Central Ohio is expected to grow by up to 1 million residents by 2050. Most of that is expected to be in Columbus and its Franklin County suburbs – which already are preparing for the changes in population and demographics. But much of the growth will be in surrounding counties, their county seats, and rural villages.
Licking County is projected to add 38,000 residents by 2050. Newark, the largest of the region’s outlying communities and the seat of Licking County, has been aggressive in revitalizing parts of the city and improving infrastructure to accommodate future growth. These improvements have come through public, private, and not-for-profit investment.
The $9 million renovation of the 140-year-old courthouse and the changing colors of the LED lights in the dome, are the most visible improvements. But at the ground level, new roundabouts, rain gardens, and other infrastructure at all four corners of the courthouse square are amenities for the burst of private investment in downtown buildings.
Local foundations renovated the old Pennsylvania Railroad station for their offices, and built the grand Canal Market District pavilion for farmers markets and community events one block south of the courthouse.
New music venues, a large co-working space, bookstore, bakery, and other businesses have been attracted by the activity. Upstairs apartments are emerging in downtown buildings, and there is talk of renovating at two other very distinctive downtown buildings: the century-old Home Building Association building – a jewel designed by influential Chicago architect Louis Sullivan – and the 1908 Arcade building, with its glass-roof concourse, a forerunner of the modern enclosed shopping mall.
The new Thornwood Crossing interchange on Ohio Rt. 16 on the east edge of the city will accommodate growth there. And the coming designation of Newark Earthworks as a World Heritage site is expected to bring investment and activity to the area.
But Licking County already is feeling the challenges of growth. Bryn Bird is a first-term Granville Township trustee whose professional work keeps her with one foot on the family farm and the other in Newark and various community activities.
She notes that with growth comes a greater need for transportation that connects residents from Newark and the eastern part of the county to the jobs in the west. North-south connectors are also top of mind for Byrd and her fellow trustees as a means of linking with major east-west routes such as U.S. 40, U.S. 62 and Ohio 16.
The growing county also faces the “chicken-and-egg” of emergency response. Townships and municipalities need to account for emergency services as they grow, and the placement of such facilities is tied to growth patterns and relationships among jurisdictions. Byrd said it’s something communities need to discuss more.
Yet another regional issue identified by insight2050 is farmland and open space. Agriculture is the third largest sector in Licking County’s economy, so keeping farmland in production is important to growth, even as increasing population competes for land. Revitalization of existing developed areas, such as downtown Newark, is part of the solution.
The Licking County Soil & Water Conservation District has grown more active in protecting farms through the state’s Agricultural Easement Purchase Program. And the Canal Market District is trying to promote farmers by seeking new markets for locally raised meat and produce.
In Licking County, as in other less-urbanized communities throughout Central Ohio, the challenge for local officials is to have a firm grasp on the coming changes and to plan for growth in a way that balances competing needs and interests.