UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio Takes Bold New Look at the Future of Burnet Woods

On December 4, the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio hosted an end of the semester open house to showcase the final work of students in graduate planning, civil engineering capstone, and a multi-disciplinary freshman UC Forward seminar.

There were three classes offered at the Studio, located in Corryville, during the Fall Semester that focused on understanding and improving Burnet Woods. The aim, course leaders say, was to begin to produce a future vision for the 89-acre park.

City officials first began discussing an overhaul of Burnet Woods in 2007, but a lack of funding at the time doomed the project. However, Mayor John Cranley (D) made the project a priority in his inaugural State of the City Address, saying that the park, located immediately north of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, could help make the uptown area an even greater destination.

“Burnet Woods is an underutilized gem in our parks system,” Cranley said in a statement. “It’s nice now, but it could be great.”

That caught the attention of UC President Santa Ono, along with the Uptown Consortium who requested that the studio work on the subject in consultation with community representatives and other stakeholders uptown. In addition, staff of the Cincinnati Park Board, who have sole control over what will happen with the park, have been engaged with the studio throughout the semester.

A large crowd showed up at the open house, held two weeks ago, to take a look at the visuals and learn about the observations and initial recommendations produced by the students for the roughly 142-year-old park.

After identifying various issues with Burnet Woods, as it stands today, the students proceeded to “rethink” the space and its uses. Nine teams of graduate Planning students organized their work around distinct thematic approaches to remaking the park. These themes included integrated Art Programming, a Health/Wellness destination, a food production system, a center for “fun” programming, and others.

Some of the many specific recommendations included creating seasonal programming, creating a soundscape as a placemaking tool, inserting a winding promenade to connect UC Main Street with the Ludlow Business District, elevating Martin Luther King Drive to allow for Burnet Woods to flow through underneath it into UC’s main campus, among others.

Some of the student teams extended the scope beyond the park by suggesting a cohesive streetscape experience extending from Burnet Woods and re-imagining the park as the center of an Uptown “eco-district” to create a broader ecological and social system.

One of the benefits of the studio course offerings came from engaging both planning and engineering students. As part of the course’s focus on building healthy and resilient places, civil engineering students proposed a number of green infrastructure ideas to help with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, and other technical projects.

Additionally, according to Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center, the multi-disciplinary UC Forward freshman seminar was able to survey the student body to determine its interest in the park and ended up proposing a student organization dedicated to providing advocacy and service to the park.

Russell says that this is only the beginning, with additional courses in Planning, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Horticulture to come in the Spring Semester that will build on the ideas and research completed thus far. The hope, he says, is to create a well-grounded set of ideas that will make up the contents of an ‘idea book’ for use by the community in considering the future of Burnet Woods.

Other faculty involved in the Fall Semester included Vikas Mehta and Danilo Palazzo from the School of Planning; Richard Miller and Elizabeth Devendorf from the Civil Engineering Program; and Cory Christopher from UC Forward. Those interested in viewing the student work in detail may do so by appointment at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio, located at 2728 Vine Street, by emailing design.center@uc.edu.

Revised Agreement for Redevelopment of Pogue’s Garage Poised to Advance This Week

More than a year after an initial deal was proposed to redevelop the aging Pogue’s Garage site into a sleek residential tower, a new deal may actually move forward that will allow for construction to finally move forward.

In November 2013, the City of Cincinnati had entered into a Development Agreement with Flaherty & Collins to build a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, 950-space parking garage and a soaring 30-story residential tower with 300 units costing $94 million. As part of this deal, the City had committed to providing a $12 million forgivable loan to the project. This came after an initial deal to fund the project through the proceeds generated by the then proposed Parking Modernization & Lease program.

The Parking Modernization & Lease program, however, was almost immediately cancelled upon the arrival of Mayor John Cranley (D); who then subsequently stated that the $12 million forgivable loan for the project was “too rich”, and that the entire project should be rethought.

This led to the engagement of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and the new deal that will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), at 2pm today.

According to a leaked memo from City Manager Harry Black’s office, the new deal is substantially different from the previous Development Agreement. Instead it calls for a $5.5 million grant to Flaherty & Collins to construct an eight-floor residential tower including 208 units, and a $4 million loan to 3CDC to construct a 925-space parking garage and 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

The Cranley Administration is touting the deal as a savings for taxpayers, while also not sacrificing too much.

“We inherited an overly rich deal,” Jay Kincaid, Mayor Cranley’s Chief of Staff, told UrbanCincy. “This new deal saves taxpayers $6.5 million, and gives the City control over the garage.”

Much of the savings is realized through the changes to the parking agreement. The previous deal provided the developer a grant to build and operate the parking structure, while the new deal utilizes a $4 million performing loan to be repaid later by 3CDC. Once the loan is paid off, the revenue stream from the parking structure would be shared by the three parties.

The emergency ordinance that will be put before the Neighborhoods Committee today, and then most likely be voted on by the full City Council on Wednesday, also includes a 30-year property tax abatement for the apartment component.

As of now, property tax abatements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine filter 25% to Cincinnati Public Schools, with the remaining 75% being the actual realized abatement. Starting on January 1, 2015, however, that latter number would be reduced to 67.5% with the 7.5% difference being put into a fund to help cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Cincinnati Streetcar.

With the development losing approximately two-thirds of its height, but only one-third of its number of residential units, it signals that the new development will look quite different than the initial renderings released to the public. The final result may mean smaller residential unit sizes or a wider tower that utilizes more of the site’s footprint.

Yet unanswered is what will happen with Paragon Salon, which has remained in operation at the site despite being served eviction notices from the City. Since the original Development Agreement was signed more than a year ago, the owners of Paragon have claimed the City is violating their lease agreement, and has requested assistance in finding a new location. The City, meanwhile, has rebuffed Paragon and said they will not submit to paying for the costs of its relocation.

One item previously holding up construction on this still unnamed project was the redevelopment of Tower Place Mall into Mabley Place. Now that the parking garage is complete and open for business, City leaders say they feel more confident in closing down Pogue’s Garage to allow for construction to commence.

West Side Leaders Land $46k for Long-Planned ‘Price Landing’ Park Along Riverfront

River West Working Group and Price Hill Will announced last month that they have received two grants to create a park framework plan for Price Landing, an integral piece of the overall western riverfront vision.

The first is a $30,000 grant from Interact for Health, and the second is a $16,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. The combination of the two will allow for the development of a vision and preliminary design for the park that would become the eastern bookend of the Ohio River Trail West.

Cincinnati’s western riverfront spans 22 miles from downtown to Shawnee Lookout, and Price Landing is seen as a critical step in reclaiming the riverfront ecosystem as a recreational and educational experience, rather than industrial.

Glaserworks and Human Nature have been hired to create the plan for the park, which will include major park features and a preliminary budget for the construction of the project. River West Working Group will manage the design process in coordination with both firms; and they say the goal of the process is to complete the park framework plan by the middle of 2015.

“This is a very exciting addition to the many positive developments driving the ongoing revitalization of our West Side neighborhoods,” said Tom Croft, Co-Chair of River West Working Group. “With the creation of Price Landing, and the expansion and renovation of the Cincinnati Recreation’s nearby Evans Fields, Lower Price Hill will be a true recreation destination.”

Having advocated for the park since 2007, River West Working Group says their mission is to foster communication among West Side neighborhoods about development and land use issues, and to promote proactive strategies to make Cincinnati an attractive place to live and work.

In fact, the group was founded during the debate over the approval of the controversial Queensgate Terminals project. That project, which is the same site as Price Landing, would have brought a modern rail-to-barge transfer facility to the area.

In 2009 Croft said the development of Queensgate Terminals would “consign Lower Price Hill, East Price Hill, Sedamsville and Riverside to permanent blight”, and would damage perceived recovery efforts taking place at the time.

“[This site] is located at key gateways to and from West Side neighborhoods,” Croft said at the time. “In accord with the Cincinnati Scenic View Study adopted by City Council last summer, it must be protected because of its position in the line of sight from Mt. Echo and the City.”

So far the group has been quite successful. In addition to the Queensgate Terminals project being scuttled, work has also progressed on the Ohio River Trail West, and Price Landing will permanently ensure that a critical piece of riverfront property will not be developed as an industrial use.

According to Dave Zelman, co-chair of River West Working Group, the progress is something to be celebrated, saying, “With planning well underway to link Lower Price Hill to the Gilday Recreation Complex in Riverside, this park will serve as a gateway to western Hamilton County, and be a positive addition to our region.”

Start Small – An Individual Approach to Redevelopment

As one of the 2015 Haile Fellows at People’s Liberty, I will design and build two, 200 sq.ft. net-zero energy tiny homes in Over-the-Rhine. The goal is to address the issue of affordable housing at all socioeconomic levels. The main idea is that anyone at any income level should have the opportunity to invest in their community via home ownership.

During 2015 I will be periodically share project updates with UrbanCincy and author articles about topics related to Start Small. Below is an introduction to Start Small and survey results about tiny homes in Cincinnati.

WHY?

Tiny homes offer an individual approach to address the rising cost of urban home ownership. While household median income in Greater Cincinnati has been relatively stagnant over the past 5 years, median sales prices have been slowly rising in Cincinnati, and more sharply in Over-the-Rhine. The tiny homes being built are intended to be affordable for an individual earning between $15,000 and $25,000 annually.

WHERE?

There are four possible sites in Over-the-Rhine, one parcel on Mulberry and East Clifton, and two parcels on Peete. This area differs greatly from land south of McMicken because of the hillside. Historically this area of the neighborhood had a number of 1 and 2-story buildings and has not been as densely populated as the rest of the neighborhood, likely because of the hillside.

brewery district NESanborn Fire insurance map from 1904. Courtesy of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County


NE OTR_simpleModern day plan

WHAT?

Start Small will design and build two net-zero energy tiny homes on a permanent foundation. Three concept model plans have been drawn, but no design has been finalized.

Three concepts

Below are preliminary results from an online survey that is still accepting responses. The survey and input at a Community Visioning Session in February will inform a final design.

tinyhomes001

Data Visualization by Amy Kwong

tinyhomes002

Data Visualization by Amy Kwong

Your participation is needed. Click here to start describing your tiny home…if you want one!

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.