New Parks Levy Plan Appears to Scrap Vision for Westwood Square

Imagine a picturesque park that is easily known as the center of a neighborhood district. A square with lush landscaping, a stage for plays and space for a farmers market. It’s a square that is easily the envy of Hyde Park or Mt. Lookout or Oakley. That was the vision of Westwood Square.

Westwood Square was born out of the month-long city-wide charrette that helped formulate the city’s four form-based code districts. The vision was further refined in the fall of 2012 by community groups Westwood Works, Westwood Civic Association, Westwood Historical Society, Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.

As part of the process, citizens, planners and engineers looked at the problems Harrison Avenue had been causing the neighborhood. Serving mostly as a four-lane connector to Cheviot, ideas were floated to design some traffic calming measures for the corridor.

The idea was that Westwood should not be a place for cars to fly through on their way to downtown, but instead a place to be visited and enjoyed.

Through this process, which was championed by then Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D), the team came up with the idea for a central square. By taking a section of Harrison Avenue at the intersections of Epworth and Urweiler Avenues, the square would be constructed to deliberately force vehicles to slow down and turn to navigate around the public gathering space.

City planners found that they could create an opportunity to form a community green space, slow traffic and make the area safer for people walking and biking by implementing such a change.

After MadCap Puppet Theater moved into the old Cincinnati Bell switching station, they cited the plan as one of their main draws to the area. Theater director John Lewandowski spoke about that plan, and the hopes for the neighborhood last year on The UrbanCincy Podcast.

During the 2013 mayoral campaign, Qualls lost to Mayor John Cranley (D), who spoke against the idea of form-based codes during the campaign, and has continued to challenge them ever since.

The recent parks levy announcement from Mayor Cranley and other city leaders included a notable change to the long-held and developed plans for Westwood Square. The adjustments to Harrison Avenue, and creation of the square, are now gone.

Instead, City Hall is now calling for $2 million to renovate the existing green space adjacent to Westwood Town Hall. The new vision will do nothing to slow the traffic at the intersection and appears to make feint aspirations at building the kind of place originally envisioned by the community in 2012.

Such changes were first hinted at during Mayor Cranley’s campaign, and emphasized during his inaugural State of the City address last September.

While specific details for the new plan have yet to be provided, the end result is now expected to be a major departure from the form-based approach that was first laid out.

  • Our relentlessly ill-equipped mayor hates everything that makes a city a city.

    • Brian Boland

      I think he just hates his own city. It’s not enough like Mason. We need more big box retailers at highway exits. Expand more roads to 6 lanes and speed us all through. Who needs a neighborhood when you can have a subdivision!

    • matimal

      He wants the support of suburban land owners and developers In getting a state or national office. It is THEY who are interested in hurting Cincinnati. still, he’s more than willing to sacrifice Cincinnati for his ambitions. The worst part is that he’ll fail at this as much as he has failed at everything he’s tried.

    • SC

      matimal, That is everything I’ve picked up on too. He isn’t in this for the long run. Just a jumping off point for something bigger in his career. Which is fine if he would just voluntarily go after this election or…right now..

    • Ian Mitchell

      There are plenty of developers making money hand-over-fist building PLACES.

    • matimal

      And there are many more who only know how to make money building strip malls and Styrofoam houses on standardized lots on the exurban fringe. They don’t know anything else and they’re desperate to rev-up the old suburban industrial complex. Cranely thinks he can be ‘their’ guy.

  • Brian Boland

    Westwood would be so much enhanced by this plan. It would be very much like Hyde Park square or Mt. Lookout Square and really enhance the neighborhood feel of the area, which would benefit all of the residents.

  • Jon White

    Anything that has a hint of Mallory or Qualls, Cranberry is against. Is he honestly this petty, or is he literally that clueless?

    • Jerome6957

      He is that petty.

  • Jim Byerly

    Just the latest episode of “How the Stomach Turns.”

  • Mary Jenkins

    I’m the facilitator of the Westwood Coalition, the group that has been meeting with residents and across Westwood organizations and businesses on a vision, recommendations, and implementation plans for the historic business district.This article is an inaccurate description of the current state and the plans for the heart of the historic neighborhood business district in Westwood. Please see revitalizewestwood.com to get up to date on developments, especially our planning for a Westwood Triangle which we call the Bowtie because it ties together the triangle at the intersection of Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler with the point facing it on the grounds of Westwood Town Hall. I am speaking only for myself here because the Coalition has not taken a position on the park levy, but in my view, it absolutely would help us to achieve the community’s vision and the Coalition’s recommendations for the Triangle and for the grounds of Town Hall. I am an enthusiastic supporter of it personally and I have petitions for the levy if any of my neighbors want to sign it. As Brian Boland commented earlier, Westwood would be enhanced by this levy not only for the historic business district but also for its potential for improvement to Oskamp Park and Mt. Airy. Please contact revitalizewestwood @ gmail .com or see revitalizewestwood.com for more information about the work we’ve been doing to revitalize Westwood’s historic business district, beyond the early conceptual drawings for a square.

    • Thanks for the information. I have sent you an email and would love to discuss the revised plan in greater detail.

    • Ian Mitchell

      Harrison is a deadly stroad that depresses real estate prices everywhere along it. Any plan that doesn’t include slowing it down is a plan that doesn’t value the lives of those who live, work, walk, bike, drive, and take transit in westwood.

  • John Eby

    John, several Westwood Organizations support the Parks Levy, because it will help make the Westwood Square plan a reality. Mary Jenkins hit it right on the head with her comments. If you want to learn more about the work that has been done on the Westwood Business district visit www,revitalizewestwood.com .

    • According to the Revitalize Westwood website, the Westwood Square plan is now dead. It has been replaced by a vision that includes a new triangle park. It also appears to add a bunch of new surface parking lots to the area, while also making no adjustments to Harrison Avenue. Is that your take on it as well?

    • Nikki Pierson Mayhew

      I wouldn’t call the plan dead. Over the last couple of years, the Coalition has organized several community meetings for the community to participate. The “square” was always just a concept, and as the community reviewed plans that the city made based on the feedback from the series of meetings with the community, the “bowtie” concept became the front runner. All six of the options are available for review (and much of the feedback is recapped within those posts) on revitalizewestwood.com as well! Mary Jenkins has been a wonderfully dilligent facilitator in recapping all of the notes from each session.

    • Marshal Thaxter

      As a former planner who has no skin in this game professionally or personally, I can tell you that the plan your community has come up with really doesn’t solve any problems. You have simply re-landscaped a few pieces of triangle shaped empty land and identified this pattern from the air as a bow-tie. It doesn’t do two things primarily: define space or calm traffic. To use a phrase that I used to use in urban design consulting, you have not “changed the bones” of the area, so you cannot expect any real change in the pattern of uses.

      I mean this with all due respect, as your community is your own responsibility. But this plan does not look like it will give you the sense of place that you desire. Don’t get personally attached to a plan that is not going to work! It’s a pitfall we all have to struggle with.

    • I am not a planner, but would second Marshal’s comment based on my own observations from my former home. The Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington, DC has real life examples of both versions of Westwood’s concepts, though at different scales. See, for example any of the circles in Dupont/Logan Circle neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle, Sheridan Circle, Scott Circle or Logan Circle juxtaposed against examples of the bowtie concept at either New Hampshire Ave NW and 17th Street NW or Massachusetts Ave NW and Q Street NW. The circles create a stronger sense of place and thus are used much more frequently by citizens than the pass-through bow-ties.

      That being said, I have no idea how much traffic Harrison Avenue carries and traffic calming squares could create congestion issues that the neighborhood does not desire. Dupont Circle certainly results in congestion even with its underpass, although I suppose that Connecticut Avenue NW carries a much larger volume of traffic than Harrison Avenue.

    • Ian Mitchell

      Harrison ave kills. It’s a stroad. It depresses real estate values. It’s there so that cheviot commuters can get to downtown’s parking as quickly as possible, no matter the body count.

      Without something to slow it down, westwood will continue to lose residents and prominence to places which are safer and more pleasant.

    • Ian Mitchell

      It’s not a place. Plain and simple. It’s greenspace, not a park. It’s a blur in a rear view window.

    • Ian Mitchell

      Parks, not parking lots. Streets, not stroads.

  • Mark Christol

    How many Westwood civic organizations are there?

  • Jules Michael Rosen

    Of course, the silly bowtie option is billed as “less intrusive” on the redevelopment website, when, in fact, what makes a neighborhood’s downtown actually significant is how intrusive it is. Cars are still going to be able to speed right through. This is what sets Mount Lookout and Hyde Park Squares apart. I guess I got my hopes up for some kind of well thought out change on the West Side.

    • Ian Mitchell

      It will be bad for people in cheviot who would drive their cars down harrison at 100 mph through westwood if they could. That’s why we should do it.

  • It’s always been a sore spot to me how quickly Mayor Cranley adopted Westwood Square after so adamantly opposing the process (form-based codes) it came out of. Also, while Westwood Square was always just a concept, it is clear it would solve a lot of issues this new “bow-tie” idea won’t.

    That said, given limited funding and – I presume – possible site acquisition issues for the Square, moving forward with a moderate improvement seems smarter than waiting for all the cards to fall right for the Square to happen. I haven’t been actively involved in Westwood’s plans, but just seeing something move forward is encouraging.

    Also, I understand the skepticism for the parks levy, especially since it isn’t very well-defined where the money is going (see, Ziegler Park / Cutter Playground). But I have optimism with Otto Budig behind it the finer details can get worked out.

  • Ian Mitchell

    This is a shame. Harrison Ave is a STROAD death trap and nowhere in westwood has any feeling of “place” whatsoever. It doesn’t feel like a nieghborhood, let alone a town, the design might as well be a subdivision- except there’s more than one kind of house.