GUEST COMMENTARY: How Personal Finances Factor Into Home-Work Commute

The recent Brookings study looking at “job growth” and “jobs near the average resident” got me thinking again about how my past two home and workplace decisions have affected my personal finances. For those not familiar with the report, it’s mostly negative news:
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within the typical commute distance for residents in a major metro area fell by 7 percent. Of the nation’s 96 largest metro areas, in only 29—many in the South and West, including McAllen, Texas, Bakersfield, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., and Baton Rouge, La.—did the number of jobs within a typical commute distance for the average resident increase. Each of these 29 metro areas also experienced net job gains between 2000 and 2012.
 
As employment suburbanized, the number of jobs near both the typical city and suburban resident fell. Suburban residents saw the number of jobs within a typical commute distance drop by 7 percent, more than twice the decline experienced by the typical city resident (3 percent). In all, 32.7 million city residents lived in neighborhoods with declining proximity to jobs compared to 59.4 million suburban residents.

Vine & Calhoun Station (Southbound)

Photo provided by Eric Anspach.

As poor and minority residents shifted toward suburbs in the 2000s, their proximity to jobs fell more than for non-poor and white residents. The number of jobs near the typical Hispanic (-17 percent) and black (-14 percent) resident in major metro areas declined much more steeply than for white (-6 percent) residents, a pattern repeated for the typical poor (-17 percent) versus non-poor (-6 percent) resident.
 
Residents of high-poverty and majority-minority neighborhoods experienced particularly pronounced declines in job proximity. Overall, 61 percent of high-poverty tracts (with poverty rates above 20 percent) and 55 percent of majority-minority neighborhoods experienced declines in job proximity between 2000 and 2012. A growing number of these tracts are in suburbs, where nearby jobs for the residents of these neighborhoods dropped at a much faster pace than for the typical suburban resident (17 and 16 percent, respectively, versus 7 percent).
 
For local and regional leaders working to grow their economies in ways that promote opportunity and upward mobility for all residents, these findings underscore the importance of understanding how regional economic and demographic trends intersect at the local level to shape access to employment opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged populations and neighborhoods. And they point to the need for more integrated and collaborative regional strategies around economic development, housing, transportation, and workforce decisions that take job proximity into account.

Now looking at this from a personal finance perspective, I previously lived and worked in Indianapolis where my one-way commute was roughly 16 miles. For this distance, I found over time that it cost me about $5 a day to get to work.
When I moved to Cincinnati for a new job, I first lived in Covington where I paid $1 to ride the Southbank Shuttle in the morning and usually walked home. After moving to Clifton, I still found that my now driving commute of less than 3 miles came to cost around $1 per day.

So the $5 per day Indianapolis commute cost me roughly $100 per month in gas, where the $1 per day Cincinnati commute cost me only $20. Now this may not seem like a huge amount or difference, but to most people, $80 would nearly be a full day’s work. What’s not reflected in this difference is the reduced frequency and cost related to vehicle maintenance, specifically oil and tire changes. With the greatly reduced frequency of need for these two items, the monthly savings I’ve found is closer to the full $100 amount, essentially a pay raise simply for living close to work.

Employees obviously can have little impact on where an employer chooses to locate, but they do still have control over where they live and as long as I am able, 3 miles is the maximum distance I will live from work. This distance is also interesting as I’ve found it to be the maximum distance where taking the bus is a reasonable time-cost choice, a huge benefit during the recent snowy winters, and it is also a distance where my non-work trips to downtown stay at what I think is a reasonable level for places I like to visit.

This guest editorial was authored by Eric Douglas, a native of Grand Rapids, MI who currently lives in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood. Eric is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism and earned a Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University. Since that time he has worked for Planning, Community Development and Public Works departments in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Detroit.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

Clifton Celebrates Restoration of Community’s Historic Probasco Fountain

Yesterday afternoon, “Henry Probasco” dedicated a public fountain in Clifton for the second time in 128 years. Well…an actor playing Henry Probasco, the former businessman, philanthropist, and mayor of what was then the Village of Clifton.

“To the People of Clifton. Thirsty And Ye Gave Me Drink.”

These words adorn a plaque on the Probasco Fountain on Clifton Avenue, in front of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, a monument of granite and bronze that has been relocated seven-and-a-half feet to the west and three feet to the north.

The City of Cincinnati, which included $400,000 in its capital budget for the project, also added lighting, a small plaza, and a number of much-needed underground fixes.

Now, it’s again available for your horse. More practically, it’s available as a legitimate source of potable water for you, your pet, and the local bird population. It is also just nice to look at and admire.

“I think we’ve come up with a great new location,” said Dick Druffel, who formerly served as president of Clifton Town Meeting (CTM), the neighborhood’s community council. “As we look at this beautiful historic monument, and its more accessible and safer location, we can truly appreciate its beauty and the generosity of Henry Probasco, one of Clifton’s most famous residents.”

Installed in 1887 and designed by Samuel Hannaford, the fountain was a gift from Probasco to his town’s residents and was placed at what was once the center of village life, a convenient stopping point for travelers leaving the congested and polluted city. In 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Last cleaned in the late 1970s, the fountain had been showing its age; and its location within inches of Clifton Avenue presented clear safety and accessibility issues. In the summer of 2012, members from Clifton Community Fund raised additional concerns about its deterioration.

In response, Clifton resident and Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) was able to dig into some archives suggesting the fountain’s renovation from a presentation that had come up during his time on City Council in the 1990s. This led CTM to form a fountain subcommittee to work as a liaison between City departments and local residents in December 2012.

Druffel chaired the subcommittee. He says that its members considered it a community problem that required a community solution.

“Getting agreement to restore the fountain was easy,” Druffel stated. “It was almost unanimous that the fountain should be restored. Where to put the historic fountain was quite another matter.”

Two public engagement sessions were held in 2013, during which nine possible relocation sites were suggested by residents. About a dozen presentations occurred at CTM meetings throughout early 2013, and by May 2013 CTM had made its choice of location, passed a resolution of support, and sent a letter alerting the City of its plan.

“The process was incredibly transparent and the end solution was better because of the involvement of the community,” explained Vice Mayor Mann, who was an early member of that subcommittee.

“I guess it’s a lesson that sometimes you just have to take the time to get a great result,” Druffel responded.

The Clifton Community Fund will pay for a new historic marker to be placed near the plaza in the future.

Report Quantifies Growing Influence of UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio and Community Design Center

Urban ideation and practical implementation of projects are the dual subjects of the 2014 Annual Report from the Niehoff Urban Studio and Community Design Center.

The symbiotically connected interdisciplinary programs are administered by the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at off-campus studio in Corryville.

The recently issued report details that since the program began in 2002, more than 1,200 students in urban planning, engineering, architecture, design, anthropology, business, nursing, political science and urban geography have worked with nearly 150 organizations on projects to address urban issues throughout the Cincinnati region and make it more sustainable.

Specifically highlighted within the report is the studio’s work on the Wasson Way Light Rail and Bike Trail Corridor, which continues the studio’s initiatives on Movement in the City and Building Healthy & Resilient Places.

Over the past year, a major effort focused on Burnet Woods, and how it could become the epicenter of a larger ecodistrict in Uptown. That work included a civil engineering team that explored stormwater management and planners that studied how to convert the park into a landscape with edible forests, a fish hatchery and more, while also improving public health through amenities. A freshman innovation seminar further researched student perceptions of the park and how to inspire greater use.

“Some of the ideas are really out of the box thinking,” stated Willie Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks. “These ideas could well blossom and inspire actual changes in the park someday.”

Support from the Niehoff Studio and UC is important, Carden says, in order to help think about how to enhance the experience and enjoyment of the city’s top-rated park system.

Another highlight of the report was student participation in a competition by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) for a commercial real estate project with green infrastructure in East Walnut Hills.

Dave Neyer, ULI’s chair and executive vice president at Al Neyer Inc. said, “The experience was exciting because, in some ways, the students were the ones doing the teaching by introducing mentors — industry experts with 20 and 30 years of experience — to new ideas and creative solutions. The competition was a great example of collaboration.”

Neyer says that another competition is planned for 2015, and that everyone involved is eager to see what the next class of Niehoff students will accomplish.

Complimenting the interdisciplinary studio is the Community Design Center, which is also directed by Frank Russell with assistance from co-op students and graduate assistants. The goal of the CDC, Russell says, is to help community groups represent underserved areas and underfunded projects.

During 2014, for example, staff and students worked with Cincinnati Public Schools on the Rothenberg Academy’s rooftop teaching garden; Cincinnati AIA Urban Design Committee on the Mill Creek Restoration Project’s West Fork Creek trail plan; and Center for Closing the Health Gap to help promote healthy corner stores in some of Cincinnati’s “food desert” neighborhoods such as Avondale and the West End.

As if that wasn’t enough, they also facilitated a two-day workshop for planning officials featuring Australian designer and theorist Tony Fry called Metrofitting Cincinnati for a Resilient Future.

In total, the 40-page report summarizes two dozen events from 2014, ranging from open houses and lectures to workshops and panel discussions, including a highlight on Modern Makers, a partner arts collaborative.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy is a partner of the Niehoff Urban Studio and Community Design Center, and collaborates to produce events throughout the year that engage the public with the work and research being done at the studio.

EDITORIAL: Don’t Cancel Homearama, Relocate It

The past ten days have been interesting. A week ago I spoke with Keith Schneider from the New York Times about the booming residential property values in Cincinnati’s center city. Then, just one day later, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati announced that they would be cancelling this year’s Homearama event in Clermont County.

The annual suburban home show has been going since 1962, and was cancelled this year due to, “increased activity in other segments of the housing market.” One of the builders that has traditionally participated in those over-the-top suburban home shows is Great Traditions, which recently expressed a growing interest in developing urban properties.

Great Traditions is not the only one. Greiwe Development has also said that they would like to start building homes along the Cincinnati Streetcar starter line, John Hueber Homes made the same transition to Over-the-Rhine, and Ashley Builders appears to just be getting started on their work in the center city.

So while homebuilders are struggling in the region’s outlying suburbs, they seem to be thriving in a manner that is pulsating outward from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems more than likely that Homearama will return in the not-so-distant future, but should it? With all the demographic and economic trends pointing in the opposite direction, perhaps the energy and money put into the 53-year-old suburban home show should be shifted elsewhere. I could think of some very nice places to do urban home shows in Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Hills, Avondale, West End, Price Hill, East End, and College Hill. And that is not even considering the possibilities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

Yes, there is CiTiRAMA, but that annual home show is often limited in its scale and tends to leave much to be desired.

The writing appears to be on the wall, which makes the outlandish Fischer Homes Expressway proposal look all the more desperate. Why keep up the fight? There are plenty of opportunities in our region’s first-ring suburbs, and the city governments overseeing those sites will assuredly be more than happy to cooperate.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those developers that had been defined by their suburban subdivisions for decades how they are liking life in neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Northside, Clifton and Over-the-Rhine where condos are virtually sold-out.

I hope the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati decides to not cancel this year’s Homearama after all. I just hope they relocate it to the inner-city where the residential housing market is hot.

New Center City On-Street Parking Rates, Hours of Enforcement Now In Effect

New parking rates and hours of operation went into effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine on Friday. The changes come after Cincinnati City Council approved the matter in November 2014.

Under the arrangement, 500 new electronic parking meters have been installed throughout Over-the-Rhine to complement the existing set already in place in the Central Business District. Over the coming weeks, the City of Cincinnati will also be installing 1,000 additional electronic meters throughout the Clifton, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Northside, O’Bryonville, Oakley, and Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business districts, as well as key locations throughout Uptown.

The electronic meters, officials say, are meant to replace the old ones with newer models that accept credit card payments and are compatible with future plans for pay-by-phone technology and dynamic pricing structures. Pay-by-phone capabilities are expected to be operational by the middle of 2015.

While nearly a dozen neighborhoods will benefit from the new technology, only Over-the-Rhine will see its on-street parking policies change across the board. As part of the new policy, parking rates in Over-the-Rhine will double to $1/hour; while rates will remain set at $.50/hour and $2/hour in the other neighborhoods and in the Central Business District, respectively.

As of today, parking meters in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine will now also be in effect from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. Parking hours of enforcement in the remaining 50 neighborhoods, meanwhile, will remain unchanged.

The sweeping changes are meant to help improve the performance of the City’s broken parking system. While many small business owners in Over-the-Rhine have expressed their support for the changes, especially in light of ongoing vandalism of meters in Over-the-Rhine, some believe they have been singled out following the cancellation of a previous agreement that would have raised rates and increased enforcement city-wide.

“I’m not opposed to longer meter hours and higher rates, but what upsets me, as an OTR resident and business owner, is the fact that our neighborhood has been singled out,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, wrote in a Facebook post. “The same hours and rates should apply to other neighborhoods.”

The original Parking Lease & Modernization Plan approved in early 2013 was, of course, cancelled by Mayor John Cranley (D) almost immediately upon his arrival at City Hall at the end of 2013. While the mayor and many members of City Council bemoaned the previous plan, a similar plan appears to be taking shape, but in a piece-by-piece approach.

As like the original plan, new electronic meters are being installed that accept credit card payments and utilize dynamic pricing models, meters are being upgraded city-wide, and a contract has been signed with Xerox.

The Cranley Administration has not yet commented on plans for new hours or rates in the city’s remaining neighborhood business districts, where on-street parking meters exist, but they do say that they intend to systematically create multi-space parking that will “produce more aesthetically clean public right-of-way areas in Over-the-Rhine.”

This means that the newly retrofitted parking meters in the historic neighborhood will eventually be removed to make way for multi-space equipment, similar to what has been used in the Central Business District in the past. The upgraded parking meters from Over-the-Rhine will then be shifted to other neighborhoods throughout the city. This process, officials say, could begin as soon as this spring.

In addition to the specific focus on center city neighborhoods, the new parking policy differs from the previously approved plan by creating Sunday hours of enforcement. While the new Sunday hours of enforcement are only in effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, it crosses what was considered a red line in the previous public debate over proposed parking changes.

All of the changes are expected to bring confusion to those parking in the affected areas, including a large group of people who drove to Christ Church Cathedral for the Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival on Sunday. According to Michelle Dillingham, Director of Education at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, parking enforcement officers ticketed many cars parked on the street during the event.

“I walked out of the Boar’s Head event that was barely an hour long and almost every car had a parking ticket on their windshield…on a Sunday and in front of a church celebrating 75 years of a Cincinnati tradition,” Dillingham wrote. “I don’t know, but it just rubbed me wrong.”

The former Cincinnati City Council candidate went on to say that she had two separate conversations with people, who lived outside of the center city, that were very upset by the situation and would reconsider visiting downtown again due to the aggressive parking enforcement.

City officials acknowledge that there will be a bit of a learning curve, and say they are working to improve awareness of the new rates and hours of enforcement by distributing flyers and working with groups like Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce to inform drivers of the changes.