It’s time to comprehensively reexamine Cincinnati’s neighborhood boundaries

As the housing market continues to be difficult, homeowners around Cincinnati are looking for every advantage they can get. In some recent cases this has included those around the Hyde Park neighborhood to petition Cincinnati City Council to merge their residential pockets into the more desirable neighborhood.

These residents claim that being included in the Hyde Park neighborhood will immediately improve the value of their home due to how it is listed in the Cincy MLS. Maybe so, but nothing is in fact changing other than a label.

Over time Cincinnati and its unique and identifiable neighborhoods have changed, but there are several turf wars, so to speak, going on around town. Pendleton struggles for a separate identity from Over-the-Rhine; Covedale is doing the same with West Price Hill; portions of Oakley and Evanston want to be included into Hyde Park; and try to not even unravel the complexities going on in Uptown between Clifton Heights, Fairview, University Heights, The Heights, Clifton, and Corryville.

Surely the residents and business owners know their respective neighborhoods best, and city leaders should listen. The current approach of waiting until a certain homeowners association or some other group of concerned citizens comes forward is a reactive way to run a city. Instead, the city should empower its citizens in the ongoing Comprehensive Plan and completely redraw all of the neighborhood boundaries within city limits.

Should Fay Apartments, Millvale, English Woods, East Westwood and California all be their own official city neighborhoods? And likewise, shouldn’t places like Covedale, Pendleton and O’Bryonville be given consideration for neighborhood status. I think so, and I think city officials should be looking at all of these issues so that they can be resolved once and for all.

One way to solve this issue in a non-biased way would be to define what in fact a “neighborhood” is. Currently Cincinnati has 52 neighborhoods and 37 neighborhood business districts. A good starting point might be that a “neighborhood” has to include an associated neighborhood business district or cultural center. Right away this would eliminate places like English Woods and Fay Apartments from the list of official neighborhoods as they are nothing more than housing projects. Instead they should be included in the neighborhoods that surround them.

There are many potential ways to approach this, but something needs to be done. These designations help determine how the City allocates funding to Community Councils, impacts the property values of homeowners and small businesses, and these designations help to define one of the most unique things about Cincinnati – its diverse, vibrant and identifiable neighborhoods.

  • Definitely some issues to think about. I would also add the matter of whether St. Bernard & Norwood should really be separate municipalities. Certainly they could make their case, but it does look a little silly to look at the neighborhood map and see two gaping holes right in the middle.

    And Pendleton struggles for a separate identity from Over-the-Rhine? Really?

  • SouthCollegeHill

    Good luck with that! Norwood and Saint Bernard will never agree to become part of Cincinnati. Norwood may have come close when they lost all their industry in the 90s and early 2000’s but they aren’t in that financial mess anymore. I understand your point though. Why aren’t they sharing fire/police services with Cincinnati when they are encompassed by it?

  • Pol

    Can you really blame Norwood though? They have experienced quite a turnaround these last few years. Not that the city hasn’t, but they seem to be walking very different roads.

  • There certainly are issues worth considering, but it also requires tact to keep it from becoming a self-serving free-for-all. Keep in mind that many neighborhood boundaries are where they are for a reason. Whether a neighborhood was historically a separate municipality that was annexed by Cincinnati, like Columbia, Madisonville, or Westwood, or if the boundaries mark old subdivision and development boundaries like in Pleasant Ridge or Kennedy Heights, or simply the way Cincinnati pursued annexation of neighborhoods, there’s a historical reason for the boundaries being where they are.

    To start renaming neighborhoods like Winton Place/Spring Grove Village or to shift boundaries for real estate reasons is an affront to the City’s history and ultimately dilutes the meaning of being in a particular neighborhood. I do agree however that many of the sub-neighborhoods should get more love. Pendleton wants to separate itself from OTR just like Prospect Hill wants to be seen as separate from Mt. Auburn. East Hyde Park could easily be its own entity as it straddles Hyde Park and Oakley, all while having its own business district. There’s several separate historical neighborhoods that are lumped in with the East End (Fulton, another Pendleton, part of Columbia, and Turkey Bottoms). On the other hand, that could lead to the problem seen in Uptown where nobody really knows or cares what’s what because it’s all so similar. It’s not that difficult to separate Corryville from Clifton, but how many people can tell Fairview from Clifton Heights? For that matter how many people can identify Mohawk or Brighton from the rest of the West End, OTR, and Camp Washington?

  • Ryan L

    St. Bernard is in an interesting situation because of the services they offer. The residents get much more out of city services than they would if they became a neighborhood of Cincinnati. Sharing a police force and fire station with Norwood, Elmwood Place and Cincinnati would make a lot of sense though. Seeing how the Cincinnati Fire and Police jobs are in question though, I doubt those municipalities would want to join police and fire services.

    I do agree that the neighborhoods that are mostly subsidized housing should be redistributed into other existing neighborhoods. Fay Apartments and English Woods have such a bad reputation, it would be beneficial if it was merged into East Westwood or Camp Washington.

    I do disagree to any suggestion that O’Bryonville or Pendleton be merged with surrounding neighborhoods. I do believe that they have enough of a distinction from their neighbors Over-the-Rhine and Evanston/Hyde Park respectively. Despite their small size, they both have a separate identity from the larger neighbor. The clock tower that says “Over-the-Rhine” in Pendleton is a rather strange thing to me though.

    Perhaps “The Heights” should be broken up though. Since The Heights consists of Burnet Woods, UC, and about three blocks of housing, I think it should be redistributed. There will never be a business district for The Heights and no one really represents the neighborhood. The portion to the West could be added to University Heights, the North portion of Burnet Woods could be added to Clifton, while the university itself could be added to Corryville. As for the others, I really have not visited them so I’m not sure (ie. Linwood, California, etc).

    Nice article. The neighborhoods of Cincinnati are very fascinating because it sets us apart from most other cities. I read the Enquirer article about former Hyde Park residents being transitioned to Evanston and sort of rolled my eyes.

  • Ryan, I think Randy was suggesting that O’Bryonville and Pendleton be made their own separate neighborhoods. While they do show up as such on the map in the article, other maps such as CAGIS don’t separate them out from East Walnut Hills/Evanston or Over-the-Rhine at all.

    An issue with the Fay Apartments and English Woods situation is that East Westwood and Camp Washington already have pretty sorry reputations, so is there really much benefit to any one in merging with another?

  • First of all, the conversation of merging places like Norwood and St. Bernard into the City of Cincinnati may be a worthwhile discussion to have, but it is completely unrelated to what I am discussing in this article.

    To me, it seems that places like Covedale, O’Bryonville and others should be given more consideration about being their own neighborhoods. While others like Fay Apartments, English Woods, and the mess in Uptown should be given consideration to merging.

    What is wrong in Uptown is that The Heights had to form since the community councils would not allow “part-time” student residents to vote at their community council meetings. The Heights formed to give these students a voice. What I think should happen is that there should be Clifton Heights, University Heights, Corryville, and Clifton in the Uptown area (not including Mt. Auburn and Avondale). Students living in these respective areas should have a right to vote and participate in their community councils, and any land disputes (Burnett Woods for example) between the neighborhoods should be resolved during the ongoing comprehensive planning process.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Interesting article. I’m not sure I know enough about various neighborhoods to recommend how any minor redistricting would occur, though I have a hunch efficiencies could be found by consolidating certain neighborhoods. As long as neighborhoods with separate identities remain separate. (For example, there are obviously neighborhoods such as Mt. Adams that will always have their own identity.) I disagree with the historical significance argument, though; certain neighborhoods will always be identified by their residents, even if the political structures are different.

    I’m thankful SOMEONE wants to do something about the mess that is Uptown, too. I doubt half the people living in CUF even know that it’s a separate neighborhood, let alone what it stands for or how the boundaries are drawn. The fact that “the Heights” broke off is interesting yet ironic to me. Most students (including me) mistakenly identify UC, Burnet Woods, the areas to the west and south, and even sometimes parts of Corryville as “Clifton.” I see the sense in having separate neighborhoods (especially for Clifton and Corryville, since they are certainly different from the university area), but the complete cultural disregard for any distinctions in neighborhood boundaries is a significant difference from most of the rest of Cincinnati.

    I do have one question that hasn’t been brought up, though: why does Burnet Woods need to be “part” of a neighborhood? There are obviously no residents there; is it simply to determine which police/firemen respond to incidents?

  • All parts of the city are within a neighborhood in some way shape or form…even areas without residents. Burnett Woods needs to be included in a neighborhood, but right now it is my understanding that both Clifton and The Heights are claiming it as being in theirs. Just as The Heights and CUF fight over what the Calhoun/McMillan business district is.

    Recently Clifton Heights put up signs marking that business district as their own much to the dismay of The Heights. And historically Clifton installed signs all over Uptown welcoming people to CUF, Corryville and Mt. Auburn in an attempt to no longer have people believe that those areas are in fact in Clifton.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Hm… the politics behind all this sound intense. Not surprising though.

    Apologies for my ignorance, but why exactly must it be part of a neighborhood? I am not familiar with how Cincinnati Parks works, but I would think the parks could be separate entities belonging to the city of Cincinnati, but not as part of any neighborhoods. Unless, of course, it’s done to determine who responds to emergencies (ie, should a fire department in Clifton or Corryville respond?). Or is that districted differently?

  • Zachary:

    It is really just to identify where something is. Fountain Square, for example, is in the Central Business District/Downtown, Washington Park is in Over-the-Rhine, Mt. Storm is in Clifton, and Alms Park is in Mt. Lookout. Even though these are pieces of land without people, they are still a part of the surrounding neighborhood. Just like a street or highway, public plaza, waterway, or hillside.

    I do not believe the neighborhood boundaries serve much more of a purpose beyond simply identification purposes. The City uses them, in part, to define community councils and how the money is allocated to them. And evidently the MLS uses it as a basis for their designations. Police and fire response is based upon districting which is separate from neighborhood boundaries, but does follow municipal boundaries (i.e. City of Cincinnati, City of Norwood, Green Township, or even Anderson Township for example.

    So to answer your question, Burnett Woods does not technically have to be included in any neighborhood, but to that extent neighborhood designations wouldn’t really be needed either. It’s a placemaking and identification tool, and Burnett Woods (and every park for that matter) plays a role within their neighborhood.

  • Zachary Schunn

    That definitely all makes sense, and was more/less my understanding of it.

    I guess I should re-think/re-word what I was getting at with Burnet Woods: instead of including it as part of a neighborhood (or splitting between them), why not make it its own separate place? In a crude sense, I would compare the concept to Central Park in Manhattan. On a map, Central Park is not divided up between Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Midtown, Morningside Heights, and Harlem (its surrounding neighborhoods). It is large enough to be recognized as its own entity.

    Though the size is nowhere near comparable, I would argue that Burnet Woods is in a similar situation, as to deserving its own distinction instead of being divided up or “claimed” as part of one neighborhood. No political entity (community council) would be necessary since no one technically lives in it, but I would think it would add some sort of symbolic significance to the park, as well as the acknowledgement of it being controlled and monitored solely by the city. (In other words, it would be easier, in my eyes, to save it from future development than if it were seen as a part of Clifton, or a part of the Heights or CUF. Of course, theoretically its designation as a city park should already prevent such from occurring…)

  • Jake

    What area of OTR is considered Pendleton?

    • Jack Angel

      There’s a map of Pendleton on Wikipedia under “Pendleton, Cincinnati”.

  • Over-the-Rhiner

    Pendleton is shown on the CAGIS map, so it is, apparently recognized as a separate neighborhood. Although I think someone should have looked at a map before constructing that clocktower.