10 Questions and Answers With Cincinnati’s New Sustainability Coordinator

Oliver Kroner 2016The City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability recently hired Oliver Kroner as the office’s new sustainability coordinator. In this position Kroner will work with the long-time director of the office, Larry Falkin, in implementing programs and projects that help reduce the city’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

I sat down with the Northside resident, who goes by Ollie, to ask him 10 questions about his new role and vision for the city.

Randy Simes: First of all, congratulations on the new position. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got to this point in your career?
Oliver Kroner: Thanks Randy, I am very excited for the role and the potential for impact. My background has included work in sustainability issues in a number of different capacities. As an environmental scientist, I have worked in the nonprofit and academic sectors conducting research around the environmental and human health impacts of chemicals in our lives.

In the last few years as President of Northside Community Council, we have led several green initiatives in an urban planning and development context. As an entrepreneur, I have worked in green development, renewable energy, and the sharing economy. In many ways the Sustainability Coordinator role combines the skills I have developed in these different roles.

RS: Larry Falkin has been in charge of this office since its inception. Is there anything in particular that you are hoping to learn from Mr. Falkin as you settle into this role?
OK: I’m grateful for the opportunity to work for Larry and OES. He has a good grasp of where we have come from, and what opportunities lay before us as a city. Much of our time together so far has been spent meeting City officials and community leaders. It is probably his ability to weigh information and see an issue from different perspectives that I really hope will rub off on me.

RS: You have a background working with communities that may be at-risk to chemical exposures. Do you see this experience assisting you in this role?
OK: I worked as an environmental scientist with the TERA Center, which is now part of the University of Cincinnati. The Center specializes in chemical risk assessment – analyzing, modeling, and quantifying risk in a way that can be communicated to regulators or communities. I expect the ability to communicate analytical findings and regulations to be valuable in this role.

RS: Sustainability can mean a lot of different things. What does it mean to you in general, and in relation to this specific role?
OK: Sustainability is probably the most intriguing and most complex issue facing humanity. There are large global trends at play that have some pretty scary potential outcomes. We have the opportunity to redirect some of these trends in ways that would benefit quality of life, the environment, and the economy. But to do so will require the cooperation of economics, science, and behavioral modifications.

It is my role as Sustainability Coordinator to work with City of Cincinnati government, businesses, non-profits, and community members, to help these forces align, develop clear steps forward, and establish systems for bench marking and tracking our progress. Our Green Cincinnati Plan has outlined some bold goals- I intend to help Cincinnati advance these goals and lead by example.

RS: What would you say has been the greatest accomplishment of OES since its inception?
OK: OES helped move the City of Cincinnati to 100% green energy and reduced city emissions by 247,000 tons carbon dioxide each year.

RS: What do you think is an area where OES could further grow and make a positive impact in the community?
OK: Considering that approximately 60% of Cincinnatians rent their homes, that most of our building stock is very old, and that we have 30% of our population living in poverty – incentivizing upgrades to rental units could offer significant quality of life gains and energy savings.

One of the first items on my desk is to develop a dashboard to track our progress on various sustainability initiatives. We hope that these data will help us determine where to focus our efforts.

RS: How do you primarily get around town (i.e. walk, bike, bus, car)?
OK: I live with my wife, Libby, and our two boys, Quincy and Julian in Northside. We can put our boys in the wagon, and walk to almost anything we want to do. If I have to cross town, I drive an old diesel Mercedes that runs biodiesel in the warmer months. We’ll take the bikes out for fun, but bike commuting with toddlers is pretty tough! We have Red Bike passes here at the office to zip around Downtown.

RS: You mentioned that you live in Northside. What attracts you to that neighborhood? Would you recommend it as a place to live for other people?
OK: Northside is a community in the strongest sense of the word. We moved back from Boston because we wanted to live in a place where strangers walking on the sidewalk looked each other in the eye and said hello, and we found that here. The walkable historic business district, the old houses, the food scene, live music every night of the week, all surrounded by green space – it’s pretty easy to live here. If that sounds appealing, you should probably come spend a day here.

RS: Paper or plastic?
OK: I brought my own bags, thank you.

RS: Anything else?
OK: I know UrbanCincy has a loyal following of thought-leaders with many ideas for improving our city. I welcome ideas! Please reach out at oliver.kroner@cincinnati-oh.gov.

Construction Set to Begin on Cooperative Clifton Market Later This Month

After a hard-fought fundraising campaign, Clifton Market is expected to begin construction at the end of this month to convert the former 22,000-square-foot Keller’s IGA into a cooperative grocery store.

Incorporated in January 2014, the group behind Clifton Market successfully purchased the former IGA in April 2015, after a year of negotiations and challenges. Since that time, the group has raised money by selling ownership shares, acquiring two loans totaling $3 million to cover the costs for the building’s renovation and purchase of equipment, and securing a 12-year tax abatement from the City of Cincinnati that is valued at $1,063,000.

When the IGA closed in 2011, Clifton and other nearby neighborhoods were added to Cincinnati’s collection of food deserts – places where people are unable to easily access a full-service grocery store.

Following the store’s closure, Clifton residents met and decided to find a way to bring a grocery store back to the neighborhood. According to Marilyn Hyland, a Clifton Market board member, the group of citizens decided that a co-op model would be the most effective, allowing the group to pool their money in order to accomplish their common goal.

Hyland explained to UrbanCincy that the IGA closed, in part, due to problems stemming from the Great Recession, but that the grocery store was still doing around $200,000 in sales a week in its final days.

Clifton Market’s grocery market analyst, Keith Wicks, says that he predicts the new store will draw approximately 15,000 people a week, while also creating 35 new full-time jobs.

While there are a number of other grocery store projects either underway or in planning stages in Corryville, Northside and Avondale, Clifton’s store is expected to be bolstered by its proximity to high population density, along with the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, and Hebrew Union College.

Other neighborhood leaders, meanwhile, are excited for the additional foot traffic the store will bring to the historic business district, along with the reintroduction of local and organic produce to Ludlow Avenue.

“The amount of activity that will flow through the market will aid other Ludlow Avenue businesses in attracting customers, from the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond, into our business district,” said Brad Hawse, a member of the Ludlow 21 working group.

Hawse says that the group is looking forward to increased development in the area as young Americans continue to choose walkable, urban neighborhoods as their preferred locations to live, work, and play.

“This will also provide our neighborhood residents a convenient way to get healthy food without needing to drive or take the bus to a neighborhood across town,” Hawse explained. “This will not only decrease the amount of time they need to spend on grocery shopping, but also reduce the number of automobile trips our community needs to make.”

The development team says that they are currently waiting on their building permit to be approved, and hope to begin renovation work by the end of February. If all goes according to plan, Clifton Market is expected to open near the end of summer.

UC Students, Staff Call on Metro to Make Additional Uptown Service Enhancements

University of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning+Design+Construction recently partnered with Metro for an on-campus listening session for input on how to better serve the Uptown community. The two-day outreach event included meetings with students, faculty and staff on both the main campus and medical campus to gather feedback from current bus riders and non-users.

In line with the many other community engagement sessions Metro has hosted throughout the city over the past year, participants were asked how they would like to see Metro improve, while non-riders discussed what was needed to get them to choose taking the bus.

Among the faculty and staff responses, improving east-west crosstown routes and frequency topped the list, followed by adding frequency to the existing 17, 19, 78 (Lincoln Heights) and 43 (Bond Hill) lines, adding express service between Uptown and Liberty Township, improving evening frequency, and adding more ticket vending machines.

Student feedback requested modernizing the fare box; adding evening and weekend frequency on the 19, 51, and 78 lines; improving instructions on how to ride the bus; adding a public display that monitors the number of available bike racks on the bus (currently, each bus has a capacity of two); and integrating the UC Bearcat card as a form of payment for bus fare.

Additionally, staff from the university presented a proposal for a new bus route called the University Connector. Similar to the 51, the route would connect Northside, Clifton, Walnut Hills, Oakley, and Madisonville, with a center circulator around three sides of UC’s main campus.

University staff members believe the route would minimize transfer wait times and improve accessibility to key academic buildings on UC’s main campus, and improve connectivity with the medical campus. But while the proposed circulator service would use established Metro stops, its location in Oakley would not take advantage of the new $1.2 million Oakley Transit Center that will break ground later this year.

As the building boom continues at a rapid pace in Uptown, a growing focus is being placed on improving the area’s transportation access – both UC’s student government and Board of Trustees have recently stated their support for extending the Cincinnati Streetcar up the hill, Metro launched Metro*Plus in 2013 and established the Uptown Transit District in 2014, which features enhanced stations, ticket vending machines, real time arrival signage, and improved wayfinding design.

There is currently no timetable for implementing any of the recommended improvements, but it is widely anticipated that Metro will put a county-wide transit tax on this November’s ballot that would be used to improve the agency’s bus operations.

VIDEO: Cincy Red Bike Provides New Transportation Choice for the Urban Core

Although it launched less than two years ago, Red Bike has already become a very popular way to get around Cincinnati’s urban core. This new transportation option seems to be equally popular with recreational riders and those seeking to get around for practical purposes.

In a new video produced by Give Back Cincinnati — the second in a series on new transportation options in the city — the creation and growth of Red Bike is explored.

Be sure to check out the first video in the series, which focused on the tri*Metro program, and stay tuned to UrbanCincy for the third and final part of the series.

Building Code Changes May Allow Higher-Density Midrise Construction

Changes adopted in the 2015 International Building Code (IBC), combined with advances in wood technology, may soon allow for taller midrise buildings at lower costs than what has previously been possible.

The importance of the changes to the IBC should not be overlooked, since it serves as a model building code throughout most of the United States. This means that states and local jurisdictions who lack the expertise to develop their own building code typically adopt a code written by an independent standards organization such as the International Code Council.

In fact, all 50 states and the federal government now use variations of the IBC, with the exception of Chicago which remains as the only major city in the United States with its own proprietary building code.

Under current codes, and with typical construction technology, the upper limit for a wood-frame building is five stories atop a one-story steel or concrete “podium” base that may include retail spaces, parking and/or other functions – essentially treating the two components of the building as two independent structures. What the revised IBC does is allow for the height of this podium base to be increased to more than one story, and recognizes the use of newer technologies such as cross-laminated timber in building construction.

This update does not yet apply to projects in Ohio, as the state has not yet adopted the 2015 version of the IBC. Also, height limits set by the IBC are distinct from those set by local zoning codes. In the case of a conflict between the provisions of two or more applicable codes, the more stringent provisions typically apply.

Such “One-Plus-Five” buildings are becoming increasingly common in American cities as neighborhoods within urban cores once again become desirable places to live. Local examples include U-Square at The Loop in Clifton Heights and the Gantry Apartments in Northside, both designed by Cincinnati-based CR Architecture + Design.

This building type and the forthcoming code changes offer a number of opportunities and challenges for urban neighborhoods.

The code changes are potentially good news for both the environment and affordable housing advocates. Wood construction, when it utilizes sustainable sources, is far less damaging to the environment than steel or concrete construction. It is also far less expensive, allowing new housing to be built and sold at a lower price point than would otherwise be possible.

The biggest concerns with multifamily wood-frame construction typically involve fire safety and noise transmission. Fire sprinkler systems are required throughout such projects; and while no fire protection system will ever be completely fail-safe, sprinklers prevent small fires from becoming large fires. In addition to the sprinklers, fire-rated assemblies prevent a fire from spreading from one portion of the structure to another. For example, the two-hour rated wall typically required between apartments usually consists of two layers of 5/8″ drywall on each side of 2×4 studs.

These and other measures also help prevent sound transmission between apartments.

As anybody who has lived in a large apartment building can attest, noisy neighbors can be a constant source of frustration and often form the bulk of complaints to the landlord. With wood-frame construction, the addition of resilient channels between the finish ceiling and the joists above, as well as a thin layer of concrete between the sub-floor and finish floor, can drastically reduce sound transmission.

None of this is intended as a commentary on the architectural merit of such projects, nor their appropriateness in particular neighborhoods. Building codes such as the IBC are almost solely concerned with matters of life safety and accessibility, while matters regarding density and appropriateness for a particular neighborhood would fall under the purview of local zoning codes.

As for architectural merit, such matters are up to the developer, the architect, and the community. Good taste isn’t something that can be dictated by statute.