UrbanCincy, Niehoff Studio to Host Regional Discussion on Wasson Corridor

In May 2013, UrbanCincy partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio to produce an event that highlighted the final work of engineering and urban planning students studying bus rapid transit and bikeways throughout the region. We then showcased their work and engaged the capacity crowd with a panel discussion between some of the region’s foremost experts on the subjects.

One of the hot topics at that event was the Wasson Corridor, which runs through the heart of Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods.

The Future of the Wasson Way Bike Trail and Light Rail Corridor

The corridor has long been in regional transit plans as the location for a light rail line, but recent advocacy efforts have been working to convert the abandoned freight rail right-of-way into a recreational trail for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Following UrbanCincy’s controversial editorial opposing the corridor’s conversion into a bike/ped trail, the conversation has shifted to one focused on creating a multi-modal corridor that accommodates the long-planned light rail and the newly envisioned recreational trail.

The next stage of that dialogue will occur this Thursday back at the Niehoff’s Community Design Center in Corryville.

Over the past semester, interdisciplinary students from the University of Cincinnati have been studying the Wasson Corridor and will be presenting their work at this event.

Following the open house where guests can view the final projects, UrbanCincy will then host a panel discussion with Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE); Eric Oberg, Manager of the Midwest Rails to Trails Conservancy; Mel McVay, Senior Planner at Cincinnati DOTE; Nern Ostendorf, Executive Director of Queen City Bike. The discussion will be moderated by UrbanCincy’s Jake Mecklenborg.

The event is free and open to the public. The open house portion of the evening will take place from 5pm to 6pm, and the panel discussion will follow immediately at 6pm and go until about 7:30pm.

Light food and refreshments will be provided and a cash bar will be available during the open house. The Niehoff’s Community Design Center can be accessed directly off of Short Vine at the southeast corner of Daniels and Vine Street.

Snow Accumulation Highlights Cincinnati’s Over-Engineered Streets through ‘Sneckdowns’

Our streets sometimes seem to be over-engineered. Their capacities are designed for peak usage, turning radii for the largest trucks, and speeds for the fastest movement. For the easy movement of cars and trucks this may be good, but for everyone else it is dangerous and less livable.

To combat such situations, many communities across the United States have begun building curb extension to help slow down traffic and make the public right-of-way more hospitable for everyone who is not in either a car or truck. Some people call these curb extensions, and similar improvements, neckdowns.

While most of our streets have not been improved in such a way, it becomes easy to see how and where neckdowns could be placed when it snows. This is because only the areas of the road that are used become cleared. The rest stay covered in snow and are a very obvious display of the aforementioned over-engineering.

During the city’s last snow event, the UrbanCincy team took to social media and asked Cincinnatians to submit photos of area sneckdowns – snowmade neckdowns. If you see any around your neighborhood make sure you take a shot of it and send it to editors@urbancincy.com, tweet us @UrbanCincy, or upload your photos in the comment section of this story.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

BuyCincy Holiday Event Aims to Give Local Shops $500,000 Bump

The final two months of the year are often the make-or-break month for retailers. In some cases this relatively short time period can account for more than a third of a retailer’s annual revenues.

There is always much hype surrounding what specials the big retailers are offering on Black Friday, but there are also opportunities to support small, locally owned businesses this holiday shopping season.

What was previously known as Cincinnati Unchained will return this year as an expanded four-day event meant to encourage area shoppers to support locally owned shops, restaurants and bars. The BuyCincy Holiday Event will take place the week before Black Friday from Thursday, November 21 to Sunday, November 24.

East Walnut Hills Retail
Woodburn Avenue in East Walnut Hills. Photograph provided by 5chw4r7z.

According to Kurt Myers, co-founder and business director of BuyCincy, this will mark the seventh season for the event and that in previous years some merchants have reported that it ends up being their busiest day of the year.

There are more than 300 businesses participating in this year’s event, and that those shops are located in over 25 neighborhoods throughout the region. Organizers say that their goal is to generate new spending from over 35,000 customers, which would create an estimated economic impact of more than $500,000 with each shopper spending approximately $15.

“Supporting locally owned businesses has a three-and-a-half-times greater impact on the economy than shopping at a store that is not owned locally,” Myers explained. “Plus you get to support your friends and neighbors businesses and keep Cincinnati unique.”

In order to help encourage local shoppers to participate in the event, the Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) is working with retailers to offer raffle prizes. When customers visit a participating business they will receive a ticket to use in the raffle of thousands of dollars of prizes. To help further promote the effort, organizers are also encouraging people to use the #BuyCincy tag on social media.

A full list of the participating businesses and neighborhood business districts can be found at BuyCincy.com. Those businesses that are still interested in participating can do so by registering online and submitting a $25 minimum raffle donation.

If you want to support local businesses but are not quite sure about what to buy for that special someone, then you can also purchase them a Downtown Gift Card, which is redeemable at 180 stores and restaurants in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, including all Findlay Market merchants. Those gift cards can be purchased online, at the offices for Downtown Cincinnati Inc., or at Findlay Market.

Cincinnati’s New-Found Buzz Helping Attract Retailers to Region

There were many significant achievements and trouble spots for Mayor Mark Mallory (D) over his past eight years as the face for the 2.1 million person Cincinnati region. Perhaps one of his largest accomplishments, however, was changing Cincinnati’s image nation-wide from a city in decline to one that is on the rise and doing innovative things.

For the first time national publications began to look at Cincinnati for its accomplishments in public education, sustainable redevelopment, environmental policy and even transport.

Yard House Cincinnati
Thanks in part to the aggressive marketing of Cincinnati by Mayor Mallory, new national chains like Yard House and Ruth’s Chris have begun filling store fronts throughout the city. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Each of these items involved a number of more detailed pursuits in order to make them happen. One of those pursuits was to attract new retail businesses to the region. In order to accomplish this, Mayor Mallory went on a full campaign touting the amenities and demographics Cincinnati has to offer.

After much work, the efforts started to yield fruit.

According to the mayor’s director of public affairs, Jason Barron, Mallory met personally with Potbelly (Downtown), Chipotle (Corryville, Downtown) and Panera Bread (Clifton Heights, Downtown) in an effort to get them to expand their presence inside city limits.

“We’ve been aggressive at national events for about six years now,” Barron explained. “We weren’t able to go this year in May, but Mayor Mallory has met with a number of these businesses over the years.”

The mayor also met directly with a number of other national chains in order to make the case that they open a location in Cincinnati. Those successes include Yard House (Downtown), Ruth’s Chris (Downtown), Orange Leaf (Clifton Heights, Downtown, Oakley, Westwood), Season’s 52 (Norwood), Capital Grill (Norwood), and Save-A-Lot (Roselawn).

For many of these businesses it was not only their first location in Cincinnati, but also their first in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana. Barron says that it is thanks in part to the efforts made by Mallory on the road at events like the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) annual meeting.

The efforts do require a bit of patience, as Barron says that not only has the administration been courting new businesses for years, they also believe that some of the benefits have yet to be realized.

“One of the things we’re always trying to do is create a buzz about Cincinnati to other leaders, businesses and investors,” said Barron. “The mayor’s making connections now that will pay off down the road.”

While the buzz can often times be attributed to the spirited Mallory, the mayor’s office is quick to point out that much of the heavy lifting has been done by local experts like Mark Fallon at Jeffrey R. Anderson. Most recently Fallon has been responsible for leasing both U Square at The Loop and The Banks.

More national brands appear to be on their way to Cincinnati, but the mayor’s office refuses to speak about the deals before they are finalized. But in addition to new restaurants and bars, Cincinnatians might expect to see other businesses opening up shop in the Queen City over the next one to two years.

Certainly chain restaurants are not the only retailers Cincinnati has been lacking, but the outside investment is certainly welcome. The next step will be to attract more clothing retailers to the city, and to expand the base of independent shops around town.

But luckily, as people close with the mayor might say, the buzz is starting to take shape.

Mayoral Election Will Impact Cincinnati’s Planning Future

Cincinnati is in the midst of revitalization. There have been several significant accomplishments achieved since 2007 when the city’s Planning Department was reconstituted. Initiatives such as Plan Cincinnati and the development of Form-based code have united regional leaders and communities to help build a shared vision of the city’s future.

These efforts could be affected drastically with the election of a new mayor on November 5th.

Qualls: Focus on vision and and consensus building:
In her time as Mayor in the 1990’s and when she returned to City Council in 2007 Roxanne Qualls (C) has been the leader in implementing a bold vision for Cincinnati through planning policies. In the 1990’s, Qualls lead the effort to narrow Fort Washington Way which allowed for the expansion of downtown and the conversion of the riverfront into a showcase for the city.

The award winning Banks Master Plan owes its existence and implementation to Qualls’s dedicated leadership in establishing the Riverfront Steering Committee which developed the plan. By the time Qualls returned to council the plan had advanced through Mayor Mark Mallory (D) who formed The Banks Working Group and began implementing the plan in 2008.

Qualls has also been active in developing Plan Cincinnati, the city’s recently adopted comprehensive plan. But since her return on council she has been more closely associated with bringing form-based codes to Cincinnati.

Since 2007 she has led several groups on tours to Nashville, TN and Columbus, OH to learn more about form-based codes and how they benefit cities. Last month, that vision became reality when Madisonville became the first city neighborhood to adopt the form-based code regulating plan.

The Cincinnati form-based code is a comprehensive land use regulation that was developed by the city through years of community participation. It is a code that emphasizes that new development be constructed in a form that integrates into the traditional character of the neighborhood.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cranley: Focus on removing barriers for developers:
Running against Qualls is former council-member John Cranley (D) who served on council from 2001 to 2009. He resigned from council in 2009 to pursue building a private development in East Price Hill.

The Incline Square project, located next to the Queens Tower apartment building, was envisioned to have a 22,500 square-foot office building be constructed along with a 58-unit four-story apartment building and restaurant space. Only the residential and restaurant portions of that development were built.

A review of Cranley’s track record on council had shown that early in his council career, he had been an advocate for making the city more “developer friendly.” In 2002, he was instrumental as chairman on the Budget & Finance Committee in dissolving the city’s long standing Planning Department, the oldest continuously running planning division in the country at the time.

The dissolution came over disagreements between the Planning Department and a developer in Oakley for the Center City of Cincinnati development. The unprecedented move generated a good amount of public outcry.

In 2002 Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “”The Planning Department was almost given the mission of causing problems, because it was completely divorced from economic incentives and any kind of market reality.”

However; Cranley did not oppose Mallory’s effort in 2007 to reestablish the department. He also signed a motion with Qualls on advancing form-based codes in 2008, but at a recent mayoral debate sponsored by the Urban Land Institute, Cranley strongly opposed them. He has also stated his opposition to planning and zoning, stating that the solution to neighborhood problems is money.

The outcome of this election will determine the future vision and progress of Cincinnati. That vision of progress is either one forged on grand visions and community outreach or one that favors minimizing regulations and oversight to increase development in the city.