Lower Price Hill Community School Aiming to Rebuild Neighborhood, Lives through Cooperative Approach

The efforts to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods across the country have been well-documented, but it is not often that these efforts revolve around a truly cooperative approach. But this is exactly what Lower Price Hill Community School’s (LPHCS) Community Matters non-profit organization is trying to do.

Lower Price Hill is a relatively small neighborhood in terms of size, but its central location, historic building stock, and close proximity to both the Ohio River and Downtown make it extremely important.

The neighborhood was originally built in the 19th century in order to provide housing for workers in the Mill Creek Valley. Today the neighborhood is largely made up of Appalachians and a more recent influx of Hispanic immigrants from Guatemala.

Knowing the community inside and out, LPHCS, which is also is made up of a second non-profit called Education Matters, has developed a unique model of community redevelopment that places the neighborhood’s residents at the center of decision making and management. To this end, Community Matters will soon embark on a number of cooperative initiatives that will aim to both empower neighborhood residents and also provide them with something their neighborhood needs.

The Sanctuary - Lower Price Hill
Interior rendering of The Sanctuary upon completion. Image provided.

“While we’re doing all of these projects, we want to help provide jobs to these groups and folks in the city, but also help employ folks in the community and even give them some ownership,” Mike Moroski, Director of Outreach Services at LPHCS, explained in a phone interview.

The first project is an $8.2 million renovation of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish buildings.

In order to move this project forward, the neighborhood took it upon itself to raise the first $2 million and using that as a commitment in order to leverage an additional $6.2 million in state and federal tax credits. Once complete, the renovated buildings will serve as a community focal point and special events venue, called The Sanctuary.

The next project will be a laundromat called Washing Well, which will feature eight washers and eight dryers. Due to the age of the neighborhood and low average household incomes, most residents need to use laundromats, but none currently exist in Lower Price Hill.

Moroski says that Washing Well will be an earned-income venture at first for Community Matters, but will be owned and managed by the Lower Price Hill community, with its revenues eventually going back into the neighborhood to support additional investment while also covering the costs of operating the laundromat.

During this process, LPHCS will also develop a co-op service learning center, along Warsaw Avenue, to support its existing GED program and a new Cincinnati State satellite operation, both of which will be managed by Education Matters.

After that Community Matters will move forward with renovating Urban Appalachian Council’s former building at Eighth and State Streets, which will then become the home of Jack’s Diner – the neighborhood’s only restaurant.

Moroski says that they decided to name it Jack’s Diner after one of LPHCS’ most engaged workers who developed a passion for the food industry after going through the Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati Cooks program.

Jack will manage the restaurant and has even come up with the idea of doing bike delivery service from the restaurant to businesses in Queensgate. Like the new Laundromat, the restaurant will start as an earned-income venture, but then be turned over to the community as a co-op.

In addition to all of this, Moroski says that Community Matters will open a thrift store, choice food pantry, and launch a business incubator in conjunction with Xavier University.

The cooperative visions for Lower Price Hill do not end, or even begin, with this wave of initiatives. When talking with Moroski, it is easy to see that Waterfields serves as a major inspiration for Community Matters.

Waterfields began operating in 2013 as an urban warehouse that provides restaurants with fresh micro-greens, and makes a point of employing Lower Price Hill residents at their rapidly growing aquaponics company. One of the company’s two founders also lives in the neighborhood.

Oyler School is another bright spot for the community. Since its $21 million renovation in 2012, it has been viewed as a national model for community involvement and engagement, attracting visits from prominent leaders from around the country to learn from its successes.

“What Dan started at Waterfields, what we’re doing, and with what Oyler is doing; all of these forces combining at one time is very cool,” exclaimed Moroski. “It’s all right here.”

Lower Price Hill is, perhaps, one of Cincinnati’s more overlooked neighborhoods, but with a strong neighborhood school, engaged community group, rapidly growing local food production business, laundromat, community and events center, restaurant and more all owned and managed by the community, the future only seems strong.

Those who want to help facilitate the process are encouraged to contribute to the LPHCS IndieGoGo campaign to help provide funding for these new initiatives. And Moroski says to be on the lookout for unique events that will be held throughout the year, culminating in the fall with what he is billing a “big blowout” event to close out the campaign in early October.

“With one donation you can support green energy, co-op business models, creation of pathways to careers, re-imagining historic buildings for new use, and the breathing of renewed life into a beautiful neighborhood.”

Retooling Cincinnati’s Industrial Neighborhoods for the 21st Century

In the last few years, evidence has shown the possibility for a revival of manufacturing within the United States. Recent trends have seen the “reshoring” of factories – with polls showing more and more companies considering the move – and the expansion and opening of new factories as well.

Much of this reindustrialization has occurred in the South and, for the most part, outside major urban areas. For far too long cities, especially northern cities in the Rust Belt, have written off an economy based on manufacturing as something from a bygone era, never to come back.

Spring Grove Village
Once viable industrial neighborhoods like Spring Grove Village have made way for the proliferation of car dealerships and fast food restaurants. Could their future be something greater? Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Cities from Cleveland to Flint have tried to reinvent themselves as a something like a Rust Belt version of Portland, Oregon, thus turning their back on any sort of industrial and economic policy in the hopes that gentrification and arts will revive their city.

While these sorts of developments have a place in economic policy for American cities, it is an unwise move for industrial cities such as Cincinnati to turn their backs on the opportunity to attract industry into the city once again.

Cincinnati is well-positioned to capitalize on a manufacturing renaissance in the nation. With incredible industrial infrastructure, an already heavy industrial sector in the region, and an incredible amount of vacant space, the city can create an economy where the bustling coffee shops and boutiques of Over-the-Rhine are only a short walk from the buzz of manufacturing (advanced and traditional alike) in Queensgate and the West End.

The days of entire cities being built upon industrial production have passed, that is without a doubt. But when urbanists discuss cities with mixed-use, diverse economies, manufacturing must be included.

These higher-than-average paying jobs could attract residents and revitalize neighborhoods. Through aggressive economic and industrial planning in the city, zoning that doesn’t ignore manufacturing, labor cooperation, and innovative education initiatives, Cincinnati could become a nationwide example of a city building a solid, diversified economic foundation on which to reclaim its storied past and prepare for a healthy future.

Editor’s Note: Jacob D. Fessler is a new member of the UrbanCincy team. He grew up in Northern Kentucky’s Erlanger community and went on to study International Relations and Latin American Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, and is currently studying International Affairs at the University of Cincinnati.

Jake will focus on urban economics and specifically examine policies that impact our region’s industrial – and thus economic – competitiveness. How and what can Cincinnati do to inject new life and jobs into the Mill Creek Valley? How should our community leaders be looking to improve earnings and the financial health and stability of our residents? These are the kinds of questions he will be exploring. Please join us in welcoming Jake to our team!

PHOTOS: Holidays in the City [Cincinnati]

It has been quite a year in Cincinnati and it’s easy to sometimes get caught up in all the drama and miss out on the everyday beauty around you. This has been particularly true in Cincinnati this holiday season, but we asked one of our favorite local photographers, Brian Spitzig, to go around and gather some photographs these past two months.

If his name sounds familiar, that might be because you are remembering when we featured two of Brian’s tilt-shift videos on UrbanCincy in February 2012 and March 2012.

After reaching out to Brian again he put together the following collection of 48 photographs from all over the city that capture it in its holiday splendor. If you like Brian’s photos as much as we do, then please follow him on Twitter @b_spitz and on Instagram @bspitz.

This will be our last post this year, but we hope you all had a very wonderful 2013 and wish you the best in the year to come. Enjoy!

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EDITORIAL: Localizing Operating Costs for Streetcar Sets Dangerous Precedent

On Thursday morning Mayor John Cranley (D) called a press conference for a “major” announcement. He was joined by leadership of labor unions representing city workers, along with Councilman Kevin Flynn (C).

So what was the big news? Well, Mayor Cranley had announced that he would be willing to continue the Cincinnati Streetcar project that has already received direct voter approval twice, support of City Council, appropriated funds for its entire project cost, and began construction, if streetcar supporters could come up with a private funding commitment that would cover all operating costs for the first phase of the system over the next 30 years.

Oh yeah, and he asked that those boosters kindly secure that $60-80 million commitment in one week’s time.

Cincinnati Streetcar Construction Work at Government SquareUtility relocation work proceeded near Government Square on November 16, but whether that work will ever resume is up to Mayor Cranley and Councilmembers David Mann and Kevin Flynn. Photograph by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Aside from the unprecedented request, a first of its kind for any transit program in America, it is troubling for two other key reasons. First, it sets a dangerous new precedent for how city government operates in Cincinnati, and secondly it is an obscene double standard for transit projects to force such a financial commitment.

Dangerous Precedent
With labor union representatives at his side, Mayor Cranley continually stated how he has an obligation to deliver the basic services we all cherish, and said that Cincinnati has a difficult enough time meeting current financial liabilities, much less new ones. As a result, he demanded that the private sector and streetcar supporters, should they actually support the project, put their skin in the game and fund its operations for the next 30 years.

That is all great campaign rhetoric, which Cranley used brilliantly leading up to the November 5 election, but it is completely irrational.

If the City of Cincinnati cannot afford any new financial liabilities, then will Mayor Cranley and his administration be requesting operating plans and financing for those new efforts from anything that comes to his desk? He has stated he wants to hire 200 new police officers, but who will shoulder the ongoing financial liability that will place on the City’s operating budget? Cranley has said he does not want to raise taxes, so that leaves only making cuts elsewhere to free up money for such a huge expansion of public safety forces.

Being and true and blue west sider that Mt. Lookout resident John Cranley is, he also supports the proposed Westwood Square project. While UrbanCincy also wholeheartedly supports that project and the form-based code it was borne out of, we have never seen a financing plan for it or any estimate for what its ongoing costs will be to the City. If “no new liabilities” means “no new liabilities” then we are concerned that Mayor Cranley’s new approach to governance will jeopardize the Westwood Square project.

Westwood SquareMayor Cranley’s dangerous new precedent might put the advancement of such projects as Westwood Square at-risk. If not, it would create a massive double standard. Image provided.

In addition to the Cincinnati Streetcar, 200 new police officers and Westwood Square, this new heavy-handed approach will also jeopardize the Wasson Way Trail, future phases of Smale Riverfront Park, improvements to the city’s waste collection operations, the rebuild of the Western Hills Viaduct, completion of the Ohio River Trail, and development of the Eastern Corridor. This new standard will also put at risk what the Cranley Administration seems to hold as the Holy Grail of all local projects – the MLK Interchange.

Should we also expect a move by the Cranley Administration to stop all construction activities and spending on the Waldvogel Viaduct that is currently being rebuilt? That project has never submitted a financial report that estimates a 30-year operating cost, much less any private sources to cover those ongoing financial liability costs.

Double Standard
UrbanCincy certainly hopes that this is in fact not a new standard protocol at City Hall, because it will put a stop to virtually everything the City does and bring the delivery of public services to a screeching halt. If that is the case, then Mayor Cranley’s olive branch to streetcar supporters is nothing more than a massive double standard.

Virtually every project the city undertakes adds liability costs. The Parking Modernization & Lease plan would have, of course, added none and in fact reduced future liability costs, but Mayor Cranley and his administration were quick to kill that deal as well.

And while this move by Mayor Cranley is typical of anti-transit forces around the country, it is also unacceptable. The user fee for roadways – the federal gas tax – has not been raised since 1993 and covers approximately 51% of the annual costs of maintaining our roadways. Public safety departments collect nowhere close to the amount of revenue they demand in terms of their costs to operate. Our schools, libraries, cultural institutions and parks all require taxpayer support, but such demands are not placed on them, nor should they.

Had Smale Riverfront Park been mandated by Mayor Cranley’s administration to provide 30 years’ worth of operating funds upfront in binding agreements before he approved any capital dollars for it to get started, then that project would most likely still not be started to this day. Instead, under normal governance, Smale Riverfront Park moved forward with its construction, and then capable leaders such as Willie Carden, Jr. were tasked with developing innovative and sustainable mechanisms to fund in over its lifespan.

It is unfortunate the Mayor Cranley and his administration have cornered Cincinntians into this position. It is unreasonable to ask our business community to fund public projects that should be funded by the public agency that committed to doing the project in the first place. Fortunately Cincinnati has proactive thinking leaders like Eric Avner and the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation working to meet the unreasonable demands of Mayor Cranley.

But should the business community deliver on this unreasonable request to fund the project’s operations for the next 30 years; then those investors should receive the returns the investment generates. The same is true if city residents want only those along the line to pay for its operations. If the costs must be localized, then so should its benefits.

Quite simply, residents elsewhere in the city who do not want to take on any risk deserve none of the returns.

The center city already subsidizes the public services provided to the city’s neighborhoods. If Mayor Cranley wants to continue on this damaging path of pitting neighborhoods against one another, then we will all quickly realize just how much we are dependent on one another economically.

In 2011, for example, the City of Cincinnati collected 71% of all city tax revenues from just eight neighborhoods: Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, West End, Queensgate, CUF, Corryville, Avondale and Clifton – collectively and colloquially as “Downtown” and “Uptown”.

The health and success of Downtown and Uptown is critically important to the overall health and success of the entire city. While many residents may believe that too much is invested in those areas, the reality is that those eight neighborhoods pay far more in taxes than they ever receive.

UrbanCincy is calling for an end to the divisiveness and to fully invest in our city’s future. Finish the Cincinnati Streetcar.

UC Planning, Engineering Students Propose Hamilton Avenue BRT Corridor

Hamilton Avenue BRT CorridorLast fall UrbanCincy partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio on an event that highlighted the work of an interdisciplinary group of students. That semester engineering and planning students focused on urban mobility and looked at bikeways and bus rapid transit ideas within the city.

Each of the student groups presented their final research and findings to fellow academics and industry experts from around the region. We then gathered a group of transit and bike experts to engage in a panel discussion about the student’s proposals and about transportation in the region in general.

Throughout the course of the day, we asked members of the public who attended to vote on their favorite proposal. The winner was a bus rapid transit corridor along Hamilton Avenue that focused heavily on a transit-oriented development (TOD) in Northside where The Gantry is now being built.

The six-person team consisted of Tyler Kiefer, Benjamin Lafferty, Christopher Murphy, Michael Orth and Michael Walsh from the College of Engineering & Applied Science and Alexander Cassini from the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning.

First and foremost, the group said that their Hamilton BRT Line would most closely resemble Cleveland’s highly publicized HealthLine, which is the highest-rated BRT line, by far, in North America. The group also examined lines in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

One of the main reasons for the comparisons to Cleveland is the similarities between the corridors. In both Cincinnati and Cleveland, the corridors connect neighborhoods under-served by transit to institutional services, while also providing greater mobility.

“The 2010 U.S. Census has shown how the population along Hamilton Avenue has less access to quick and reliable means of transportation when compared to the stats of Cincinnati and Ohio as a whole,” explained Masters of Community Planning student Alexander Cassini. “This lack of mobility directly affects citizens’ access to essential services and employment opportunities.”

Their research found that Metro’s #17 bus route, which most closely aligns with their proposed BRT corridor, currently averages weekday ridership of about 4,500 people. Furthermore, they found that approximately 17% of the households along the corridor have no car, 10% of the commuters identify as bus riders and there are 6,387 people living per square mile.

The proposed BRT corridor runs from Downtown to North College Hill, and the engineering and planning students saw this particular corridor as a major opportunity to spread investment and attention from the center city to additional neighborhoods that would take advantage of the BRT route’s 12 stations spaced out between one-half mile to three-fourths of a mile apart that would ensure faster and more efficient service. Each of the 12 station locations, Cassini notes, was selected due to its significant population and employment nearby.

“Northside and North College Hill are historic places in the city and present a great opportunity for Cincinnati to keep growing as a city,” noted civil engineering student Michael Orth.

Orth went on to say that while one of the positives of this corridor was the amount of people and businesses it could positively impact, the area’s congestion was also one of the team’s greatest challenges, stating, “There is very little room to implement a bus only lane throughout the corridor, which would be ideal for a BRT line.”

To help address this situation the group said that they envision a bus only lane, or a hybrid lane for buses and cars depending on the hour, through the congested portions of the route. Although not recommended, if a hybrid lane was determined to not be satisfactory Orth said that further study could be done to examine whether there would be enough benefit to remove on-street parking in order to provide for a consistent, dedicated bus only lane.

Other technology to help facilitate the quick movement of buses along the corridor would include arrival detection at traffic signals so that the lights can change in order to accommodate an approaching bus.

Existing Metro bus service, they said, would largely be redeployed to avoid redundancy, but some would remain since local buses stop more frequently – potentially creating a corridor of localized bus and express BRT service.

Hamilton Avenue BRT in Metro*Plus Context
One area where the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has already begun enhancing bus service is along Montgomery Road, which connects Downtown with the Kenwood area. That new Metro*Plus service, while not full BRT, is a step in the right direction according to the University of Cincinnati students, and has already seen ridership triple since its upgrade.

“Metro*Plus service is good but it is only the first step towards a true BRT system for the Cincinnati metropolitan area,” Cassini cautioned. “Metro*Plus service can be even more efficient, and effective if totally dedicated lanes and other additional features are added.”

Reading Road, where Metro began operating articulated buses in 2010, is actually the region’s most heavily utilized bus corridor with Hamilton Avenue coming in second and Montgomery Road third. If Metro is to continue to build out its enhanced bus service, or full-on BRT operations, then Hamilton Avenue may very well be the next logical choice.

What helped the group’s proposal stand out from other presentations was its focus on the TOD in Northside. With a $13 million mixed-use project coming out of the ground on that site now, the group reflected on their own proposal.

While the team had collectively noted the large, clean open space as being one of the huge benefits of the site, it also made it particularly valuable in their opinion. As a result, several of the group members, while encouraged about the private investment, were also a bit underwhelmed by the Indianapolis-based Milhaus Developers’ architectural design.

Both Cassini and Orth mentioned that they would be interested in working full-time in the transportation industry someday, but for different reasons. When asked to briefly compare the wide variety of transportation projects current in the planning or development stages around the region, there was a uniform response that their excitement is for the Cincinnati Streetcar.

“Although the planned streetcar line does not expand sufficiently in our eyes, we believe it would be an incredible economic development booster for Cincinnati’s downtown and overall urban core,” Cassini explained. “The overall transportation efforts around Cincinnati will eventually pay off to form a comprehensive and more easily navigable system than today.”

The Niehoff Urban Studio is currently working with a new set of students on designs for the Wasson Corridor, which runs through several of Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods. This is another topic that was examined by one of the interdisciplinary groups of planners and engineers last year. UrbanCincy is once again partnering with the Niehoff Urban Studio and will be organizing a similar showcase and panel discussion in 2014.

Ridership, Revenue Continue to Grow for Resurgent Amtrak

The growth of intercity passenger rail and bus continues. According to newly released data, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) recorded a record breaking year in terms of both ridership and revenue.

The data is for FY13, and showed that the oft-criticized passenger rail agency carried 31.6 million passengers and collected $2.1 billion in ticket revenue. Amtrak officials say that the ridership figure represented a 1% increase while revenue was 4.2% higher than the previous year.

In addition to the ridership and revenue growth, Amtrak also broke several records over the past year including total ridership in one month (March; July), ridership records on 20 of the agency’s 45 routes and the number of passengers using state-supported routes (15.4 million) in a single year.

When compared with other modes of transportation, Amtrak now has more than double the ridership of Greyhound, and if it were a commercial airline it would be the fifth largest domestic carrier.

Queensgate Railyard
Cincinnati has largely been on the outside looking in when it comes to Amtrak ridership growth, but unclogging the Midwest’s second busiest railyard will need to come first. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

“In ten of the last 11years, we have marked new ridership records, and since ridership has risen by 50% since FY2000,” Amtrak’s President and CEO, Joe Boardman, told employees through an internal memo. “This great accomplishment is not solely ours, but was made possible through strong, collaborative relationships with our state partners and the federal government.”

Boardman went on to say that through these relationships, Amtrak will pursue the resources needed to rebuild and enhance passenger rail service throughout the country, and work toward building infrastructure to support high-speed rail.

As a result of these partnerships and ridership growth, Amtrak now recovers approximately 85% of its annual operating expenses from user fees.

“I believe that all of these records point to our success in creating and marketing a product desired by the traveling public,” Boardman explained. “In growing metropolitan areas, passenger rail is clearly a viable alternative to crowded roads and skies, while in many rural areas, Amtrak often is the only means of regularly scheduled, public intercity transportation.”

While Amtrak’s success has been felt nationwide, very little has been felt here at home in Ohio due to limited service in the nation’s seventh most populated state. The reason, passenger rail advocates say, is because of a lack of support from the State of Ohio.

“We are on the outside looking in. Ohio isn’t on the outside due to a lack of travel, as USDOT says travel on Ohio’s stretch of I-71 (Cleveland-Cincinnati) ranked 22nd in the country with nearly 5.5 billion vehicle-miles traveled in 2011,” noted Ken Prendergast, Executive Director, All Aboard Ohio. “In the Midwest, only I-94 through Michigan (Detroit-Chicago) saw more traffic in 2011.”

Prendergast went on to note that the stretch of I-94 through Michigan is currently being upgraded to 110mph service by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), with some stretches operating at that speed already.

The situation in Ohio has been bad for a long time, but got significantly worse following the election of Governor John Kasich (R) in 2010. Almost immediately after taking office, Kasich gave away $400 million from the federal government that was intended to establish passenger rail along the 3C Corridor. The stretch between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland is seen as the most densely populated corridor in North America without any passenger rail service.

Not all hope for Ohio, however, is lost. On National Train Day this past May, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) commended the work being done by Amtrak and called for enhanced service and operations out of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal.

“Passenger rail has to be part of a balanced multi-modal transportation system that I believe the federal government needs to play a huge role in in addition to states and local governments,” Mallory stated at Cincinnati’s National Train Day event on May 11. “Indiana has made a lot of progress as it relates to Amtrak…wouldn’t it be great to be able to jump on a train in Cincinnati, run to Indianapolis and then on to Chicago? I want Cincinnati to be a part of that line.”