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.

Episode #39: UrbanOhio

Cincinnati Union TerminalOn the 39th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, John and Travis are joined by Chris Cousins of UrbanOhio, as well as UrbanOhio forum members Aaron Davidson and Brandon Bartoszek. We discuss some of the reactions we received to Episode #37 of the podcast, and go on to discuss several urban developments and transportation projects across the state of Ohio. We also discuss the now-rejected “Save Our Icons” proposal, and how Union Terminal and Music Hall tie into Cincinnati’s “embarrassment of riches”. Finally, we talk about why different Ohio cities have such different perceptions of their urban cores.

Note: This episode contains a bit more explicit language than you are used to hearing on the podcast.

Photo of Union Terminal by Brandon Bartoszek.

Will Saks Fifth Avenue Remain in Downtown Cincinnati Following Collapse of its Kenwood Move?

News spread quickly yesterday that the deal for Saks Fifth Avenue to relocate from downtown Cincinnati to Sycamore Township at the new $200 million Kenwood Collection had fallen through.

The announcement drew immediate speculation about what happened and where the high-end department store might locate instead, if anywhere at all. Since representatives at Saks Fifth Avenue have been mum during the whole process, little information is known about what will happen in 2016 when they had been expected to relocate to Kenwood.

Here’s what we do know.

The current Saks Fifth Avenue store downtown opened in 1983 and was renovated in 1996 and again in 2003 thanks to $8.7 million in city funds. The 2003 renovation also included a stipulation that Saks extend the lease for their downtown Cincinnati store for 15 years (2018), and not open another store within 30 miles for at least seven years (2010). For what it’s worth, Kenwood Collection is located approximately 11 miles from Fountain Square.

The terms of that 2003 agreement, however, are a bit murky. According to the Business Courier,

Part of the agreement with the city says Saks can be released if “Saks sells the Saks store on the property to an entity which acquires the majority of the Saks stores then located in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.” Toronto’s Hudson’s Bay Co. acquired Saks in a deal that closed at the beginning of November.

The clause basically appears to give Saks an out on their lease agreement that would otherwise keep them at 101 W. Fifth Street until 2018. While the existing store is 72,640 square feet, Saks had reportedly signed a letter of intent with Kenwood Collection for a slightly larger 80,000 square-foot space.

The rumors following yesterday’s announcement largely discussed one of three potential scenarios: 1) Saks closes its only store in the Cincinnati region as it has done in other mid-sized markets; 2) Saks relocates into the retail space at the $140 million dunnhumby Centre, which, interestingly enough, was to become the home of a Maison Blanche in 1998 and then eyed for a Nordstrom in 2000; or 3) Saks relocates into the retail space at a restructured unnamed development at Fourth/Race.

The first scenario is something that would be very difficult to predict, but the second and third scenarios present interesting opportunities and challenges.

The biggest challenge with Saks moving across the street into the dunnhumby Centre is that it only has 30,000 square feet of retail space. Since the building is already far along in construction, it seems unlikely that the development team would be able to modify it in a manner to provide an additional 50,000 square feet of space for Saks.

The unnamed development at Fourth/Race had a grocery store lined up to occupy its even smaller 20,000 square feet of retail space, but that development agreement has since been substantially restructured and is currently being reworked. This leaves open the possibility that Flaherty & Collins and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) could adjust the design as to accommodate Saks.

In both of these cases it would allow for the redevelopment of Saks’ existing structure at the southwest corner of Fifth and Race Streets. This would prove to be important in order to clear the way for developers to build a new residential high-rise in its place. Both of these options would also keep Saks within a block of Macy’s 180,000 square-foot downtown store, and along the stretch of Race Street that city officials hope to turn into a shopping corridor.

The combined demolitions of the aging Pogue’s Garage and existing Saks Fifth Avenue store would also allow for the removal of two to three skywalks/bridges over Race Street.

Of course, there is one more option. Saks could simply stay where they are and live out their lease through 2018, or even renew it beyond that.

CORRECTION: In the original story it was incorrectly stated that the existing Saks Fifth Avenue store in downtown Cincinnati is 185,000 square feet. The store is actually 72,640 square feet.

Until the region’s sewer problem is fixed, you might want to hold off on flushing your toilet

By now just about everyone in the region knows we have a combined sewer overflow problem. If you think it sounds pretty technical and boring, you’re right. But the reality is that it’s pretty gross. To put it in simple terms, next time it rains you might want to avoid flushing the toilet. More from Next City:

Every time it rains, stormwater runoff from roofs, parking lots and driveways washes pollutants into the nation’s streams, rivers and lakes. At the same time, in many cities with antiquated infrastructure, combined sewer overflow systems send untreated sewage into waterways. The resulting contamination often entails violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

“Who ever thinks about the plumbing code? On the other hand, there is a simplicity to the concepts. When it’s raining, when you flush the toilet, what you flush goes straight to the river. If you can wait until it stops raining, you should do that.”

 

PHOTOS: Cincy Red Bike Quickly Taking Shape Throughout City Center

Last week’s press conference on Fountain Square revealed a number of new details regarding Cincinnati’s new bike share system. In addition to unveiling the design of the bikes, stations and membership cards, officials also finally shared the system’s name – Cincy Red Bike.

Jason Barron, executive director of Cincy Red Bike, said that dozens of volunteers quickly assembled 260 of the bikes that will populate the initial 35-station system. Barron further clarified a point discussed in our analysis from just before the conference, and stated that each station will have between 13 and 19 docks, thus giving the system an initial docking capacity of 520 bikes. This would easily exceed the ideal 50% space contingency.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The press was also informed that the station at Union Terminal, which would have been a far off island from the rest of the initial system, has since been scratched for that very reason.

“Research indicated that having an island station like that is difficult for system balancing and that it typically does not get much use,” Barron told UrbanCincy. “An exception may be a park or someplace where people check out the bike ride it around the park and them check it back in.”

In terms of handling the balancing for such a large initial system, Cincy Red Bike will be utilizing a small van at first, but may add a trailer or a bike trailer to the balancing fleet at a later date depending on the system’s needs.

The process of getting a system like this operational so quickly comes with some challenges. While installing two to three new stations a day, officials are also still trying to work out the final membership and daily rates for users. Barron also says that the system map has changed some since initial releases, and that a new map will be released soon.

Those who want to stay up-to-date on the rapidly evolving system can do so now by following Cincy Red Bike on Facebook and on Twitter @CincyRedBike.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 24 photos were taken by Breanna Tracy for UrbanCincy on August 16, 2014.