Should Cincinnati look to Chicago’s new ARO for affordable housing guidance?

Cincinnati has experienced rising property values in a handful Census tracts in recent years, while dozens remain below median values for the region. So unlike New York or San Francisco, the gentrification taking place in Cincinnati is not what typically comes to mind when the topic is discussed. A more apt comparison may be Chicago where a more extreme version of rising property values stand in contrast to swaths of the city that remain mired in poverty, and new policies are moving forward to address the matter. More from NextCity:

The new ARO would require that at least 25 percent of affordable units be built on site, removing the ability to opt out totally. City neighborhoods would be classified into “downtown,” “high-income” and “low-moderate income,” and the in-lieu fee for the remaining 75 percent of units, if a developer chooses that option, would rise to $175,000 downtown and $125,000 in high-income areas; it would fall to $50,000 in the rest of the city. Developers would also be allowed to meet the affordable unit requirement by building or rehabbing on other lots within a mile of the main site. The aim is to create affordable units in the neighborhoods where they’re most scarce, rather than to continue to concentrate them in the city’s poorer communities.

That goal reflects what makes Chicago’s affordable housing crisis different than the ones in a handful of coastal cities that have dominated national coverage. In many Chicago neighborhoods, depopulation, disinvestment, segregation and crime have kept housing values relatively low, even just a few miles from the booming downtown. Meanwhile, communities on the North Side — as well as a handful to the south and west of the Loop — have seen rapid gentrification and skyrocketing rents. That dynamic has led to a dramatic increase in economic segregation.

American cities should be more concerned about spreading poverty, not gentrification

Gentrification is one of those topics that is difficult to write about. Simply mentioning the word or hinting at its existence is sure to stir the pot and draw a wildfire of comments, both defending and condemning it. What is often left out of the discussion, however, is that the gentrification we all imagine in our minds when we hear the word is essentially confined to just three metropolitan regions in America. As a result, the bigger concern for most cities should actually be their widespread poverty. More from Vox:

That share of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods isn’t huge — around 8.9 percent of all Americans living in poverty in 2010, according to US Census Bureau data. But the population of high-poverty neighborhoods has doubled since 1970, from 2 to 4 million. Over that same period, the US population as a whole grew by around 50 percent. In addition, the number of high-poverty census tracts in cities nearly tripled from 1,100 to 3,100.

As City Observatory highlights, we often think of gentrification as a big threat to urban areas, driving up the cost of living for people living in poorer areas and eventually forcing them out. You would think that’d lead to a lot of these neighborhoods rebounding out of poverty, albeit with mixed consequences for people there originally. But it appears the bigger threat by far is neighborhoods remaining mired in poverty and new neighborhoods falling into it.

Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

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.

All Aboard Ohio Meeting to Provide Update on Cincinnati to Chicago Train Service

Amtrak TrainAll Aboard Ohio will be holding their quarterly Southwest Ohio meeting in Over-the-Rhine next week at the Moerlein Tap Room.

Organizers say that they will be updating members, and all in attendance, on the progress of recent activities to develop daily train service from Cincinnati to Chicago, by the way of Indianapolis. The effort is perhaps one of the nonprofit organization’s biggest efforts since the 3C Corridor was notoriously cancelled by Ohio Governor John Kasich (R).

What seems to be different about this effort, however, is the fact that there is bipartisan support from the onset, including a rare unanimous vote from Hamilton County Commissioners supporting the study of such daily service.

Another early advocate has been Cincinnati City Council Transportation Committee Chairwoman Amy Murray (R), who will also be the special guest at All Aboard Ohio’s meeting on Tuesday.

Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, also says that they will update everyone on the construction progress for the Cincinnati Streetcar.

It is all part of an effort, Bauman says, to get more people involved in the process, and engaged on these important issues.

“Since being elected to the board back in May, I’ve spent the summer and fall building advocacy for daily service from Cincinnati to Indianapolis and Chicago,” Bauman explained. “We have made some great progress, yet have a long way to go.”

Some of the other success, he says, can be seen in the 60 new All Aboard Ohio members from the Cincinnati area that have joined in recent months. It is a number he is pleased with, but hopes will grow even more. As a result, the meeting at Moerlein Tap Room will be open to anyone who wants to attend.

All Aboard Ohio’s SW Ohio quarterly meeting is free and open to the public, and will take place at 6pm on Tuesday, November 18 at the Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine’s Northern Liberties district. The location is well-served by Metro bus service and has free bike parking readily available. There are also two Cincy Red Bike stations located within two blocks of the venue.