Reclaiming our city from the mistakes of the past

Cincinnati, as well as, many other cities are spending billions of dollars to fix the mistakes made by misguided policy and investments of the past. Cincinnati actually fared better than many cities in this regard…protecting some of it’s urban gems (Over-the-Rhine) from the wrecking ball. Other areas weren’t as lucky (West End).

The Eisenhower Interstate System efficiently and brutally tore through the West End of Cincinnati; rendering a beauty like Crosley Field practically obsolete. It also ripped through a dense, diverse, urban neighborhood. The funny thing is that the two places that were Cincinnati’s points of entry to many immigrants were ruined for the sake of the interstate system and other ‘urban renewal’ projects. Immigrants would come in along the Ohio River and find jobs along it’s powerful economic riverbanks. Others would come in by train and pass through the mighty Union Terminal, find working class jobs in the West End and settle down.

Well we all know what those two key locations are like today, and we know what they were like in the past. A key issue however, is what they’ll be like in the future. The Banks and Cincinnati Riverfront Park are rebuilding a neighborhood creating a beautiful green space for Cincinnati. Different from the warehouses and docks that once existed, but overall a very nice alternative.

Now there is the often over looked West End…what about it. It seems to be sitting there with a whole lot of nothing going on. Sure there are some warehouses and distribution centers, sprinkle in a little residential here or there and you have it. If it weren’t for City West it would still be the massive symbol of ‘urban renewal’ that it is. But wait, don’t write it off quite yet. The Cincinnati Museum Center claims residence to the West End, as well as it’s rail yards. Quietly behind the scenes people have been working towards a high speed rail plan for Ohio. Combine this with the great success of the Museum Center and you have the potential for something great.

Flooded Walnut Street (1913)

The Gateway Park District is something that could end up being more important, more impactful and just more impressive than the highly touted Banks project. It has the ability to reclaim the West End from it’s ‘urban renewal’ blight and turn that area back into a main entry point for the Queen City. It will be interesting to watch this project proceed, but one thing is for sure…Cincinnati seems to be trying it’s best to reclaim our city from the mistakes of the past.

A not so new, new idea

The Cincinnati metropolitan area is an extremely fragmented area (particularly Hamilton County), and like much regions in the country it suffers from NIMBYism, white flight and concentration of social services. The mindset of, the different communities, distancing themselves from the inner-city has been in full speed for some time now…until more recently.

Inner-ring suburbs are starting to feel the pinch from the perpetuating nature of sprawl. Cincinnati proper has been dealing with this problem for years, and arguably might be at the point of getting past that issue. Recent population count challenges from the City of Cincinnati have been successful and are now showing a population growth not only for downtown, but for the entire City. Other communities, within Hamilton County, have now also been pegged with losses…losses that they have never seen before.

So…what’s new about a Midwest city losing population and struggling as a region. Well, nothing. But what is new with this situation is that the inner-city is showing signs of life as the inner-ring ‘burbs are now feeling the pinch. This is inevitably the future for many regions around the nation…so what are we to do?

Well Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory has stepped up to the plate, and is taking a leadership role for this region in fighting this decline and challenging numbers that may very well be flawed from a Census methodology that favors new growth cities. It is more difficult to count the number of rehabbed buildings and/or reoccupied buildings. You can spot the number of building permits from a mile away and guestimate that 2-3 people occupy that structure (which may or may not be true).

So…what else is new? We have a leader that is stepping up to the plate and taking on a leadership role at a more regional level. Mayor Mallory is rallying communities from around Hamilton County. If Hamilton County can begin working as one cohesive unit then the region will surely benefit. In short…the voice of 800,000+ people is much more powerful than those voices being split up amongst dozens of jurisdictions.

The bottom line is that it’s beginning to look like the Cincinnati region may start to begin working together cooperatively to accomplish their goals…which for Cincinnati is a not so new, new idea.

Just to clarify…

Apparently my post regarding eminent domain was a controversial one, and it seems that some people may have missed the overriding point I was trying to make.

I am not advocating the use of eminent domain all willy nilly…I’m actually not suggest any kind of measures to occur with eminent domain, but rather I am simply complaining about the current system we have in place. Sure we need to protect individual freedoms (imo, that only goes so far though). In some instances government goes to far (see the Patriot Act), and I think that is what many seem to think I’m advocating. It is not, let me explain…

I am making an observation that in many of the high profile eminent domain cases, it is not the small guy or the innocent property owner fighting the battle. It’s quite the contrary…as I pointed out, many of the people involved in these legal battles are absent landlords, LLC’s, corporate entities and the like. I don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul…I just want to pay Paul for his efforts and enthusiasm in wanting to invest in the inner-city. Is that sooo wrong?

You may still disagree with me and that’s fine…I’m just looking at the situation and thinking, “Maybe we’ve gone a little too far with these rulings.” You know the knee-jerk anti-communist type reactions we’ve seen. I just ask that you cool your jets and look at the next eminent domain case that pops up…you tell me who is benefiting: the neighborhood, municipality, investor or some random LLC who has been stockpiling junk properties for years just waiting for this kind of thing to happen?

The NEW Downtown Cincinnati

Downtown has managed to turn the corner relatively quickly. People who once used to think of downtown as a tired/boring place are now frequenting the new restaurants, clubs, bars and events. New residents are everywhere and visitors are welcomed by something new almost every other week. It’s just past the half way point in 2007 and Downtown Cincinnati has seen the opening of 4 new bars/clubs, 3 restaurants and more events on Fountain Square than you can count.

It’s wonderful to see everything coming together and this is just the beginning. The majority of the tenants in the redone 5/3 building have yet to open, another few restaurants will be opening shortly, and another couple bars/clubs are on the way. This is all before the ball drops for 2008. If you want to think about 3-4 years down the road, then you’ll really be blown away with what Downtown Cincinnati will be like.

3-4 years puts the streetcar in place and the first phase of The Banks. The Banks will most likely attract tenants like ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe, House of Blues, countless restaurants, bars/clubs. Combine that with the activity that the streetcar system will be shuffling around and you have yourself a VERY strong/vibrant urban core. Thousands of new residents and tons of new attractions. The streetcar system will most likely help give the retail scene downtown a kick in the pants…if that doesn’t do it, the thousands of new residents should.

Check out what’s going on in the NEW Downtown Cincinnati!

Need more to eat… MORE RESTAURANTS!!!
Like to shop… MORE RETAIL!!!
Want to be entertained… MORE ENTERTAINMENT!!!

Some more developments (just to name a few):

Now, downtown hasn’t gotten ‘there’ yet, but it is certainly on its way…and picking up speed.

Rewarding our bum landlords

This is something that I have been stewing about for sometime. It is the issue of eminent domain, and how I feel that the recent court cases are setting a dangerous precedent that will, in the long run, harm cities chances of revival and ultimately reward those bum landlords and tenants of the world.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are surely some instances where the property owner is completely legit in their stance and should not be forced from their home. But most of the time you end up with the logical/sane people selling and moving out, and the others just waiting to prey on the potential investors. This is where I get upset.

We live in a capitalistic market right??? Then shouldn’t we be rewarding the individual who is willing to take a risk on a project rather than rewarding the jerk who sat on some property for years and let it go to crap? With eminent domain you are typically offered higher than appraised value for your property, if that isn’t enough the potential investor is typically willing to up the ante. But for some, that still isn’t enough…they must thoroughly suck out as much as they can and send the redevelopment project into the red.

So you then have an investor who was interested in investing in an inner-city neighborhood who is now fed up and ready to build on a greenfield out in the exurbs. Who wins here…the neighborhood who had a few members stand up and say NO…the investor who lost a lot of money up front on a project that is no more…the municipality that may benefit from increased tax revenue and prestige of a major investment…or is it the few individuals that stood up for “property rights?”

This is a classic Lose, Lose, Lose, Win scenario…it’s great to see it happen before my very own eyes.

A couple recent cases in Cincinnati:
Cincinnati v. Clif Cor Co. (Calhoun Street)
Cincinnati v. Dimasi (Dixmyth Avenue)
Norwood v. Horney (Rookwood Exchange)