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Discovering Columbus

October 15th, 2006
Robert Cross, ChicagoTribune

COLUMBUS, Ohio—People might suppose that an Ohio State game at Ohio Stadium—the famed “Horseshoe”—would grind the town to a halt.

Columbus isn’t a town, however; it’s a city big enough to keep its enthusiasms separated, so that even when 100,000-plus fans converge in one area, plenty more thousands of residents go to lots of places somewhere else.

We put Columbus in this series with the Omahas and Toledos mostly because it lacks an American major-league sports franchise: no NBA basketball, no MLB baseball, no NFL football. It does have a National Hockey League team, but the way we parse it, Canadian sports don’t count. And it does have the Columbus Crew soccer team, one indication of the city’s ethnic diversity but no deal breaker.

So here we have Columbus with a population close to 730,000—a city larger, by that measure, than Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas or Seattle, to name a few examples—ranking 15th in the U.S.

And yet…the Cubs, Sox, Bulls and Bears can’t play a Columbus home team. And yet…the Chicago Tribune stylebook insists we say “Columbus, Ohio” in the dateline, while smaller cities, such as Des Moines and Akron, are considered so well known they can stand by themselves.

Of course, a lot of American towns bear the name Columbus—usually as a nod to Chris, who never set foot in any of them. The city grew so large partly because of an annexation binge that began in the 1990s. One result is that the most visitor-visible parts appear fresh and untroubled. Downtown glistens with clean-cut office buildings, a handsome statehouse and an impressive main library edifice. The Easton Town Center shopping complex out near the airport looks as pristine as Disney World. The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) on the Scioto River has grown into a space-age tubular structure for its array of hands-on wonders. That zoo made so famous by frequent talk-show guest Jack Hanna has gotten all leafy and naturalistic. (Hanna may be graying, but he still puts on a lively show, whether at the Columbus Zoo outdoor pavilion or on late-night TV.)


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