Lower Price Hill Community School Aiming to Rebuild Neighborhood, Lives through Cooperative Approach

The efforts to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods across the country have been well-documented, but it is not often that these efforts revolve around a truly cooperative approach. But this is exactly what Lower Price Hill Community School’s (LPHCS) Community Matters non-profit organization is trying to do.

Lower Price Hill is a relatively small neighborhood in terms of size, but its central location, historic building stock, and close proximity to both the Ohio River and Downtown make it extremely important.

The neighborhood was originally built in the 19th century in order to provide housing for workers in the Mill Creek Valley. Today the neighborhood is largely made up of Appalachians and a more recent influx of Hispanic immigrants from Guatemala.

Knowing the community inside and out, LPHCS, which is also is made up of a second non-profit called Education Matters, has developed a unique model of community redevelopment that places the neighborhood’s residents at the center of decision making and management. To this end, Community Matters will soon embark on a number of cooperative initiatives that will aim to both empower neighborhood residents and also provide them with something their neighborhood needs.

The Sanctuary - Lower Price Hill
Interior rendering of The Sanctuary upon completion. Image provided.

“While we’re doing all of these projects, we want to help provide jobs to these groups and folks in the city, but also help employ folks in the community and even give them some ownership,” Mike Moroski, Director of Outreach Services at LPHCS, explained in a phone interview.

The first project is an $8.2 million renovation of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish buildings.

In order to move this project forward, the neighborhood took it upon itself to raise the first $2 million and using that as a commitment in order to leverage an additional $6.2 million in state and federal tax credits. Once complete, the renovated buildings will serve as a community focal point and special events venue, called The Sanctuary.

The next project will be a laundromat called Washing Well, which will feature eight washers and eight dryers. Due to the age of the neighborhood and low average household incomes, most residents need to use laundromats, but none currently exist in Lower Price Hill.

Moroski says that Washing Well will be an earned-income venture at first for Community Matters, but will be owned and managed by the Lower Price Hill community, with its revenues eventually going back into the neighborhood to support additional investment while also covering the costs of operating the laundromat.

During this process, LPHCS will also develop a co-op service learning center, along Warsaw Avenue, to support its existing GED program and a new Cincinnati State satellite operation, both of which will be managed by Education Matters.

After that Community Matters will move forward with renovating Urban Appalachian Council’s former building at Eighth and State Streets, which will then become the home of Jack’s Diner – the neighborhood’s only restaurant.

Moroski says that they decided to name it Jack’s Diner after one of LPHCS’ most engaged workers who developed a passion for the food industry after going through the Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati Cooks program.

Jack will manage the restaurant and has even come up with the idea of doing bike delivery service from the restaurant to businesses in Queensgate. Like the new Laundromat, the restaurant will start as an earned-income venture, but then be turned over to the community as a co-op.

In addition to all of this, Moroski says that Community Matters will open a thrift store, choice food pantry, and launch a business incubator in conjunction with Xavier University.

The cooperative visions for Lower Price Hill do not end, or even begin, with this wave of initiatives. When talking with Moroski, it is easy to see that Waterfields serves as a major inspiration for Community Matters.

Waterfields began operating in 2013 as an urban warehouse that provides restaurants with fresh micro-greens, and makes a point of employing Lower Price Hill residents at their rapidly growing aquaponics company. One of the company’s two founders also lives in the neighborhood.

Oyler School is another bright spot for the community. Since its $21 million renovation in 2012, it has been viewed as a national model for community involvement and engagement, attracting visits from prominent leaders from around the country to learn from its successes.

“What Dan started at Waterfields, what we’re doing, and with what Oyler is doing; all of these forces combining at one time is very cool,” exclaimed Moroski. “It’s all right here.”

Lower Price Hill is, perhaps, one of Cincinnati’s more overlooked neighborhoods, but with a strong neighborhood school, engaged community group, rapidly growing local food production business, laundromat, community and events center, restaurant and more all owned and managed by the community, the future only seems strong.

Those who want to help facilitate the process are encouraged to contribute to the LPHCS IndieGoGo campaign to help provide funding for these new initiatives. And Moroski says to be on the lookout for unique events that will be held throughout the year, culminating in the fall with what he is billing a “big blowout” event to close out the campaign in early October.

“With one donation you can support green energy, co-op business models, creation of pathways to careers, re-imagining historic buildings for new use, and the breathing of renewed life into a beautiful neighborhood.”

UVA Demographer’s Map Illustrates Cincinnati’s Racial Segregation

Dustin Cable, a demographic researcher at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, recently published a map of the United States that shows an individual dot for each of the nation’s 308,745,538 people.

On their map each dot was assigned one of five colors based on the racial and ethnic affiliation. Whites are blue; African-Americans, green; Asians, red; Hispanics, orange; and all other racial categories are coded as brown. Cable used publicly available 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

When viewed in its entirety from afar, the map makes cities look like integrated places with a merging of all the colors to create a purple shade. This, however, is not the most accurate portrait of the racial segregation found throughout American cities.

When viewing Cincinnati at a more detailed level, for example, one can see the clear separation of White, Black, Hispanic and Asian populations.

The dots are evenly distributed throughout their assigned Census Block, so some dots (or people) appear to be living in areas where they cannot (i.e. parks, water, streets).

The specific areas of interest inside Cincinnati city limits are several Uptown neighborhoods where a dense cluster of Asian individuals live, and the Lower Price Hill and East Price Hill area where a small concentration of Hispanic individuals call home.

When looking elsewhere around the region it is also interesting to observe the Hispanic population cluster in Butler County near in and around the City of Hamilton.

Cincinnati Breaks Ground on $16M Net Zero Energy, LEED Platinum Police HQ

City officials and neighborhood leaders celebrated the ground breaking for Cincinnati’s new $16 million Police District 3 Headquarters on Monday.

Located in Westwood, the 39,000 square-foot facility will replace what city and police officials consider an antiquated 105-year-old facility in East Price Hill.

While the City of Cincinnati has built or begun construction on several new fire stations, including one nearby in Westwood, this is the first new police station built in the city since in more than four decades.

“It used to be that when cities built civic buildings like this, they were places the community could come together,” Mayor Mark Mallory (D) said. “With District 3, we’re doing that again. We want people to come here and feel comfortable coming here with their neighbors.”

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According to city officials, the new police headquarters will serve 14 neighborhoods from a central location on the west side. A site that was specifically chosen due to the input provided during Plan Cincinnati.

To help further strengthen the concept of the police headquarters also serving as a community gathering place, city officials have ensured that the new facility will include community gathering space and public art. It is an approach to community building similar to what was done, with rave reviews, by Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) when rebuilding its entire building portfolio.

The location is just a block away from Dater High School and Western Hills High School and sits in what was a vacant outlot of a suburban-style strip mall. Site plans show that the new facility will be built at the street and oriented toward the sidewalk.

While Cincinnati has been seen as a leader in green building when it comes to the rebuilding of CPS, its tax abatements for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rehabilitation and new construction, and public building in general, this will be one of the Queen City’s greenest buildings.

The development team of Messer Construction, Triversity Construction and Emersion Design are aiming to achieve a LEED Platinum certification – the highest possible rating under the LEED system.

The development team also says that it has designed the structure to achieve Net Zero Energy Consumption through its geothermal mechanical systems, high performance building envelope and solar panels. The new Police District 3 Headquarters will also reduce potable water consumption by 30% thanks to on-site bio-retention cells and strategic use of site design materials.

City leadership also expects the project will reach 36.2% Small Business Enterprise (SBE) inclusion. If such a number is achieved, it would make it the highest percentage of SBE participation on any city project to-date.

According to project officials, construction is expected to take about a year-and-a-half and could start welcoming members of the community as early as July 2015.

Smart Growth May Offer Cincinnati a Way Out of Its Structurally Imbalanced Budget

Land Use Budget ImpactsThe City of Cincinnati passed yet another structurally imbalanced budget late last week. At the meeting Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) and other council members admitted that the approved budget once again relied on a one-time fix to get the city through another budget cycle without significant layoffs and major funding cuts.

Despite having its hands tied in coming up with creative ways to find revenues, Cincinnati is not alone in dealing with this dilemma. Hundreds of cities across the nation are struggling with budget deficits with some much larger than ours.

Smart Growth America recently completed a national report, titled Building Better Budgets, with findings that could help many municipalities find long-term solutions to their budget crisis. The report makes three main arguments that smart growth development, described as compact, walkable and mixed-use overall save municipalities on upfront infrastructure costs, service costs and serve to increase the city’s tax base better than suburban style developments.

After reviewing a diverse collection of cities across America, such as Raleigh, NC,  Nashville, TN and Champagne, IL, the study found that smart growth development costs an average of 38% less for upfront infrastructure, saves municipalities an average of 10% on ongoing delivery of services, and generates approximately 10 times more tax revenue per acre when compared to conventional suburban development.

“These figures are conservative, and many communities could save even more,” authors of the report stated. “Smart growth development’s potential for lower costs and higher revenues means that many municipalities can operate smart growth development at a surplus rather than a deficit.”

How local projects stack up
Several projects on the horizon are poised to add to the tax base in Cincinnati’s urban core. Phase two of The Banks, dunhumbyUSA Centre, the 580 Building apartment conversion, hotels at the Bartlett Building and Enquirer Building, and proposed apartment buildings above Fountain Place and the parking garage at Seventh and Sycamore all offer the upfront infrastructure cost savings and long-term revenue advantages discussed in Smart Growth America’s report.

The redevelopment of the Pogue’s Garage into a 30-story apartment tower with a grocery store, and an 11-store Holiday Inn at Broadway and Eighth Street are two other projects that offer similar benefits, but are currently on hold due to the ongoing legal dispute surrounding the City of Cincinnati’s Parking Modernization & Lease Plan. Additionally, a slew of projects in Over-the-Rhine, Walnut Hills and Northside also appear poised to help stabilize the city’s finances thanks to their smart growth advantages.

Property Tax Yield

Not all is well, however, as many recent real estate investments throughout the city have taken the conventional suburban development approach. The Incline District in East Price Hill, Villages of Day Break in Bond Hill, Oakley Station in Oakley, MetroWest in Lower Price Hill, and developments along Red Bank Road in Madisonville all seem to be missing the bigger picture about the financial advantages of smart growth.

In addition to the actual footprint of the development, the report discusses the importance of a project’s site location.

“The per-acre measurement of tax revenue is extremely important because land is a precious commodity for every jurisdiction,” the report concluded. “It is true that in some cases the total dollar amount of tax revenue in conventional suburban settings can be very large, but those conventional suburban developments consume large amounts of land. Many cities in the United States have a constrained land supply and must husband their land resources carefully in order to protect their solvency.”

While many of the real estate investments throughout Cincinnati are being done in a smart manner, others seem to be squandering valuable urban land with suburban-style developments. The City of Cincinnati, and other cities around the region, might be able to make a long and sustained positive impact on their budgets by refusing to go forward with projects that offer an easy, short-term score, and instead demanding more sustainable development practices in their community.

Ohio Fails to Show Improvement in Latest Infrastructure Report Card

We take for granted that bridges, roads, highways, water treatment facilities and dams will function as expected and take us to where we need to go. But our nation’s aging infrastructure has long been in decline as money is diverted from maintenance to construction of new projects, many times for politicians eager for the photo op of a ribbon cutting event.

Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its latest report on the current state of the nation’s infrastructure. The last such report, issued in 2009, had given the country a rating of D. This year’s report showed the nation’s rating had improved to a D+ grade.

“Our country’s association of civil engineers continues to do the yeoman’s work of sounding the alarm on our country’s infrastructure — the roads, rails and waterways that we depend on to move our goods from place to place and get us where we need to go each day,” James Corless, Director of Transportation For America (T4A), stated in a prepared release.

I-75 Reconstruction
Work on the multi-billion dollar repair and widening of I-75 through Cincinnati proceeds, but the project still has yet to receive the full funding it needs to be completed. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

As the nation sifts through a backlog of infrastructure replacement projects, national policy has shifted away from funding such critical infrastructure needs as budgetary concerns linger.

The current transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), offers no new funding for investments in transportation alternatives to relieve congested corridors or encourage smart solutions to these complex problems.

“It’s a sad reality that little has changed since the last report card in 2009,” Corless continued. “Has anything in Washington changed to drastically improve the condition of our roads, bridges and transit systems in the four years since?”

Without new revenue sources, Corless says, the funding problem is only poised to get worse as revenues continue to decline from the federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. Such a lack of necessary revenues may soon leave the federal government unable to perform basic infrastructure maintenance.

Local Implications?
In both 2009 and 2013, the ASCE gave Ohio a C- grade in their infrastructure report card. While the grade places Ohio ahead of the national average, it still translates to 2,462 structurally deficient bridges and approximately 42% of its roadways in “poor” or “mediocre” quality.

While the State of Ohio raised its gas tax in 2006, the extra revenues have not been enough to keep pace with the demand for larger transportation projects like the expansion of I-75 through Cincinnati, the  Brent Spence Bridge project, and the long-planned MLK Interchange project, which all currently stand unfunded or only partially funded.

“Some other states aren’t waiting for billions that are unlikely to come and are thinking about ways to make their dollars do more. Like Massachusetts, where the DOT director issued a goal of tripling the number of trips taken by foot, bike and public transportation — reducing the load on roads and bridges that are among the oldest in the country,” explained Stephen Lee Davis, T4A’s Deputy Communications Director.

Ohio Infrastructure

The City of Cincinnati has been working towards improving some of its worst-rated infrastructure since the last report card was issued in 2009. Since that time, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) has performed a $22 million rehabilitation of the W. Eighth Street Viaduct and is in the midst of a $55 million replacement of the Waldvogel Viaduct which connects the west side with the center city via the Sixth Street Expressway.

Additionally, Cincinnati’s 3,500-foot-long Western Hills Viaduct also is considered structurally deficient. Replacing a span that is nearly twice as long as the longest Ohio River span, and crosses the Midwest’s second busiest rail yard, will be one that is both difficult and costly.

Cincinnati officials say that they are currently studying whether a rehabilitation of the existing 82-year-old, double-decker viaduct or a replacement will be more appropriate.

“That is one of those kind of icons in the Mill Creek Valley that you like to look at,” noted Michael Moore, Cincinnati’s DOTE Director, on The UrbanCincy Podcast. “But we will need to be very cognizant of how we spend the public’s money in making sure we have a good safe mode to get across that area.”

Moore says that the department hopes to wrap up the study on how to fix the Western Hills Viaduct early this spring. Once that is complete, he says that there will be a good idea on how to accomplish that. Where the funding might come for such a large project, however, is still up in the air.

Episode #16: Michael Moore from Cincinnati’s Dept. of Transportation

Waldvogel ViaductOn the 16th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we’re joined by Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering.

The department is responsible for the city’s existing transportation infrastructure — everything from filling potholes to operating Luken Airport — as well as overseeing new projects across the city. On the podcast, we discuss how the department is trying to provide Cincinnatians with more choices by introducing bike lanes, adding sidewalks, building the streetcar, and other efforts. Michael also provides information on several road and bridge projects, such as the Waldvogel and Western Hills viaducts, the Brent Spence Bridge, and the Kennedy Connector.

We also discuss how pre-existing “standards” and a one-size-fits-all approach may not be a fit for Cincinnati when it comes to complete streets and bike lanes. Finally, we discuss how traffic engineers balance moving automobile traffic efficiently with building walkable, livable streets.