Walnut Hills Embracing Tactical Urbanism in Pursuit of its Own Transformation

It has been an eventful summer Walnut Hills following the assignment of two grants for neighborhood ventures, kickoff of the Findlay Market Farmstand and Cincy Summer Streets events, as well as a host of other neighborhood events.

UrbanCincy last reported about the rehabilitation of the Samuel Hannaford-designed firehouse, and leasing of the ground floor commercial space by Fireside Pizza in June, and the We Are Walnut Hills Festival in May. Since then, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) has moved into the summer months with full roster of projects and activities.

The Findlay Market Farmstand began in early June with a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, all from within a 100-mile radius. Funded through a Healthy Initiatives Grant by Interact for Health, attendance was strong at the first Findlay Market Farmstand, but the WHRF says they will be going door-to-door within the neighborhood to ensure that all residents know where and when the farm stand will be open.

“Passersby and residents need to support the farmstand for it to be financially viable,” said Thea Munchel of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “We wanted to ensure that it would be in a space that would attract the neighborhood residents while also interesting people passing through.”

Organizers say that the farmstand will be open, going forward, on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm at 767 McMillan Street, next to the aforementioned Firehouse. In addition to the produce offerings, they say there will be music, grilling, cooking classes and other rotating activities to build a sense of engagement.

It should be noted, however, that this is not the only, or even first, location for Findlay Market’s outreach into the city’s neighborhoods. Ohio’s oldest public market also sets up farmstands in East Price Hill and Westwood.

In addition to the Healthy Initiatives grant, the WHRF has partnered with Fifth Third Bank to create what they are calling the THRIVE Grant, which provides $3,000 to $15,000 to attract established businesses to the Peeble’s Corner business district. Angst Coffee is the first recipient of the grant, and is expected to open at 2437 Gilbert Avenue this fall. Built in 1890, and featuring exposed brick, warm colors and modern interior finishes, owners expect the space to be ideal for a coffee house.

Cincy Summer Streets, an open streets celebration, kicked off in Walnut Hills this past weekend as well. The event closed McMillan Street between Gilbert and Woodburn, and Woodburn between McMillan and Madison Road to automobiles, while opening the street up for biking, walking, dancing, art-making and fitness classes.

The event was meant to, and did, breathe new life into the streets with residents of all ages, mingling and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The Walnut Hills Area Council, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, East Walnut Hills Assembly, Art on the Streets, and the City of Cincinnati organized the event, while sponsorship came from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Interact for Health.

Both Cincy Summer Streets and the Findlay Market Farmstand are examples of how the Walnut Hills community is embracing tactical urbanism as a way to transform itself.

To build on all this activity, neighborhood leaders will be preparing over coming weeks for the City of Cincinnati’s award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), which will kick off in Walnut Hills on August 15. But for those looking to score some fresh produce from area farmers – you can do that at the next Findlay Market Farmstand set up in Walnut Hills this Thursday from 4pm to 7pm.

PHOTOS: The Changing Face of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s not just housing that’s booming in the center city, there is also a slew of office, retail, hotel and infrastructure projects underway that are transforming Cincinnati’s skyline and its streetscapes.

All of the construction activity makes it feel as if there is work taking place in just about every corner of the central business district and its immediate surroundings. And for the most part, that feeling is valid.

In addition to the thousands of residential units under construction, work is also currently underway on the second phase of The Banks, which will include not only 300 additional apartments, but also General Electric’s new North American Global Operations Center, 313-room Renaissance Hotel, dunnhumbyUSA Centre, Mabley Place, reconstruction of Second Street, and work is about to get underway for the new 115-room Holiday Inn hotel at Seventh and Broadway Streets.

In addition to all of the construction work taking place, the weather earlier this month was terrific and made for a perfect time to take pictures of some of the center city’s beauty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between July 2 and July 9, 2014.

Community Blend Brings Co-op Coffee Shop to Evanston’s Revitalizing Neighborhood Business District

Community Blend served its first cup of Equal Exchange organic fair-trade coffee, purchased by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D), just over a month ago and then officially opened its doors for business Monday, May 19, 2014.

Located in Evanston at 3546 Montgomery Road they are part of a neighborhood revitalization taking place that includes the new multi-million dollar King Studios – a pioneer studio from the 1940s to 1960s that brought R&B and Country musicians into the same place and featured artists anywhere from James Brown to the Delmore Brothers.

“We chose to rehab an existing building with local history as part of the revitalization of Evanston,” co-owner Trish Breedlove told UrbanCincy. “The building, at one time, housed a pharmacy. It was vacant for quite some time but has a new lease (literally!) to be a functioning business space.”

Community Blend was an idea originally had by a half-dozen people who wanted to open the city’s first co-op coffee shop. Even though it seems like a modest project, Interfaith Business Builders, a group of Cincinnatians from different faiths and social backgrounds, has been working on this project for four years.

While coming from different backgrounds, the people driving this vision all share a passion for justice and the empowerment of people, and place a strong value on community, cooperation and solidarity. Along with this they have had many different businesses churches, civic organizations, institutions and individuals that have invested time and funding into the cooperative midtown coffee shop.

It is worth noting that the University of Cincinnati’s Community Design Center and Xavier University’s Williams College of Business and Community Building Institute were also important partners on this project.

The element that really makes this not your average coffee shop is the fact that everyone working there also has an equal share in ownership. Breedlove says that each person has one share in the business, which equates to one vote within the company, and is voluntarily run by democratic process – everyone has a voice in the direction and day-to-day operations of Community Blend.

“We collaboratively, as equals, decide on all policy issues pertaining to the café,” said Breedlove. “We believe the cooperative business is a more compassionate business as we all share the burden in difficult economic times and equally share the benefits when the business is thriving.”

Apart from the democracy-laden business model, Community Blend offers above minimum wage pay to help keep the money earned there in the local economy since about half of their workers are from the neighborhood in Evanston. They also provide education and training for all of their employees.

Community Blend offers Equal Exchange fair trade coffees, teas, chocolates, and olive oils. According to Equal Exchange, they like to source their coffee from small-scale farmers who work as a community and share the risks and rewards of growing a crop that has been in their family for generations.

“They [Community Blend] focus on the betterment of the community, not just the individual. By drinking their coffee, you are supporting, youth empowerment, funding microfinance projects, protecting fragile biospheres and keeping hope alive.”

Like the workers at Community Blend, fair trade farmers and producers are also paid above market price in what is considered more fair compensation for their work.

Alongside the coffee, Breedlove says they are focusing locally-sourced foods as much as possible. They make sandwiches to order, use fresh fruit in their smoothies and freshly squeezed lemons to make their lemonade.

Community Blend is currently open Monday through Friday from 6:30am to 3pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 3pm. Breedlove says that they will also be open this Saturday from 6pm to 8pm when they host an evening of poetry reading and jazz by Marian Muhammad, backed by The Last Boppers. She says that those who attend can also expect some tap dancing.

EDITORIAL: It’s Time for Cincinnati to Build a New First-Class Arena

The Cincinnati region has an arena problem that is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that there is no stand-out venue that offers both the capacity and modern amenities to attract large-scale events. The second is that the region has far too many venues competing with one another.

Within a one-hour drive from Fountain Square there are eight arenas with a capacity of more than 9,000 people for their primary tenants. Of these, only three have been built or undergone major renovations since the year 2000. The lone major project currently on the books is the $310 million renovation and rebuild of Rupp Arena in Lexington, which also happens to be the furthest away of the eight venues mentioned.

  1. Rupp Arena (23,500): Built in 1975 with minor renovations in 2001. Primary tenant is University of Kentucky athletics. Major renovation and rebuild planned for completion in 2017.
  2. U.S. Bank Arena (17,566): Built in 1975 with a major renovation in 1997 and subsequent minor renovations. Primary tenant is the minor league hockey Cincinnati Cyclones team.
  3. UD Arena (13,409): Built in 1969 with major renovations in 2002 and minor renovations again in 2010. Primary tenant is University of Dayton athletics.
  4. Fifth Third Arena (13,176): Built in 1989 with several minor renovations since. Primary tenant is University of Cincinnati athletics.
  5. Cintas Center (10,250): Built in 2000. Primary tenant is Xavier University athletics.
  6. Cincinnati Gardens (10,208): Built in 1949 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is the amateur women’s roller derby Cincinnati Rollergirls team.
  7. Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400): Built in 2008. Primary tenant is Northern Kentucky University athletics.
  8. Millett Hall (9,200): Built in 1968 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is Miami University athletics (sans hockey).

Recent talks closer to the core of our region have revolved around either embarking on a major renovation of Fifth Third Arena, or building a new one altogether; and performing major renovations on U.S. Bank Arena. The problem with these two approaches, however, fails to address the two core problems with the region’s plethora of arenas.

Any discussion on this topic should be focused on creating a stand-out venue that is both large enough and offers the modern amenities needed to attract major events, while also decluttering the regional arena landscape.

To that end, UrbanCincy recommends building a brand new arena adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino at Broadway Commons that would become the new home for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball. This venue would also accommodate the existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena and should be built in a way that is conducive for casino operators to program additional events, such as boxing, at the venue.

As part of this plan, U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Gardens should be torn down, and Fifth Third Arena used as the multipurpose facility it was originally intended to be.

This location makes perfect sense with immediate access to the center city’s hotels and convention facilities, casino, streetcar system, highways and abundant parking. Such a plan would also allow for the current U.S. Bank Arena site to be redeveloped with additional housing and shops akin to what is being developed at The Banks.

The land left over at the Cincinnati Gardens site in Bond Hill could then be repackaged, with surrounding land, to be developed as part of community-driven master plan.

As is often the case, funding is one of the primary hurdles preventing any of this from getting done. In this particular plan, each of the partners (University of Cincinnati, City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Horseshoe Casino) could contribute to the capital costs. Furthermore, value capture tools could be used for the U.S. Bank Arena and Cincinnati Gardens properties to help offset costs even more.

The last thing our region needs is another tax to pay for a sports or entertainment complex. Those scarce public resources should be reserved for more pressing things like improving our region’s transit network.

Our region’s political and business leaders need to think holistically when it comes to this challenge. Moving forward in a panicked and rushed fashion will get us an end result that does not solve the problems before us, and ultimately squanders public dollars.

Let’s build ourselves a modern arena venue that can attract top-level events, but do so without placing the burden on the taxpayers. Let’s also do so in a way that rids the region of some of its excess number of existing arenas, and frees up land to be redeveloped in a more productive manner for our neighborhoods.

There is a wealth of talent and C-Level executives in this region. Let’s get creative and start thinking beyond the sales tax. Let’s get this done.

REPORT: Cincinnati Region Failing at Developing Walkable Urban Places

U.S. Metropolitan Land Use OptionsA recently released report conducted by The George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis in conjunction with LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, a coalition of Smart Growth America gave the Cincinnati region low marks for its walkability and growth patterns overall.

The report, entitled Foot Traffic Ahead, attempts to quantify the seemingly surging movement of people back into cities with a desire for walkable places.

The idea is that developers, investors, government regulators and financiers understood the model that successfully built America’s suburbs during the second half of the 20th century, but that a new model is needed with that era now behind us.

“Over the next generation, walkable urban development will spur even greater economic growth as demand for walkable urban development is met. The future growth of walkable urban places could provide the same economic base in the 21st century that drivable sub-urbanism did in the mid- to late-20th century. However, this growth will not be realized without appropriate infrastructure, zoning, and financing mechanisms at the federal, state, and local levels.”

Therefore, the authors of the report, in coordination with a Brookings Institution methodology developed in 2012, defined two primary forms of land use: drivable sub-urban and walkable urban. They also defined the two primary economic functions of those forms as being either regionally significant or local-serving.

Of the four potential combinations of these forms and functions, Foot Traffic Ahead focused on the regionally significant walkable urban places (WalkUPs) in each of the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan regions. When considering all of this, the authors of the report identified 558 WalkUPs nationwide, with 66 of those located in the New York City metropolitan area alone.

Out of the 30 regions studied, Cincinnati was ranked 20th with seven total WalkUPs in the region. Those seven WalkUPs, the report found, contained 33,234,000 square feet of office and retail space, or approximately 15% of the region’s total.

When compared with other regions, an astonishing 100% of the office and retail space located within WalkUPs were within the central city. What this means is that while Cincinnati’s urban core is extremely walkable, virtually nothing outside of it is. As a result, Cincinnati fell at the low end of the six regions classified as ‘Tentative Walkable Urbanism’.

“Four of these six metros – Houston, Columbus, Kansas City and Cincinnati – have 93% or more of their walkable urban office and retail space in the central city; virtually no walkable urbanism exists in their suburbs,” the report noted. “These four metros continued the expansion of drivable sub-urban development patterns.”

It is worth repeating that the methodology of this analysis places a priority on regionally significant places that contain at least 1.4 million square feet of office space, 340,000 square feet of retail space and a Walk Score value of at least 70 points throughout 100% of its area.

Such requirements penalize smaller and mid-size metropolitan regions that have less of this space overall. Perhaps illustrating this is the fact that while Cincinnati ranks 20th overall in this ranking, it comes in at 15th overall in terms of its number of WalkUPs per capita. Had the threshold for defining WalkUPs been lower, then perhaps more areas could have been considered into the overall WalkUP calculations for the region, and thus included smaller hubs outside of the central city.

When compared with the other regions, the future looks even grimmer for Cincinnati. In that ranking, Cincinnati falls five spots and into the category of ‘Low Potential for Future Walkable Urbanism’.

As is true with the existing rankings, the future rankings place a high significance on high volumes of real estate development. With regional growth rates hovering around 0.4%, it offers little opportunity for a region like Cincinnati to make dramatic changes to its development footprint.

However, when compared with the other regions, Cincinnati also appears to be lagging in terms of developing a robust regional transit system with both bus and rail, and lacks regional coordination on developing walkable urban developments. The report did however note that Cincinnati’s streetcar system currently under-construction serves as a bright spot that alone may shift the region from the ‘Low’ to ‘Moderate Potential’ category.

“These 13 metropolitan areas continue to lose market share in office and retail locating in their WalkUPs, continuing the mid- to late-20th century trend toward drivable sub-urbanism,” the report concluded about the regions with low potential in their future rankings.

Walkable Urbanism and GDP Performance Walkable Urbanism and Educational Attainment Education and GDP Performance

“In addition, they do not have substantial office rental price premiums. With 5% to 13% of office and retail space in WalkUPs, these metro areas have a long way to go to fully develop walkable urbanism.”

The real interest in the report, however, comes with its overall findings and correlations, as that is where the dire future outcomes may lie for the Cincinnati region.

In the report it found that regions with more walkable urbanism also had higher GDP performance, and that those same regions tended to have higher educational attainment.

“Given the relationship between educational attainment and walkable urbanism, and the relationship between educational attainment and per capita GDP, it is not surprising that walkable urbanism and per capita GDP are also positively correlated.”

According to the report, the six highest-ranked regions have a per capita GDP approximately 38% higher than the 10 lowest-ranked regions.

Of course, these findings alone cannot indicate whether walkable urbanism causes highly educated persons to move or stay away from certain regions, or whether places become more walkable due to there being more highly educated people there. But the correlations are strong enough that it is something that should make regional business and political leaders rethink the way in which Cincinnati develops.

“Although more research needs to be done to understand why walkable urbanism is correlated with higher per capita GDPs and education levels, this evidence suggests that encouraging walkable urbanism is a potential strategy for regional economic development.”