Walking tour to give historical perspective on Cincinnati’s urban core

maxresdefaultMax Grinnell is an author, historian, and a professor who is experienced at sharing unique perspectives of American cities. He has given a number of talks and led walking tours in cities across the country, focused on urban innovation, public art, and travel. Next week, he will be coming to Cincinnati to give us a look at the city from a historical perspective.

Grinnell’s tour will be based on Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, a book published in 1943 for the Federal Writers’ Project. It is a part of the American Guide Series, also known as the WPA guides, a program funded by the New Deal to employ writers during the Great Depression. Today, it serves as a snapshot of 1943 Cincinnati, when the city’s population was 455,610 and now-iconic structures like Carew Tower and Union Terminal were just a decade old.

UrbanCincy was able to ask Grinnell a few questions about why he was inspired to come to Cincinnati for this event.


UC: You’ve given walking tours of many other cities, and have upcoming tours scheduled for Chicago and Boston. What drew you to Cincinnati, a comparatively smaller city, for a tour?

MG: I started coming to Cincinnati five years ago to work as a grader for the AP Human Geography exam. I’ll be honest: I didn’t know much about Cincy before I got here. Probably thought about chili, Pete Rose, and that’s about it. Now? I’m a totally Queen City booster: I tell people about Mount Adams, the streetcar, the walkable neighborhoods, the great food scene, the alleys (yes, the alleys), and more.

UC: What inspired you to create a tour centered around the 1943 WPA Guide to Cincinnati?

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.57.51 AMMG: Taken as a whole, the Federal Writers Guides are nothing short of amazing. Imagine the government putting writers back to work in the Great Depression by writing about their cities, states, regions, and more. Truly a fantastic undertaking, and the Cincinnati guidebook was the last big one to be released.

The guidebook cover all of Cincinnati, plus northern Kentucky, the far reaches of Hamilton County and more with an eye for spectacular details. Historic homes, obscure technical schools, evocative park descriptions, and just about anything else was grist for the mill. Today, travel guides don’t get into that type of detail, which is a same.

Also, it’s a bit of an “amber” moment, if you will, as this was the Queen City at its industrial peak. I consider it one of the better city guides produced by the Federal Writers project and that’s significant, considering other volumes considered New Orleans, Philadelphia, and others.

UC: For people who have been following the many changes in Cincinnati’s urban core in recent years, what new perspectives might they gain from the tour?

MG: I think they’ll gain a new perspective courtesy of the past, if you will. We’ll be hearing about how businesses like the Netherland Plaza Hotel, the Billboard Publishing Plant, the James Book Store and more gave the downtown character. As someone who teaches urban studies for a living, I think we’ll also be talking about how the various buildings have been repurposed over time and how various civic leaders have seen visions both realized and unrealized come and go.


Tours will be given on two dates–Thursday, June 4th and Saturday, June 6th–at 6 p.m each day. The tour lasts 60 minutes, and tickets can be purchased for $15 at Grinnell’s website.

OTR Foundation Crowdfunding Campaign to Support Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation is looking to raise money to support the Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden.

The non-profit group typically advocates for historic preservation, and was instrumental in saving the historic school. As a result, Over-the-Rhine Foundation leadership sees the support of this rooftop garden and the school itself as one of its primary initiatives.

“The Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden is a transformational project that builds community by connecting students in OTR to the values of gardening in their school environment,” W. Kevin Pape, President, Over-the-Rhine Foundation, said in a prepared release. “The Foundation proudly supports Rothenberg’s students and the realization of the rooftop garden project.”

In the case of this project, digital crowdfunding site Indiegogo is being used, but there will also be a happy hour event tonight at Goodfellas Pizzeria on Main Street.

The Indiegogo campaign offers a variety of funding levels, but donors can also pledge their own amount of financial support. Organizers have listed a goal of $5,000, of which nearly half has been raised since the campaign was unofficially launched three weeks ago.

Pape says that the funds will allow for the purchase of 15 cold frames to protect the plants from cold weather, irrigation systems, rain barrels, four new fruit trees, work stations and potting benches, and all the materials needed to stock a Garden Kitchen – electric skillets, mixing bowls, knives, utensils, salad spinner, camp stove and more.

Since reopening in 2013, the Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden has served as an active learning experience for Cincinnati Public Schools students, and also provided students at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy with fresh, healthy foods to eat. In fact, the garden allows for daily gardening lessons to be integrated into the students’ curriculum, with each teacher at the school managing a garden bed that has a space for each student within the class.

The happy hour fundraising event tonight at Goodfellas Pizzeria, located at 1211 Main Street, will take place from 5pm to 8pm. Entrance to the event will cost $20, which will support the fundraising effort but also get you pizza and a beer.

Cincy Stories returns on Tuesday, May 5

Cincy Stories on May 5, 2015The organizers of the Cincy Stories event series will be presenting their second installment on Tuesday, May 5 at MOTR Pub. This time, the event will feature five speakers:

“Cincy Stories is about intimately connecting to our neighbors and just sharing stories like people do in their living rooms or around their dining room tables,” event co-founder Shawn Braley told UrbanCincy in January.

Due to the large crowd attending the first Cincy Stories event, tomorrow’s event has been moved to the main stage at MOTR Pub. The event will begin at 7 p.m. and will also feature live music from The Part-Time Gentlemen.

The first event took place in February and two stories from the event were released on The UrbanCincy Podcast.

Record Crowd at Niehoff for Burnet Woods

Over one hundred and fifty people gathered at the Niehoff Urban Design Studios in Corryville to see and hear what University of Cincinnati design students had come up with on a reimagining of Burnet Woods. The Woods, which once included the land that is now the University’s west campus, is still one of the largest parks in the Cincinnati Park system and also the central focal point of three Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Both Masters and Bachlors degree students from the School of Planning at DAAP focused on the park as part of a year long planning effort coordinated by the City of Cincinnati and the university to envision a revitalized Burnet Woods.  A recent study conducted by the university polled 2,000 students. One of the biggest findings from the study is that 87% of the students polled do not think the Woods are safe. Another 7% did not know it existed at all.

As part of the event, UrbanCincy moderated a discussion panel with some of the regions’ top experts on park planning and programming. Chris Manning from Human Nature joined Ken Stapleton from Ken Stapleton & Associates and Christy Samad from Center City Development Corportation (3CDC). Panelists discussed ways to make the park appear safer including better lighting, more programming and activities and better gateway connections into the park.

The hour long panel focused on a range of topics regarding Burnet Woods including a student proposal for a green land bridge between the park and the school. The bridge proposal was praised by the panelist for its outside the box approach at incorporating an aspect of the park in a way that overcomes the physical separation caused by the wide and traffic heavy Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Audience members were also encouraged to participate and some voiced concerns about the park being underutilized. One participant asked about residential housing on the periphery as part of the park redevelopment noting that connecting residential to the park would be an opportunity for change.

UrbanCincy media specialist Travis Estell was on hand to take photographs and record the conversation which will appear later this week on The UrbanCincy Podcast.

The open house was a joint event between the Niehoff Urban Design Studio, the Urbanists and UrbanCincy. Stay tuned for our next joint event in the fall!

EDITORIAL: It’s Time to Consider Moving Major Festivals to Central Riverfront

There has been much rancor over the past week about how or if to operate the streetcar during major events such as Oktoberfest or Taste of Cincinnati. The perceived problem is that the streetcar’s tracks cross the existing location of those major festivals, and would thus pose a conflict.

It is worth taking a look at these festivals and their locations along Fifth Street, along with what other options might exist.

Historical Context
Both festivals got their start in the 1970s, with Oktoberfest tapping its first keg in 1976 and the Taste of Cincinnati kicking off in 1979. While Oktoberfest originally began on Fifth Street, Taste of Cincinnati did not. In fact, it was not until very recently that the Taste of Cincinnati moved to Fifth Street and joined its mega-festival partner.

When Taste of Cincinnati modestly kicked off 36 years ago, it was actually held in Piatt Park. It stayed there for three short years and then moved to Central Parkway, where it remained until 2007 when the renovation of Fountain Square was completed. At that time, it made sense to host both festivals to Fifth Street around the reborn Fountain Square.

When the city’s first modern streetcar line opens next year, it will have been nine years since both festivals were regularly being held on Fifth Street. Following this year’s scheduled events, it will also be time for both festivals to consider moving to even better environs along the central riverfront. Of course, since the streetcar isn’t planned to open for operations until September, that means Taste of Cincinnati could stay where it is without any problems for 2016 as well.

Accessibility
One of the biggest positives and negatives about Fifth Street is its central location and connectivity to Fountain Square – the traditional public gathering point for Cincinnatians. Everyone knows where it is. The problem with it is that it is also all of that for everyday residents, visitors and workers in the bustling central business district; and these events shut down that corridor for days at a time.

With the events typically extending from Race/Vine Street to Sycamore/Broadway Street – a four- to five-block span – they also require a number of cross streets and major transportation hubs like Government Square to shut down. When the streetcar begins its operations, it too will have to alter its operations and only run approximately half of its initial route during the events.

By moving both festivals to the central riverfront they would be able to take advantage of the huge Central Riverfront Garage underneath The Banks, and also be able to take direct advantage of the Riverfront Transit Center, which was custom built for serving massive crowds such as those that attend Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati.

At the same time, Metro bus service and streetcar operations would be able to continue uninterrupted.

Furthermore, unlike Fifth Street, the streets at The Banks do not serve as major access points for the regional highway system, so closing those streets off would not severely disrupt the flow of goods and people in the central business district. Without that restriction, Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati could explore the idea of taking place over additional days, instead of being limited to three-day weekends.

Accommodations
Like Fifth Street, the central riverfront is within close walking distance of the many hotels located in the central business district, but it doesn’t serve as a barrier to them with its tents, debris and staging.

In addition to the hotels, businesses at The Banks would be much better-suited to handle mega events such as these. Buildings and storefronts along and around Fifth Street have been designed in a traditional sense, while those at The Banks have been custom built to accommodate large street crowds and festivals with walk-up windows, fold open walls and the forthcoming open-container law.

In fact, the huge popularity of Oktoberfest has already begun to spread beyond Fifth Street. UberDrome is now set-up in Smale Riverfront Park by the Moerlein Lager House and Paulaner; and the growing number of breweries in Over-the-Rhine are also now hosting special events during the period during and around Oktoberfest. A perfect connection between all of the festivities, as has been suggested by Christian Moerlein’s owner Greg Hardman, is the first leg of the streetcar.

Organization and Set-Up
Fifth Street, unlike the central riverfront, has very little in terms of open areas for special activities. With the $125 million dunnhumby Centre now complete at Fifth and Race, Fifth Street has also lost a large surface parking lot that had served as a staging area for these festivals. Along the central riverfront there are several event lawns that not only offer more flexibility for programming, but also are more comfortable for event-goers than the hardscapes offered along Fifth Street.

Furthermore, while Cincinnatians have grown accustomed to the linear organization of these types of festivals, which may not be the best set-up for them. With the ability to shut down multiple streets at a time without causing problems for traffic flow, The Banks allows for a more district-oriented festival. This would allow people to more easily get from one spot to another, without needing to go back against the grain an entire four blocks to meet friends just arriving.

In addition to all of this, The Banks development and Smale Riverfront Park are only getting bigger. So as they expand over the coming years, so will the possibilities for both of these great festivals that help to define the spirit of Cincinnati and its people.

While the Cincinnati Streetcar may be sparking this conversation, the decision to move Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati to the central riverfront is clear on its own merits and should be seriously considered. Both continue to grow in popularity and set record crowds each year. At some point soon we are going to have to make a decision about how to accommodate these growing crowds.

Let’s allow our companies in the central business district to flourish without interruption, our transit systems to serve huge crowds at full capacity, and two of our greatest cultural festivals the ability to grow and prosper for generations to come. Move Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati off of Fifth Street and to the central riverfront.