Finding Inspiration From Seoul For Cincinnati’s Public Staircases

ArtWorks has become well-known for its mural program. Over the past eight years, the program has created 90 murals that have added to the vibrancy of 36 city neighborhoods.

This year, however, ArtWorks started to branch out a bit more. In addition to 10 mural projects, they also installed more than 50 public art pieces throughout the city. Some were poetic, while others charming. Regardless of the project, they have always worked to actively engage young people in the city with the artist community.

The program’s impact on the visual appearance of the city cannot be overlooked. Public spaces have been dressed up and walls have been decorated in truly Cincinnati fashion. When considering one of Cincinnati’s most defining features – its hillsides – another opportunity seems to be sitting in waiting for future ArtWorks programs.

Over the years The Hillside Trust has worked to promote and preserve the city’s hillsides and the view sheds that they offer. At the same time, many of the city’s public staircases, which long served as a critical component of the sidewalk network, have fallen into disrepair. In many cases, due to either lack of maintenance or neighborhood distrust, public staircases have been closed off altogether.

This should not be the case.

One potential way to address this would be to focus an ArtWorks program on the city’s public staircases. Artists could be engaged to come up with creative mural designs for the stairs themselves, or perhaps suggest other installations. These could then be complimented by lighting installations that would not on

ly add an artistic touch after dusk, but also make the corridors safer for their users and the neighborhoods around them.

Seoul’s Ihwa neighborhood has done exactly this.

Set on the side of a steep hill leading to Seoul’s historic fortification wall, the neighborhood has seen many of its staircases painted, along with surrounding building walls, to create a truly unique environment. A variety of art installations were also undertaken in order to create an even more dynamic experience.

Today visitors flock to the area to view the murals and experience the other installations some 60 artists created in 2006 as part of Naksan Project. Due to this influx of people, small cafes, galleries and restaurants are now prevalent throughout the neighborhood.

While Cincinnati’s hillsides and surrounding neighborhoods present a different challenge than what exists in Ihwa, there are equal, yet different, opportunities that also exist.

Right now Cincinnati’s hillsides and their public staircases are mostly viewed as barriers and have been constrained to afterthoughts in the city’s public psyche. ArtWorks has changed the way we viewed vacant walls and barren streetscapes. Here’s hoping they can work similar magic on the city’s long-forgotten staircases.

Pay-by-Phone Technology Now Available for Cincinnati’s Parking Meters

Smart Meter IdentificationCincinnati city officials announced last week that the more than 4,000 smart parking meters that have been installed throughout the city are now functioning in coordination with a new mobile app payment system.

The announcement fulfills a long-held desire for motorists looking for more convenient ways to pay parking meter fees.

It is expected that such technology will help reduce the amount of tickets that are dolled out since drivers will now be able to refill their meter from anywhere, simply by using their phone. Those without smartphones capable of operating the PassportParking app will also be able to use their phones to reload meters by visiting, or by calling 513-253-0493.

“This enhancement is part of the City’s ongoing parking modernization plan to improve the quality and efficiency of the City parking system,” officials stated in a prepared release. “In accordance with these efforts parking rates were adjusted earlier this year, and motorists saw the introduction of prepay and extended hours.”

In addition to the convenience for parkers, the new technology also allows for local businesses to register so that they can discount the parking costs for their customers.

While the new technology will make payments easier and more convenient, it does not help motorists locate available on-street parking spaces, or utilize dynamic pricing that would encourage those looking for a parking space to navigate toward a lesser used area.

While dynamic pricing has been mentioned as a future possibility by both Mayor John Cranley (D) and City Manager Harry Black, it has not yet been made clear when that will take place.

“Pay-by-phone parking is representative of what we are doing across our organization. We are using technology to enhance services we offer our residents and visitors,” said City Manager Black. “This technology won’t replace more traditional means of paying to park at a meter, but it gives people a new, convenient option that makes visiting Downtown or business districts across Cincinnati easier.”

The mobile payment app, which charges a 25-cent convenience fee, will only work for on-street parking meters and kiosks – not off-street lots or garages. In order to properly use the system, drivers will be asked to input the zone, along with the meter number, into the application so that the payment can be traced to that particular space, and thus monitored by parking enforcement officers.

All of this comes after the contentious cancellation of the parking lease agreement put into place by Mark Mallory‘s administration in 2013.

Under that agreement, the City would have leased its on-street parking meters, along with a number of garages and lots, to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which then was to enter into operation agreement with Xerox. In return, the City would have received a large upfront payment, along with guaranteed annual payments.

The new structure maintains more control at City Hall, but it misses on the upfront capital, along with the guaranteed payments.

Instead, the City takes on the risk of meeting revenue projections and keeping operation and maintenance costs within their targets. One thing that remains the same is the presence of Xerox, although their role appears to have been greatly diminished from what it would have been under the Mallory administration deal.

So far the response to the new parking meters and payment functionality has been positive, although some neighborhood business districts, where the meters are arriving for the first time, have experienced some temporary glitches with pricing and hours of operation programmed into the meter.

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.

Phase One of Ohio River Trail West Secures $1.3M in Funding

River West Working Group has announced that the western leg of the Ohio River Trail through Cincinnati has been awarded a $1 million Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grant. An additional funding commitment of $261,000 from the City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Program brings the total to $1.3 million.

Project leaders say that the money will be put toward construction of the first phase of the bikeway and greenway project along Cincinnati’s western riverfront.

“We greatly appreciate the initiative of the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering in developing and submitting the grant application, and the support of Mayor John Cranley, who set up the bike program funding that seeded the Federal grant,” said Tom Croft, co-chair of River West Working Group.

Croft, a Price Hill community activist, also credited the work of ODOT, OKI Regional Council of Governments, State Senator Bill Seitz (R), and Representatives Bill Blessing (R) and Lou Terhar (R).

The first phase of work will extend roughly 3.7 miles downriver from the planned Price Landing park to the Gilday Recreation Center. The recently allocated funds will go toward constructing more than half of this phase of work.

The overall plan for Ohio River Trail West is a 28-mile bikeway and greenway network, separated from nearby roads, that serves as a connection between Smale Riverfront Park and Shawnee Lookout.

The river alignment of this trail makes it unique to any other east/west corridor on Cincinnati’s west side in that it does not traverse steep or extended hills. Such an orientation will allow cyclists the opportunity to get to the trail and have a level path into the city center.

Due to the relationship of the project to the existing freight railroad lines, project leaders say that additional coordination is needed before the group is able to move forward with the third segment of work within the first phase of construction activities.

“We are not going to announce work on that until we have negotiated some type of agreement”, Dave Zelman, co-chair of River West Working Group told UrbanCincy.

Further complicating matters is that the City of Cincinnati recently worked with the freight railroad companies to rebuild the four tracks along that stretch in recent years. Regardless, neighborhood leaders and project proponents are confident that the work will progress and serve as a major benefit for the communities along the corridor.

“The Ohio River Trail West is a big factor in the ongoing revitalization of our western Hamilton County neighborhoods, many of which are underserved by this kind of amenity,” concluded Zelman. “It will encourage access to the Ohio River and its surrounding hillsides, our greatest natural assets.”

Why Does Kroger Continue to Avoid Urban Store Model in Cincinnati?

Kroger is one of the Queen City’s prized Fortune 500 gems. The company was founded here in 1883 and has grown into the nation’s largest grocer, and one of the nation’s largest retailers overall. While the company has done much good for the city, the question is now being asked if they are now content with their hometown market.

While public officials work to rid the city of its food deserts, Kroger has been largely absent from the conversation. Furthermore, the grocer’s remaining stores throughout the city are seemingly in a constant state of fear of closure. Cincinnati still has Kroger stores in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, but many have either fallen into disrepair or are showcases of urban design failures.

In 2008, Kroger rebuilt its East Price Hill store to the pleasure of city and neighborhood leaders. The possibility of losing the neighborhood’s only full-service grocery store was a real concern. While shiny and new, the rebuilt store now sits more than 100 feet off of Warsaw Avenue, with a sea of parking and a Kroger Fueling Station in front.

Mt. Washington had their neighborhood Kroger built in 1999. In this case, the parking for the store is off to the side of the building, and it sits right along Beechmont Avenue. However, the building includes virtually no windows, and instead of serving as an anchor for the business district is more of an eyesore. While its site plan differs from Kroger’s East Price Hill store, both are still oriented to cars, not the pedestrians or cyclists that make the respective neighborhood business districts attractive.

As UrbanCincy reported yesterday, Kroger is now working with transit officials to improve bus facilities in and around their Walnut Hills store in Peeble’s Corner. But aside from that, the store is essentially defined by the same story as its Mt. Washington counterpart.

In Corryville a different story is unfolding. First developed in the 1960s as part of what is now seen as an awful urban renewal project, Kroger’s uptown store is one of its worst. Fortunately the store will soon be torn down, but after years of discussions with neighborhood leaders and developers, it sounds as if the new store will be not much different from the existing one in terms of its form or function.

Kroger stores in Winton Place and Westwood, and the one currently under construction in Oakley, are nothing more than urban design atrocities ignorant of their surroundings.

Of course, all of this goes without discussing the poor state of Kroger’s Over-the-Rhine store, which practically sits in the shadow of the company’s global headquarters, or the fact that Kroger has yet to actively pursue a store for the city’s exploding residential population downtown.

Meanwhile, approximately 80 miles south along I-75, Kroger has worked with community leaders in Lexington on a new store near the University of Kentucky. The newly opened 86,000-square-foot store is two stories tall with parking situated on the building’s rooftop. The structure is built to the street, includes facades with windows, café seating both inside and out, local food offerings, and has been designed with the surrounding community in mind.

In short, Lexington’s brand new Kroger shines as an example for what the Cincinnati-based company could and should build in its hometown.

Cincinnati is fortunate to have Kroger headquartered here; and the half-dozen or so neighborhoods that have a store are surely thankful to not be left stranded, but at some point Cincinnati should demand better from its hometown company. It is not too late for Kroger to get it right in Corryville, Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, or any of the city’s existing neighborhoods without any access to a full-service grocer.