Feature Story

September 9, 2010 | By Linda O’Horo

Urban ‘Immigrantification’

The streetscape in the Northland area of Columbus is being revitalized through the opening of immigrant-owned and operated businesses in what were once empty storefronts. Photos by Jack Schemenauer ’11

During the summer, Ohio Wesleyan University student Jack Schemenauer ’11 worked with assistant professor of geography David Walker, Ph.D., to study how an influx of Somali and Latino residents and merchants is helping to revitalize the Northland area of Columbus. Once a thriving “go-to” spot, the Northland area began to deteriorate when shoppers and merchants migrated to adjacent suburban areas.

Walker and Schemenauer coined the term “immigrantification,” to describe how immigrants can revitalize blighted neighborhoods affected by businesses and residents seeking suburban development and by “white flight.” Walker says investments made by the new small businesses and the re-creation of vibrant urban landscapes has provided an excellent laboratory for study.

The influx of new businesses started by Somali and Latino merchants increased the City of Columbus’s interest in investing in the Northland area, which recently benefited from a $29-million city-funded beautification project along Morse Road.

“The Somali Community Association of Ohio reports that more than 1,000 businesses have been created by Somali immigrants in Columbus,” Walker says. The Somali population is the largest official immigrant population in Columbus.

Census figures place the number of Latinos living in Columbus at more than 20,000, half of whom are Mexican nationals. Walker says the actual population numbers may be much higher, as many Latino migrants may have come to the U.S. clandestinely. He says that Jesus Ovalle, health coordinator for the Ohio Hispanic Coalition (and OWU Class of 2006), estimates that as many as 70,000 Latinos may be living in Columbus and central Ohio.

Walker and Schemenauer incorporated qualitative methods (interviews, archival research, and participant research) with the Q method, a quantitative method that seeks to identify commonalities of opinion from diverse, subjectively sorted textual statements or pictures.

Residents of the Northland area participate in research using photos of their neighborhood to communicate their perceptions. Photo by David Walker

During their research, Walker and Schemenauer photographed immigrant businesses, neighborhood areas, and examples of city-funded improvements along Morse Road, and then asked area residents to sort and rank the photographs based on their own positive and negative perceptions, using a pyramid-shaped chart.

Schemenauer, a geography major from Luckey, Ohio, will use this information to analyze and map the socio-spatial changes occurring in the Northland area, as well as the impact of international immigration on space in the area. He will present his report at the annual Patricia Belt Conrades Summer Science Research Symposium on September 20. In addition to receiving funding through a theory to practice grant, Schemenauer also received support from the OWU Summer Science Research Program.

“It took a while for us to develop a trust with the people living and working in the Northland area,” Schemenauer says. “We were ignored at first in the Global Mall. But after a while, more and more people came over to speak with us, and they were very helpful.”

The Global Mall, located in a former department store, houses 28 businesses and services, including clothing stores, a photography studio, an African foods store, a barber shop, a tailor, and a jewelry-repair shop. It is owned and operated by Somali immigrant and entrepreneur Ahmed D. Mohamed.

Schemenauer and Walker plan to present the results of their research at several annual conferences this year.