News Opinion Politics

Cincinnati plans multi-million dollar surveillance camera system

The City of Cincinnati, in combination with the Uptown Consortium, has announced that 14 new high-tech surveillance cameras will be installed in various locations throughout Downtown (8) and Uptown (6). The cameras are being touted by local officials and community leaders as being a 21st Century crime fighting tool that should make Cincinnati a safer place.

The $19,000/piece cameras are not going to stop at this initial installation, that is expected to be fully operational within the coming months, as officials will have another dozen installed throughout East Price Hill and Westwood along Glenway Avenue by summer. An additional 12 to 15 cameras will be installed to monitor bridges, piers and waterways. Two years from now, officials hope to have 50 to 60 cameras installed across the city in other neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, College Hill and Northside in addition to those in Downtown, Westwood, East Price Hill, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Corryville and Clifton.

Public safety officials often proclaim that these types of cameras have the ability to deter crime and make neighborhoods safer, when in fact they don’t. Cameras simply move criminal activity around much like citronella candles keep bugs away from your backyard barbecue.

The cameras were paid for by a $2 million federal grant, but what about the ongoing maintenance? Who is going to watch the live video stream, or will someone? Who is going to review the tapes? What will be reviewed? What about archiving…how long, how much, where, and who manages it? What is the City going to actually do with all this information?

It would seem to be logical to assume that the primary use, for the cameras, will be for building cases against those who have already committed crimes. So, once again, how is this making the city safer? Instead it would seem that the cameras would just make prosecution more effective in some cases. But at the same time, I would imagine the criminals will be smart enough to see the bright white and prominently branded cameras and move their operations just outside the cone of view.

So then what, do we install more cameras…cameras on every street corner? Who will pay for that kind of an operation, and are Cincinnatians accepting of this Big Brother kind of a move? In New York they are in the process of installing some 3,000 cameras that will be fully operational by 2010. The costs of New York’s system is pegged at $90 million with a $25 million surveillance center in the project’s first phase in lower Manhattan.

The London Evening Standard just reported that even with London’s impressive array of more than 10,000 CCTV cameras, the most expansive system of its kind anywhere, that roughly 80 percent of crimes go unsolved. The $334+ million system not only is not solving the core issues surrounding the need for individuals to result to criminal behavior, but the system is not even showing effectiveness in the one area it is suppose to shine.

This approach to crime fighting seems to be a reactionary way to manage complex criminal behavior. More money should be spent on identifying the causes behind individuals resulting to criminal behavior, and how to address that. Instead what we’re doing is spending $2 million on a project that at best will put more non-violent criminals behind bars or at least through our legal system, and at worst, become cumbersome to manage and prove ineffective much like London’s advanced Big Brother system.

Arts & Entertainment News Politics Transportation

New York’s MTA Director of Sustainability speaks at USGBC forum

The USGBC Cincinnati Regional Chapter teamed up with the City of Cincinnati, Duke Energy and Structurepoint, Inc to present an open forum discussion with the public regarding the role of mass transit and sustainability in Cincinnati on Thursday, October 1 at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. New York City’s Director of Sustainability Initiatives for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Projjal K. Dutta, started off the discussion with a presentation about the importance of mass transit sustaining the growth and density of cities. He compared the transit system in New York during the early 1900s to its growth in the 1940s. As the city grew to its outer boroughs, the subway tracks followed as well.

In cities with well established public transit systems, the social stigma associated with riding public transportation is non-existent. The man making 2 million dollars a year rubs shoulders on the subway with the guy who panhandled enough to pay for a ride. As Dutta said, “in Munich, you can own a Mercedes and still take the U-Bahn in to work.” The ultimate result is to give citizens a choice in how efficiently they want to travel, not to force them to choose only one option.

Bicyclists embrace at Philadelphia City Hall’s subway station entrance.

Dutta also spoke of how we should view public transit. Is transit a social good, like clean drinking water, or should it be viewed as a business model in which to make a profit? He talked about other country’s methods for generating revenue for their public transit; be it selling the land on either side of the transit to developers, or raising the gas tax to use it for transit funding (Ohio’s gas tax is by law used only for highway maintenance and highway patrol). In any account, it is a hard issue to tackle.

After his presentation there was an open discussion between members of the audience and a panel of representatives from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, The Banks development team, and the City. Questions ranged from the panelists real feelings about the Cincinnati Streetcar, to the maintenance costs for transit and how that is affecting the systems we already have.

TANK and SORTA are both optimistic about the long term future. TANK is currently working with Northern Kentucky University on several new pieces of technology to improve efficiency and convenience for bus riders. Metro and TANK are both planning new hubs to improve cross-county travel from east to west. As has been previously noted, SORTA’s short-range financial outlook is “dismal.” The difference between the Metro bus system in Cincinnati and TANK is that the Northern Kentucky system gets money from the county for operating costs, and SORTA gets no money from sales tax in Hamilton County.

Pedestrians, buses, trains and bicyclists peacefully coexist in Chicago.

One audience member wondered aloud why we couldn’t just use an integrated bus system (as opposed to rail) to drive up development and save on infrastructure costs. Mr. Dutta succinctly stated, “there is no better marker of intent than putting rails into the ground.” Bus lines can easily be changed, where as developers can be certain that a streetcar or rail line won’t be going anywhere any time soon.

The unanimous agreement from the panelists was that sustainable transit is not only attainable but absolutely necessary in Cincinnati. When we put all our eggs in the highway basket, we can’t properly sustain this city. Todd Kinskey, the director of the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, finished up the discussion by saying “there’s no choice but to get out of the car. We keep ripping out neighborhoods and building highways. Why add another lane of traffic when it’s just going to get clogged?”

What sort of crisis is it going to take to get the majority of Cincinnatians to wake up and realize that the automobile is not the end all be all of travel? Apparently the economic disaster that has been the last year was not enough. We need to take the steps forward now to invest in our future, before we wake and realize that the way we do things now is not enough. Integrating all forms of transit- cars, rail, bikes, buses and people – is the most successful, sustainable option for our fantastic city.

Development News Transportation

New York City’s High Line

One of the neatest projects going on in the United States…go figure, it’s in New York City. Behold the High Line. If you have trouble viewing the video embedded here then try this one.

Development News

Dog Parks Can Improve Livability of Cincinnati’s Urban Neighborhoods

The Trust for Public Land recently ranked the nation’s largest cities based on the number of dog parks available to their residents. Cincinnati fared well, coming in at #15 with 1.2 dog parks per 100,000 residents (73kb PDF) out of the 75 total cities examined.

Dog parks provide dog owners living in the city a spot where they can bring their canine friend to do their business. A secondary, and equally important, role to dog parks is the social component. Dogs and their owners alike often use their trips to the dog park as a way to socialize and interact with other dogs and owners.

This social component provides that always desired community feel as people become bonded to their neighbors through shared experiences. In the city, it also puts more “eyes on the street,” and creates a sense of vibrancy that might not be there if the owners kept themselves and their dogs cooped up inside their urban dwelling unit.

A rather large example of a good urban dog park in NYC – Source

So while Cincinnati fares well with the overall dog parks per 100,000 residents analysis, it fails in the very neighborhoods that dog parks would provide this dual benefit. Aside from the Pet Athletic Club, there is no dedicated spot for residents of Downtown, Over-the-Rhine or the West End to take their dogs. These neighborhoods are the most lacking in private yard space and need these kinds of parks to make urban living possible for the slews of dog owners out there.

There is hope though as a dog park is planned for the northern portion of Washington Park as part of its ensuing renovation/expansion. This will be a great asset for the residents of Over-the-Rhine and even those living in the northern parts of Downtown, but how about the many people living in the “Soapbox District” or over near Lytle Park?

Well there was a movement that surfaced about as quickly as it went away for a Downtown dog park. City Manager Milton Dohoney got a group of stakeholders together to study the issue with pledged support from the Downtown Residents Council. The effort, however, has been stalled indefinitely as the associated construction and maintenance costs appeared to be too cumbersome.

Please share any thoughts or ideas you may have about how to go about implementing a small dog park in Downtown Cincinnati. A donated piece of land, volunteer service and ideas about how to set up some sort of dog park endowment would be especially helpful in developing a dog park.