The Green Towns Model and the Future of Public Housing Preservation

Greenbelt, Maryland is a small town north of the Nation’s capital which carries a legacy larger than its hamlet appearance. As one of the nations four Green Towns built between 1935 and 1937, Greenbelt stands as a National Historic District and lasting testament to the FDR administration in its commitment to providing social programs, in particular, public housing through the New Deal.

The Garden City Movement in the United Kingdom, which valued open space, nature and balanced planning principles, and a pressing housing shortage during the Great Depression inspired FDR to action. Planners of Greenbelt and its sister towns Greenhills, Ohio and Greendale, Wisconsin, sought to create a new model of development: the suburb. Led by the newly established Resettlement Administration, the body focused on creating housing for federal workers.

These projects, in the words of Greenbelt Museum Education Coordinator Sheila Maffay-Tuthill, embodied the “coming together of urban and rural,” providing opportunities to experiment with housing, land use, and transportation policies simultaneously. In a recent tour of the site, led by Maffay-Tuthill and Megan Young, the Director of the Greenbelt Museum, staff of the National Public Housing Museum was able to see first hand the implementation of these policies.

Informed by its counterparts in Europe, the FDR Administration moved to make direct investments in public housing, a public good previously provided in large part by benevolent social organizations albeit never meeting demand. Due to its proximity to Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt’s championing, public policy experts consider Greenbelt as the most fully realized of American Green Towns with its project budget largely shielded from cuts throughout its development.

But even with this support, the Resettlement Administration did not realize the scale and vision of Greenbelt. Today, the town prides itself on its rural feel with low densities of cinder block Bauhaus-inspired row housing, modest apartment buildings, a school and community center, a shopping center with a Co-op grocery store, a bank, and a movie theater. A pathway network apart from the street network creates a peaceful walking environment completely separate from automobile traffic among plentiful trees and brooks.

While some decried the town as the epitome of federal largesse, a common criticism of many New Deal-era policies, the federal government thought methodically about shaping each Green Town. In the case of Greenbelt, all residents needed to fit within strict income and desired family demographic parameters. Planners conducted research in Greendale, Wisconsin about how wide to make pathways to encourage conversation and interaction, a fact ever apparent in the cozy sidewalk widths of Greenbelt. Public art adorns the school and community center building.

While the shovel hit the dirt for these central pieces of the Green Town vision, the plows did not hit the soil of farms outside of Greenbelt’s greenbelt of trees. As originally planned, larger farms, in addition to smaller allotment plot gardens for families would provide food for Greenbelters. Here the Green Town model would provide the amenities of a city within a decidedly rural context – a community spirit that arguably survives, if not in built-out plans, in Greenbelt’s legacy of co-op businesses, complete with a volunteer-run newspaper.

As Maffay-Tuthill reminds us, the first residents of Greenbelt, “were chosen for being idealistic people – they bought into what was being done here … they wanted this to succeed.” With such an engineered social and physical fabric, it is not surprising the various Green Towns met with varying levels of success. The monumental cost of the Green Town model and changing views on housing contributed to Greenbelt’s sale in 1952, much of it to the residents of Greenbelt.

Upon its sale and later private development of single-family homes starting in 1954, a new group of residents, less committed to the idealism of Greenbelt’s original inhabitants, reshaped the Utopian undertones. A policy shift away from the Green Towns model, coupled with the changing perception of these places presents preservationists with the question of how best to preserve the legacy and intent of these original towns.

Unlike Greenbelt, Cincinnati’s Greenhills community has not been as successful in preserving its story. Twenty-five minutes north of the city center, Greenhills suffered from an incomplete build-out of its original vision, and, as recently as 2009, wholesale demolition of a portion of its original housing units.

With much of the nation’s public housing stock currently approaching the 50-year old threshold for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, it is imperative current planners understand the importance of these places in telling the broader public housing and American story.

Like the telling of any national narrative, there are many questions on how to best tell the story and which examples provide the best understanding of the subject. In Greenbelt, the excitement with which our tour guides present the knowledge of their community and its spirit reminds us of the promise of public housing and its ability, when planned and fully implemented, to foster a greater sense of community and affect personal change in the lives of its residents. Undoubtedly there are many more stories to be told – and, like Greenbelt, more than anything these stories require champions.

Daniel Ronan works as the Site Development & Engagement Coordinator for the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago, and is the creator of ResilientHeritage.org. His interests include, historic preservation, transportation, and resilience. In his quest to study this issue in greater detail, Ronan will be visiting Cincinnati the weekend after Thanksgiving. Those interested in joining him for a tour of Greenhills can do so by contacting him at djronan@gmail.com.

Winners of ULI Competition Propose Bold Infill Development for Walnut Hills

ULI Hines Cincinnati Competition Winning TeamIn an effort to reach a younger audience and provide real life experiences to students and future professionals of the construction and development industry, the Urban Land Institute Cincinnati Chapter collaborated with the University of Cincinnati in a local competition that offered a $5,000 prize to a winning design for infill development proposals for the Walnut Hills neighborhood.

The competition was modeled after the ULI Hines National Competition, which calls for unique interdisciplinary work among student teams from throughout the country for feasible urban development concepts.

The Cincinnati competition, however, went one step further by including a mentoring program, in which local professionals worked directly with student teams over an eight-week period in September and October. The 17 participating students came from the University of Cincinnati’s schools of Architecture, Urban Planning and Real Estate.

The participants were divided into four teams, each with assigned ULI professional mentors well recognized for their achievements in their respective fields. Weekly lectures were also provided by professionals in local real estate, architecture and urban planning and design offices in order to expose the students to case studies and useful tools commonly used in professional practice.

In an effort to diversify academic participation, the Niehoff Urban Studio once again collaborated with the Lindner College of Business Real Estate Center and the University’s ProPel program to organize the course. Additional participation and assistance was provided by the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation acting as the chief client, while BHDP Architecture established the competition brief.

The work culminated on Monday, October 27 at the ULI Studio Competition Reception and Award Ceremony at the Niehoff Urban Studio’s Community Design Center in Corryville.

During this closing event, each team was given 40 minutes to make the case for their proposal and field questions from eight-member judging committee comprised of Brian Copfer (CORE Resources, Inc.); Traci Boeing (WesBanco Bank); Jeanne Schroer (Catalytic Development Funding Corporation of Northern Kentucky); Eric J. Gardner, MAI, CCIM (Pillar Valuation Group, Inc.); Graham Kalbli, AIA, AICP, LEED AP (New Republic); Kevin Wright (Walnut Hills Re-development Foundation); Jeff Raser, AIA, LEED-AP (Glaserworks); and Craig Gossman (Gossman Group).

The winning team, which included Kyle Zook (SAID-DAAP), Bahareh Rezaee (SOP-DAAP), Yue Yan (SOP-DAAP) and Rocky Grewal (Finance-College of Business), was awarded the competition’s $5,000 prize.

Although diverse in nature, the competing designs responded to existing form based code guidelines, the historic neighborhood context, and a mixed-use program brief which called for the incorporation of residential, live/work and retail uses. The winning team’s design set itself apart, however, by using the concept of continuity to aggregate the mixed-use program and buildings around a central public space.

Called Firehouse Row, the winning design addressed three blocks of McMillan Street near the center of Walnut Hills. The location is well-suited for infill since each lot is primarily vacant and surrounded by neighborhood residences.

“The design for a mixed use development on the site was comprised of a variety of methodologies intended to create a relationship with the surrounding public and implement a notion of connectivity not only within the building but also spanning across the different blocks,” the winning team explained.

“At a time of heightened interest for the neighborhood and the possibility of increasing densities, an approach of flexible spaces that cater to the present day inhabitants, and what shifting demographics may follow, was implemented in order to mitigate wasted and vacant spaces.”

While primarily an academic exercise focused on the experience of working in a professional setting, the competition aimed to better prepare students in urban development fields to respond to real world situations and work environments. It also provides leaders in the increasingly hot neighborhood with a vision for how the area could be developed.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Ana Gisele Ozaki, who has worked at the Niehoff Urban Studio’s Community Design Center as an adjunct professor following her graduation from DAAP’s Masters of Community Planning program in 2013, was the author of this story. Due to a system error, an earlier version incorrectly attributed it to Randy Simes.

GUEST EDITORIAL: Is Society Too Demanding When it Comes to Urbanity?

As new cities and neighborhoods emerge these days, with tall buildings and structures, one can’t help but notice and say that urbanity is indeed here.

But the word ‘urbanity’ doesn’t even have a concrete definition being discussed. Henri Lefebvre is even critical of the definition of modern urbanism because it does not define urban life really well. For him, urbanity is an encounter saying that it is “the meeting of difference, of strangers in the city, it was about everyday life and play, the sensuality of the city.”

Urbanity principles are also said to be applicable to any land projects from a single building to an entire city. More so, in urban planning debates, the concept of urbanity is always present but only to the visions of governments, architects, landowners and developers. But what is urbanity in its truest sense? And if defined, does it clearly serve its purpose, or does it give a meaning different from what we expect? And if people understood urbanity, will they be totally sold out to the idea, or will they contest it?

The Hard (or Strong) Way of Urbanity
People, who strongly support the idea of urbanity, bank on its benefits to the people who might reside or work in an urban setting. In fact, Congress for the New Urbanism details four primary benefits of urbanism.

For people who will reside or work in urban cities, it means being able to achieve a higher quality of life including improved living places and improved building and property architecture such as a condo; work and play included. Property lands are valued higher, yet are more stable. Experts highlight the idea of being close to everything that you need. Residents are able to feel safe and secure thanks to pedestrian-friendly sites and reduced transportation costs since you can simply take a walk or have a short ride to your destination anywhere in the city.

It also includes additional benefits to businesses, focusing on increased sales and revenues. It also drives loyal customers living in the city itself, and better lifestyle for business owners by having spaces above their stores also known as live-work units.

Developers also have reasons to be happy for urban cities. Communities will be able to adopt smart growth principles which in turn can save more money and time. A higher density mixed-use land project can also generate a greater income potential thanks to more leasable square footage of land, high selling prices, and high property values.

Municipalities embracing the idea of urbanity will benefit as well, with less crime rates due to enhanced security and presence of more people at day time and night time. Compact and high-density projects will allow governments to spend less on infrastructure and utilities, compared to a suburban development.

The Harder Resistance for Urbanity
Looking on the other side of urbanity, those who are against it point out several factors why urbanity does not work at all. In one case, urban areas experience more traffic congestion with the increased growth rate of its population.

Also, there are new urban developments that just aren’t for everyone; say for those who want wider spaces in their condominiums, people living in close proximity to each other thus providing small living spaces pose a problem. Even though pro-urbanists will say that their innovative structures are adapting through the needs of time, anti-urbanists will be more skeptical of it and instead pose more questions on what those structures can do for them based on their preferences.

And the stronger opposition comes from the idea of affordable spaces in these urban cities. Searching for good places is harder because of high prices especially for those lands near shopping malls, parks, schools, etc. Anthony Flint, in his article, ‘A Tipping Point—But Now the Hard Part‘ talks about the increasing demand for alternatives due to high prices. In Little Elm, Texas, homes are priced starting at $100,000. Add to it heating and cooling bills for large homes which greatly affects a family’s budget.

The Hard or Easy Way for Urbanity?
There are certain ideas that are totally applicable to urban cities, but some can’t be implemented due to certain factors.

Skyscrapers are also included in urban planning and land development. But certain cities in the U.S. can’t build skyscrapers that are too tall and too thin or what they call “superskinnies”, because of land availability. According to architect Gordon Gill, together with his firm Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill, there are some places where superskinnies are not possible.

“We cut slots, we punch holes, we create notches in the corners of the buildings to mitigate the effects of wind, on tall and thin buildings alike. But there are some places where superskinnies will just never go. No matter how pitched income inequality comes to be in San Francisco, these towers will never rise there. For areas that are seismic, the slenderer buildings are not advisable,” Gill says.

Pro-urbanists will also push the idea that green architecture has impacts on energy use and sustainability trends are here to stay. And the anti-urbanists will continue to look for loopholes on their arguments.

The decision of embracing the idea of urbanity lies on the people itself, and how they will see their roles in it. It might be hard for some, but still others will be comfortable in living in an urban setting. Certain improvements need to be in place, such as government policies, improved infrastructure and living spaces. With all of these factors in place, people might be possibly united in the concept of urbanity.

Kimberly Grimms describes herself as a futurist and is a writer for Social Media Today. She studied Community Development and currently resides in New Jersey. You can follow and interact with her on Twitter @KimberlyGrimms.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Recovery is Not a Crime

Jason Lee OverbeyIn April 2014 the City of Cincinnati and the Mayor, along with Pete Witte, waged a furious battle in the drug and alcohol war in our area. Shockingly, they chose the dark side. Disappointingly, they will not budge.

They demand New Foundations Transitional Living (NFTL) – a sober living provider in Price Hill and Northern Kentucky – to shut down all six Cincinnati residences and relocate approximately 100 clean and sober residents elsewhere.

The media has dutifully covered the story and the City’s claims in several TV, radio and print pieces. Yet, the entire story – with all facts – hasn’t been presented for consideration to the public. This is evidenced by the volume of emails, calls and in-person inquiries NFTL receives after each story is released.

Unfortunately, the drug and alcohol scourge is everyone’s problem. It’s your problem. The entire city’s problem. The toll in dollars, image and safety is incalculable. Those in active addiction cost us all in the fees paid for first-responders, loss of productivity from unemployment, incarcerations, property crime, overdose deaths, emergency room visits, welfare, anyone can increase this list. The problem belongs to all of us even if no one close to us suffers from the disease. Our society and communities suffer.

Today we present the truth for thinking men and women to review and research so an educated decision can be made – and not an emotional one. Our aim is to combat contempt prior to investigation.

Zoning
The City claims the six houses in Price Hill violate local single family zoning laws. They claim more than four unrelated persons living in one house in a single family zone violates the code. They attempt to attach fines and even possible criminal charges for such violations.

The truth is that the Federal Fair Housing Act amended in 1988 specifically protects recovering alcoholics and addicts against such claims. The Act allows congregate living for recovering alcoholics and addicts in single family zones. The City’s codes are in violation of the federal law. There is nothing for us to comply with – no variance to seek. This is a civil rights issue.

Best Practices
The Mayor and some members of Greater Cincinnati Recovery Resource Collaborative (GCRRC) claim that New Foundations needs to adopt and implement best practices. The truth is that NFTL does not provide detox, treatment or counseling of any kind. NFTL provides structured and safe sober living housing. Therefore, no licensing or oversight is required by local, state or federal government entities. The only service being provided is transitional housing.

However, New Foundations abides by the ethics and standards of the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board voluntarily. The Director has a Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant (CDCA) awarded by the State of Ohio – even though it is not employed in day-to-day operations. NFTL has thorough rules, standards, healthy living requirements and accountability. And New Foundations has recently begun work with National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) to review, adopt and implement their strict National standards for sober living environments.

Safety
New Foundations does not accept sexual offenders, arsonists, or anyone with open felony and misdemeanor warrants. All residents must pass a drug and alcohol screen to enter our houses. NFTL is not a halfway house which is state funded and receives only parolees. We are transitional living. More than 41% of our residents come to us by word-of-mouth and come voluntarily to receive support in recovery. Talk to our neighbors. We encourage it.

Our residents help shovel snow, do repairs, and watch the block for neighbors where all of our houses are situated. We leave our porch lights on. We inform the police when we witness drug and possible violent activity. We are good, solid neighbors and the record proves it.

We are also good citizens. We participate in Price Hill cleanup days, volunteer and we not only live in Price Hill – many residents work and pay taxes in the community. We have a stake in the safety and progress of Price Hill, too. And we prove our dedication to the value of Price Hill with our measurable actions and not just rhetoric. More than 45% of our residents come in with jobs and some college education.

Our team members’ phone numbers are posted and we have an open door policy and encourage property tours and engagement. We want to work with local groups, churches and businesses.

NIMBY and Property Values
Any person engaged in urban living who owns property should very much be concerned with their property values. The truth is that in over four years of successful operation in Price Hill not one case can be supplied proving property values have been negatively impacted by the presence of NFTL. In fact, New Foundations works tirelessly to put funds back into every property, every year, for repairs, rehab and curb appeal.

Because we understand real estate and because we care about Price Hill, we take pride in the modernity and value increase of our houses. Our residents never refer to their location as a house, or as New Foundations. You hear them, day after day, call it home.

Occupancy
Claims have been made about the number of residents living in each house. The truth is that the drug and alcohol problem in the Greater Cincinnati area is so intense that all local area providers – of treatment and sober living – are full. Many of our colleagues have to place their clients on couches and even cots. Many providers who have joined the Mayor have, and still do, send us their clients because they are full.

New Foundations made an internal decision in April to begin reducing the number of residents in each home and have already accomplished a great deal. There is little left to do regarding occupancy and the point is now moot. It is deplorable. Although health and safety are top priorities, transitional living providers in Cincinnati should be expanding and growing. Not being attacked and dying off.

Non-Profit vs. For Profit
A common theme among complaints is that NFTL is a for-profit entity. The truth is that New Foundations employs a very common hybrid structure having both a for-profit sole proprietorship and a non-profit resident scholarship fund where 100% of the monies go directly to help residents pay fees and get back on their feet. Additionally, a major portion of the income from NFTL goes back into the houses, programs and services for residents.

The larger, more powerful assertion is that New Foundations has found a way to provide a desperately need service for Cincinnati without using any taxpayer dollars.

How is that a problem? Some say the for-profit side makes them nervous. We have asked how and invited a dialogue and have gotten no solid response. Why can’t New Foundations be for-profit and save lives. We can – this is the United States. And we have done it successfully for over four years.

While the good people of Cincinnati rage in a debate over streetcars and bike paths – as any progressive city should be doing – where is the upset over the plague of the drug epidemic on this, the Queen City? Stories about heroin overdose are relegated to sensationalist coverage in the press. We already know about the problem. Where is the focus on the solution? The focus is on shutting the solution down.

NFTL is a part of the solution – not the problem.

Where is the commitment from the City? The new proposed budget has no allocation for treating this plague. Yet, there are funds for obesity. Is the Coroner’s office backlogged three months on obesity cases as they are with overdose deaths?

Recovery is not a crime. It is the answer. The work of NFTL is already legal. It is demonstrably successful and well-known in the recovery community. From the beginning, the Mayor and Pete Witte have offered no authentic opportunity to sit down and explore the truth with us. Only accusations, rhetoric and digging. What’s really going on here?

We cannot be sure. We only know that we will continue to rip our hearts out and watch them bleed on the table for this work. Our loyalty is with our residents, our cause and our City. We will not give up. We are open! We are alive and well. We will not stop fighting this disease for them – and for you.

Jason Lee Overbey attended Indiana Bible College and studied communications at University of Cincinnati. He co-founded LIST My Social Media and eventually became Director of New Foundations. Jason currently lives on the West Side and has a strong interest and commitment to the progress and image of Cincinnati.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

GUEST EDITORIAL: The Mathematics of Urbanity

There are many ways by which you can measure progress but there’s nothing like defining urbanity to put into perspective just how far along societies has come. Urbanity, after all, encompasses everything modern and progressive, the leaps and bounds that humankind has made through the years to essentially live better.

It’s in the trends of condos and high buildings. It’s in the gadgets and devices you carry around. It’s in the very air you breathe. Different people have different needs but it cannot be denied that everyone benefits from urbanity at some point or another.

That condo you’re living in? That’s a result of urbanity. As well as your favorite coffee shop and the latest flick they’re showing in a cinema near you. It’s around you and will continue to persist for as long as an individual interested in improving how one lives exists.

Defining Urbanity
What is urbanity? At the heart of it all, it is basically the refinement of experiences. If you think about it, anything urban is simply the better version of something else in a rural setting. If you think about living conditions, for instance, you’ll see a fine example in condo living.

Where living in a condominium can be considered as the pinnacle of comfort, luxury, and convenience in an urban area, the rural end of the spectra will show housing options of drastically lower quality. There is urbanity where there are jobs. There is urbanity where commercial structures abound. There is urbanity where modern living is applied. It is usually associated with large cities because their massive economic strength makes it possible for urbanity to thrive. It also usually paints a picture of glass and metal, starting full of promise but eventually fading into a backdrop of smog and gray skies.

Urbanity represents the good, the bad, and the ugly about progress. Identifying the bad and the ugly seems to be foreboding but this does not mean that all things urban are doomed to ruin eventually. True progress, and consequently true urbanity, has to do with finding solutions to everyday problems, making it easier for an ordinary citizen to wake up in the morning and go about their day.

This includes finding a balance between green architecture and innovative architecture, allowing cities to not only thrive with technology but to co-exist with the environment as well.

The Urbanity Equation
For the longest time, the urban setting has always followed a simple equation where you subtract green space when skyscrapers and others have to be added to the landscape. As such, as buildings and other structural feats filled the cities, lush greenery started to fade, until you’re left with nothing more than a few hardwoods used as accents. This pervaded until the disastrous effects of climate change started making themselves felt, making it known to every person that the environment will not take its destruction sitting down.

Calamities and disasters are clearly eye-openers that’s a why a more enlightened consciousness began to form, giving birth to architectures adapting to the needs of the times. People are increasingly becoming aware that their actions have consequences and that the results aren’t pretty. Fortunately, it’s not too late.

Mankind has done a great deal of damage to the planet but it is not too far gone that nothing can be done to remedy the situation. But if these efforts are to have a lasting impact, they have to be implemented at the soonest time possible while following a logical plan of action. After all, the sooner sustainability trends catch on, the sooner damages can be softened if not completely reverted.

If you’re looking for a home in the sky, for instance, make sure you go with a condominium that employs green technologies in their property, like energy-saving measures. Aside from automatically helping you do your bit for the environment, green architecture has impacts on energy use so this helps you save on costs because overall resource consumption in your building will be reduced. You’ll see this when you calculate condo cost. A portion of your condominium dues accounts, after all, for your share in the upkeep and expenses of the building so lesser expenses means smaller monthly fees for you to pay. Saving money while saving the environment? Not a bad idea at all.

Does It Add Up?
Ask anyone and most people will tell you that they still appreciate urbanity, what with the conveniences it offers in many aspects of day-to-day living. It’s definitely understandable because there are just many things in your life that you wouldn’t want to go back to after having seen what a better way is like. But in your aim to amass the better things in life, are you sure the trade-off is worth it? Sometimes, it’s just not.

Green living is a little bit easier today because property developers have taken it upon themselves to introduce sustainable and environment-friendly features in their projects. But just because your building recycles water doesn’t mean that you’ve done enough of your part in taking care of the environment. You have to take a more active role than that.

You have to think beyond what your actions will mean tomorrow, next week, or next month. You have to consider what your actions will lead to years in the future, when a different generation is walking down the very streets you walked on. Are you leaving them a livable world? No one can really say what will happen in the future but having the future in mind in whatever you do today will help ensure that there is indeed one to look forward to.

Putting Two and Two Together
The modern world will always have a certain level of flashiness to it but there is hope that it wouldn’t be as bright as before, a time when people are blinded to the realities and consequences of urban living. By turning down the lights bit by bit, people are able to see more clearly where the brazen path to the urban realm is really leading to (not that it hurts to save on energy costs at the same time).

Calculate condominium expenses and you’ll get an idea as to how much living in the lap of luxury will cost you. But is that amount really all you have to pay to enjoy a life of convenience? Costs can come in various forms and most of the time people are not willing to pay what it takes to get what they want. Worse, they don’t want to pay anything at all. Nothing in life is free and it’s this kind of greed and selfishness that got everyone into trouble. The sooner people find a way to balance their needs and wants with that of the planet’s, the sooner they’ll be able to truly make the most out of living in an urban landscape.

Urbanity is not evil. Don’t fear endless urbanity. There’s no need to fall into a zero-sum mentality when everyone can emerge as winners. It will require work but green urbanity is more than doable.

Anna Rodriguez is a Project Consultant for various real estate developers. She has a degree in Industrial Engineering and currently lives in the Philippines. She has also backgrounds in online marketing, social media management, and is currently a writer for Agency Post, and owns Homey Guide Blog.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.