Walnut Hills Embracing Tactical Urbanism in Pursuit of its Own Transformation

It has been an eventful summer Walnut Hills following the assignment of two grants for neighborhood ventures, kickoff of the Findlay Market Farmstand and Cincy Summer Streets events, as well as a host of other neighborhood events.

UrbanCincy last reported about the rehabilitation of the Samuel Hannaford-designed firehouse, and leasing of the ground floor commercial space by Fireside Pizza in June, and the We Are Walnut Hills Festival in May. Since then, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) has moved into the summer months with full roster of projects and activities.

The Findlay Market Farmstand began in early June with a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, all from within a 100-mile radius. Funded through a Healthy Initiatives Grant by Interact for Health, attendance was strong at the first Findlay Market Farmstand, but the WHRF says they will be going door-to-door within the neighborhood to ensure that all residents know where and when the farm stand will be open.

“Passersby and residents need to support the farmstand for it to be financially viable,” said Thea Munchel of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “We wanted to ensure that it would be in a space that would attract the neighborhood residents while also interesting people passing through.”

Organizers say that the farmstand will be open, going forward, on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm at 767 McMillan Street, next to the aforementioned Firehouse. In addition to the produce offerings, they say there will be music, grilling, cooking classes and other rotating activities to build a sense of engagement.

It should be noted, however, that this is not the only, or even first, location for Findlay Market’s outreach into the city’s neighborhoods. Ohio’s oldest public market also sets up farmstands in East Price Hill and Westwood.

In addition to the Healthy Initiatives grant, the WHRF has partnered with Fifth Third Bank to create what they are calling the THRIVE Grant, which provides $3,000 to $15,000 to attract established businesses to the Peeble’s Corner business district. Angst Coffee is the first recipient of the grant, and is expected to open at 2437 Gilbert Avenue this fall. Built in 1890, and featuring exposed brick, warm colors and modern interior finishes, owners expect the space to be ideal for a coffee house.

Cincy Summer Streets, an open streets celebration, kicked off in Walnut Hills this past weekend as well. The event closed McMillan Street between Gilbert and Woodburn, and Woodburn between McMillan and Madison Road to automobiles, while opening the street up for biking, walking, dancing, art-making and fitness classes.

The event was meant to, and did, breathe new life into the streets with residents of all ages, mingling and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The Walnut Hills Area Council, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, East Walnut Hills Assembly, Art on the Streets, and the City of Cincinnati organized the event, while sponsorship came from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Interact for Health.

Both Cincy Summer Streets and the Findlay Market Farmstand are examples of how the Walnut Hills community is embracing tactical urbanism as a way to transform itself.

To build on all this activity, neighborhood leaders will be preparing over coming weeks for the City of Cincinnati’s award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), which will kick off in Walnut Hills on August 15. But for those looking to score some fresh produce from area farmers – you can do that at the next Findlay Market Farmstand set up in Walnut Hills this Thursday from 4pm to 7pm.

PHOTOS: Holidays in the City [Cincinnati]

It has been quite a year in Cincinnati and it’s easy to sometimes get caught up in all the drama and miss out on the everyday beauty around you. This has been particularly true in Cincinnati this holiday season, but we asked one of our favorite local photographers, Brian Spitzig, to go around and gather some photographs these past two months.

If his name sounds familiar, that might be because you are remembering when we featured two of Brian’s tilt-shift videos on UrbanCincy in February 2012 and March 2012.

After reaching out to Brian again he put together the following collection of 48 photographs from all over the city that capture it in its holiday splendor. If you like Brian’s photos as much as we do, then please follow him on Twitter @b_spitz and on Instagram @bspitz.

This will be our last post this year, but we hope you all had a very wonderful 2013 and wish you the best in the year to come. Enjoy!

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Gentrification Occurring in More Than Cincinnati’s Center City Neighborhoods

Like many cities across the United States, the City of Cincinnati is gentrifying, but it is doing so at a faster rate than most of its Midwestern peers – ranking fourth only behind Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis. When compared with the primary city in each of the nation’s 55 most populated metropolitan areas, Cincinnati is in the middle of the pack. Those cities that are gentrifying most quickly are located in the Northeast and along the West Coast.

The information comes from a new report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which also dove into the financial implications of what is often generally considered a bad thing.

Gentrification is generally understood as the rise of home prices or rents in a particular neighborhood. In Cincinnati this has most vigorously been discussed as it relates to the transformation in Over-the-Rhine from what was one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, to now being one of its trendiest.

Clifton Heights
The Clifton Heights neighborhood, which continues to see a surge of private real estate investment, was found to be one of several Cincinnati neighborhoods that gentrified between 2000 and 2007. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

“Gentrification is sometimes viewed as a bad thing. People claim that it is detrimental to the original residents of the gentrifying neighborhood,” stated Daniel Hartley, a research economist focusing on urban and regional economics and labor economics for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “However, a look at the data suggests that gentrification is actually beneficial to the financial health of the original residents.”

What Hartley’s research found is that credit scores for those living in a neighborhood that gentrified between 2000 and 2007 were about eight points higher than those people living in a low-price neighborhood that did not gentrify. He also discovered that delinquency rates, as represented by a share of people with an account 90 or more days past due, fell by two points in gentrifying neighborhoods relative to other low-price neighborhoods during the same period.

Some, however, caution against drawing conclusions about the data presented in Hartley’s report.

“I don’t see any reason why gentrification would affect the credit scores of existing residents – those who lived in the neighborhood prior to gentrification occurring,” commented Dr. David Varady, a professor specializing in housing policy at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning. “It was my impression that banks and other financial institutions were not supposed to take the neighborhood into account but rely on the family’s financial characteristics.”

The practice Dr. Varady describes of banks and financial institutions taking neighborhoods into account is called redlining. It is a practice that was rebuffed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, but some believe the practice persists in more abstract forms today.

One of the biggest concerns shared by those worried about the gentrification of neighborhoods is that it is particularly those that rent, rather than own, who are affected most. This too, however, is challenged by Hartley’s research.

“Mortgage-holding residents are associated with about the same increase in credit scores in gentrifying neighborhoods as non-mortgage-holding residents,” Hartley explained. “This result suggests that renters in gentrifying neighborhoods benefit by about the same degree as homeowners.”

Cincinnati Gentrification (2000-2007)
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland noted gentrification in a wide variety of Cincinnati neighborhoods between 2000 and 2007. Map produced by Nate Wessel for UrbanCincy.

What is even more intriguing about the report’s findings is that original residents who moved from the gentrifying neighborhood, who many would consider displaced residents, experienced a 1.5 point higher credit score improvement than those who did not move.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland provided UrbanCincy with the data broken out by Census tract for Cincinnati. Approximately 72% of the city’s 104 Census tracts are defined as low-price, and of those 75 Census tracts with home valuation data, nine were found to have gentrified between 2000 and 2007.

When examined more closely it becomes clear that the neighborhoods experiencing the biggest gains in home value and income in Cincinnati are those that are in the center city. Specifically, and perhaps not surprisingly, five of the nine are located in the neighborhoods of Clifton Heights, East Walnut Hills, Fairview, University Heights and the East End. Outside of the center city, Pleasant Ridge, Oakley, Columbia Tusculum and Mt. Airy also experienced gentrification over the past decade.

Community council leaders for these neighborhoods did not respond to multiple requests for comments from UrbanCincy.

Unfortunately, the two neighborhoods where many expect gentrification has occurred most – Downtown and Over-the-Rhine – did not have median home value data available for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to study.

While the report has generally positive findings about the impacts of gentrification, Cincinnati is at a disadvantage when it comes to improving the financial health of its neighborhoods.

According to the report, the percentage of low-price Census tracts in Cincinnati beneath the median home value of the metropolitan area is 14 percentage points higher than the national average, and the rate at which Census tracts are gentrifying in the Great Lakes region is approximately 4.5 points lower than the national average.

“I don’t have a clue what Hartley meant by the phrase ‘neighborhoods with a potential for gentrification’ but the assertion that 95% do in Baltimore is rather ludicrous given the high rate of abandonment,” Dr. Varady scoffed. “Baltimore certainly can use more gentrification but how the city can promote this is an open question.”

With the nine identified neighborhoods in Cincinnati spread throughout a mix of expected and unexpected locations, it is probably safe to say that the Census tracts in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine also gentrified during this period, or have since 2007.

Change in cities is inevitable, but whether these changes sweeping Cincinnati are good, bad or indifferent is probably still open for spirited discussion among those most interested.

“In general I think that gentrification presents benefits and costs,” Dr. Varady concluded. “Anyone who says it is all bad or all good is not contributing to the debate.”

This story originally appeared in the December 20, 2013 print edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier. You can view that story online for additional comments and discussion. UrbanCincy readers can take advantage of an exclusive premium digital Business Courier subscription that includes access via the web, smart phone or tablet applications for just $49 per year.

Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation Had Banner Year in 2013

Walnut Hills had a big year in 2013, and it seems as though the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) is only just now starting to flex its muscle.

The Walnut Hills neighborhood and neighborhoods surrounding it like East Walnut Hills and Evanston are beautiful gems in the Queen City’s crown, but they were gems that had not received the attention and care that they deserved. Kevin Wright, a former UrbanCincy team member who left the site in 2011 to serve as WHRF’s executive director, has guided the neighborhood’s recent resurgence.

One of the things the neighborhood has been most effective at over the past two years has been its community engagement and implementing placemaking strategies. The Five Points Biergarten, monthly community get-togethers, annual street food festival and various neighborhood cleanup activities seem to have sparked a renaissance there. In the fall of 2012 we even hosted a couple of story telling events in East Walnut Hills on DeSales Plaza.

Now all of those social events and neighborhood gatherings are being joined by public and private money that’s renovating historic buildings and creating new businesses like Hinge and Fireside Pizza, to name just two.

We are looking forward to what our good friend Kevin and his team have on-tap for 2014, but for now we are proud to look back on the terrific 2013 they had.

Financing Falling Into Place for $108M MLK Interchange Project

Planning and financing is progressing for construction of a new interchange between E. Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71. The $108 million MLK Interchange will fill the most obvious gap in the area’s expressway system – zero access to Uptown from northbound I-71 and circuitous access from southbound I-71 via the William Howard Taft ramp.

The Taft and McMillan ramps will remain under the state’s current plans, but the new MLK Interchange will become the preferred point of access for the University of Cincinnati, Children’s Hospital, the Cincinnati Zoo, University of Cincinnati Medical Center and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

MLK Interchange Site
Martin Luther King Drive as it passes over I-71 presently. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

In addition to the MLK Interchange, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) broke ground on the reconstruction of I-75’s Hopple Street Interchange. This project will reconfigure W. Martin Luther King Drive west of McMicken Street to meet Hopple Street on a new bridge above Central Parkway.

Two years ago UrbanCincy reported on these two transformative projects, planned for each end of Martin Luther King Drive, which will dramatically change the way motorists access the region’s second largest employment center.

The MLK Interchange has been the subject of considerable attention during the first half of 2013 due to the controversy generated by COAST when it worked to block Cincinnati’s Parking Modernization & Lease deal. The deal, which is now proceeding after a lengthy legal battle, was originally envisioned as the source for the $20 million local contribution to the interchange project.

In addition to blocking the parking deal temporarily, the injunction prevented the City of Cincinnati from passing emergency ordinances. This detail jeopardized the streetcar project, as it was timed perfectly to coincide with council’s need to allocate additional funds after construction bids returned much higher than expected.

MLK Interchange Preferred Alternative
Financing is beginning to fall into place to fund the preferred alternative for the $108M MLK Interchange. Provided.

In April, an effort led by COAST and City Council member Chris Smitherman (I) gathered the necessary signatures to place the parking lease ordinance on the November 2013 ballot. However, on June 12, the parking lease injunction was overturned by Judge Penelope R. Cunningham, wife of anti-streetcar and anti-parking lease 700 WLW talk host Bill Cunningham.

With the ballot issue avoided, streetcar and MLK Interchange planning resumed.

On July 9, the Ohio Controlling Board approved $4.2 million for property acquisition near the planned MLK Interchange in anticipation of a July 2014 start date for the project. Then, on July 22, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) announced that a portion of his $3 billion lease of the Ohio Turnpike will fund the state’s contribution for the project.

The turnpike deal, which is similar in its strategy to Cincinnati’s parking lease, has hypocritically been spared the legal obstructionism of COAST or the criticism of talk radio hosts.

The City of Cincinnati is hosting a neighborhood meeting on July 24 at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Corryville at 3024 Vine Street between 5pm and 7pm. According the city, the meeting is “intended to guide the Uptown neighborhoods, institutions and city in visioning the future character and nature for the corridor.”

City officials say that formal presentations will be given on the half-hour, and that those who are unable to attend can still submit their comments or questions until Friday, August 2, 2013. Those wishing to submit their comments outside of the meeting can either email info@uptownconsortium.org or send in written correspondence to the Uptown Consortium at 629 Oak Street, Suite 306, Cincinnati, OH 45206.