Monday, February 14, 2005

Hello, World / Bonjour, Le Monde


About twenty percent of the traffic to The Ohio Twenty-first thus far comes from outside the United States. I didn't anticipate that when I created this blog, and it raises the question of whether to continue to write as if the reader is familiar with this area or to write in such a way as to orient a reader who may be from Europe, the Middle East, or Australasia.

I've decided to go with the second option. After all, twenty percent ain't hay. Besides, it may give people from other countries a better grasp of my own.

Follow this link to a map centered on my home. If you zoom out, you'll soon see the entire 21st District (which is essentially the northern fringe of Franklin County, Ohio). If you zoom out much more, you'll soon be able to place the state in the context of New York, Washington, Chicago, or whatever metropolis is most familiar to you.

For background on the United States, check out the entry in--I kid you not--the CIA World Fact Book.

Here's an interactive map of Ohio.

Once upon a time the land comprising the 21st District belonged to the Indians, though I am unaware of any tribes that resided here during historical times. The closest Indian communities were to the south, around Chillicothe; to the west, near present-day West Liberty; and to the north, around Upper Sandusky. The French claimed this region until their defeat in the French and Indian War. The British claimed it between 1763 and 1783. The United States won possession of it, supposedly by right of conquest, as a result of the War for American Independence, though it took a protracted Indian war (1790-1794) to enforce that claim. The areas comprising the 21st District were part of districts created to give land to veterans of that conflict. I live in what was once the U.S. Military District. A short distance to the west was once the boundary with the Virginia Military District.

Of course, scarcely any resident of the 21st District knows or cares anything about the remote history of the area. Home buyers may be intrigued to see references to the military districts on the abstracts of title they receive when they purchase property. But they quickly forget about such things. And why not? It makes little difference to their lives.

What typically matters more are the things you'd expect to matter: good jobs, good schools, good places to shop, good churches, and good parks, museums, and cultural sites, in roughly that order. The 21st District is essentially a belt of bedroom communities. Most people work in and around downtown Columbus, though in a development few anticipated, the completion of an expressway around the city--I-270--led to the construction of a series of corporate parks in this area during the late 1970s and 80s. This area was at the fringe of the city when my family moved here in 1972. Metropolitan Columbus has since swept another ten miles or so to the north.

The economy of this region--central Ohio, as it's generally called--is diversified. It consists of some manufacturing (e.g., Anheuser Busch, which has a huge brewery here), higher education (e.g., The Ohio State University, which has the nation's second largest main campus), finance and insurance (e.g., Nationwide Insurance); and government (Columbus is the state capital and county seat; it also has substantial federal infrastructure). As it happens, to take these elements in reverse order: I pay taxes to the government, once worked for Nationwide, currently work at OSU, and like to drink beer. Call it the circle of life.

The diverse economy shields the region somewhat in times of recession. Franklin County invariably has a lower unemployment rate than the state of Ohio. On the other hand, Ohio not infrequently has a higher unemployment rate than the United States, and Franklin County's unemployment figures are sometimes worse than that of the country as a whole.

This link to the U.S. Census Bureau provides population data on Franklin County. You can modify the data pretty readily to look specifically at Columbus, Dublin, or Westerville, though for some reason not Worthington. To my knowledge, you'd actually have to crawl through the specific tract data to come up with a demographic profile for the 21st District as a whole. Each government entity tends to draw boundaries with only loose regard for those of other entities. But you can get a rough idea by using the relevant zip codes (i.e., postal codes), in my case 43229.

What you discover is that the median age in my zip code area is 31.8. Fifty-five percent of households contain children under eighteen, though the average household contains just 2.3 people. Thirty-five percent of households consist, like mine, of persons living alone. (I've been divorced for five years). Seventy percent of the population is white, twenty-five percent is black, three percent is Hispanic (officially, at least: that part of the population tends to be underreported), and two percent is Asian. More or less.

That's a significant change from 1972, when my family moved here. This area used to be pretty much lily white. Among many whites it is still commonly believed that with the influx of a significant number of persons of color the neighborhood goes to pot: "white flight" remains a significant phenomenon. But I have never seen evidence that this libel is anything but a libel. And indeed, my neighborhood is in most respects more attractively maintained than it was when I first lived here in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The chow is a lot more interesting, too. Within five minutes' drive I can reach a good Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Indian, and even Ghanian restaurant, depending on what I feel like having. Plus Bruno's, the venerable Intalian restaurant that has been here since I was a kid.

I guess I should add that my family sold the house in which I live back in 1984, the year after my mother's death. I lived elsewhere--mostly other parts of Columbus but also in London and Santa Monica--until October 2003, when I bought the place again. In the intervening years my father also passed away--he died in 1989, before my nieces and nephews had a chance to know him--and I wanted them to have something tangible from their own parents' past. (It didn't hurt that this house has 800 more square feet than my previous residence, either.)

Here's some additional data for the rest of the 21st District, kinda sorta. It's broken out by zip codes and does not fit the district exactly, but it comes fairly close. I've arranged it to conform more or less to the contours of the district. Other zip codes contain portions of the district as well, but to include them here would misrepresent the picture because they primarily serve other districts.

43017 43235 43229
(space)43085 43224

See also this excellent report prepared by the Ohio Department of Development's Office of Strategic Research. It's for Frankin County but the data, especially the maps, are suggestive for the 21st district.

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