborhoods along High Street, a lot of average working folks found themselves priced out of their homes. Although my Dad’s mother, sister, and brothers had long since left Flytown for nicer neighborhoods, when gentrification in the area soon-to-be-renamed the Italian Village began, my Dad astutely noted that had they kept the old house they’d been so quick to move out of, they would have ultimately been sitting on a goldmine: prime real estate in a neighborhood destined to be Yuppified.

Short North gates

When Gary and I mentioned to my folks that we planned to spend part of our day in Columbus strolling the Short North, my Dad didn’t regale us with stories of his old ‘hood…but he did make a point of mentioning that the lightbulbs in the area’s signature arches, designed to create a historic ambience by replicating the gas street-lamps from the good old days, aren’t and never really have been functional. You can renovate a neighborhood out of a ghetto, but you apparently can’t repair the ghetto out of that neighborhood. The Short North and Italian Village are now among the priciest places to live in Columbus…but the area is still somewhat funky, with undeniable aspects of urban squalor that some would call “charm” and others would consider “overpriced hype.”

Short North Tavern

Whether or not living in the Short North is worth its fashionable price-tag, the fact remains that this once-shady district is now a premier place to hang out. As Gary and I window-shopped High Street’s various upscale boutiques, I kept marvelling that this was Columbus we were browsing; when I was a teenager in Columbus, there was virtually nothing to do downtown other than maybe roll tumbleweeds down the all-but-abandoned streets. These days, you can go Gallery Hopping the first Saturday of every month, or simply sightsee (and be seen) every other fabulously fashionable day.

Believe me, when I lived in Columbus–and when my Dad grew up in Flytown, long before the Short North was cool and “Italian Village” even existed–they did not have arty murals on the brick walls along High Street:

American Gothic mural

Mona Lisa mural

Van Gogh mural

If you want to live in one of the Mona Lisa condos, you’d better act soon…and be prepared to pay a pretty penny for the privilege of tossing your trash next to La Gioconda‘s enigmatic smile. The Short North and Italian Village have gone from being a slum called Flytown to being the hippest place to live and play. One of the truest signs of changing times I saw during last weekend’s stroll was this banner for a yet-to-be-completed condo renovation:

Ikea lofts

Ikea lofts

In case you can’t read that condo-banner, here’s an enlargement. As if having a Short North address isn’t fashionable enough, the Yukon Studio Loft condos boast Ikea kitchens, something my Dad definitely never had in the Flytown home of his childhood. If it seems odd to sell real estate on the basis of its kitchen appliances and furniture, keep in mind that there are no Ikea stores in Ohio, but there are Ikea fanatics there. Apparently the best way to furnish a tony Short North condo is with funkily fashionable Swedish furniture…and I’d be willing to bet that Swedish-made lamps work better than the Short North’s stylish but non-functional street arches.

So if you’re looking for the “urban lifestyle” of one-bedroom lofts, non-functional street lamps, and arty murals, the Short North district of downtown Columbus, OH might be just what you’re looking for. The art scene is hot and the hangouts are cool…just don’t offer an over-priced cup o’ Joe to an old Italian Daddy named Joe, or he might regale you with stories of the old days when this was a ghetto called Flytown.