Neighborhood Development Strategies Focus of Niehoff Urban Studio Event

Cincinnati is a city known for its unique and dynamic neighborhoods; and over the past few years many of these neighborhoods have transitioned through the work and dedication of community development groups, active and engaged stakeholders and residents, and the assistance of leading experts in the field.

Successes like new developments, restoration of historic buildings, and implementation of placemaking strategies, however, have not come without challenges and lessons learned. Building healthy and resilient places, such as in some of the neighborhoods of Cincinnati, is the focus of this semester’s Neihoff Studio open house.

The Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy have invited several community development experts to gather for an in-depth discussion on creating success in several of Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods on Thursday, April 21.

Building on the second year of the Building Healthy and Resilient Places theme, the open house is the culmination of a semester-long effort by DAAP students working with six neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Covington to identify potential redevelopment opportunities in neighborhoods such as Roselawn, College Hill, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale, Price Hill, and downtown Covington.

Kathy Schwab, of LISC, will present awards to the winning student group.

“Our theme is Building Healthy and Resilient Places, and students are encouraged to make places that promote health in a number of categories,” Frank Russell, Director of the UC Niehoff Studio told UrbanCincy. “Above all students were challenged with how to make form and program that would make these NBDs ‘centers of activity’ in accordance with Plan Cincinnati.”

The event will culminate with a panel of experts moderated by UrbanCincy. Panelists include Phil Denning from the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development; Kathleen Norris, who is the Principal and founder of Urban Fast Forward, a real-estate consulting firm; and Seth Walsh with the Community Development Corporation Association of the Greater Cincinnati.

The event will kick off at the Niehoff Urban Studio Community Design Center on Short Vine at 5pm this Thursday, with the panel discussion starting at 6pm. The event is easily accessible by Red Bike with a station conveniently located across the street. It is also accessible via Metro Bus Routes #24, #19 and Metro Plus.

New Corryville Store Design Reveals That Kroger Continues to Struggle With Urban Format

Located next to the University of Cincinnati and surrounded by some of the region’s largest employers, University Plaza has long sat as one of the most underutilized pieces of commercial real estate in the city.

With demolition work well underway, a new University Plaza will soon be realized, but will it be any better than what was has occupied the site since the early 1980s?

The public got the first idea of what that answer will be when the Business Courier published designs of what the new 92,000-square-foot Corryville Kroger will look like.

While no site plan has been released, the drawings show a two-level store that will face west toward Jefferson Avenue. The front façade will include numerous windows, while the other three sides would not. A drive-thru pharmacy will be located along Corry Street, and a surface parking lot will sit in front of the building, separating it from the street.

The front façade treatments and two-level store design are departures from Kroger’s previous urban store designs elsewhere in Cincinnati. The large surface parking lot, however, stays true to their typical development model and represents a departure from the earlier visions for the site that included a rooftop or structured parking facility.

In fact, the final arrangement for the redeveloped University Plaza site will most likely appear nothing like the original concepts first produced a decade ago. Over that time, dozens of concept plans have been developed for the site from the Niehoff Studio and three different professional design firms.

The Niehoff Studio has actually be researching the topic of urban grocery stores since 2002, and has published its findings on everything from the economic performance to the social impact and design of such stores.

“I applaud the initiative and risk taking involved to make this a two story format,” said Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center. “This is a sensible solution to putting a sprawling large scale program on a valuable site in a dense urban setting. It relates better to the surrounding context which is multi-story, but it is very difficult to do from a functionality point of view.”

While the two-story structure is in line with the original recommendations, Russell says that the large surface parking lot is not ideal.

“That undoes some of the progressive intent of the two-story building design, especially at the important gateway corner of Jefferson and Taft,” Russell told UrbanCincy. “The best thing that I could say about that is that it is a land-bank for future structured parking and mixed-use development, notwithstanding a landscaped corner.”

While notably different than the original design concepts developed in the early aughts, the designs released yesterday appear to have not changed much from what was developed by CR Architects in 2008.

Kroger representatives say that the store will also feature an outdoor seating area, similar to what the company recently developed in Lexington. They also say that while the store will have two levels, customers will not actually use the second floor since it will be used for food preparation functions only.

Project officials say that the current store will close on September 12 so that it can be demolished. It is estimated that construction of the new store will take 12 to 14 months and open at the end of 2016.

Niehoff Urban Studio Open House and Panel Discussion to Focus on Remake of Burnet Woods

Most University of Cincinnati students are familiar with the small forest just across Martin Luther King. During the warmer months, before the autumn turns too chilly and after the winter cold snaps, students can be seen biking, hanging out and walking through it. Even during the winter it’s a good place for a snowball fight.

At almost 90 acres in size, Burnet Woods is one of the larger parks in the Cincinnati Parks System. The park, which is over 142 years old, is the subject of this year’s Niehoff Urban Studio Open House titled, “Urban Parks and Urban Life.”

In 2014, Mayor John Cranley (D) identified the redesign of Burnet Woods as one of his administration’s top priorities. Calling it one of Cincinnati’s top gems, the mayor partnered with UC President Santa Ono to embark on a planning initiative to include the park in a wider plan to form an uptown eco-district.

Part of that plan was to engage UC planning and urban design students in a year-long workshop which will wrap up on April 23 with an open house and panel discussion moderated by John Yung of UrbanCincy.

“I’m really excited to see the students’ work and have a discussion on placemaking at the park,” Yung stated. “Cincinnati is blessed with historical parks such as Burnet Woods and Washington Park, to name a few. You don’t get that in most other American cities.”

This event is part of the continuing partnership between the Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy to examine complex urban issues. Last year UrbanCincy moderated a discussion panel on Tiny Living focusing on the opportunities and challenges of small space living in the urban environment. Prior to that, bus rapid transit and bike mobility were topics of conversation. We even hosted an urbanist candidates forum just ahead of the last city council election.

The Burnet Woods open house will take place on April 23 from 5pm to 8pm, with the panel discussion will beginning around 7pm.

The Niehoff Urban Studio is located at 2728 Vine Street in Corryville and is accessible by Metro*Plus and the #24, #78 Metro bus lines. A Cincy Red Bike station is located a block away and there is plentiful free bike parking on the same block.

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.

UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio Takes Bold New Look at the Future of Burnet Woods

On December 4, the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio hosted an end of the semester open house to showcase the final work of students in graduate planning, civil engineering capstone, and a multi-disciplinary freshman UC Forward seminar.

There were three classes offered at the Studio, located in Corryville, during the Fall Semester that focused on understanding and improving Burnet Woods. The aim, course leaders say, was to begin to produce a future vision for the 89-acre park.

City officials first began discussing an overhaul of Burnet Woods in 2007, but a lack of funding at the time doomed the project. However, Mayor John Cranley (D) made the project a priority in his inaugural State of the City Address, saying that the park, located immediately north of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, could help make the uptown area an even greater destination.

“Burnet Woods is an underutilized gem in our parks system,” Cranley said in a statement. “It’s nice now, but it could be great.”

That caught the attention of UC President Santa Ono, along with the Uptown Consortium who requested that the studio work on the subject in consultation with community representatives and other stakeholders uptown. In addition, staff of the Cincinnati Park Board, who have sole control over what will happen with the park, have been engaged with the studio throughout the semester.

A large crowd showed up at the open house, held two weeks ago, to take a look at the visuals and learn about the observations and initial recommendations produced by the students for the roughly 142-year-old park.

After identifying various issues with Burnet Woods, as it stands today, the students proceeded to “rethink” the space and its uses. Nine teams of graduate Planning students organized their work around distinct thematic approaches to remaking the park. These themes included integrated Art Programming, a Health/Wellness destination, a food production system, a center for “fun” programming, and others.

Some of the many specific recommendations included creating seasonal programming, creating a soundscape as a placemaking tool, inserting a winding promenade to connect UC Main Street with the Ludlow Business District, elevating Martin Luther King Drive to allow for Burnet Woods to flow through underneath it into UC’s main campus, among others.

Some of the student teams extended the scope beyond the park by suggesting a cohesive streetscape experience extending from Burnet Woods and re-imagining the park as the center of an Uptown “eco-district” to create a broader ecological and social system.

One of the benefits of the studio course offerings came from engaging both planning and engineering students. As part of the course’s focus on building healthy and resilient places, civil engineering students proposed a number of green infrastructure ideas to help with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, and other technical projects.

Additionally, according to Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center, the multi-disciplinary UC Forward freshman seminar was able to survey the student body to determine its interest in the park and ended up proposing a student organization dedicated to providing advocacy and service to the park.

Russell says that this is only the beginning, with additional courses in Planning, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Horticulture to come in the Spring Semester that will build on the ideas and research completed thus far. The hope, he says, is to create a well-grounded set of ideas that will make up the contents of an ‘idea book’ for use by the community in considering the future of Burnet Woods.

Other faculty involved in the Fall Semester included Vikas Mehta and Danilo Palazzo from the School of Planning; Richard Miller and Elizabeth Devendorf from the Civil Engineering Program; and Cory Christopher from UC Forward. Those interested in viewing the student work in detail may do so by appointment at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio, located at 2728 Vine Street, by emailing design.center@uc.edu.