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.

Designs for Two-Way Street Conversion in East Walnut Hills Nearly Complete

Over the past four months, city planners and engineers have been working away on concepts that would transform William Howard Taft Road and E. McMillan Street into streets with two-way travel. During that time public feedback has been gathered and designs have been revised.

The actual work began much earlier than that when the City of Cincinnati converted portions of those same two streets through the Walnut Hills neighborhood back in 2012. There was some trepidation at the time in East Walnut Hills, but those have seemingly faded away following the successful conversion of those streets to the west.

“This two-way conversion will make the two neighborhoods much more connected, and make the distance between DeSales Corner and Peeble’s Corner more walkable,” explained Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “Our goal is to make the two districts more connected, and this is one of many changes that will be put in place to make that area more walkable.”

Some of those other changes include the redevelopment of historic buildings throughout the business district, establishment of new public gathering spaces, and potential upgrades to the district’s bus service.

Since the last round of public meetings, staff from Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) have prepared updated alternatives for traffic flow and streetscape enhancements. These alternatives were presented at a public meeting on February 25, 2015, which included many residents and business owners from the East Walnut Hills neighborhood.

The modifications include the addition of off-peak parking on the north side of William Howard Taft Road between Woodburn Avenue and Ashland Avenue, the addition of left turn lanes from E. McMillan Street to Victory Parkway, and the addition of a landscaped island on the east leg of the Woodburn Avenue and E. McMillan Street intersection.

Project officials say there will be another round of public feedback on these changes, and members of the public are encouraged to share their feedback with Greg Koehler [greg.koehler@cincinnati-oh.gov] or Curtis Hines [curtis.hines@cincinnati-oh.gov] by Wednesday, March 11.

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.

The City Series Aims To Create Scalable Development Model In Established Walkable Neighborhoods

The City Series is an interesting and somewhat new approach for urban housing development in Cincinnati. Instead of pursuing big developments with a large amount of land, or the redevelopment of existing structures, it instead is focused on challenging infill sites.

Leadership at Great Traditions and D-HAS, which is overseeing The City Series, say they chose the sites due to their walkable environments. They believe that the city’s neighborhoods represent the most important aspect of real estate today – walkability.

In addition, the development team says that they were attracted to each particular site cluster, of which they currently have three, because of its distinctive character. As of now their sites are located in Northside, O’Bryonville and East Walnut Hills.

So far, it seems as though the team’s assessment is correct. Two of the five currently available homes located on Gold Street in O’Bryonville and Cleinview Avenue in East Walnut Hills have already sold. With six more homes coming soon, the team expects that number to quickly rise.

What is also unique is that in each case the homes are being built in line with traditional design characteristics of their neighborhood surroundings. But starting at $595,000, the homes in East Walnut Hills and O’Bryonville are also being priced higher than most nearby properties. In Northside, the townhomes will range from $250,000 to $350,000.

The four homes on Cleinview Avenue are being built around an 1860s servant’s house from the original Klein Estate – the developer of the neighborhood in the late 19th century. In this case D-HAS came up with a design solution that uses three variations on an open floor plan, with car access coming through a rear yard with detached garages. This, the design firm says, allows the new homes to contribute to the streetscape at a pedestrian scale – no curb cuts to accommodate cars – and match the historic nature of the neighborhood.

About a mile east on Madison Road is the three-home Gold Street development, which actually sits on a road named Paul Street. Sitting at the end of a narrow side street, the site is within easy walking distance of both the Hyde Park and O’Bryonville business districts. For this development, D-HAS says that they looked to maximize the use private outdoor space in spite of the site’s difficult location and terrain.

Across town sits the team’s newest announced project on Fergus Street. Like the other projects, the five homes in this development are located in the heart of a historic neighborhood and feature a design reflective of its roots. Due to the differences of Northside compared to the other two neighborhoods, these homes are slightly smaller, but have the added benefit of being next to a neighborhood playground.

“We worked with the community groups – Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) and the Northside Community Council to design a series of homes that would be a catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood”, explained Doug Hinger, owner of D-HAS and President of Great Traditions. “There are a lot of very cool and committed people in Northside that have been active for decades and I really enjoy our partnership.”

Driven by his passion for urban design, Hinger said he established D-HAS to provide a vehicle for his architectural pursuits. And from a business standpoint, he said they saw an opportunity to start these three smaller projects as a way to bridge the gap to bigger sites and see how designs in walkable neighborhoods like this will be accepted.

“We have found value in several facets,” Hinger told UrbanCincy. “Probably the biggest value is that we’re growing the business and developing a body of work that we can take into other Cincinnati neighborhoods.”

Great Traditions and D-HAS believe they are off to a good start, and hope to use these developments as a foundation for more projects like on a somewhat larger scale.

“We’re always looking for the next project and there are several neighborhoods where we think The City Series can work,” Hinter stated. Having a viable commercial aspect in place will certainly help bolster the prospects for scalable projects of this nature, especially since they are intending to push the boundaries of the current marketplace focus.

For many urbanists, the idea of scaling up the size of such an approach is an appealing one, and one that many thought would be the defining feature of Cincinnati’s annual CiTiRAMA home show. CiTiRAMA, however, has not yet been able to consistently produce successful urban infill in the way that Great Traditions and D-HAS are attempting to do.

Hinger’s hope is to make The City Series a citywide endeavor. If successful, Cincinnati’s urbanists may finally get the annual urban home show they have long desired.

Metro Rolling Out Series of Transit Enhancements for Peeble’s Corner District

As part of Metro’s system-wide upgrades, transit officials have announced a new project to upgrade stations and services in Walnut Hills.

The first part of these enhancements includes the availability of Metro’s monthly passes and regional stored-value cards, which were available as of last week, at the customer service counter at the Walnut Hills Kroger on E. McMillan Avenue.

“At Kroger, we are always seeking ways to offer conveniences to our customers,” explained Sarah Raney, Walnut Hills Kroger Store Manager. “The Walnut Hills Kroger is happy to partner with Metro to sell bus passes to our customers who regularly use them.”

In addition to many of the store’s customers, management also says that many of the store’s employees use Metro bus service to get to and from work on a daily basis.

According to Brandy Jones, Public Relations Manager at Metro, this is the first such partnership for the region’s largest transit operator, but could be the first of more to come. Jones says that this is a test to see how it works, and that additional partnerships with Kroger and other retailers may be explored.

The move is part of a larger goal to increase ridership system-wide. Other recent improvements have included the construction of the Uptown Transit District and Glenway Crossing Transit Center, and the establishment of the Montgomery Road Metro*Plus route and several new crosstown routes.

Metro officials tout the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project as enhancing service for one of their busiest neighborhoods. According to ridership data, approximately 208,000 rides were provided to the historic neighborhood in 2014. Once complete in 2016, the enhancement project will introduce new sheltered boarding areas, improved lighting, sidewalk and landscape improvements, electronic real-time arrival screens and some other more modest improvements at a total of seven stations in the Peeble’s Corner area.

“Metro is invested in the Walnut Hills community,” Dwight Ferrell, Metro CEO & General Manager, stated in a prepared release. “We’re excited that the Walnut Hills Kroger has become the first major retailer in the region to sell Metro bus passes. This new partnership will help us better serve our mutual customers.”

The commitment from Metro is just the latest in a string of positive announcements from the surrounding neighborhoods, but community leaders are hoping to provide even more transportation choices, such as Cincy Red Bike, in the future as well. But as for now, neighborhood leaders are particularly bullish on the impacts the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project will have on the E. McMillan Corridor.

“We think this is going to be a game changer,” Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, explained to UrbanCincy. “Peeble’s Corner has always been one of the largest transfer points in the city and we think ridership will only grow as we add more density to the corridor.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Metro provides approximately 2.8 million rides to the Walnut Hills area, while the number of rides is actually 208,000.