Cincy Stories Aims to Bring Neighbors Together Through Storytelling

Cincy Stories Poster - 020315 (1)-page-001One of the great aspects of urban life is the ability to meet new people and be exposed to diverse ideas you have not encountered before. Many of us, however, seem to take this fact for granted, and do not often engage in conversations with neighbors or other people we encounter throughout the city.

The creators of Cincy Stories, a new event series, hope to change exactly that. The quarterly event aims to bring people together to share stories personal from their lives.

“Cincy Stories is about intimately connecting to our neighbors and just sharing stories like people do in their living rooms or around their dining room tables,” event co-founder Shawn Braley told UrbanCincy.

Braley says that the event is modeled after others, such as The Moth in New York. Cincinnati has also had several previous recurring storytelling events like this, including UrbanCincy‘s urban campfire storytelling event in East Walnut Hills.

The first Cincy Stories will feature three speakers: Cincinnati City Council Member Chris Seelbach, OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, and mixologist-entrepreneur Molly Wellmann. It will be held on Tuesday, February 3 at 7pm in the Sword Room at MOTR Pub. The event is free and open to anyone who would like to come and listen.

You can follow Cincy Stories on Facebook for more information about this and future events.

Why Does Kroger Continue to Avoid Urban Store Model in Cincinnati?

Kroger is one of the Queen City’s prized Fortune 500 gems. The company was founded here in 1883 and has grown into the nation’s largest grocer, and one of the nation’s largest retailers overall. While the company has done much good for the city, the question is now being asked if they are now content with their hometown market.

While public officials work to rid the city of its food deserts, Kroger has been largely absent from the conversation. Furthermore, the grocer’s remaining stores throughout the city are seemingly in a constant state of fear of closure. Cincinnati still has Kroger stores in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, but many have either fallen into disrepair or are showcases of urban design failures.

In 2008, Kroger rebuilt its East Price Hill store to the pleasure of city and neighborhood leaders. The possibility of losing the neighborhood’s only full-service grocery store was a real concern. While shiny and new, the rebuilt store now sits more than 100 feet off of Warsaw Avenue, with a sea of parking and a Kroger Fueling Station in front.

Mt. Washington had their neighborhood Kroger built in 1999. In this case, the parking for the store is off to the side of the building, and it sits right along Beechmont Avenue. However, the building includes virtually no windows, and instead of serving as an anchor for the business district is more of an eyesore. While its site plan differs from Kroger’s East Price Hill store, both are still oriented to cars, not the pedestrians or cyclists that make the respective neighborhood business districts attractive.

As UrbanCincy reported yesterday, Kroger is now working with transit officials to improve bus facilities in and around their Walnut Hills store in Peeble’s Corner. But aside from that, the store is essentially defined by the same story as its Mt. Washington counterpart.

In Corryville a different story is unfolding. First developed in the 1960s as part of what is now seen as an awful urban renewal project, Kroger’s uptown store is one of its worst. Fortunately the store will soon be torn down, but after years of discussions with neighborhood leaders and developers, it sounds as if the new store will be not much different from the existing one in terms of its form or function.

Kroger stores in Winton Place and Westwood, and the one currently under construction in Oakley, are nothing more than urban design atrocities ignorant of their surroundings.

Of course, all of this goes without discussing the poor state of Kroger’s Over-the-Rhine store, which practically sits in the shadow of the company’s global headquarters, or the fact that Kroger has yet to actively pursue a store for the city’s exploding residential population downtown.

Meanwhile, approximately 80 miles south along I-75, Kroger has worked with community leaders in Lexington on a new store near the University of Kentucky. The newly opened 86,000-square-foot store is two stories tall with parking situated on the building’s rooftop. The structure is built to the street, includes facades with windows, café seating both inside and out, local food offerings, and has been designed with the surrounding community in mind.

In short, Lexington’s brand new Kroger shines as an example for what the Cincinnati-based company could and should build in its hometown.

Cincinnati is fortunate to have Kroger headquartered here; and the half-dozen or so neighborhoods that have a store are surely thankful to not be left stranded, but at some point Cincinnati should demand better from its hometown company. It is not too late for Kroger to get it right in Corryville, Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, or any of the city’s existing neighborhoods without any access to a full-service grocer.

Mechanical Optimizers Aiming to Help Area Nonprofits Assess, Update Facilities

Local contracting companies, from air conditioners to electricians, have teamed up to form a group called Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits with the upkeep of their operations.

The newly formed group creates, for the first time, a single point of contact for an audit of a nonprofit’s building’s situation and help with the budgeting and finding grants and funds for the project. All of this, remarkably, is done free of charge for the area’s churches, mosques and many other private institutions.

Jeff Wilmink, an executive at Century Mechanical Solutions since 2012, said that he noticed an acute need for long-term strategies for local nonprofits to maintain their buildings. He told UrbanCincy that he saw institutions were not spending money on proper upkeep and were repairing things that long needed to be replaced. With no master plan for how/what to fix, these nonprofits were putting band-aids on visible problems while invisible problems were compounding, thus creating crisis situations that cost much more money to fix.

With this in mind, he created Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits be proactive and find funds to proactively tackle such projects. When I asked Jeff whether there was a light-bulb moment for this idea to come about, he told me of a call he received from the pastor at St. Louis Church downtown.

The pastor, he said, called because of a noise coming from the basement. After traversing an old, narrow stairway with limited access and even more limited use, Wilmink’s team found an ancient boiler that was leaking, and a basement covered in asbestos. The emergency fix needed for St. Louis Church ended up being much more costly than it would have otherwise been if fixed sooner.

There is not much blame to lay, either. Leaders of nonprofit organizations often do not know or understand the mechanical problems going on in their buildings and, therefore, do not know to fix it. In addition, technicians will often solve superficial problems that create short-term fixes, but neither party tends to think about what will need to be done in a year, five years or ten years.

Add this to the tight budgets of local nonprofits, and many cruise from emergency to emergency without ever fixing the underlying problems in their aging buildings.

“It’s irritating that we’ve allowed these buildings to get in the condition they’re in,” said Wilmink. He continued by saying that many institutions will spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic fixes while the mechanics of their building are literally rotting; or spend $25,000 every other year to fix a unit in order to save $75,000 upfront.

Mechanical Optimizers comes into the equation by offering to provide a free assessment of a nonprofit’s building. Then, after telling “the blunt truth” about what it will take to fix it right, Wilmink and his team will help locate grants and create a budget for fixing the problem and updating aged equipment.

The goal is to be smarter about maintaining a building’s mechanical systems so that high-priced emergency projects do not emerge later. Furthermore, Wilmink says that the very nature of these buildings – churches, mosques, markets, etc. – means finding funds can often be easier once the problem is identified, because someone is typically willing to step up and donate money to help out.

There is, as you might suspect, more to it for Mechanical Optimizers than the charitable work. Once they complete their free assessment, Wilmink says that they will often times submit a bid to perform the work like they would for any other project. Essentially, Mechanical Optimizers has found a way to combine charitable work with their daily business operations. At the same time, this “no agenda” charity is helping many local nonprofits save thousands of dollars.

One of the biggest savings that nonprofits typically receive comes from technology and equipment that can replace outdated systems with ultra-efficient units.

When asked about how government policies help or hinder his efforts, Wilmink pointed to a recent program in New Jersey where the state will pay 80% of the costs for upgrading systems and improving efficiency. The money for the program, he explained, comes from funds utility companies there are mandated to set aside for the state to use for such purposes.

In addition to St. Louis Catholic Church, Wilmink says that Mechanical Optimizers has worked on Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Findlay Market, the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and a slew of other buildings throughout the region.

Pointing to the work’s importance, the contractors involved with the group say that they will do whatever it takes to offer up their help and get the project done.

“If you want our help, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”

Prefabricated tiny living spaces are on their way to America’s biggest city

While the concept of living in micro-apartments is not new to many cities around the world, it is a fairly novel concept in North America where large dwelling units have traditionally dominated the marketplace. That, however, is changing and we are excited to be covering the emergence tiny living in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, New York City will soon celebrate the arrival of its first prefabricated “microunits” that will make up the city’s first tower of such apartment units. More from The Atlantic:

For another, this will be the city’s first “microunit” building. In 2013, its design won a city-sponsored “micro-housing” competition devoted to compact housing for single occupants. (Forty-six percent of Manhattan households are made up of one adult.) The architects, Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang, hope that large windows, high ceilings, and floor plans featuring multipurpose living areas—fold-up furniture sold separately—will make the apartments feel more spacious than their 255 to 360 square feet.

Bunge says that drafting a modular, microunit building is, in terms of complexity and precision, something like designing a car. The little boxes flirt with minimum-habitable-space laws as well as mandates regarding disability access, so there is absolutely no room for error. “If we were to … change drywall from half an inch to five-eighths,” he says, running his fingers across some plaster, “we’re screwed.”

Episode #46: 2014 in Review

New Parking MetersOn the 46th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, John, and Travis take a look back at 2014. We discuss our top posts of the year, including the renaissance beginning to take place in the Northern Liberties and new transportation options including Uber, Lyft, and Red Bike. We also make some predictions about what’s the come in 2015, including the expansion of Red Bike into other Cincinnati neighborhoods and Northern Kentucky, new residential developments opening in 2015, and new potential uses for the Riverfront Transit Center. Finally, we discuss the new parking meters and expanded enforcement hours that went into effect on January 1st for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.