New Group Launched to Focus on Midwest Urbanism

Great places are often referenced as places where people gather in urban centers around the world. In Cincinnati places like Fountain Square and Washington Park are often associated as the City’s front lawn or back yard. Streets are often referenced as great places such as Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine (OTR), Hyde Park Square or Madison Avenue in Covington. These places usually already exist, are reclaimed and sometimes created brand new.

Creating great places not only involves understanding what makes places great but also spreading awareness, education and building partnerships to do the hard work of revitalizing and celebrating the urban environment. That is the central mission of the proposed new Midwest chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism.

The group was engaged by the national Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) to create a regional chapter of the organization spanning from western Pennsylvania to central Indiana and from Lake Erie to Lexington Kentucky.CNU Midwest

They are having their first event which will be an introductory meeting and happy hour tomorrow May 17, at Graydon on Main in OTR.

CNU-Midwest is working to advance the issues of revitalizing urban neighborhoods in cities and towns across the region. The organization has three central goals including reclaiming public space for people, reactivating and reconnecting vibrant neighborhoods and championing urban development that is enduring, adaptable and human scaled.

“The ultimate goal is the reimagining and repopulation of our urban cores and inner ring neighborhoods,” said Chapter Organizing Committee Chairperson Joe Nickol told UrbanCincy, “Starting at the level of the street and continuing up through the neighborhood, town, city, and region, we encourage the development of great, equitable, urban places where all people can enjoy all aspects of daily life.”

By launching the CNU Midwest Chapter, the group aims to positively influence the dialogue around healthy urban policy and design within Midwestern cities.

This event which is from 5:30pm to 7:30pm is open to the public and will serve as an introduction to the group and networking opportunity for attendees. Anyone interested in participating can sign up here.

Graydon on Main is located at 1421 Main Street in OTR. There is a Cincy Red Bike station across the street and is easily accessible via Metro bus routes #’s 16,17,19,24.

The CNU is a national 501c3 organization which is dedicated to the cause of helping to create and advocate for vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around. CNU’s mission is to help build those places.

UrbanCincy is a media partner for CNU Midwest and a promotional partner for CNU24, the organizations annual Congress which is being held next month in Detroit.

CNU23: Unsure About Expectations, Dallas an Unexpected Delight

I saw my first cowboy hat within my first five steps off of my Frontier Airlines flight into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The truth is, I didn’t really know what to expect from Dallas – hell, I’d never even been to Texas. What I found during last week’s visit was a clean, cosmopolitan city filled with music, art, and a personable populace that exceeded my expectations.

Things didn’t get off to the best start. I had to spend a couple of hours at the airport waiting for my girlfriend’s flight to arrive. Leaving Terminal E for the train at Terminal A, the Terminal Link bus felt, indeed, terminal, as it would its way through an unintelligible maze of ramps and roadways.

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We then faced another hour on Dallas Area Rapid Transit‘s (DART) Orange Line to our accommodations, the historic Hotel Lawrence in the West End of Dallas. I would not recommend this hotel unless you’re looking for something cheap and you’re not planning on being there much, because it’s currently under a heavy renovation to rebrand it as a LaQuinta Inn & Suites and won’t be completed until early next year. But it is served by several bus lines, is across the street from Dallas Union Station, and is a short walk from Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum, which is located in the building from which President Kennedy was shot. Oh, and the 561-foot Reunion Tower (1978), where for $16 you can access the GeO-Deck. (I declined.)

(Tip: Buy a 7-day DART pass for $25 and enjoy unlimited rides on all trains and buses!)

I was in town for CNU23, which was being held downtown at the beautiful Hotel Adolphus (1912) on Commerce Street. The first two days were spent getting to know writers from other Streetsblog affiliate sites and brainstorming ways to build better stories, better sites, and a better national network. We also traveled to the adjacent Deep Ellum neighborhood, which, with its restaurants and bars, would be considered the city’s hipster enclave. While there, we heard a presentation on tactical urbanism and took part in a project to build seating out of reclaimed wood pallets for a street festival.

The rest of the conference – which was extremely well-run, by the way – was focused heavily on transportation and designing around transit. Called “Meeting the Demand For Walkable Places”, the conference featured speakers presenting on topics ranging from in-depth to broad, tours of place making initiatives that are working, and meet-ups.

I will say that the architecture in Dallas left me a bit wanting. Many of the downtown buildings are constructed in the modern/brutalist and postmodern styles, indicative of the postwar boom that saw the city grow from a population of under 300,000 in 1940 to an estimated 1.3 million today. But there are pockets of “old” Dallas here and there, and numerous public plazas from which to enjoy them.

(Note: Yes, there is a McDonald’s with a drive-thru in downtown Dallas!)

On the way back to the airport on Friday, I was able to get a good look at some transit-oriented development near the Orange Line’s Victory station (near the American Airlines Center) and the massive planned community of Las Colinas in neighboring Irving.

The airport was no better the next day.

I would definitely recommend Dallas. The people were fantastic, the food was great, and the positive vibe was palpable. It may have just been the great minds that were in town for the conference, but, if it’s even half as nice on a daily basis, I’d still enjoy it. And the “CVB” weather made it all the more enjoyable.

CNU24 will take place June 8-11, 2016 in Detroit. I’ve been to Detroit several times, but not for a few years. Perhaps it will be time to visit again.

CNU23: Conversation on Transit Should Focus on Access, Not Technology

The language we use when discussing transit is fundamentally flawed, according to Jarrett Walker, an international consultant on public transit design and policy and author of the book Human Transit.

Walker’s remarks were delivered at the CNU23 conference, which was held last week at Hotel Adolphus in downtown Dallas.

“The North American transit conversation is mostly using false binarisms,” Walker said.

Examples of this kind of “either this or that” thinking can be seen in debates over profit vs. subsidy, infrastructure vs. service, rail vs. bus, aesthetics vs. abundance, and choice riders vs. dependent riders, he said.

He also believes that too much of the conversation has been about technology and engineering, political wrangling, or how the system will be financed.

In doing so, we’re ignoring what should be transit’s goal: providing abundant access and expanding opportunities for all to enjoy the city’s riches. In other words, he said, we should be designing the transit network to maximize peoples’ liberty and opportunity.

Mariia Zimmerman, principal and founder of public policy consulting group MZ Strategies, agreed with Walker that too much of the discussion and advocacy surrounding transit is about the infrastructure itself.

She noted that such thinking has had the effect of the trickle of funding transit gets through the Federal Transit Administration being used almost entirely for buses, tracks, train cars and shelters, with precious little available for actual operation.

“Transit, at best, is the poor stepchild,” Zimmerman said. “In many cases, it’s the bastard. When we’re investing in the infrastructure instead of the operating, it’s tough. How can we sell and persuade people to support transit – outside of the infrastructure?”

Without access, there is no transit service, only symbolism, Walker said.

“One thing to know is that access leads overwhelmingly to ridership,” he said. “The idea that transit infrastructure has outcomes just by itself is a false analogy imported from buildings and highways.”

Walker quoted Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher, writer and speaker, who said that “Western cultures are prone to eat the wrapper and throw away the food.”

“This existing view of transit is all the wrapper,” he said. “The freedom and opportunity of people to access their city is the food.”

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.

CNU22: The Nation’s Strong Urbanist Movement is Rooting for Cincinnati

The journey to Buffalo was filled with smoke and flames. As the towering inferno that was our Megabus burned away into chard wreckage along the Interstate highway, I looked on as firefighters doused the flames. The highway was closed, but we were whole. No deaths or injuries. Not a single piece of luggage singed. We rode school buses to a nearby town, Fredonia, and hopped on a local bus line that stopped at many small New York towns.

At last in the distance, bending around Lake Erie, I could see the silhouette of a skyline next to rows of turning wind turbines. I struggled with my iPhone, trying to catch up on the CNU preview episodes of the StrongTowns podcast. This being my first Congress, I had no idea what to expect.

The bus arrived, we checked into our hotel, went to get our badges. The whole day had been wild. Was the bus fire even real? We sat in on a session about urban retail where we found Cincinnatian Kathleen Norris of Urban Fast Forward. It was great to see a familiar face.

Ken Greenberg’s opening plenary was fantastic. He was able to highlight the challenges of urbanity in a way that made sense to everyone. And after the session we were able to speak with the new Chair of the CNU Board, Doug Farr. We met people and new friends, most of them Canadian.

We arrived at the Hotel Lafayette just in time to snap a group photo with the CNU NextGen pub crawlers. That night I had already met so many people and discussed with so many people urbanism and Cincinnati.

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The next few days I attended sessions; many of which were informative, but it was a very different experience than a typical conference. There were so many conversations, ideas and new people.

We hung out in an old grain silo. Silo City as Buffalo natives called it. It was like old school Grammar’s (circa 2009) on a massive scale.  A news reporter approached us for an interview. I bravely stepped forward. It was on everyone’s mind, what could we say about Buffalo?

Buffalo is a rust belt city, more the style of Detroit or Cleveland than Cincinnati. Its downtown still quieted by the abandonment and neglect. Its old factories still silent. I have no compass to gauge its trajectory or past mistakes, although signs of that are visible. Cincinnati’s downtown has it good compared to Buffalo, at least from what I had seen.

The CNU NextGen peeps were playing bocce ball on a parklet outside the hotel. Inside the hotel, attendees were spouting ideas; debates and even a late night show happened. At one point we may have even crashed a private party hosted by James Howard Kuntsler.

I met a native who was volunteering at the Congress and we engaged in a lengthy discussion. He was a software developer who had moved to San Francisco, then back to Buffalo, then to New York City, and eventually back to Buffalo. He said he always had an interest in growing his home town and that now, he felt, was the right time to start setting down roots.

Before I left I also had the opportunity to visit Allentown where I dined at the Anchor and had some trademark buffalo wings. During our stay, I also had dinner at a spiffy Italian restaurant a few blocks away. I didn’t stay very long at the final party at Larkin Square. Our bus back to Cincinnati was calling. Fortunately this time it did not catch on fire.

Randy asked me to write about my takeaways from the Congress. I attended some great sessions, and I met a lot of people – many of whom are heroes in the small world engaged in urbanism – but I think my greatest takeaway is this:

We are not alone. There is a whole network of people who have the talent, the ideas and the drive who are making this change on a national scale. These people may not always agree, but from what I heard, they are all on the same page about Cincinnati. They’re encouraged and they’re all rooting for us.