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!

Are the years of suburban corporate campuses behind us?

Many things have changed in America since the golden age of suburbia. The country is now much more diverse and tech-focused, and young people seem to be ignoring The American Dream in a pursuit of their own, newer ideals. One of the relics of The American Dream is the suburban corporate campus, and its death may have just been signaled. More from Better! Cities & Towns:

Smartly clad structures perfectly reflected their pinstripe suited, clean-cut occupants. It was a near perfect match of sociology and architecture. The male breadwinner toiling all day inside a glass box, coming home to the American Dream: a detached “Colonial style” house with a manicured lawn. The Betty Crocker cookbook of that era advised housewives to have a mixed drink ready for their husband’s eagerly expected return, along with tips on how to set a table when the domestic help had the day off.  We all know how that dream turned out.

Some Boomers smugly claim that Millennials will fall back into line as soon as they have children. Well, guess what? They aren’t having kids. They aren’t even marrying. Nor are they buying cars. And not because they can’t afford them. They don’t want them.

The folks who run Weyerhaeuser are a smart bunch. I’m sure they started projecting out how long it would be before they would have a difficult time recruiting younger workers to reverse commute.

Dive Into the Topic of Tiny Living Spaces This Friday at the Niehoff Urban Studio

Tiny Houses Event FlyerTo most people, tiny homes often are viewed as a novelty. The idea of building a small house or living in an apartment with less than 500 square feet sounds like living in a closet.

However; with the rising cost of housing and the growing desire for people to do more outside their homes, the idea of tiny living is stirring a new conversation. Tiny homes, for example, could be used to address urban revitalization, homelessness or retrofitting existing structures, such as this garage project in Atlanta.

This is why UrbanCincy has partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio to host Tiny Living as part of Digressions in Art, Architecture and Urban Design. The event, which will take place this Friday, will feature presentations on the subject of tiny homes and an expert discussion panel.

Writing about the event, organizer Ana Gisele Ozaki postulated that tiny homes are “an antithesis of suburbanization and the ‘American Dream’ as we know it, tiny spaces/living fundamentally question consumption of our current system by proposing repurpose of materials, as a clear response to the 2009 housing crisis and many other flaws of our current economic/financial system.”

This event is part of the continuing partnership between the Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy to examine complex urban issues. Earlier this year UrbanCincy moderated the panel discussion for the Metropolis & Mobility workshop focused on Cincinnati’s Wasson Way Corridor.

The Tiny Living event is free and open to the public, and will run from 5pm to 8pm. The evening will begin with interactive pieces produced by the DPMT7 and ParProjects, and will be followed by a series of short presentations at 6pm to get the discussion started. The panel discussion will begin around 7:30pm.

The Niehoff Urban Studio can be reached via Metro*Plus and the #24, #78 Metro bus lines. The collaborative, public studio is also within one block of a Cincy Red Bike station.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy‘s local area manager, John Yung, will be one of the panelists at this event. John is also a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Master of Community Planning program.

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.

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.

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