2023 State of the City Address
Published on March 21, 2023
Columbus – it has been my privilege to lead this city during such tremendous growth, transition and change.
The state of our city is strong and getting stronger with each passing day, and I couldn't be more excited about what lies ahead.
It comes down to this: I want Columbus to be the very best community in the country, and I want everyone … everyone … in our city to share in our success.
The way we get there is by continuing to improve neighborhood safety … making Columbus more affordable for more families … and by providing top-notch city services that empower our residents and businesses to thrive.
Together, we will rededicate ourselves to these guiding principles and build the foundation for a stronger future.
As I’ve said since I was first elected, my top three priorities are neighborhoods, neighborhoods, neighborhoods – and that starts with making them safer.
Although we’ve faced our fair share of challenges on this front, I am proud of the fact that we have a record of success.
In 2017, we launched the city’s first-ever Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy. It brought together key partners from across the community to tackle crime from multiple angles.
This strategy worked. We brought down violent crime by 30% over the following two years … but then we were hit with the pandemic. The world was turned upside down – and violent crime started to rise in cities all over America.
Columbus was no exception. We knew we needed to act quickly, and we did. We updated our safety strategy to include new programs and tactics. And we brought it online with as much speed as possible – again, with a holistic focus on reducing crime through enforcement and addressing its root causes through prevention and intervention.
Last year, we saw a 33% reduction in homicides – the largest-single percentage drop among the 20 largest cities in the country. We’ve also seen a dramatic decline in violent crime. We’re solving more cases more quickly, holding more criminals accountable and, ultimately, making our streets and neighborhoods safer.
This is due in no small part to improved community-police relations, which have led to the most crime tips we’ve ever received.
Here’s what else we’ve been doing:
First and foremost, we’re getting more officers on the streets. For the past two years, we’ve activated an additional class for new recruits – with the capacity to graduate up to 170 officers annually. We’ve also, for the first time ever, opened our safety forces to officers from other cities who wish to come to Columbus and join our Division of Police – another viable pipeline for welcoming new talent. At our current rate, we’ll have more officers next year than ever before in our city’s history.
These actions bolster the ability of police to respond to emergencies rapidly and effectively … and on a broader scale … enabling them to mobilize and combat crime in a proactive and targeted fashion.
To that end, we’ve launched a number of initiatives aimed at sweeping violent criminals off our streets. One example is Operation Unity, which coordinates with regional law enforcement agencies and local nonprofits to conduct campaigns in specific neighborhoods that catch criminals and connect residents with services that improve quality of life.
We’re also using cutting-edge technologies like Shotspotter that can detect gunfire as the trigger is pulled and direct our officers to the scene before a call for service is placed and, ideally, while a suspect is still in the vicinity.
But we can’t simply arrest our way out of crime. We have to do all that we can to interrupt the cycle of violence and, if possible, stop it from forming in the first place. That’s where our prevention and intervention programs come into play – like ReRoute, VOICE, the Columbus Care Coalition and others.
The city’s Right Response Unit represents this philosophy in action – and it has proven to be a resounding success. It works by placing social workers and clinicians in 9-1-1 Dispatch to connect callers in crisis with the right resources at the right time.
It has the obvious advantage of expanding access to mental health and addiction services, but it also reduces the demands on our officers’ time, to the tune of 1,000 hours since the program’s inception just under two years ago.
We are also continuing with our Rapid Response Emergency Addiction and Crisis Teams – or RREACT – specifically targeted at helping those dealing with addiction.
We also know that we must reinforce the bonds between our officers and the community. Without trust, transparency and accountability, we risk sliding backward.
Part of this work requires that we build lasting, durable relationships by meeting our residents where they are. The Police Athletic League is one such endeavor – and I’m excited to be bringing it back and using sports to connect even more kids with our heroic first responders.
And while this program and others like it possess great promise, I am fully aware that greater engagement with the community is only one step toward improving relations between police and the public. We will continue holding officers accountable for wrongdoing, as well.
I believe strongly that we can support our officers and support policing reforms at the same time. I’ve led the charge on this since the start of my first term in office.
But the events of 2020 made clear that more extensive action was required. We stepped up to the plate, we sped up our work, and we implemented more reforms on a faster timetable than ever before in our city’s history.
To start, our officers are now equipped with the very latest in body-worn camera and in-car camera technology – including $19 million in upgrades we made last year that allow for higher-quality audio and video, automatic activation and video recall as far back as 24 hours prior to an incident.
I led the effort to establish the Civilian Police Review Board and the Office of the Inspector General for the Division of Police, both of which were approved by Columbus voters and paved the way for civilian oversight of police for the very first time.
We hired our first Chief of Police from outside the division – Chief Elaine Bryant – to apply a fresh perspective and change both the face and culture of policing in Columbus.
We passed Andre’s Law, which criminalizes the failure to provide aid to an injured person in police custody.
We refer all police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths for independent investigation by the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
We updated officer training to include a renewed focus on fostering relationships and advancing the interests of an increasingly diverse community.
And we’ve partnered with groups like the Equity Now Coalition – led by Stephanie Hightower of the Columbus Urban League – to change how our officers respond to nonviolent protests by eliminating the use of chemical agents to disperse peaceful crowds.
But our reforms wouldn’t be complete if they didn’t also factor in the welfare of our first responders. The stressors they face every day are unimaginable. And they deserve access to a wide range of resources that ensure they always bring the best version of themselves to the job.
We opened the Public Safety Wellness Center last summer – a first-of-its-kind facility here in Columbus that provides Police and Fire personnel as well as 9-1-1 Dispatchers with a collection of supportive services in a centralized location.
Again, rethinking our approach to neighborhood safety and working to realize the results our residents deserve …
But our work is far from finished – and I’m committed to seeing it through.
We’re in the process of a significant reorganization of our police forces for the first time in 10 years, studying the data we’ve been collecting and reallocating our resources to make sure we have the right number of officers in the right parts of the city at the right times.
The Real Time Crime Center will be instrumental to this undertaking, serving as the centerpiece of a new public safety campus in Northeast Columbus that’ll feature a new police substation and a hub of actionable intelligence that’ll help us better predict, prevent and solve crimes. The next step is the demolition of the building on Carolyn Avenue, which will begin this summer.
And we’re standing up the city’s first-ever Office of Violence Prevention – which also happens to be the first of its kind in the state.
This office will coordinate our public safety and violence prevention responses city-wide and further enhance our effectiveness when it comes to reducing violent crime. I am happy to announce that Rena Shak will be leading the office. She will oversee all of the prevention and intervention programs sponsored by the city through multiple departments.
We’re also exploring new ways of combating the flow of illegal crime guns into our community – which account for more than 90% of homicides in Columbus.
Last year, I declared gun violence a public health crisis and charged our health commissioner, Dr. Mysheika Roberts, with coming up with specific recommendations – one of which was the creation of the Office of Violence Prevention.
Unfortunately, the state legislature has put in place the most dangerous and reckless gun policies in the history of the state, but we’re fighting back.
We’ve passed commonsense gun safety measures like limiting the number of rounds in a magazine, demanding safe storage for guns and increasing penalties for shady firearms dealers.
We took this fight to the courts, and we won. Now we’re looking to pass universal background checks and red-flag laws, too.
We will not rest; we will not yield. We will not stand down. We will continue to do everything we can to reduce gun violence in our community – particularly among our Black neighbors, who are disproportionately the victims of gun-related crimes.
Racism is a public health crisis. Gun violence is a public health crisis. And it is incumbent upon us to act now.
This isn’t about taking guns away from law-abiding gun owners; it’s about getting illegal crime guns off our streets. Last year, Columbus Police collected more than 3,300 firearms – nearly 200 of which were assault-style weapons … another record-breaking accomplishment for both the division and the City of Columbus.
We’re also hiring additional attorneys to prosecute gun crimes more aggressively as part of an ongoing partnership between the city, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio, and the ATF.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently released their initial review of policing in Columbus, marking the first time ever that the DOJ has been invited by the city to assess our operations. Their findings validate that we’re on the right track, but also indicate there’s still more work to be done.
We’ll continue partnering with them as they take a closer look at certain areas – like use of force – and do all that we can to make sure we have the very best Division of Police.
The safety of our community is at stake. And we’ll see to it that Columbus is the safest big city in the country.
That is the foundation for a stronger future – but there’s more to it than that.
Our region continues to grow – and this presents significant opportunities for our city’s future.
Over the last decade, Columbus grew more than any other city in Ohio. We were the only Midwestern city to gain more than 100,000 residents. And Central Ohio, as a region, is on track to be home to more than 3 million people by 2050.
And it’s because our economy is growing by leaps and bounds.
We’ve created more than 27,000 jobs since the day I first took office. From 2021 to 2022, we created more jobs in a two-year period than ever before. And despite the economic slowdown nationally and throughout much of the world, we expect to continue creating thousands upon thousands of new, high-paying jobs well into the foreseeable future – including the trades.
Before I took office, skilled labor in Columbus collectively worked 4.3 million hours a year. Last year, that number was up to 9 million. Next year, that number is projected to rise to 13 million.
In Columbus, we embrace growth, and we embrace change. That’s how we went from a city of 375,000 in 1950 to nearly a million in 2023.
Columbus is a city on the move; that’s what makes us unique. We can always make room for more neighbors – as long as we make decisions now that enable us to grow in a dynamic and inclusive way.
Keep in mind, however: The current housing squeeze is not just a Columbus issue; it’s a regional issue. And it stems from decades-worth of actions, policies and attitudes that have held back both residential and commercial construction throughout Central Ohio.
What we need now is a new model for how we conceptualize and greenlight future growth. We need more housing of every type at every price point, and Columbus, I’m proud to say, is leading by example.
We created the Regional Housing Coalition to coordinate the efforts of our suburban partners, private investors and the nonprofit sector.
In 2019, Columbus voters passed our first-ever voter-approved bond package specifically for affordable housing. The $50 million in bond funds that we brought to the table ultimately leveraged over $300 million in public- and private-sector support to build more than 1,300 new units – doubling the speed at which these units came online.
Projects include Topiary Park Crossing in Downtown Columbus, which offers several rents below the market rate. If you are a single person earning $35,000 a year, you can now afford to live in an apartment overlooking this gem in the heart of our city. And the bond funding approved by our residents helped make it possible.
Last summer, we launched the Columbus Housing Strategy, a blueprint for building the housing we need while including everyone in our region’s prosperity. And it’ll require each of our neighboring municipalities to do their part.
Here’s what it involves…
First, we need to build more housing at every price point. I am calling on the entire region to double the number of units coming to market in the next 15 years.
Second, we must preserve existing affordability and protect residents from eviction. Since the pandemic began, the city has awarded more than $50 million to 32 community organizations to pursue the equitable distribution of rental assistance.
We are also providing resources that reduce the cost of owning a home, including more than $100,000 in down payment assistance and $1.5 million in forgivable loans and capital grants through the Homeownership Development Program.
And, in partnership with Franklin County, the Central Ohio Community Land Trust built and sold 60 homes in 2022, with an average household income of $53,000. Sixty-seven percent of those homes were sold to single, female-headed households.
But we also have to invest more in new affordable housing projects. Period.
That is why I’ve called on the region, both public and private sector alike, to invest $1 billion to meet our region’s housing needs. And that is why I went back to Columbus voters last fall and secured another $200 million in bond funding for affordable housing – quadrupling the funds we received from our 2019 bond sales.
These dollars will go a long way toward advancing the final component of the Columbus Housing Strategy, which is to include everyone in mixed-income neighborhoods.
No resident should have to spend more than 30 percent of their income to live in safe housing in a neighborhood of their choice. And a family earning $50,000 a year should be able to choose where their family lives.
That’s why we’re requiring developers to include more affordable units in order to receive financial incentives from the city. As you might recall, there were no affordable housing requirements for tax incentives before I became your mayor, but we put a policy in place, we’ve continued to build upon that policy, and now developers must include more affordable housing in their projects if they want to qualify for city incentives.
This work combined has led to the construction of nearly 1,400 affordable housing units in neighborhoods throughout our city.
To keep our progress rolling, we need to modernize the laws and regulations that spell out how, what and where we build in Columbus. Our Zoning Code hasn’t been fully updated in nearly 70 years and, frankly, it no longer addresses the needs of our city.
We’re overhauling the Zoning Code as we speak. When it’s complete, it’ll be easier, and faster, to build the housing we need where we need it. But we must also remain mindful of our impact on nature, preserving our beautiful greenspaces while finding new ways for all of our residents to access the benefits provided by the Great Outdoors.
At the same time, we must connect our neighborhoods and ensure that no one’s opportunity is ever limited by their transportation.
We are working to expand access to jobs, health care and other vital services by promoting rapid, reliable and affordable transportation throughout the region –particularly within our high-growth corridors.
LinkUS continues to bring together public- and private-sector partners, like Joanna Pinkerton at COTA and William Murdock at MORPC, to identify the corridors that will comprise our initial focus and lay the groundwork to put this initiative before voters in the fall of 2024.
But we also want the diversity of our developer community to more closely resemble the diversity of our broader community. That is where programs like the Emerging Developers Accelerator Program have a vital part to play.
By providing $5 million to train and accelerate the growth of underrepresented developers – particularly women and people of color – we can better ensure that the benefits of a booming economy are shared across the board.
This keys in on an important point: Affordability runs deeper than housing costs and cost of living. There’s an equity dimension, too.
When I took office, my first act was to form the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Since 2016, we have secured nearly $400 million in city contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses – bringing into the fold those who’ve historically been excluded from our city’s good fortune.
For instance, last year we launched a new certification program for LGBTQ+ businesses to increase their participation in city procurement and contracting opportunities.
The city provides similar certifications for nearly half-a-dozen other groups – making Columbus more inclusive and more competitive all at the same time.
Here’s another example…
When we created the partnership to keep The Crew in Columbus five years ago, we included a 30% minority participation goal in the construction of Lower.com Field. The stadium opened to the public in 2021, but not before $74 million in contracts were awarded to minority-owned enterprises.
The Crew continues to work with the city to find new opportunities for these businesses, such as restaurants, vendors and architectural firms for office build-outs at the new stadium.
And this site is still transforming the Arena District, sparking shovel-ready projects that’ll give rise to affordable housing, office space, retail and more.
This explosion in new development mirrors what we’re seeing just across the Scioto River along The Peninsula in Franklinton, where our city’s “original neighborhood” is continuing to evolve in tandem with other neighborhoods across Columbus.
It isn’t enough, however, to grow for the sake of growth; we must also grow equitably for the sake of our residents and their well-being. We must grow the right way.
Everyone in our community deserves access to opportunity, and everyone deserves equal pay for equal work. That’s the aim of the Columbus Women’s Commission: to make pay equity a reality for our city.
Led by First Lady Shannon Ginther, the commission launched the Columbus Commitment in 2017, a voluntary pledge by which local employers agree to do all that they can to close the wage gap for their workers.
So far, over 375 employers have signed on, including over 100 within the last year – all expressing a sincere desire to help women excel in the workplace.
And we’re doing our part as a city. With the advocacy of the Women’s Commission and Columbus City Council, we’ll be increasing the minimum wage for permanent full-time city employees to $20 an hour – the second increase we’ve made since I took office. Our workers deserve more than “the minimum.” They deserve a living wage – as do all workers in Columbus.
The commission has also partnered with the city to expand our Paid Family Leave Policy. Later this year, permanent full-time city employees will be able to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for children, parents, spouses and siblings with qualifying health conditions and for major life events.
Enhanced paid-leave policies have been shown to increase worker satisfaction and retention, and decrease the lifetime earning gaps between men and women – a disparity we all want to see eliminated for good.
But the Women’s Commission is doing more than putting pay equity front and center. They’re also helping Columbus families attain lasting economic stability through innovative programs and services.
Last May, the commission joined forces with Jewish Family Services to launch the Columbus Financial Empowerment Center.
This brand-new resource provides free, one-on-one financial counseling with licensed professionals for all Columbus-area adults – walking residents through the basics of opening a bank account, improving credit scores, navigating loans, negotiating with creditors, increasing savings and planning for major purchases.
Growing the winner’s circle in Columbus: that’s what the Women’s Commission is all about, and it’s also the basis of Opportunity Rising – my administration’s equity agenda.
By fulfilling specific goals that lead to greater economic stability, improved health and wellness, and safer, more resilient communities, Opportunity Rising will streamline our efforts in the years to come – establishing linkages across departments and throughout the community to accelerate our momentum.
I have every confidence that as our city grows, so will our efforts to make Columbus more affordable … and more equitable … for everyone.
That is the foundation for a stronger future.
But to flourish without limit, we must provide exceptional services that enshrine Columbus as the very best place to raise a family, run a business and welcome a steady stream of travelers and tourists.
It isn’t enough to meet expectations. We want to be a best-in-class destination. We owe it to ourselves, and to our future, to always elevate the bar for excellence.
And when it comes to the traditional city services that our residents have come to know and expect – like trash pickup, recycling, power, water and more – we’re moving beyond the status quo. We’re doing more, and we’re doing better.
For starters, refuse and recycling are both getting an upgrade. We’re going after illegal dumping, dedicating more staff and vehicles to focus on areas where litter and dumping are more common, and we’re adding personnel who’ll hold illegal dumpers accountable. We’ve also got a new Litter Response Team on deck, who’ll focus on sprucing up our roads, sidewalks and alleyways.
But that’s not all. We’re opening two new Waste and Reuse Convenience Centers at the Alum Creek and Georgesville Road collection stations. These centers will be available to residents who need to dispose of bulky items that don’t fit inside a standard city refuse container. They’ll also accept recycling, food and yard waste, and host special events throughout the year, like hazardous waste and pumpkin drop-offs. Both facilities are slated to open this summer.
One of the biggest changes we’re most excited about is the expansion of residential curbside recycling from every other week to a weekly basis – also starting this summer.
We anticipate this will increase the amount of recyclable materials the city collects by 25 to 40 percent, reducing the amount of waste sent to the landfills and dramatically reducing our carbon emissions – especially as our population continues to grow.
This is good news for our residents and a giant leap toward becoming a carbon-neutral Columbus – which the city’s Climate Action Plan has set out to achieve by 2050.
A thriving, forward-thinking Columbus is essential not only for our continued progress and well-being as a community, but for our continued role as a pivotal player on the global stage.
Conventions, concerts and performances are returning after years of diminished activity during the pandemic. In fact, for the first time ever, we hosted the PCMA Convening Leaders conference in January of this year, a convergence of event planners from around the world. This event generated $4.2 million in direct visitor spend while attendees were in town and has the potential to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to our city over the next decade.
As of today, there are more than 185 conventions, meetings, trade shows and sporting events scheduled to come to Columbus this year alone. Seven of those are city-wide events and are expected to bring 52,000 attendees and more than $37 million to our local economy.
This means more money for hotels, shops, restaurants and the workers who ensure their success … and more tax revenues to support human services, housing and programs for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Our growth in travel and tourism is why programs like the Diversity Apprenticeship Program are so important. By expanding access to rewarding careers in the local hospitality industry, we support critical sectors contributing to our economic vitality while realizing a robust and equitable recovery from the pandemic – the very embodiment of purposeful, intentional growth.
To that point, we’ve invested the vast majority of our federal stimulus dollars to keep our neighbors in their homes, put food on their tables, help them pay their utility bills, keep local businesses afloat, and expand summer programming for our youth.
We’re following the recommendations of the Recovery and Resiliency Advisory Committee – chaired by Christie Angel – to devote the remaining balance of our federal stimulus dollars to support and sustain the most basic needs of our residents and businesses in innovative ways, like expanding access to affordable high-speed internet.
This is no longer a luxury but a basic household need, another crucial lesson that we learned during the pandemic and intend to pursue moving forward.
But even before the pandemic, far too many have been left out and left behind by the Columbus success story. We have an obligation to reverse this trend, to go above and beyond in ways that are truly unique for a city government anywhere in the world, partnering directly with our residents to come up with solutions that foster new development and breathe new life into these historic pillars of our city.
We started in Linden and worked with the community there to come up with the One Linden Plan. We did the same in the Hilltop, where we crafted the Envision Hilltop Plan. Both neighborhoods have since received more than $150 million in public and private investments – spurring state-of-the-art facilities like the Linden Community Center and the Hilltop Early Learning Center.
This year, we’ll roll out a similar resident-driven plan for the Eastland neighborhood, following the lead of our neighbors to propel this area forward.
Make no mistake: Our focus on these neighborhoods doesn’t detract from what we’re doing city-wide.
We recently received a $12 million federal grant to implement transportation safety improvements along East Livingston Avenue in Driving Park.
This grant, combined with a $12 million investment from the city, will make it safer to walk, bike and drive along this critical corridor.
We’ve also remodeled the community center in this neighborhood as well as those at Glenwood and Douglas to the west and to the north, respectively.
And we broke ground on The Fran Ryan Center, which will offer programming for seniors at the former site of Douglass Elementary School in Olde Towne East.
On top of that, design is underway to transform the 69 acres at Kilbourne Run Park on the Northeast Side.
Improvements to fields, lighting, parking, restrooms, a playground and open shelters will all contribute to an enhanced guest experience.
The Crew Academy will use the space, as well, allowing residents to compete alongside talented soccer players who are well on their way toward entering the professional ranks.
This joins a dramatic expansion of the city’s current inventory of pickleball courts, with a three-season tournament complex planned at Mock Park as well as additional outdoor courts at Krumm, McCoy, Gender Road and Anheuser-Busch parks.
In total, we are adding at least 30 dedicated pickleball courts over the next five years – in addition to the more than 100 overlays that we already have on other courts, both indoor and outdoor.
And we’re rolling out a new after-school program for middle-school students to help keep them safe, active and engaged. The school district asked for our help in making this happen, and we’re doing just that.
The city is kicking in the funding, the school district is providing the spaces, and the Boys and Girls Club of Central Ohio is stepping in with programming and spaces of their own.
It’s still in the earliest phases of deployment but will eventually expand to include the entirety of the school year at additional sites in additional neighborhoods as new partners are brought on board.
But our commitment to children and families doesn’t end there.
We launched the Columbus Promise to cover the full cost of tuition and fees for Columbus City Schools graduates who enroll at Columbus State. This program is showing great results – having doubled the number of Columbus City Schools graduates at Columbus State within the first two years alone.
I can’t wait to see this program continue to pick up speed and do great things for our city.
From kids, teens and high school graduates to athletes, seniors and residents in every corner of Columbus, we are coming up with new solutions that meet the demands of the day and anticipate what tomorrow will bring.
That is the foundation for a stronger future.
Listen, I understand that many hold a deep skepticism of government: what it represents, what it is capable of…
But I see government as a beacon that points people toward their highest aspirations. It empowers us to improve our own lives, to be our best selves, so that we may be safe and successful in all that we do.
It isn't perfect or a magical cure for all that ails our world. But it can make sure that there are equitable opportunities for all.
It is how we address society's shortcomings, look after the less fortunate, provide the essential services that elevate our homes, businesses and the streets on which we travel.
It’s about collaboration – turning toward common interests and celebrating the uncommon courage of residents and advocates who always do the hard work that needs to be done. Put simply, it’s about all of you.
That is why I am so honored to serve as your mayor, and that is why I cannot wait to shape the future of this amazing city, together.