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Cincinnati Mercantile Library

The Cincinnati Mercantile Library has a long and rich history…one that many don’t even know about. Did you know that the Mercantile Library is just a stones throw away from Fountain Square at 414 Walnut Street?? Not only that, but it has been at that exact address since 1845 and was founded ten years earlier by a group of young professionals. Oh and in case things are a bit too hectic for you to drop by and check it out soon…that’s alright, because the Mercantile Library has a 10,000 year lease on its current home.

The place is an absolute historic gem to check out. The book collection is fantastic, and the personal attention/expertise from the librarians is second to none. Not to mention it is extremely quiet and private for reading, studying or working (more so than a public library). Something else it has is that historic charm that most public libraries lack.

The split level floors, that house the main book collection, are separated by a glass floor. That is because the library has not had electricity for very long, and this was a way to help maximize the natural sunlight from the large windows. There are other numerous architectural throwbacks like the ironwork, woodwork/carvings, and many other non-architectural features. Like the old wood phone booth for example, or the physical card catalog (no electronic catalogs here), the furniture, the stately looking safe that sits behind the front desk and the many pieces of artwork.

All in all, this place is a MUST see for any Cincinnatian…and for very reasonable membership rates you could have all of this and more at your fingertips. Be sure to also check out the Mercantile Library’s weblog for book reviews, events and other things happening with the library.

For more pictures from the Mercantile Library and other images from this past weekend, check out my photothread on UrbanOhio that includes pics from around Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

External Links:
www.mercantilelibrary.com
www.urbanohio.com/forum

Categories
Development News Politics

Cincinnati and its long history with Urban Planning

Urban Planning has a long, rich history in the Queen City. You can date this back to the influential and charismatic individual named Ladislas Segoe (1894-1983). Segoe was involved in nearly all types of professional planning…advocating for an increased presence of private planners and even operating his own successful private practice: Ladislas Segoe and Associates of Cincinnati, Ohio. Needless to say Segoe was extremely influential in the great deal of planning that took place, in Cincinnati, in the early 20th Century.

During the early 20th Century you saw a lot of firsts for the planning profession…especially in Cincinnati. In 1923 ground was broken on the planned community of Mariemont; planned by John Nolan the community boasted many concepts (small blocks, mixed uses, mixed owner/rental units) that are now the foundation of what is considered new urbanism.

Shortly thereafter, in 1925, Cincinnati was recognized as being the first major American city to endorse a comprehensive plan. This plan was revolutionary for American cities and was primarily drafted by Ladislas Segoe and Alfred Bettman. This plan outlined park corridors throughout the city, systems of grand boulevards, complimented the Park Plan of 1907, and included the now requisite transportation component of modern comprehensive plans.

General Park Plan: 1907 Kessler Park Plan

Ten years later in 1935 the Resettlement Administration, established under the Roosevelt administration, set forth to build three ‘Greenbelt towns.’ One of those ‘Greenbelt towns’ being Greenhills in Cincinnati. These towns became the case studies for future planned communities like Columbia, MD and Reston, VA. Shortly thereafter, in 1941, Ladislas Segoe publishes the first of his “Green Book” series entitled: Local Planning Administration.

After this frenzy of breakthrough planning activity, taking place in Cincinnati, you have to fast forward to the very recent history. In 2002, Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemmie were under extreme pressure to make budget cuts…and not surprisingly, Valerie Lemmie pushed to have the Planning Department abolished from the Cincinnati government structure. Combine this with the idea that this move would make the City more ‘developer friendly’ and you have an abolished Planning Department. The move didn’t necessarily have the desired impact and has actually hampered the City’s efforts to update it’s comprehensive plan, and perform long-range planning that is essential for any community.

Five years have past and Mayor Mark Mallory is living up to his promise of re-establishing the Planning Department in Cincinnati. Charles C. Graves III was hired as the director of the re-established department and will start his job on September 4th. Hopefully with the support of the Mayor, City Manager and City Council Cincinnati can return to it’s proud ways of being a progressive area for professional Planning. There is a lot to catch up on first and foremost, but the progressive minds in professional Planning at least have a place to gather again in Cincinnati government.

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News

Reclaiming our city from the mistakes of the past

Cincinnati, as well as, many other cities are spending billions of dollars to fix the mistakes made by misguided policy and investments of the past. Cincinnati actually fared better than many cities in this regard…protecting some of it’s urban gems (Over-the-Rhine) from the wrecking ball. Other areas weren’t as lucky (West End).

The Eisenhower Interstate System efficiently and brutally tore through the West End of Cincinnati; rendering a beauty like Crosley Field practically obsolete. It also ripped through a dense, diverse, urban neighborhood. The funny thing is that the two places that were Cincinnati’s points of entry to many immigrants were ruined for the sake of the interstate system and other ‘urban renewal’ projects. Immigrants would come in along the Ohio River and find jobs along it’s powerful economic riverbanks. Others would come in by train and pass through the mighty Union Terminal, find working class jobs in the West End and settle down.

Well we all know what those two key locations are like today, and we know what they were like in the past. A key issue however, is what they’ll be like in the future. The Banks and Cincinnati Riverfront Park are rebuilding a neighborhood creating a beautiful green space for Cincinnati. Different from the warehouses and docks that once existed, but overall a very nice alternative.

Now there is the often over looked West End…what about it. It seems to be sitting there with a whole lot of nothing going on. Sure there are some warehouses and distribution centers, sprinkle in a little residential here or there and you have it. If it weren’t for City West it would still be the massive symbol of ‘urban renewal’ that it is. But wait, don’t write it off quite yet. The Cincinnati Museum Center claims residence to the West End, as well as it’s rail yards. Quietly behind the scenes people have been working towards a high speed rail plan for Ohio. Combine this with the great success of the Museum Center and you have the potential for something great.

Flooded Walnut Street (1913)

The Gateway Park District is something that could end up being more important, more impactful and just more impressive than the highly touted Banks project. It has the ability to reclaim the West End from it’s ‘urban renewal’ blight and turn that area back into a main entry point for the Queen City. It will be interesting to watch this project proceed, but one thing is for sure…Cincinnati seems to be trying it’s best to reclaim our city from the mistakes of the past.