Comprehensive Study Needed to Examine Cincinnati’s Migration Problem

Cincinnati has a problem with attracting immigrants.

While it is the largest metropolitan region in Ohio, Cincinnati lags behind both Cleveland and Columbus in attracting foreign migrants. Even as Cleveland continues to lose population and struggles with a weak economy, Cincinnati, with its much stronger economy and national recognition, attracts fewer of America’s newest residents.

More alarmingly, at 4.6%, Cincinnati ranks behind all of its regional competitors (Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) in percentage of foreign-born population. Columbus (10.5%) and Indianapolis (8.4%) have double or nearly-double the percentage of foreign born population. Cincinnati only bests Pittsburgh and Louisville in terms of attracting immigrants over the past three years.

International Migration 2010-2013

The United States as a whole continues to attract millions of new immigrants. They’re just not coming to Cincinnati at the same rate as elsewhere.

Mayor John Cranley’s (D) recent announcement to start an initiative to grow the immigrant population in Cincinnati is a welcome one. With statistics showing that immigrants are more likely than non-immigrant Americans to start a business, a flux of foreign residents would be good for Cincinnati’s economy in more than one way.

Cranley is not unique among mayors in cities across the nation that have suffered massive population losses since the 1950s. From Baltimore and Philadelphia, to Detroit and Dayton, cities across the country are now targeting immigrant communities in order to help bolster populations and foster economic growth.

Preferably, Cincinnati’s quest to attract new immigrants will be part of a larger plan to attract new residents, period. While lagging behind in attracting immigrants, the region also continues to shed existing residents to other parts of the country.

International - Domestic Migration in 2013

Local leaders should authorize a comprehensive study to find out why Cincinnati struggles so greatly with attracting domestic and international migrants. With a growing economy and incredible regional assets, there is no reason why Cincinnati should fail so miserably at attracting new people.

It may prove wise to set city funds aside to create some sort of media blitz that touts the benefits of the city and the surrounding region. With a recent Gallup poll showing that 138 million people around the world would choose to move to the United States if given the opportunity, the market for new immigrants is surely present. Some sort of economic incentive would help as well. Tax breaks for immigrant businesses and incentives to live within city limits will help attract immigrants of all economic levels.

It is not a stretch to imagine that Columbus’ ability to attract and retain so many more immigrants than Cincinnati is due to the presence of Ohio State University, one of the nation’s most prominent public universities. As a result, Cranley should take heed and foster greater cooperation between the City of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, using those nationally-recognized institutions to attract even more newcomers.

At the end of the day, however, immigration is a national issue. For that reason, regional leadership should be in active dialogue with Cincinnati’s Congressional delegation and lobby them to support immigration reform and initiatives that will help attract immigrants not just to the U.S. in general, but to the Cincinnati region specifically.

What can UC’s School of Planning do to improve its graduates’ AICP exam pass rates?

The American Planning Association recently published their annual summary of AICP Exam pass rates of graduates from accredited planning programs, and both the University of Cincinnati’s masters and bachelors programs have once come in near the bottom of their respective quartile.

While some industry professionals believe the AICP credential no longer means what is used to, it is still, by and large, the distinguishing professional certification for professional planners.

The University of Cincinnati (UC) is one of just a select group of universities in North America with accredited masters and bachelors planning programs. Between 2004 and 2013, 65 out of 100 Master of Community Planning graduates passed the exam while 34 out of 68 Bachelor of Urban Planning graduates achieved a passing score. The total number of graduates taking the exam for both programs ranks them in the first and second quartiles respectively.

AICP Exam Pass Rates - Bachelor Programs
AICP Exam Pass Rates - Masters Programs

But while the overall number of planning students graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s planning programs is one of the highest in North America, their AICP Exam pass rates of 65% and 50% rank them near the bottom of their respective peers. These average scores also place both programs below the mean pass rate of 71% for accredited planning programs.

“The pass rates for both the MCP and BUP programs are very disappointing,” stated Dr. Danilo Palazzo, Director of UC’s School of Planning. “We have already met with the leadership from the Cincinnati section of APA Ohio and are devising a plan to make our students better aware of the topics covered by the AICP exam.”

One of the ways in which UC officials are hoping to improve this standing is by instituting a new course that would provide an AICP overview for those approaching graduation. The new course, however, does not yet have funding to support it twice per year as envisioned.

“I would like to believe that the pass rates are not a good reflection of the caliber of the professional planning education offered by our programs, though I will not make excuses. These low pass rates are unacceptable,” Dr. Palazzo emphasized. “We are very much open to the comments and suggestions from members of the AICP community, and would appreciate any actionable suggestions from your readers.”

Ohio State University’s Master of City and Regional Planning program, meanwhile, was the only other program in Ohio to be ranked. Its graduates passed the AICP Exam 75% of the time.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy’s owner and managing editor, Randy Simes, is a 2009 graduate of the UC’s Bachelor of Urban Planning program, and UrbanCincy’s local area manager, John Yung, is a 2013 graduate of UC’s Master of Community Planning program. Neither John nor Randy has applied to take the AICP exam.

Large vacant buildings should be transitioned into urban community centers

Could the Bartlett Building be transformed into something completely different? Photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

Throughout the United States there are cities that have large vacant buildings and spaces in their central business district that could be utilized in a new efficient way.

In Cincinnati, the old School for the Creative & Performing Arts was recently auctioned off and is slated to be turned into apartments. In the CBD the Bartlett Building, Tower Place Mall, and Terrace Plaza Hotel remain empty or nearly empty and take up about one-fourth of a city block each.

Some think these buildings could be prime residential properties, but they could be that and more. A large vacant building, for example, could be developed into a mixed use community center.

My inspiration actually came from the Up To Speed story on UrbanCincy about a rock climbing gym in St. Louis. I thought to myself that Cincinnati can have something similar and better. Downtown Cincinnati and OTR/Pendleton are becoming destinations for young adults and families for both restaurants and bars.

Turning a large vacant building into a destination point for physical and social activity would add a whole new dimension to the city. The following ideas are what could go collectively into a large empty building:

  • Rock Climbing Gym – With the exception of the UC recreation center, all of the rock climbing centers are on the outer edge of the city.
  • Paintball Arena – This would be an extremely unique idea for the area as there are minimal indoor paintball facilities and could be a draw for different work or teambuilding groups.
  • Exercise Gym/Running Track – The gyms downtown are mostly old and do not offer enough space or have odd floor plans. Renovating a vacant building would allow plenty of space with tall ceilings and large windows that could allow natural light and have a large open space for exercise equipment. A downtown gym with enough space can offer a full menu of classes including Crossfit, spinning, yoga and Zumba, to bring in a broad range of people looking to exercise. A running track a fraction of the size of an outdoor track could be installed for those that do not like treadmill, but want to run indoors.
  • Basketball Court/Indoor Soccer – Large office buildings could utilize a few stories to carve out a basketball/indoor soccer surface and hold leagues and practices for area schools and AAU teams.
  • Batting Cages/Pitching Tunnels – The basement of a building could be an ideal area for batting cages and pitching tunnels for baseball and softball practice during the cold months. These cages and tunnels are easily moved and can be repositioned to make room for more activities inside the building.
  • Golf Simulators/Nets/Putting Green – This would be another unique addition to an urban area with little green space for golf. Workers could play a quick round during their lunch break or warm up before they go out to one of Cincinnati or Hamilton County’s public courses. This would also allow for urban dwellers a space they could walk to for golf lessons.
  • Offices – With additional amenities a building would become more attractive to businesses.
  • Apartments – To make the building a true mixed use development, apartments could be added as this would be a true “luxury apartment” with a real gym (unlike those found at too many apartment complexes that only have a treadmill and Bowflex and call it a gym) and the ability to walk to some of the most popular dining destinations in the city.

To compare a potential community center downtown with other recreational centers, the Recreation & Physical Activity Center at Ohio State University has a total of 570,000 square feet of space including the pools, while 25,000 square feet is fitness space for weights and treadmills. By contrast, the Campus Recreation Center at the University of Cincinnati has 202,000 square feet including its pools.

The options of what to include in these large, empty spaces are endless, but a truly mixed use development would be better suited for the community than simply offices, apartments, and art studio space. The gyms downtown are old and do not offer enough space, or have odd floor plans. Rock climbing and paintball would draw younger crowds, and the students in the area could benefit from having additional practice facilities.

A neighborhood needs young families as well as young professionals. This would be a good start to try and draw them to the core and keep them there.

Brian Valerio grew up in Cincinnati’s College Hill neighborhood and graduated from St. Xavier High School and Ohio State University where he studied finance and real estate. He currently works at Fifth Third Bank and lives downtown. Those interested in sharing their thoughts can submit guest editorials to UrbanCincy by emailing urbancincy@gmail.com. Please include a short bio with any submissions.