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.

Mingle with Aaron Renn at This Month’s URBANexchange on 4/10

Aaron Renn in Cincinnati

Aaron Renn in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in 2010. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The weather has finally warmed up so we had decided to return the Moerlein Lager House to take in the view of the ever growing Smale Riverfront Park. As to avoid a conflict with a Reds home game, and also accommodate our special guest, this month’s URBANexchange will take place on Thursday, April 10 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm.

Our monthly URBANexchange will come one night after Aaron Renn, author of The Urbanophile, speaks at University of Cincinnati about the region’s sustainability and comparative advantages.

“It’s a great opportunity to share some of my observations on the city,” said Renn who told UrbanCincy he was contacted by the university in the wake of his commentary on Cincinnati’s streetcar debate last November.

“I plan to talk about the unique environments and assets of Cincinnati, the financial unsustainability of sprawl, how Cincinnati’s sprawl isn’t even close to the best anyway, and the barriers to execution in the deep community divisions.”

Renn’s guest lecture will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, April 9 at the Main Street Cinema inside the Tangeman University Center. Like our URBANexchange the following evening, the guest lecture is free and open to the public.

If you cannot make it to Renn’s lecture, or just want to get to spend more informal time chatting with him, you will have that chance at URBANexchange where he will be our special guest this month. The event will be a casual setting where you can meet others interested in what is happening in the city.

We will gather in the biergarten so that each person can choose how much or little they buy in terms of food or drink. Although we do encourage our attendees to generously support our kind hosts at the Moerlein Lager House.

We will be situated in the northwest corner of the biergarten (near the Moer To Go window), but you can also ask the host where the UrbanCincy group is located and they will be happy to assist.

The Moerlein Lager House is located on Cincinnati’s central riverfront and is located just one block from a future streetcar stop. If you choose to bike, there is free and ample bike parking is available near our location in the biergarten outside by the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.

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.

Decision from Board of Trustees More Than a Decade Ago Doomed Wilson Auditorium

In early 2000s the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees voted to build a new academic building for the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences along Clifton Avenue. That plan, of course, never came to reality due to fiscal constraints, but the unintended victim of that decision now be found in the rubble left behind by the now demolished Wilson Auditorium.

University officials revealed to UrbanCincy that while the Board of Trustees approved the new buildings, they did nothing to accommodate the ongoing maintenance costs of the aging Wilson Auditorium in the meantime. As a result, the building significantly deteriorated over the past five or so years.

In December part of the vision the Board of Trustees approved years ago came to reality when the 83-year-old structure was leveled. There are no plans, however, for any new academic facility to take its spot at this time.

Wilson Auditorium Site
Wilson Auditorium is now gone, but what will ultimately happen with the prominent site is anyone’s guess. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

According to the director of project management with the University of Cincinnati Office of Planning + Design + Construction, Dale Beeler, the site will be used as temporary classroom space during the $18.5 million renovation of the Teachers College over the next two years. That temporary space will amount to 25,000 square feet of modular buildings that the University of Cincinnati purchased from Cincinnati Public Schools following the district’s renovation of Walnut Hills High School.

What will happen with the prominent site on the university’s main campus is not yet clear.

“It is a too valuable piece of ground to leave unbuilt for an extended period of time,” explained Beeler. “Whatever is built there, however, would probably not be as imposing or close to Clifton Avenue as Wilson Auditorium.”

While the possibilities are wide open, the site is not. The small piece of land is surrounded by complicated slopes and other structures. The challenging site forced the previous design for the Arts & Sciences building to include a “tremendous amount of underground space” so that it was less imposing above ground.

While some rumors have included the possibility of a parking garage on the site, Beeler says that it will most likely be for some sort of academic use – indicating that either the Arts & Sciences building could come back into play, or the site could be used as the home for the new $70 million College of Law building.

Beeler was quick to deny that there were any plans in place to build new classroom space for the School of Design’s industrial design program, as was posted on the construction fence surrounding Wilson Auditorium’s demolition. It is assumed that this was prank by a student at the adjacent College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning (DAAP).

Until any solidified plans are put on the table and funded, students and area residents and workers, Beeler says, will at least be able to enjoy a better view of McMicken Hall.

“It’s amazing what it’s done for the view of McMicken Hall from that side of campus! It looks twice as big and twice as imposing.”

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!

University of Cincinnati to Demolish Former Sears Department Store Building This Summer

The University of Cincinnati (UC) has informed UrbanCincy that it will demolish its Campus Services Building at Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue. If finances are available, officials say that demolition will begin this summer.

Readers first brought the potential demolition of the 84-year-old structure to UrbanCincy’s attention in December. According to UC’s director of project management, Dale Beeler, the building has deteriorated significantly due to a lack of upkeep, and says that it is currently “crumbing around us.”

The conditions are so bad, in fact, that water has gotten into the wall system and fractured brick can occasionally be seen falling off the structure.

Campus Services Building
The former Sears Department Store in Avondale will soon meet the wrecking ball as the site is prepped for new development. Photograph by Jacob Fessler for UrbanCincy.

Originally a Sears Department store, the university had been using the structure for some information technology services, storage of excess furniture, some administrative functions and some other various non-student-related activities.

The path, to close and demolition of the facility, was cleared approximately three years ago when the University of Cincinnati purchased and renovated the Fishwick Warehouse, visible off I-75, in order to consolidate these kinds of services.

Located in Bond Hill, the newer, two-story warehouse is located on 10 total acres of property and allows the university to consolidate a variety of non-student functions and store other items outside.

Meanwhile, officials within the University of Cincinnati Office of Planning+Design+Construction estimate that the demolition of the Campus Services Building will cost around $1.5 million and will be put out to bid in the coming months.

With the decision already made to tear down the historic structure, the question then becomes what will happen with the soon-to-be prominent site adjacent to the $108 million MLK Interchange project.

“There is no real direction as to whether the university will try to sell it or hold it as a land bank,” Beeler explained. “But there are probably some hospitals on the hill here that are more interested in that property than we are. We think it will be a more appealing site once that building is gone.”

Officials believe that the improved access to the site, offered through the MLK Interchange project, will only improve the value of the land, thus making it even more appealing to another user.

Rumors in the local real estate community suggest that there is interest in the site becoming a medical research campus.