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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.
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.