Month in Review – November 2010

This month, UrbanCincy covered a number of new businesses and new living spaces in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. We also shared news on the modern streetcar that visited Fountain Square, and guest author Zachary Schunn shared his thoughts on good architecture in our city. Our top 5 most popular articles for November 2010 were:

  1. Historic loft renovation project starts anew in downtown Cincinnati
    The redevelopment of downtown Cincinnati’s former industrial buildings continues with the McFarland Lofts, a seven-unit condominium project under construction in a circa 1901 wagon livery and horse stable.
  2. Modern streetcar to be on display in downtown Cincinnati through 11/10
    If you have not been one of the hundreds of Cincinnatians to make the trip to Portland to see modern streetcars in action, or visit one of the many global cities with them in operation, then tomorrow is a great chance to see one up close and in person.
  3. Sushi Bears a new vegan option at Findlay Market
    A new vegan and vegetarian focused Japanese food stand has opened at Findlay Market. Sushi Bears is a food concept run by chef Dan Wells and his business partner Steve Hauck.
  4. Yoga Row creating new business unions along Main Street
    A visit to Main Street between 8th and Liberty streets nowadays reveals a neighborhood not only on the mend, but on the rise. The owners of Main Street Yoga, Yoga Bar, You Do Yoga, and the Joyful Life Yoga Center have collaborated together to form a new project, nicknamed “Yoga Row.”
  5. Successful urban design sets stage for successful cities
    When it comes to local architecture, Cincinnati deserves good design. But with architecture (and urban planning, or any other design-based field for that matter), there is never one particular thing that separates “good” design from “bad” design.

Thousands of pieces of artwork on display at sold-out Secret ArtWorks fundraiser

One of Cincinnati’s finest art sources, ArtWorks, hosted its annual fundraiser called Secret ArtWorks on Friday, November 19 at the Westin Hotel. ArtWorks is also the organization that brought pianos to the streets of Cincinnati this past summer and has helped create murals all over the city. However like nearly everything else ArtWorks does, there were some fun twists and turns that kept the event interesting and different from your standard fundraising evening.

What’s the secret about Secret Artworks? It’s the artists themselves. Each ticket to the event included hors d’oeuvres, wine, beer, and a voucher for one 5×7 piece of art which the artist’s name is kept secret until after it is chosen. The idea is to remove any preconceived notion over who is a good artist and who is not away from the purchasing process. Instead, it truly is about the piece of art itself, and how it speaks to each person.

There were over 1,000 pieces available for the sold-out crowd to bid on – all of which were donated by local, national, and international artists. In years past, the process has gotten to be very competitive as people have lined up early to be able to choose their favorite piece and organizers expect much of the same this year.

Those who were unable to attend can still contribute to ArtWorks by making a donation online.  UrbanCincy photographer Thadd Fiala also paid the exhibit (Secret ArtWorks Photo Gallery) a visit so that everyone who might not have been able to take part in the wonderful evening can enjoy.

Future looks bright for 152 residents at Cincinnati’s historic Anna Louise Inn

Cincinnati Union Bethel recently announced an award of tax credits for a $12.4 million renovation of the Anna Louise Inn (map) in downtown Cincinnati. The Inn, whose role is to provide affordable housing for women, secured the top ranking in a competitive Permanent Supportive Housing category from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

Since 1994, the Inn has provided traditional housing for homeless families and children, and since 2006 they have provided housing and services for women in recovery from prostitution. Half of those living in the Inn have resided there for over a year, some for up to 30 years.

After the renovation is complete, the residential capacity will be lower; however, the new units will be larger and equipped with private bathrooms and kitchens. Officials emphasize that the general mission of the Inn will not change, although there will be an increased focus on permanent supportive housing.

“There will be a slight decrease in the number of units due to the upgrades, but our goal is to preserve the safe and affordable housing needed for women today,” project manager Mary Carol Melton explained to UrbanCincy in August 2010.  “We’re going to work with residents during the renovation to make this as least disruptive as possible, and we are currently looking at a phased renovation process to be able to do just that.”

Staff says that it is the hope that the creation of a more permanent and supportive environment will help the residents become more stable long-term.

“These more stable and long-term residents will have an opportunity to live in housing that will provide them with the dignity they deserve,” said Steve MacConnel, CEO of Cincinnati Union Bethel. “Additionally, this fits in with the city’s Homeless to Homes plan…it is just one more piece of a city-wide plan to provide more supportive housing.”

Construction for the renovation is scheduled to last from summer 2011 to fall 2012, and the development team will consist of Over-the-Rhine Community Housing along with Cincinnati Union Bethel. When completed, the historic Inn will have a 152-person capacity.

Cincinnati subway book signing this weekend at Neon’s

UrbanCincy’s transportation writer, photographer and videographer Jake Mecklenborg has recently had his book documenting the complete history of Cincinnati’s notorious incomplete subway published. The book dives into the details of the politics, economics, and structural elements of the never completed rapid transit system, and it discusses what might be in store for Cincinnati’s transit future.

Those interested Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History can join Mecklenborg at Neon’s Unplugged (map) this Saturday, November 27 at 6pm. He will reportedly give a brief presentation on the book and his findings, then open up the discussion for questions and answeres from the audience.

The book retails for $20 and will be available for purchase at this event. Mecklenborg will also be available to personally sign copies of the book for those in attendance buying it for themselves, or someone else as a gift this holiday season.  The event at Neon’s is free and open to the public.

The beautiful contradiction of Seoul

Seoul is a contradiction. It is a massive, cosmopolitan city with more than 24 million inhabitants. The city is culturally rich, historically significant, but also young,  trendy, and a modern day economic powerhouse. But how then does the city also give off a timid, often conservative, feeling as well? The answer is, predictably, explained through the people that populate the buildings, streets, and urban environment.

I have been in Seoul for just over a month, and the contradictions are striking. The rich culture is what I believe keeps the people here so grounded and driven. Koreans want to be the best, they want to please, and they sacrifice in order to make your experience better. This is not something you would expect from a city with a young population that has also seen a relatively massive surge of foreigners enter its borders over the past 20 years.

So far I have not done nearly as much of the “must do” touristy things as I should have, but I have made some terrific Korean friends. Instead of checking out the palaces (which I plan to do) or posing for pictures on Namsan Mountain or atop Seoul Tower, I have instead spent my time living as much like a local as possible. I have been working long days and weeks, but I have been playing hard too – something for which Koreans are somewhat notorious.

One of my favorite things to do, besides karaoke, is to grab food from one of the omnipresent street vendors. While some cities in the United States might try to stand toe-to-toe with Seoul in this weight class, they might not realize what they are up against. To fully understand Seoul’s street food culture you must think beyond the meat on a stick, Ddeokbokki (spicy rice cakes), or the utterly delicious Hoddeok (honey, cinnamon-filled pancakes). Pojangmacha (tent restaurants) can be found in most districts throughout the city and they are where you can find some of the wildest food offerings, and one of the most humbling and interesting experiences you could ask for when dining on the curb.

Pojangmacha can range in size from a small tent that seats about four people inside in addition to the small grill working away, to a huge tent that seats dozens and dozens. Primarily known for being cheap places for drinking Soju or beer, the idea is that these are locations where everyone can sit down, eat, and drink regardless of social or economic standing. As a result you often find an interesting mix of people inside the cozy tent restaurants, and it is something that you must try while visiting Seoul or other major cities throughout Korea.

While much of Korea’s growth has occurred in the past three decades, you can still find very significant historic neighborhoods and landmarks almost all throughout the city…even if they might stand in the shadow of a massive, homogeneous and block-style apartment complex. One such district is Bukchon which is located just around the corner from my hotel, and the encroaching skyscrapers, and is famous for its collection of traditional Hanok homes. Bukchon manages to maintain its unique street configuration and almost entirely pedestrian focus even as modernization might be standing in its future.

Contradictions can be frustrating, but they can also be invigorating as is the case with Seoul. I have immediately fallen for the city and its people. There is a sense of calm here amidst the “Bali Bali!” rush that is comforting. It is a comfort might be best explained by saying you can make yourself heard, without raising your voice.

The collection of photographs from November 2010 features images from Bukchon, Insa-dong, Jongro, and Kangnam.