UrbanCincy Now Listed As Official Google News Provider

Earlier this week we received news that UrbanCincy had been approved by Google reviewers and will now be listed as an official Google News provider. What this means is that UrbanCincy, along with the other more traditional news outlets in Cincinnati, will now have its stories automatically pulled into Google News results.

According to reviewers, “Google News aims to organize all the world’s news and make it accessible to its users, while providing the best possible experience for those seeking useful and timely news information. Our ability to meet these goals depends critically on the quality of the sites included in Google News.”

They go on to say that Google is able to meet those goals by maintaining strict guidelines and standards that help one of the world’s largest technology companies maintain fairness and consistency for website inclusion.

In particular, Google reviewers examine websites by five key metrics – news content, journalistic standards, authority, accountability, and readability. Google’s approval of UrbanCincy validates that we not only produce accurate and authoritative information, but do so in an accountable manner by using real names and providing contact information for our writers and editors.

It also means that you can rely on UrbanCincy for actual news that goes beyond the flood of listicles, how-to articles, advice columns or job postings that are found on so many other websites.

The first story of ours to appear in the Google News listing was our exclusive story yesterday about the plans to thoughtfully redevelop Pleasant Ridge’s business district.

Our eighth year anniversary is quickly approaching, and we hope you will continue to stick with us over the coming months as we roll out a series of changes and improvements to our website, podcast and social media platforms. Thanks for reading.

The History of NYC’s Landmarks Law and Modern Day Preservation Movements

Historic preservation is a hot-button issue in most major cities throughout North America. While some are older than others, the same dilemma is presented about needing to preserve the past or embrace the future.

Of course, the issue is more complex than that. A city could both preserve its past while also embracing the future. Old buildings can be maintained while thoughtful modern buildings are constructed. There is a necessary balance.

The historic preservation battles of today did not always exist. In fact, one could make the argument that these battles got their start in 1963 when New York’s original Penn Station was torn down.

It is a bit difficult to say whether in fact the demolition of Penn Station is solely to thank for the creation of New York City’s Landmarks Law, or whether the law even had much power, but it was most certainly the start of a movement. In Cincinnati this movement found a common story line when Union Terminal was threatened with demolition in 1973, but was prevented thanks to a ruling from City Hall, along with public demonstrations in support of preserving the building.

Interestingly enough, even after that initial battle Cincinnati’s Union Terminal faced an uncertain fate as recently as 2014 when Hamilton County Commissioners voted on a proposed temporary sales tax to pay for the restoration of the historic landmark. The vote did end up passing in support of Union Terminal – once again showing the public’s affinity for grand train stations.

Majestic structures like Cincinnati’s Union Terminal and New York’s lost Penn Station do not, however, define most historic preservation battles. But since they grab the headlines, they often make for the critical moments in time where the public at-large makes a statement about their stance on preserving historic buildings.

To learn more about the start of this movement, listen to Episode 147 of 99% Invisible where the history of Penn Station is discussed in detail.

Feds Provide $15.4M to Combat Homelessness in Hamilton County

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $15.4 million to Strategies to End Homelessness. The money was part of a larger $1.8 billion nationwide distribution to support services for the homeless, and providing housing and emergency shelters to those that have been living on the streets.

The funds for Cincinnati will go to support 16 local agencies, establish a new rapid rehousing for families program, and two new permanent supportive housing projects for the chronically homeless.

Strategies to End Homelessness was established in 2007 by the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to lead a comprehensive system of care amongst 30 non-profit organizations working. The organization says that their goal is to work with these organizations to reduce homelessness 50% in the city and county by 2017.

Pointing to accomplishments like a centralized emergency shelter hotline, homelessness prevention, street outreach, and establishing emergency shelter and housing solutions; leadership says that the community has been able to increase the number of people served in supportive housing programs by 100% since the organization was formed nearly eight years ago.

Kevin Finn, President and CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, explained to UrbanCincy that the HUD funds they just received are extremely limited relative to the need, and are awarded on a competitive basis. In fact, he says that there was no guarantee that the community would get any assistance at all.

Due to the nature of the program, Finn says that the majority of the funds will work as renewal funding for existing programs at existing agency partners.

“This funding is competitively awarded by HUD and was earned by organizations in our community that have successfully helped many people out of homelessness and back to self-sufficiency,” Finn wrote in a prepared statement. “If we are going to reduce homelessness, we must offer successful housing solutions; HUD funded these programs based on their proven results.”

The new rapid rehousing program will work through a partnership with the Family Housing Partnership that includes Interfaith Hospitality Network, Bethany House Services, Salvation Army, and YWCA to build new rehousing capacity that is specifically made available to families. Nationally, HUD has found that 37% of all homeless people belonged to a family, and that 1.6 million children experience homelessness each year.

Finn says that the permanent supportive housing program will work similarly, but instead coordinate with the Talbert House, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, Center for Independent Living Options, Freestore Foodbank, Excel Development and Caracole to determine where new capacity is most needed.

Strategies to End Homelessness will work with these organizations, for both new programs, to sort out exactly how much funding to distribute to each participating organization over the next six to eight months, with the funding from HUD being delivered approximately a year from now.

Cincinnati Fares Poorly When Examining Centralization of Jobs Throughout Region

A December 2014 Salon article, using statistics from an April, 2013 Brookings Institute report shed light on an increasingly-present paradox in the American economy – America’s next generation of workers prefers urban living, but jobs tend to be decentralized and located far from most region’s urban center.

The report found that from 2000 to 2007 the share of jobs located within two miles of a major urban area’s central business district declined 2%; and that by 2010, a nationwide average of 43% of jobs were located at least 10 miles from the CBD. Only 24% of jobs, meanwhile, were located within two miles of most regions’ primary downtown.

The pattern is more acute in Cincinnati than in most other metropolitan areas, where a robust urban turnaround has been taking place. Compared to the national average of 22.9%, only 17.7% of the region’s jobs were located within three miles of the CBD, which in Cincinnati’s case would also include Uptown. Furthermore, 52.8% of the region’s jobs, approximately 452,000, lie between 10 and 35 miles from downtown.

In the first decade of the new century, which was defined nationally by the huge job losses of the Great Recession, the Cincinnati region lost a total of 76,845 jobs. Of those, 67,122 were within 10 miles of the CBD. While total jobs declined 8.2%, the jobs within 10 to 35 miles of downtown Cincinnati increased 3.3%, with both other areas experiencing declines.

While these recent gains tend to buck the national trend, the Cincinnati region’s employment remains more sprawled than the average American metropolitan area. But while the region has fewer jobs than average within 10 miles its CBD, the Cincinnati region has more jobs within 10 to 35 miles than all but three Midwestern regions (Detroit – 77.4%, Chicago – 67.4%, St. Louis – 62.1%). Columbus and Cleveland come in at 35.4% and 46.5%, respectively.

What this seems to indicate is that Cincinnati has a lower reliance on jobs from manufacturing and agricultural industries than most of its Midwestern peers.

The Brookings Institute went on to find that the Great Recession stalled this trend across the board, as hard-hit industries like manufacturing and retail tend to be the most decentralized. Yet, from 2000 to 2010, 91 of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation saw the number of jobs within three miles of their CBD decline.

Washington, DC, which serves as a national economic outlier for its massive job and wage growth, was the only metropolitan area that saw downtown jobs rise as both a percentage and gross number.

Researchers say that the land-use and zoning policies of each metropolitan area affect the geographical characteristics of jobs within that area. While metropolitan areas with over 500,000 jobs tend to be more decentralized, large metropolitan regions like Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit include large secondary clusters of employment outside of their traditional downtown.

While talented young workers increasingly show their preference for walkable urban communities, jobs continue to decentralize throughout the United States. This distribution creates problems for the region in terms of building and maintaining infrastructure. It also does not bode well for more sprawled regions, like Cincinnati, in terms of being able to attract a new workforce to take the place of aging Baby Boomers.

Mechanical Optimizers Aiming to Help Area Nonprofits Assess, Update Facilities

Local contracting companies, from air conditioners to electricians, have teamed up to form a group called Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits with the upkeep of their operations.

The newly formed group creates, for the first time, a single point of contact for an audit of a nonprofit’s building’s situation and help with the budgeting and finding grants and funds for the project. All of this, remarkably, is done free of charge for the area’s churches, mosques and many other private institutions.

Jeff Wilmink, an executive at Century Mechanical Solutions since 2012, said that he noticed an acute need for long-term strategies for local nonprofits to maintain their buildings. He told UrbanCincy that he saw institutions were not spending money on proper upkeep and were repairing things that long needed to be replaced. With no master plan for how/what to fix, these nonprofits were putting band-aids on visible problems while invisible problems were compounding, thus creating crisis situations that cost much more money to fix.

With this in mind, he created Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits be proactive and find funds to proactively tackle such projects. When I asked Jeff whether there was a light-bulb moment for this idea to come about, he told me of a call he received from the pastor at St. Louis Church downtown.

The pastor, he said, called because of a noise coming from the basement. After traversing an old, narrow stairway with limited access and even more limited use, Wilmink’s team found an ancient boiler that was leaking, and a basement covered in asbestos. The emergency fix needed for St. Louis Church ended up being much more costly than it would have otherwise been if fixed sooner.

There is not much blame to lay, either. Leaders of nonprofit organizations often do not know or understand the mechanical problems going on in their buildings and, therefore, do not know to fix it. In addition, technicians will often solve superficial problems that create short-term fixes, but neither party tends to think about what will need to be done in a year, five years or ten years.

Add this to the tight budgets of local nonprofits, and many cruise from emergency to emergency without ever fixing the underlying problems in their aging buildings.

“It’s irritating that we’ve allowed these buildings to get in the condition they’re in,” said Wilmink. He continued by saying that many institutions will spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic fixes while the mechanics of their building are literally rotting; or spend $25,000 every other year to fix a unit in order to save $75,000 upfront.

Mechanical Optimizers comes into the equation by offering to provide a free assessment of a nonprofit’s building. Then, after telling “the blunt truth” about what it will take to fix it right, Wilmink and his team will help locate grants and create a budget for fixing the problem and updating aged equipment.

The goal is to be smarter about maintaining a building’s mechanical systems so that high-priced emergency projects do not emerge later. Furthermore, Wilmink says that the very nature of these buildings – churches, mosques, markets, etc. – means finding funds can often be easier once the problem is identified, because someone is typically willing to step up and donate money to help out.

There is, as you might suspect, more to it for Mechanical Optimizers than the charitable work. Once they complete their free assessment, Wilmink says that they will often times submit a bid to perform the work like they would for any other project. Essentially, Mechanical Optimizers has found a way to combine charitable work with their daily business operations. At the same time, this “no agenda” charity is helping many local nonprofits save thousands of dollars.

One of the biggest savings that nonprofits typically receive comes from technology and equipment that can replace outdated systems with ultra-efficient units.

When asked about how government policies help or hinder his efforts, Wilmink pointed to a recent program in New Jersey where the state will pay 80% of the costs for upgrading systems and improving efficiency. The money for the program, he explained, comes from funds utility companies there are mandated to set aside for the state to use for such purposes.

In addition to St. Louis Catholic Church, Wilmink says that Mechanical Optimizers has worked on Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Findlay Market, the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and a slew of other buildings throughout the region.

Pointing to the work’s importance, the contractors involved with the group say that they will do whatever it takes to offer up their help and get the project done.

“If you want our help, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”