Last weekend, Hamilton Avenue in Northside was packed with people walking, biking, skateboarding, painting, playing music, and enjoying a nice summer day.
The street, which serves as the spine of neighborhood’s business district, was closed to automobiles for four hours as part of the Cincy Summer Streets series.
More than 100 open streets festivals take place across the country, and Cincinnati joined the trend last year with events in two neighborhoods. In 2015 Cincy Summer Streets has expanded to three events – Walnut Hills on July 18, Northside on August 23, and Over-the-Rhine on September 26.
It has been an eventful summer Walnut Hills following the assignment of two grants for neighborhood ventures, kickoff of the Findlay Market Farmstand and Cincy Summer Streets events, as well as a host of other neighborhood events.
The Findlay Market Farmstand began in early June with a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, all from within a 100-mile radius. Funded through a Healthy Initiatives Grant by Interact for Health, attendance was strong at the first Findlay Market Farmstand, but the WHRF says they will be going door-to-door within the neighborhood to ensure that all residents know where and when the farm stand will be open.
“Passersby and residents need to support the farmstand for it to be financially viable,” said Thea Munchel of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “We wanted to ensure that it would be in a space that would attract the neighborhood residents while also interesting people passing through.”
Organizers say that the farmstand will be open, going forward, on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm at 767 McMillan Street, next to the aforementioned Firehouse. In addition to the produce offerings, they say there will be music, grilling, cooking classes and other rotating activities to build a sense of engagement.
It should be noted, however, that this is not the only, or even first, location for Findlay Market’s outreach into the city’s neighborhoods. Ohio’s oldest public market also sets up farmstands in East Price Hill and Westwood.
In addition to the Healthy Initiatives grant, the WHRF has partnered with Fifth Third Bank to create what they are calling the THRIVE Grant, which provides $3,000 to $15,000 to attract established businesses to the Peeble’s Corner business district. Angst Coffee is the first recipient of the grant, and is expected to open at 2437 Gilbert Avenue this fall. Built in 1890, and featuring exposed brick, warm colors and modern interior finishes, owners expect the space to be ideal for a coffee house.
Cincy Summer Streets, an open streets celebration, kicked off in Walnut Hills this past weekend as well. The event closed McMillan Street between Gilbert and Woodburn, and Woodburn between McMillan and Madison Road to automobiles, while opening the street up for biking, walking, dancing, art-making and fitness classes.
The event was meant to, and did, breathe new life into the streets with residents of all ages, mingling and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The Walnut Hills Area Council, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, East Walnut Hills Assembly, Art on the Streets, and the City of Cincinnati organized the event, while sponsorship came from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Interact for Health.
Both Cincy Summer Streets and the Findlay Market Farmstand are examples of how the Walnut Hills community is embracing tactical urbanism as a way to transform itself.
To build on all this activity, neighborhood leaders will be preparing over coming weeks for the City of Cincinnati’s award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), which will kick off in Walnut Hills on August 15. But for those looking to score some fresh produce from area farmers – you can do that at the next Findlay Market Farmstand set up in Walnut Hills this Thursday from 4pm to 7pm.
Fifty years of auto-oriented city building is what planners largely have to work with in all but the historic neighborhoods developed before the ubiquitous spread of the private automobile. This situation has created a need to adopt innovative techniques to create people-oriented spaces where vehicle flow was previously the objective.
Beyond the livability improvements, such activities also benefit from the power of demonstration from normal residents transforming a place to be more community-oriented. As has been seen throughout North America, these activities can often set the stage for more permanent fixes like parklets, bicycle corrals, extension of cafe spaces into parking spots and the creation of small plazas.
An example from Santa Monica combined this approach with public engagement was explained by Jason Kligier, of the City of Santa Monica. The event was called Pop-Up MANGo, which stands for Michigan Ave Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo).
The Greenway, Kligier said, would connect new and proposed bike lanes via Michigan Avenue in the city’s Pico neighborhood – a residential area through which cars tend to pass through over the posted speed limit. The new pedestrian and cyclist orientation would mean creating an inviting streetscape of sidewalks, calm roadways, increased trees and landscape.
The pop-up event in Santa Monica included the addition impermanent features like curb extensions, enhanced landscaping, places for impromptu neighborhood interactions, wayfinding signage and various traffic calming measures. Food trucks, music and interactive activities created a festival-like atmosphere for the more than 400 attendees.
When asked about how they felt about the installations, a majority of neighbors were in favor of the traffic calming measures.
Another way in which planners are working to make cities more livable was discussed in a session on Monday, where attendees learned about techniques in implementation of cap parks over highways. Not only do such efforts create green space in areas where there is little room to accommodate new parks, but they also reconnect neighborhoods that had been torn apart by multiple lanes of speeding traffic.
There are some hints of this movement in Cincinnati as well, including the city’s various on-street bike corrals, Walnut Hills Streetfood Festival, two-way street conversions, Second Sunday on Main, road diets and Cincy Summer Streets which will have its inaugural season this year.