Max Grinnell is an author, historian, and professor who enjoys sharing unique perspectives of American cities. Last summer, he visited Cincinnati to host a series of walking tours that offered a historical look at the city’s urban core. This June, Grinnell is bringing back the tour, which compares the Cincinnati of 1943 to the city today.
The walking tour is inspired by Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, a book published in 1943 for the Federal Writers’ Project. This book was a part of the American Guide Series, also known as the WPA guides, which was a program funded by the New Deal to employ writers during the Great Depression. Today, the book serves as a snapshot of 1943 Cincinnati, when the city’s population was 455,610 and now-iconic structures like Carew Tower and Union Terminal were just a decade old.
“I consider it one of the better city guides produced by the Federal Writers’ Project, and that’s significant, considering other volumes considered New Orleans, Philadelphia, and others,” Grinnell told UrbanCincy.
The 60-minute tour will be similar to the ones Grinnell hosted last year, but also include some new elements, such a focus on the Netherland Plaza Hotel and its intricate details.
The next Cincy Stories event will be held on February 2. It will feature speakers Katie Vogel, Derrick Braziel, Corey Ward, Mac Means, Jai Washington, and Claire Suer, as well as local music from Andrew Aragon.
Last Friday city leaders gathered in Covington to celebrate the ground breaking for the $3.3 million Boone Block redevelopment project.
Located at 422 Scott Street, the project will result in the creation of nine single-family townhomes ranging from 2,185 square feet to 5,000 square feet in size.
City and project officials see the investment as part of a larger trend that is bringing new life to the heart of historic Northern Kentucky river city. In addition to this project, new commercial space, hotel rooms, residences and educational research space are all planned or in the process of construction in the nearby area.
The project is also evidence of the renewed interest in Cincinnati’s center city. While originally defined by the massive investment that took place in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, that investment and interest is now noticeably spreading outward to places like Covington, Mt. Auburn, Newport, Bellevue, Northside, Walnut Hills and the West End.
Project officials note that the Boone Block building was originally constructed in 1872 and still boasts many of its original architectural features. Each of the new residences, they say, will feature a modern interior finish with open floor plans, a gated courtyard, 14-foot ceilings, and an attached one-car parking garage.
So far the project team has pre-sold six of the units, which has provided some of the upfront project financing. In addition to that, the Catalytic Fund has provided mortgage gap financing and the City of Covington has provided a façade grant and development loan to the project.
Interested buyers for the final three available residences are instructed to contact either Rebecca Weber or Joy Amann at Huff Realty for additional information.
When discussing regional transportation issues, the topic seems to always be about congestion. In reality, outside of a few limited periods, the Cincinnati region has relatively good traffic flow with little actual congestion. So instead of trying to solve a problem that does not exist, we should be instead focusing our resources on maintaining our current system and improving mobility within the overall region.
As is the case in any city, the natural environment often serves as a chokepoint and barrier to regional mobility. This is true for Cincinnati with its hills and rivers.
With the region’s population largely centered along the Ohio River, it is natural that this is where the most choke points exist. Outside of the center city, however, there are very few river crossings. In fact, there are only two Ohio River crossings outside of the center city, and both of those are for I-275.
One such area that makes sense for a new local road bridge is around Cincinnati’s Columbia Tusculum neighborhood and Dayton, KY near where the $400 million Manhattan Harbour project is planned.
An increasing amount of development continues to occur on the northern bank of the river in Columbia Tusculum and East End. Further up the hill sits prosperous neighborhoods like Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, and Oakley; and just around the bend lies Lunken Airfield.
Conversely, on the south side of the river in Kentucky, large-scale development projects have long been envisioned, but are often derailed due to poor access via existing roadway networks. This remains true for Manhattan Harbour where concerns exist about the traffic burden that would be placed on the narrow KY 8 running through historic Bellevue’s quaint business district.
A local road bridge that is one lane in each direction with space for pedestrian and bicycle paths would be an ideal fit for this area of the region. It would improve mobility and access to two difficult-to-access areas. It would also offer a highway alternative for those looking to cross between the two states.
A second location where a local bridge of this nature would make sense is near where the Anderson Ferry currently operates today on the city’s west side.
The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport sits on the southern side of the river where this bridge would land. This area continues to be bolstered by warehouses, distribution facilities and other airport-related services, and could be further bolstered with better access. What’s more, Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods that have long had to deal with excessive airplane noise, yet long treks to the airport, could at least resolve one of those injustices with a new local access bridge.
The Taylor-Southgate Bridge is the most recent span that has been constructed over the Ohio River. It was completed in 1995 and cost $56 million at that time – approximately $85 million when adjusted for inflation. Both of these new bridges would need to span an approximate 1,700-foot-wide width, which is about 300 feet more than the Taylor-Southgate Bridge river width.
One of the main differences, however, is that the Taylor-Southgate Bridge includes two lanes of traffic in each direction, plus sidewalks. The need for only one lane of traffic on these bridges would allow them to have a deck width of around just 30 to 35 feet.
Another good nearby comparison is the U.S. Grant Bridge in Portsmouth, OH. That cable-stayed bridge was completed by the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2006 for approximately $30 million – or about $35 million in today’s dollars.
In addition to access and mobility improvements for motorists, a new bridge in both of these locations would also be a boon for cyclists. Those riding along the Little Miami Scenic Trail and the Ohio River Trail would now also be able to continue on to Northern Kentucky’s Riverfront Commons Trail, which will eventually stretch 11.5 miles from Ludlow to Ft. Thomas.
The Cincinnati region does not need multi-billion dollar solutions for a traffic congestion issues that largely do not exist. Reasonable and affordable projects that aim to increase mobility and access, along with maintaining our existing assets, should be the priority.
New local bridges connecting the region’s east and west side neighborhoods would open up land for new development, improve access between both states, enhance mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, and would do so at a price tag we can afford.
Max Grinnell is an author, historian, and a professor who is experienced at sharing unique perspectives of American cities. He has given a number of talks and led walking tours in cities across the country, focused on urban innovation, public art, and travel. Next week, he will be coming to Cincinnati to give us a look at the city from a historical perspective.
Grinnell’s tour will be based on Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, a book published in 1943 for the Federal Writers’ Project. It is a part of the American Guide Series, also known as the WPA guides, a program funded by the New Deal to employ writers during the Great Depression. Today, it serves as a snapshot of 1943 Cincinnati, when the city’s population was 455,610 and now-iconic structures like Carew Tower and Union Terminal were just a decade old.
UrbanCincy was able to ask Grinnell a few questions about why he was inspired to come to Cincinnati for this event.
UC: You’ve given walking tours of many other cities, and have upcoming tours scheduled for Chicago and Boston. What drew you to Cincinnati, a comparatively smaller city, for a tour?
MG: I started coming to Cincinnati five years ago to work as a grader for the AP Human Geography exam. I’ll be honest: I didn’t know much about Cincy before I got here. Probably thought about chili, Pete Rose, and that’s about it. Now? I’m a totally Queen City booster: I tell people about Mount Adams, the streetcar, the walkable neighborhoods, the great food scene, the alleys (yes, the alleys), and more.
UC: What inspired you to create a tour centered around the 1943 WPA Guide to Cincinnati?
MG: Taken as a whole, the Federal Writers Guides are nothing short of amazing. Imagine the government putting writers back to work in the Great Depression by writing about their cities, states, regions, and more. Truly a fantastic undertaking, and the Cincinnati guidebook was the last big one to be released.
The guidebook cover all of Cincinnati, plus northern Kentucky, the far reaches of Hamilton County and more with an eye for spectacular details. Historic homes, obscure technical schools, evocative park descriptions, and just about anything else was grist for the mill. Today, travel guides don’t get into that type of detail, which is a same.
Also, it’s a bit of an “amber” moment, if you will, as this was the Queen City at its industrial peak. I consider it one of the better city guides produced by the Federal Writers project and that’s significant, considering other volumes considered New Orleans, Philadelphia, and others.
UC: For people who have been following the many changes in Cincinnati’s urban core in recent years, what new perspectives might they gain from the tour?
MG: I think they’ll gain a new perspective courtesy of the past, if you will. We’ll be hearing about how businesses like the Netherland Plaza Hotel, the Billboard Publishing Plant, the James Book Store and more gave the downtown character. As someone who teaches urban studies for a living, I think we’ll also be talking about how the various buildings have been repurposed over time and how various civic leaders have seen visions both realized and unrealized come and go.