St. James Pocket Park To Clean Up Eye Sore, Crime Hot Spot in Walnut Hills

The St. James cut through in Walnut Hills has been the focus of a significant amount of attention in recent months. It is a pedestrianized walkway between McMillan Street and Curtis Street that has been a crime hot spot.

As the City’s NEP program – a targeted 90-day sweep of code enforcement, law enforcement and beautification – moved into Walnut Hills, Curtis Street and the St. James cut through became focal points of the program.

The cut through is street-width with an adjacent parking lot to the west. It is a high traffic pedestrian path due to the presence of Kroger and a CVS across McMillan Street at the cut-through terminus. It currently contains post-modern design elements with existing, neglected raised cement beds for landscaping.

In order to improve the aesthetics and safety of the space, neighborhood leaders have begun raising funds to improve it. The rejuvenation of the space will not require an entire overhaul, but rather a reimagining, which has been led by MKSK Design, an architectural firm with offices in Covington.

“We hope to facilitate the activation of a vibrant, positive urban space through design,” said the lead designer of the project, Julianna Silveira of MKSK. “The design now is harsh, with a lot of concrete – the design will make it greener, with bright colors, and an ideal location for arts and cultural events.”

The parking lot portion of the park will be “depaved”, a process whereby parking lots are dismantled, and re-designed using naturalized elements and pervious surfaces. The kiosk in the middle of the park will be repurposed into a book-share station.

Over the past month, volunteers have been picking up garbage, painting, planting and have otherwise been active in the space’s incremental transformation. The St. James cut-through is affectionately being called the St. James Pocket Park within the neighborhood, as it is now looking more like a place one might stop and enjoy, rather than just, well, cut-through.

Although there is still work to be done, the park was chosen as the wrap-up location for the NEP on November 14. The event was attended by Mayor John Cranley (D), numerous city and neighborhood leaders, as well as the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and The Model Group, who unveiled renderings for the Trevarren Flats, a mixed-use apartment project that will utilize a historic structure a stone’s throw away from the park.

Later that night, a jazz concert was held in what is now the parking lot portion – event organizers were pleased to discover that the acoustics in the space were ideal for concerts, and provided encouragement for future events that could be held there.

So far the idea for the pocket park has been well-received, and the community’s ideas for how to improve it even earned it a spot in the finals of The Orbit Challenge, which could mean a $5,000 grant to help further the progress.

If any members of the public seek to be involved in any part of the park’s transformation, either through submitting ideas or volunteering, information can be found at the kiosk in the center of the park or on the St. James Pocket Park Facebook Page.

Film Center Renovation to be First Project in Northern Liberties for Urban Sites

Looking EastOver the seven year history of UrbanCincy, we have seen a tremendous amount of revitalization and new development in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Most has occurred in the southern half of the neighborhood, near the Central Business District. We’ve often wondered what it would take for development to jump across Liberty Street into the part of the neighborhood known as the Northern Liberties.

We may have recently hit that critical point. Findlay Market is thriving and growing, and will the addition of Eli’s BBQ, will soon offer a late-night dining option. The nearby tap room at Rhinegeist Brewery has quickly become a hot spot, bringing hundreds of visitors each weekend into a part of the neighborhood that was desolate just a short time ago. And Model Group has announced a $14 million office development along Race Street.

Most recently, the Business Courier reported that Urban Sites is moving forward with a plan to revitalize the 40,000 square foot Film Center building. It will be “the largest single site construction project that Urban Sites has performed to date,” according to Michael Chewning, Chief Operating Officer for Urban Sites. It is also the company’s first foray into the Northern Liberties.

The building was originally owned by Warner Bros. and contains dozens of large vaults that were used for storing films and protecting them against the elements. “The Film Center is unique in that it gives us a glimpse of the lesser known, but important role that Cincinnati played in the film industry,” said Seth Maney, Vice President of Development for Urban Sites.

Over the next 18 months, Urban Sites will put together a development plan for the property. The company is considering office space or residential as potential uses for the building.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 13 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy on a recent exclusive building tour.

VIDEO: James Howard Kunstler Trashes America’s Vast Suburbs in TED Talk

While this TED Talk was first delivered by James Howard Kunstler in 2004, virtually all of it still holds true today more than a decade later.

In the speech Kunstler, an outspoken critic of suburban sprawl, discussed the idea that designers and officials have seemed to largely forget how to properly design public spaces, which he contends should be thought about more carefully as spaces created and framed by buildings.

Instead, he says, that America’s suburban sprawl has been the “greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” He goes on to say that suburbia is largely not worth caring about by anyone, and is the reason why those areas of the United States continue to fail to deliver on any of the promises they originally touted following the end of World War II.

The nearly 20-minute talk includes a variety of colorful comparisons and striking examples of how poorly designed America’s suburbs are. The ongoing argument throughout the course of the speech, is that these places are not places worth fighting for; and that our armed men and women fighting for American freedoms deserve better.

“We have about, you know, 38,000 places that are not worth caring about in the United States today. When we have enough of them, we’re going to have a nation that’s not worth defending. And I want you to think about that when you think about those young men and women who are over in places like Iraq, spilling their blood in the sand, and ask yourself, “What is their last thought of home?” I hope it’s not the curb cut between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store because that’s not good enough for Americans to be spilling their blood for. We need better places in this country.”

As planners throughout North America continue to spend exhaustive amounts of time reviewing said curb cuts, total signage area and other rather trivial details, Kunstler argues that the bigger picture of building proud communities is being missed.

While the New York native does not discuss Cincinnati in his talk, he very well could have. While most region’s have their fair share of poorly designed suburbs, Cincinnati has become infamous for having some of the worst in the United States. Suburbs that are so bad, in fact, that even The Enquirer editorial board recently published an opinion urging the move away from such badly designed communities.

Eighth Annual BuyCincy Holiday Event to Take Place This Weekend

The Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) is hosting their second annual BuyCincy event this weekend between November 21 and November 23.

While in only its second year with CiNBA, the BuyCincy event has actually been running in some form for eight years now, following its initial launch through the now defunct BuyCincy blog.

CiNBA, which was established in in 2012, is the first independent business alliance, of 90 nationwide, to have successfully partnered with a university. In this case that institution is Xavier University’s William’s College of Business .

“CiNBA’s mission is to create a thriving community of local independent businesses and non-profits by supporting and representing the value of those in the Greater Cincinnati area and works to accomplish this mission through networking, marketing and events such as the BuyCincy Holiday Event,” said Madison Wallace, a Xavier University student in charge of the social media marketing for CiNBA and BuyCincy.

Initially launched as a blog in 2007, BuyCincy has since morphed into a brand used to promote local spending, and help area residents discover new local businesses. This year, organizers say, the event is expecting more than 150 businesses to participate from more than 15 different neighborhoods, including Bellevue, Over-the-Rhine, Hyde Park and College Hill.

Last year the event had 146 participating businesses from 20 different neighborhoods. Organizers estimate that the approximated spending during the four-day event totaled $25,000. Similar events to this one nationwide tend to boost sales in the participating neighborhood business districts. On average, independent business organizations estimate that those participating areas see 5.3% more business activity than other non-participating areas.

“We know small businesses get lost in frantic “big box” promotions during the holidays, so we created BuyCincy’s Holiday Event to bring our city’s local businesses together with a ‘buy local’ shopping message,” CiNBA explains.

The three-day BuyCincy Holiday Event will take place the weekend before Thanksgiving. The complete list of participating businesses can be found on the group’s website, and includes shops, restaurants, bars and other local establishments to round out your holiday shopping experience.

Uptown Leaders Hoping $2.4M Northern Townhomes Project Accelerates Avondale’s Rebirth

Earlier this month community leaders and City officials gathered in Avondale to celebrate the groundbreaking for eight new market-rate townhomes in the long beleaguered Uptown neighborhood.

The Northern Townhomes project, named after the street on which it is located, is just the latest evidence of a startling transformation that has taken place along the Burnet Avenue corridor over recent years, which has included the construction new office mid-rises, street-level retail and renovation of historic buildings to accommodate new residences.

Much of this transformation has been spurred by the continued growth of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which has added thousands of jobs since 2000. But that jobs growth, however, has not yet translated into an improved housing market in the impoverished neighborhood. Community leaders are hoping that Northern Townhomes will be the first of many more projects that will work toward improving just that.

“Any community developer knows that the key to smart growth is home ownership,” stated Ozie Davis, Executive Director at Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation, in a prepared release.

Avondale currently has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the city at just 33%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the City of Cincinnati and State of Ohio, respectively, have home ownership rates of 40.5% and 68%.

The realization of this development has taken years, following a community-developed master plan for the area years ago. Correspondingly, the funding for the $2.4 million project also came from a diverse coalition of neighborhood stakeholders including the University of Cincinnati, UC Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and TriHealth.

“The potential for the strong neighborhood revitalization like ours comes from good visioning, smart planning and patience, and this Northern Townhomes project proves that Avondale, Uptown Consortium and the Uptown institutional members have all three,” Davis emphasized.

Project officials say that each of the eight townhomes is approximately 1,400 square feet. Six are two-bedroom residences, while the remaining two have three bedrooms. Additionally, each home has a one-car garage and what the developers are calling tandem on-street parking.

As of now, the expected price point for each townhome is starting at $175,000, and may qualify for a 15-year LEED tax abatement should the developers successfully achieve LEED for Homes Silver certification.

If all goes according to plan, project construction is expected to be completed by fall 2015. After that project officials say that there is room for a second phase of another eight townhomes. The corner of Northern Avenue and Burnet Avenue, meanwhile, is being reserves for another commercial development.

“Avondale is key to the spirit of Uptown Cincinnati, and Avondale community leaders have been a great collaborator and convener as we have work together to revitalize the Burnet Avenue corridor,” concluded Beth Robinson, President and CEO of the Uptown Consortium. “Market rate housing is a fundamental anchor to a diverse residential neighborhood, and we are delighted to have this project be a significant milestone in the Burnet Avenue revitalization.”

Additional residential and mixed-use components remain to be realized as part of the Burnet Avenue corridor master plan, and no timeline has been identified for those elements as of yet.