Knight Foundation Announces Nearly 150 Finalists For Cities Challenge

The Knight Foundation will announce their list of finalists in the Knight Cities Challenge today. The finalists have been pulled from a collection of more than 4,500 ideas submitted through the challenge to help improve the vibrancy of cities throughout America.

The competition, as with all Knight Foundation grants, is limited to the 26 communities where the organization focuses its efforts. The nearest cities to Cincinnati include Akron and Lexington – both of which were places where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers.

“Through the challenge we want to find new voices and new ideas that capture the three key ingredients of city success—talent, opportunity and engagement,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “We see these as essential to the challenge and to building stronger futures for all of our cities.”

Akron has become a bit of a darling in the Knight Foundation group as many efforts originating their so tightly align with the non-profit’s core values. In fact, this past October Akron grabbed national headlines when it staged a 500-person dinner on an underutilized highway in the heart of the city – an effort the Knight Foundation supported financially.

The winners of this year’s challenge will be awarded grants to implement their ideas from a pool of $5 million. The target, program officials say, is to invest in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. Such a model is similar to what People’s Liberty has taken on here in Cincinnati.

Three projects that may prove of interest to leaders here in the Queen City include the Tree Debris to Opportunity project in Boulder, and the New Flavors Food Truck project in North Dakota.

In Boulder, city officials are looking to turn tree debris into an opportunity by training members of the community looking for new skills into collectors and artisans. Through the project, participants would work with the city to collect tree debris and turn it into furniture and art – thus improving the cleanliness of the city and providing the participants with new skills.

In Cincinnati, such a program could potentially help bolster Mayor John Cranley‘s Hand Up Initiative which is aiming to lift 4,000 Cincinnatians out of poverty, while also helping improve the cleanliness of city neighborhoods.

The proposal for the New Flavors Food Truck looks to capitalize on the continued popularity and low-cost of food trucks. In this effort, the organizers would use a generic food truck to provide opportunities to new immigrants to start new food service businesses or restaurants.

With Cincinnati placing a growing interest in embracing and growing its immigrant population, an idea akin to this might serve as a good building block to empower those individuals.

The Knight Foundation will select the winners from this pool of nearly 150 finalists later this spring.

Over-the-Rhine Exhibit Offers Place-Based Look At Neighborhood’s Past

Internet forums often serve as a popular location for people to share historical photos of the cities they love, but a new project from a People’s Liberty grantee is bringing that historical looking glass to the streets of Over-the-Rhine.

Anne Delano Steinert, a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati studying urban and public history, says that she came up with the idea after enjoying place-based historical projects elsewhere – including Jay Shell’s rap lyrics project in New York City, RepoHistory’s work on Civil Disturbances (1998-1999) and Queer Spaces (1994), and The Museum in the Streets in Hastings-On-Hudson, New York.

The idea she employs is simple. She posts historical photos in public places to contrast what that view looked like generations ago. Her initial effort has focused on Over-the-Rhine, but has the possibility of expanding to other places depending on funding and demand.

The project, called Look Here!, is already offering a refreshing analog experience in a city so often defined by tech and digital communications. It is even more beneficial due to the fact that it is equally available for all to experience, regardless of income or access to technology.

“I strongly believe that all of us, regardless of age, class, or training have the ability to read the built environment as a way to enrich our understanding of the past,” Steinert explains. “As a result, I have chosen to post only historic photographs without informational text. The exhibit relies on you to read the photographs, ask questions and make meaning for yourself.”

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Steinert says that she hopes this exploration leads people to conduct their own additional exploration and research. She also hopes that it serves as a bridge between the established residents of the historical neighborhood, and the many newcomers.

“The rapid change happening in Over-the-Rhine makes it an ideal location for the exhibit,” Steinert says. “As buildings are rehabilitated and new users join long-established residents, it is important to root the present in an understanding of the past. As the neighborhood evolves, this exhibition will allow Cincinnatians to make connections between the past and the present.”

The 69 exhibits positioned throughout Over-the-Rhine are planned to stay in place through March 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 17 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy in December 2015.

Groundbreaking For Region’s First Tiny Homes To Take Place This Wednesday

After a year of work, Cincinnati’s first modern iterations of tiny living will soon become a reality when ground is broken on Wednesday, October 14.

The project was made possible through People’s Liberty, which awarded one of its first two Haile Fellowships to Brad Cooper last December. Since that time, Cooper, a professionally trained architect, has been working on the designs for the two homes.

Throughout the process, Cooper says that he has come across various challenges, but some of the most pressing have been related to the economics behind the homes. One of the driving goals of the project has been to create affordable living options for working class individuals. As a result, early on he partnered with the Over-the-Rhine Community Housing to secure the purchase of the two properties on Peete Street for just $1.

One of the homes is being made available to anyone interested in purchasing it, and will be listed at $200,000. This will include solar power generation on-site and a 15-year tax abatement valued at $98,000. The other home will be restricted to those that meet annual income qualifications set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Cincinnati region.

“Hindsight provides some extra knowledge,” Cooper told UrbanCincy. “I would have liked the pricing to be less than what they’re set at now, but I still think it’s a good deal.”

While Cooper believes strongly in the final product, he does wish that some things were done differently in order to help reduce costs even more. In particular, that would have included completing the geotechnical investigation earlier and selecting a general contractor earlier in the process.

One of the changes made to the design for the income restricted home was the removal of the parking space. When the initial designs were unveiled on UrbanCincy, the incorporation of parking spaces for both homes was a major sticking point for many readers.

“Most people that have been to the site want a parking space and the surrounding neighbors agree,” Cooper explained. “It could be something a homeowner says they don’t want and we’ll have that conversation.”

Another criticism of the project has been that the two tiny homes might not be appropriate for a neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine that is populated with larger, multi-family buildings. Cooper says that he is looking forward to doing another project that is multi-family somewhere else in the neighborhood.

“Over-the-Rhine is ideal for micro living because anything you need is a short walk away, but that’s not exclusive to OTR,” said Cooper. “Cincinnati has some great inner ring neighborhoods.”

While higher densities may be the future for micro-apartments in Cincinnati, the two tiny homes on Peete Street – the first of their kind in Cincinnati – are something Cooper and People’s Liberty say they are proud to have introduced to the region.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work on a development project totally different than what’s being built today in Cincinnati,” Cooper said. “People’s Liberty offers the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and dream big by diving deep into a challenge without requiring traditional performance metrics or revenue generation.”

The groundbreaking for the two tiny homes will take place at 5:30pm at 144 Peete Street this Wednesday. The free event is open to the public, and will include light food, cider and complimentary polaroid photos of guests digging on-site.

Based on early interest, Cooper says that he expects to close on the first home by the end of the month. Those that are interested in purchasing either of the homes can contact him at BradCooper@peoplesliberty.org, or submit an inquiry on the project’s website.

Neighborhood Group Attempting To Establish Museum Focused on Over-the-Rhine

For those of us who worry that Over-the-Rhine is in the process of losing its history to a swarm of new development and residents who know little about the previous lives of the neighborhood, there is a new group, of which I am part, which is working to address that very issue.

The impetus behind the Over-the-Rhine Museum, which is still in its formation stage, is to create a space where people can come to “discover and interpret the history of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood from its earliest inception through to the present.”

The goal is to accomplish this by using the stories of real people who have lived in specific buildings in OTR to show how the neighborhood has changed over time.

The museum plans to share not only stories of the neighborhood’s celebrated German heritage, but also stories of the Appalachian and African American residents that have helped to define the neighborhood more recently – creating a comprehensive history of the neighborhood over the past century and a half.

The Over-the-Rhine Museum group is in the early stages of forming and is basing itself on the model used by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, which is located in another neighborhood with a strong immigrant influence that has changed dramatically over time.

While the Over-the-Rhine Museum does not yet have a physical location, the plan is to establish a pop-up museum in the near future, with the exhibits based on the specific space where the pop-up will be held. Any historic building in OTR can fit the bill for the pop-up space or the permanent museum because, as founding member Anne Steinert says, “all of these buildings have stories to tell.”

Those interested in getting involved with the effort, or simply learning more, can participate in a walking tour of historic tenement buildings around Findlay Market on Sunday, October 4. Tickets for the OTR Tenement Walking Tour cost $10 and can be purchased online.

Group organizers say that they are also planning to host a storytelling event over the winter. Additional questions regarding how to get involved can be directed at otrmuseum@gmail.com.

OTR Leaders Close to Turning Pleasant Street Into Neighborhood Connector

A coalition of community organizations organized a public event on July 11 that encouraged people to explore Pleasant Street and showcase it as a model pedestrian pathway connecting two of Over-the-Rhine’s biggest anchors.

Neighborhood leaders have long wanted to better connect Washington Park with Findlay Market via Pleasant Street. The effort really gained traction when the first phase of City Home was developed at the southern terminus of the street in 2012. Prior to that, however, the street was one of the worst in the neighborhood in terms of the status of its buildings and the street itself. That has changed.

The recently held event closed off the narrow street to vehicular traffic so that people could better visualize how a pedestrian-friendly Pleasant Street might look and feel.

In coordination with that event, an ongoing public art project, entitled Alternate Steps, has overseen the installation of several pop-up pocket parks along the corridor between Washington Park and Findlay Market. The first example of this is a wiffle ball field that doubles as a working garden that supports Findlay Market’s other production gardens.

Built adjacent to the former AVP Volleyball court, Field of Greens is a partnership between People’s Liberty, Findlay Market, 3CDC, OTR Community Council, and a bundle of classes at the University of Cincinnati.

Organizers say the overarching goal is to foster a better connection between the areas both north and south of Liberty Street in OTR.

“The idea is to encourage pedestrian traffic,” said Erica Bolenbaugh. “Actually thousands of people walked by today and we are in hope to have them provide feedback on which options are most appealing.”

The most recent part of this effort is a seating option made with tires that was designed by a graduate-level architecture program at UC. The participants in the MetroLAB program say that they have been working with residents through various community engagement activities to determine how residents and the community would like to use the street.

“It was very important for us to engage the Pleasant Street community in this process,” explained Findlay Market’s executive director, Joe Hansbauer. “We wanted this project to be as community-led as possible.”

While the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine has come with some criticisms that it has not been inclusive enough, considering the diverse range of incomes in the neighborhood, the university team is working to show that even good design and ideas can be implemented and used by everyone.

As a result the MetroLAB team designed an outdoor kitchen, that they hope to install soon, that was made of used plastic baskets. The idea is that it is something that is scalable and can be done by just about anyone, regardless of their economic standing.

“We used low price materials to let people know that this is something that they could build in their own backyard,” Michael Zaretsky, Director of MetroLAB, told UrbanCincy. “We are working on a permit for one of those parklets; hopefully we can make this great idea come true in the early August.”