Bottoms Up: Photographs of a Columbus Neighborhood in Transition

Bordered by the Scioto River on the north and east, Franklinton is Columbus, Ohio's oldest neighborhood—and also one of its most struggling. Within the last few years, developers have made efforts to rebrand the neighborhood with upscale housing, breweries and other attractions. But while eastern Franklinton is a growing hotspot for a younger crowd, the rest of the neighborhood is actively struggling with crime, drug use and gentrification. This photo essay works to explore the complexities of a neighborhood in transition. Cover image by Leanna Greenlee for Midstory.

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As I spent time in Franklinton, photographing buildings old and new alike and talking with residents sitting on porch steps or playing basketball in the streets, I was moved by the kindness and genuineness that emanates from the community and its residents. While it’s had a long history of struggle and decline, with new developments on the rise and a strong sense of community, Franklinton is fighting from the bottom to uplift its residents and its narrative.

Today, Franklinton is known as the Bottoms, both for its shallow and flat geography and for being home to residents of one of the lowest socioeconomic strata in Columbus. One third of residents are below the poverty line, and vacant housing and an overall scarcity of home ownership perpetuates poverty, which further decincentivizes residents’ investment into properties and encourages prostitution and drug use. Today, 18.4% of homes in Franklinton are vacant, while only 29.2% are owned. Sullivant Avenue, which runs the course of the neighborhood, has the highest rate of prostitution in Columbus. 

But the problems the neighborhood faces today stem from a long history of struggle and perseverance. At its founding in 1797 by land surveyor Lucas Sullivant, Franklinton’s proximity to the Scioto River made it an ideal one for settlement because of the fertile lands and promising transportation and trade opportunities; prior, Native Americans had settled the surrounding area as late as 1774. 

A mere five years after the neighborhood’s beginning, however, the first of a series of catastrophic floods devastated Franklinton, and the community’s greatest asset quickly catalyzed a downfall that would echo for centuries. The flood of 1798 forced settlers to relocate to higher ground west of the original location and another in 1913 took the lives of 93 people and displaced over 20,000. Finally, the flood of 1959 ravaged Ohio, leaving thousands without homes with Columbus being the most severely affected. After 1959, Franklinton slid into continual decline; effects of the flood devastated local businesses, destroyed over 100 homes and caused an exodus of residents in subsequent years. 

In 1983, The Federal Emergency Management Agency declared Franklinton a floodplain, which significantly slowed development for years to come because of new, stricter housing development standards. Poverty, crime and prostitution steadily plagued the area—and thus Franklinton became known as the Bottoms.

The completion of a floodwall in 2004 created a safety measure against future floods and renewed interest in developments, marking the beginning of Franklinton’s most recent revitalization efforts. New businesses and up-scale apartments like Land Grant and the Gravity Project, a multipurpose creative space, have brought in younger crowds to the eastern part of Franklinton. Some have even nicknamed it “the Next Short North” after Columbus’ artsy, culturally-rich neighborhood that spans High Street between the Ohio State University campus and downtown. 

Graphic made with Google Maps imagery by Ruth Chang for Midstory.

Both neighborhoods, however, are struggling with gentrification as developments raise housing prices—albeit at different degrees; while the Short North can’t build apartments fast enough for residents wanting to move in (and some existing residents are even being pushed out), Franklinton is still struggling with depopulation. Long-time residents are eager to see revitalization and change, but only if developers can preserve the neighborhood’s history and maintain affordable housing. 

While east Franklinton gets a makeover, the residential areas west of State Route 315 remain virtually untouched, choked out by the highway’s belt. With little hope for investments in the near future, the areas that need help the most remain largely ignored.

Many residents and organizations, however, don’t see Franklinton as a lost cause. Crossroads Community Harvest Food Pantry and Franklinton Farms are just a few of the localized efforts to increase food accessibility for Franklinton residents. The Changing Actions to Change Habits court docket (CATCH) was started by Judge Paul Herbert to provide a rehabilitation program for women in Columbus with criminal records who are survivors of human trafficking; 10 years in the making, CATCH has a recidivism rate of 29% compared to the national average of 80% as of 2019.

Hope is on the horizon for Franklinton, but the path ahead requires more than just new apartment buildings; it requires a present that encompasses care and equity for existing residents who oftentimes fall forgotten in the midst of revitalization and rebranding efforts. This series of photographs aims not to re-envision or rebrand, but simply to give snapshots of the neighborhood’s stories as they are.


Marvin. He was sitting on the steps of a building on the east side of Franklinton and allowed me to take his photograph. He looked as if he were waiting for someone—or something. 
West Franklinton boys, Monte and Collin, play basketball in the street outside their Franklinton home. They have lived there their whole lives.
Home in east Franklinton.
Sally’s market is a small corner store located near east Franklinton on Sullivant Avenue. It is one many corner stores that offer small convenience items, often replacing grocery stores for residents. Small, one-stop-shops often do not provide healthy options or fresh produce, making it difficult for residents who must travel farther to get the groceries they need.
A home associated with Franklinton Farms, located near central Franklinton. Franklinton Farms works to benefit the area with restorative gardening and engaging the community through educational programs. Franklinton does not have adequate access to healthy food options and many of its residents suffer from the lack of nutritional variety.
Pictured is Pastor Cory from Crossroads Community Church. Crossroads Community Harvest Food Pantry is a community-based effort to provide fresh produce and other groceries for anyone that needs them. They have held the food and clothing drive in east Franklinton for about seven years. I came across the Crossroads food drive when the volunteers were packing up. They told me that, normally, the line for groceries wraps around the corner. Crossroads tries their best to fill the tables with items that cannot be found in corner stores.
Lynn Clements. She was the first person I spoke to when I began exploring west Franklinton. I noticed her as she was doing some yard work. Most people recognize her home as “The Fullers’ Residence,” as it has been in her family for years. I explained my project to her, and she pointed out the number of houses that were being developed on her street.
Graffiti in west Franklinton.
Allen. He approached me while I was photographing the previous graffiti photo. We connected through our love for photography, and he agreed to have a portrait taken. Allen moved to the Franklinton area to work on growing his new business.
Land-Grant Brew Co opened on West Town Street in Franklinton in 2014.
The Gravity Building, a modern apartment complex on West Broad street in east Franklinton that works to encourage community among residents. Gravity has volunteer programs and incorporates greener practices into its apartments, including complimentary recycling and energy-efficient appliances and windows.
The River and Rich apartments are located on West Rich Street in east Franklinton. The apartments were completed in 2018. 
A mural titled Dream Together by Jeremy Jarvis, located on South Gift Street in Franklinton. The mural is a powerful image for Franklinton residents who hope for a brighter future for the neighborhood. More than 100 volunteers took part in the creation of the mural. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Why not nickname it..”the short west”…similar to that of the short north area of Cbus.

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