NKAPC study reveals strong passion for area hillsides

Cincinnati’s urban form has long been defined by its two most significant natural landscape features – the Ohio River and its many hills. Early in the city’s history, the hills served as a boundary to further expansion. Then, as technology improved, people began to move up the hillsides and build there as well.

Over time some hillsides were developed and remain developed, while others were never developed to begin with or have been returned to nature over time. This scenario has created a situation where Cincinnatians debate the best use for the city’s hillsides. To develop or not develop, that is the question.

In Northern Kentucky this issue has been particularly relevant over recent years as hillsides have been built upon for residences that boast city views. To determine where in fact the residents of the area stand, the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission (NKAPC) conducted a Hillside Survey.

The results of the 273 respondents are striking. While one-third of the respondents indicated that they would prefer full preservation of the hillsides, nearly 64 percent said that they would like to see a mixture of developed and preserved hillsides in Kenton County.

The common thread throughout the survey was that Kenton County residents view the area’s hillsides as a defining characteristic and one that should be carefully considered in future and ongoing policy decisions.

In June 2010 UrbanCincy discussed this same topic. What should be done with the region’s unique urban hillsides? I contended that a unique development opportunity was being left on the table that has been capitalized on in other cities in Greece and the United States. So what do you think? Should the region’s hillsides be built upon, left undeveloped, or be comprised on some mixture of both?

Mt. Adams photograph by Randy Simes; ‘The Views’ photograph by Kevin LeMaster.

  • Ryan L

    While developing the hillsides is enticing, I don’t think that it provides the best course of action. We already have plenty of vacant properties in Over-the-Rhine, West End, Mt. Auburn, Price Hill, etc. We need to repopulate the places we have abandoned before we start any new development on expensive hillsides. Most properties would probably be expensive because they would have a good view and require a lot of expensive supports to keep the hillsides intact and the buildings from sliding. Until we have a lower vacancy rate in the urban core I think it would be a bad idea to actively pursue developing the hillsides around it.

  • Matt Jacob

    I would tend to agree with Ryan that the need is to rehab the urban core before rehabbing and developing the outer hillsides due to the higher cost on the hills. More bang for the limited buck.

    However, theoretically developing the hillsides may bring some unexpected benefits to facilitate the redevelopment of the core. If I bought a new expensive house on a hillside with city views and saw that the area just down the hill was in terrible shape, I’d want there to be some kind of buffer in place to protect me, whether it be a steep cliff or a less terrible neighborhood. If the hillside development were big enough to care about the downhill neighborhood, there might be a trickle down effect that would spread down to the rest of the core.

    The Brewery District and OTR could be this buffer for development in CUF and Mt. Auburn until it completely connects the area with downtown.

    Then again maybe it actually works in reverse, that the hillside development can only take hold once the buffer neighborhood is secured.

    I’m just tossing out ideas here, any one else have an insight?

  • I completely agree with both of you about first taking advantage of Cincinnati’s underutilized building stock. I guess my question is more academic in nature. Which would you prefer…development of the hillsides, preservation, or a combination thereof? And most importantly, why?

  • Ryan L

    While signature spaces like Bellevue Hill Park and Fairview Park with amazing city views should be preserved for the general public to enjoy, I think the remaining hillsides should eventually be developed. As of now they are not very accessible even by foot, and I can’t imagine the hillsides are rich with wildlife considering the urban surroundings. I suppose I would be an advocate for the hillside development once the existing buildings are occupied. The development would give Cincinnati an even greater entrance when approaching from the river.

    Looking at pictures in Greece, I’m not sure how comparable it would be since most of the hillsides are not running right into the water like they do there, but it would definitely be a great backdrop for the city instead of the sparse population of trees that currently occupy the space.

    The only problem I see is the possibility that the properties would be tough to get to to by car, and without parking for cars, many people won’t move onto the hillsides. Maybe by the time we actually begin to develop the hillsides, cars won’t be as important in Cincinnati as they are today and we could build very dense urban environments on the hillsides. It would be an interesting space regardless of what happens to development on the hillsides.

  • Matt Jacob

    “While signature spaces like Bellevue Hill Park and Fairview Park with amazing city views should be preserved for the general public to enjoy, I think the remaining hillsides should eventually be developed.”

    I couldn’t agree more. As the need arises, the hillsides should be developed but their city views shouldn’t be made exclusive to only the people living on them. One of the best things about the hillsides to many are the parks where we gather to watch the WEBN fireworks every year. The hillside parks of Cincinnati with their architecture and views are one thing that truly makes our city unique. Few other cities around the world are surrounded completely by hills the way that Cincinnati is (only Paris comes to mind), and I believe that we will need to capitalize on that fact to make Cincinnati world-class once more.

  • Ryan L

    One thing I would like to see, is some sort of public space (like Fountain Square) in the CUF neighborhood that overlooks the city. Ideally, it would be nice if the transmission tower next to the Fairview German Language School could be transformed into a neighborhood square. Retail and apartments could be added on the North and West ends of the site, while a plaza could sit on the South end overlooking the city. Programming could be added to the space to make it a lively place, but I think that unique businesses and beautiful scenery would be enough to draw people. Since so many people live within walking distance, there would not be a huge need for parking.

    I think it would help alleviate crime in the area too by populating the South side of Warner and bringing more attention to the street. Right now Warner is a mini thoroughfare for the people living around campus. Not many houses are located on it, and most of the crimes in the neighborhood are concentrated on Warner Street as a result. Unfortunately WLWT could hold on to the tower and land for a long time.