Ohio Wesleyan University assistant professor David M. Walker has studied contemporary urban issues while conducting extensive research in Mexico.

Ohio Wesleyan University assistant professor David M. Walker has studied contemporary urban issues while conducting extensive research in Mexico.

But the instructor in urban, economic and cultural geography found fertile soil for his research practically just around the corner, along the Morse Road corridor that was devastated by the 2002 closing of the Northland Mall.

In the years since, immigrant entrepreneurs from Somalia and Latin America have filled some of the voids left by the departure of businesses from strip centers all along Morse Road.

Walker, an assistant professor of geology-geography at the liberal arts college in Delaware, will be outlining findings from research he conducted last summer in a presentation on Thursday, April 7.

Entitled "Immigrantification: Global Immigration and Landscape Changes The Revitalization of the Morse Road Corridor in Columbus, Ohio," Walker's lecture will get under way at 7:30 p.m. in the Benes Room of the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, 40 Rowland Ave. in Delaware.

This is part of the Ohio Wesleyan University History Department's 27th annual Joseph and Edith Vogel Lecture, "which seeks to promote a better understanding of area history," according to an announcement from the college.

The program is free and open to the public.

The lecture series is made possible by a gift from the son of Joseph and Edith Vogel. Ezra F. Vogel, Ph.D., a 1950 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan, is a retired professor of East Asian Studies at Harvard University.

"It's true that you can go to Brazil, you can go to China, you can go to Mexico to look at the effects of globalization, but right here in Columbus we've got fantastic examples of it," Walker said in a telephone interview last week.

"A lot of times, people in America think of globalization as something that's happening out there," he said.

Well, he said, it's happening right here, and the Morse Road corridor is one of those "fantastic examples."

The Northland area has become home to 35,000 immigrants from Somalia, the second-largest population in this country behind that of Minneapolis, he said. And, depending upon whose statistics are to be believed, the area is perhaps home to as many as 70,000 Latinos.

"I thought there's something afoot here, some changes going on here ," Walker said.

"In 2002, Northland Mall closed, and the formerly prospering neighborhood began to decline," the OWU announcement stated. "In recent years, immigrant entrepreneurs have opened stores and restaurants in vacant buildings, culturally and economically spurring urban revitalization.

"In his presentation, Walker will outline how he interviewed residents, business owners and city officials to create a map of their perceptions of what has occurred in the area. His research with Ohio Wesleyan student Jack Schemenauer was funded through a Theory-into-Practice grant from the university."

Northland Community Council president Dave Paul expressed some surprise that he had not been among those Professor Walker spoke with during the research done in summer 2010, but he added that there was "no reason he would have to."

He said he and NCC vice president Emmanuel V. Remy were both hoping to attend the lecture.

Among the surprises encountered during his interviews, Walker said, was how closely the Somali and Latino populations have been working together.

"They both share the immigrant entrepreneurial spirit," he said. They also shared "language barriers, albeit different languages."

And they share, if not bigotry, then a certain feeling of "otherness" from some of the residents, according to Walker. This was not true of all those who found these people with different appearances, cultural backgrounds and languages suddenly in their midst, Walker added.

"Many of the long-term residents appreciated the immigrants being there, especially the business people," he said.

In the national discourse over immigration, fear is sometimes expressed that people from other countries are taking jobs away from natives, Walker said. He pointed to the La Michoacana Mexican Markets owned by Liborio Alcauter as an example of the reverse. With a main location at 2175 Morse Road, seven others in Columbus and one in Dayton, Walker said the grocery-store restaurants employ upwards of 45 people.

"Immigrants aren't taking jobs from Ohioans, they're providing jobs for Ohioans," Walker said.

The main thing Walker hopes those attending the lecture take away with them is not to be fearful of newcomers.

"Cities are always changing, neighborhoods are always changing," Walker said. "Change doesn't always mean bad things are happening. Change can have positive aspects, so keep an open mind when you see new people coming in and oftentimes you'll find they want the same things you and your family want."