Columbus Neighborhoods Documentary Profiles University District

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OSU's University District: Where Students and Homeowners Live Side-By-Side(Photo: msmail (flickr))
OSU's University District: Where Students and Homeowners Live Side-By-Side(Photo: msmail (flickr))

WOSU-TV has produced the fourth installment in the Columbus Neighborhoods series.  This episode showcases the University District.  As WOSU’s Sam Hendren reports, the documentary traces the history of Ohio State and the neighborhoods nearby.  It’s a relationship that’s not always run smoothly.


On a hilly street just east of the Ohio State campus a young man on a motorcycle breaks the tranquil setting.  The sound is part of the fabric of the University District.  It annoys some of the older residents like this woman who would not give her name for fear of retaliation.  The woman says the students living around her have caused many of her neighbors to move away.  She says students have a negative effect on the area’s quality of life.


“It’s not good.  It’s not good because students take precedence over everything else,” the woman says. “It’s noisy, vulgar, and I don’t want to leave my house but I don’t know what I’m going to do.”


Greg Staab, a student at Ohio State, says it’s unfortunate that the people who’ve lived in the district for so long are moving away.  But he says most students in the neighborhood should not be blamed…


“During the weekends it gets a little wild during game days but I think for the most part, most of the students are pretty good citizens,” Staab says.


“It’s one of the strengths of the University area and its one of the challenges that we face. We are dealing with a large population of young adults,” says Steve Sterrett, the former head of the organization Campus Partners.


“They are at an age where risk-taking behavior is the norm.  And so those are going to be challenges that are always going to be with the University District.  There’s always going to be those tensions,” Sterrett says.


That was not the case in the early days of Ohio State partly because, as the documentary explains, there was very little neighborhood around the university to disturb…


As Ohio State matures, it becomes more than a place to study agriculture and engineering.  It brings arts and culture to the community. 


“And Ohio State really becomes this diamond that the neighborhood begins to gather around,” says Stu Koblentz, who’s lived in the district for 18 years.


That was in the 1870s and ‘80s when the student population was still small.  What happens at the turn of the century foreshadowed what’s happening today: the university begins to reach out to its neighbors.


The 1900s usher in a golden age for the University District.  Innovative leaders and residents collaborated on improvements on education, government, the arts and other disciplines.  That’s what a University is for. It was the one that attracted the best intellects of the time. 


What attracted a tremendous flood of students to Ohio State was the end of the Second World War.  In 1945, Ohio State had 13,000 students.  In 1946, the student population would almost double.


“It filled the classrooms at Ohio State, but it also added significant people to the University District,” Sterrett says. “Many of those GIs had postponed marriage and families and so they came back to school but they also had with them wives and sometimes children. And so that rapid increase in enrollment at Ohio State had a profound effect on the adjacent neighborhood.”


Sterrett says homeownership in the University District had always been low but in the 1950s and ‘60s, he says people were moving away from the area to the suburbs. The exodus from the University district only increased with student unrest in the late 1960s.


In response to the chaos, Columbus Mayor Sensenbrenner imposed a curfew on the University District.  Anyone on the streets was subject to arrest.  The campus was a cordoned off area.  It was under a military situation.  There were checkpoints at every alley and every street. 


Since that time, developers have torn down houses and put up apartment buildings and off-campus living in the University District has flourished.  As the former head of Campus Partners, Steve Sterrett had years to observe the changes.


“It’s the neighborhood in the state of Ohio that has had the most Ohioans live in it,” Sterrett says. “There are thousands of young people who come from around the state of Ohio and for a part of their life; they live in the University District. And for many of them, it’s one of the most exciting, memorable periods of their life.”


Columbus Neighborhoods: The University District airs tonight at 8 on WOSU-TV.

  • Katherine Foster J. Twarog

    I returned to OSU campus in 1958, the first divorced mother of 4 children under six to be allowed to do so. Since 1959, at least 2 or more of my family ]husband started Slavic program, myself [BA;MA PhD], and our six children and ten grandchildren have been continuously involved with OSU, but then, I am a birthright Lincoln from Illinois and was taught, quite early, that Abraham Lincoln signed the suthoroization forms for land-grant universities in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. Both of my parents, in Illinois, received the Lincoln County scholarships to study at the University of Illinois. I am so proud of my ‘birthright’ although few Lincolns made much money; they certainly had integrity +. I loved living with my four children near the campus and they played almost everyday at Mirror Lake. When my husband, Leon Twarog, and I were married on November 14, 1963, one week after Icompleted my generals for my doctorate in anthropology, our lives all focused even more on OSU. Ibelieve that I remain the only faculty wife that ever coordinated an OSU football halftime show for East European Heritage week that we helped sponsor in 1978. I have truly loved Ohio and the University Duistrict for more than 50 years now and have wonderful cherished memories of those wonderful years.

    Kitty Foster Jorgensen Twarog