Up To Speed

The people want the parks, and lots of ’em

The people want the parks, and lots of ’em.

In no surprise to anyone, it turns out that people like to live near parks and that they want lots of parks from which to choose. Well then, which cities invest the most and have the best park options for their current and potential residents? Not Cincinnati, technically, but the Queen City does invest more in its park system than most. More from City Parks Blog:

Large amounts of parkland in cities is important, but equally vital is to have parks which are nearby and easily accessible to residents, according to the latest report by The Trust for Public Land. In seven of the nation’s largest cities — New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. — nine out of 10 residents live within a one-half mile walk to a park, according to the report.

The absolute amount of urban parkland is also significant, and among the cities with the largest park acreage are Jacksonville, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles. But some cities, even those with a lot of parkland, are not laid out so that the land is well-located for residents’ easy access. These places include Charlotte, Jacksonville, Louisville, and Indianapolis.

Up To Speed

Will Philly learn from Cincinnati’s urban casino experience?

Will Philly learn from Cincinnati’s urban casino experience?.

Like Cincinnati, Philadelphia is struggling with what to do with a proposed casino in its center city. Concerns include potential crime, urban design, historical context, and a worry about such a large area of the urban environment being owned and controlled by one entity. More from Next American City:

Blatstein is the latest high-profile developer to throw his hat into the ring, with the 120,000-square-foot “Provence Casino” plan that would transform the former Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News complex. The former offices would house a 125-room hotel and table games, while former loading docks and a parking area would be expanded into additional casino space and a massive commercial area, topped with an extravagant French-themed rooftop “village” and indoor botanical garden. According to Tower, the project will create 5,300 permanent positions for casino workers, in addition to thousands of temporary construction jobs.

Up To Speed

More cities looking to roll the dice on urban casinos

More cities looking to roll the dice on urban casinos.

As Cincinnati moves forward with its new casino in Pendleton, Chicagoans are dealing with a political setback that is preventing a casino from operating in Illinois’ biggest city. While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) supports the idea, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) is concerned expanded gambling could open “loopholes for mobsters.” More from Next American City:

Emanuel insists that a downtown casino is so lucrative an economic development tool that any delay in construction is depriving the city of valuable tourist dollars and a new source of educational funds.

The debate is just the latest in a decades-long controversy over what role, if any, casinos can play in the revival of America’s cities. The economic downturn has given states an impetus to open up new sources of revenue, with gambling often viewed as low-hanging fruit. Twelve states have expanded gambling options in the last three years, 22 now permit commercial casinos (up from two in 1974), and Hawaii’s legislature is currently considering plans that would leave Utah as the sole state without some form of legalized gambling.

Depending on the outcome of the political struggle, Chicago could supersede Philadelphia as the largest American city with legalized gambling.

Business News Transportation

Local carsharing program may soon get rolling in Cincinnati

A group of young leaders in Cincinnati believe it is long past time for the city to have a carsharing program of its own. The group of individuals make up the Transportation Committee of the Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet (YPKC) which provides policy ideas and suggestions to Mayor Mallory that will help to both attract and retain young talent.

The idea for carsharing comes from a growing number of people either going car-free or car-light. What makes the issue particularly relevant to the YPKC is the fact that young people seem to be leading that trend. Nationally, the percentage of 16-year-old drivers with licenses has decreased from 41 percent in 1996 to 29.8 percent in 2006, and in Ohio that number has dropped five percent since 2000 alone according to the state Department of Public Safety and U.S. Census Bureau.

“This isn’t a very controversial topic, and many cities our size that don’t have transportation options beyond buses are able to make carsharing work,” said Chad Schaser, YPKC Transportation Committee member. “What they have realized is that you can create a successful program by starting around universities and the center city, where the number of people owning automobiles is historically lower, then work your way out from there.”

According to Schaser, their push for a carsharing program in Cincinnati could come in a number of forms. One option, he says, is to attract an existing carsharing service like Zipcars to the region.

“We first started working on the idea of a carsharing program in 2008 and really began in earnest this year,” Schaser explained. “Through our research we looked at locally run programs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and we wanted to figure out how to recruit a carsharing program to Cincinnati, but we did not get a great response.”

Once the group discovered the likelihood of attracting a major carsharing provider to Cincinnati was low, they decided to shift their attention to figure out how to start a local carsharing program similar to those in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The group then took six months to study the feasibility and put numbers together that would help generate a basic business plan.

The draft business plan put together by the group says that an initial 20-car fleet with some 500 members makes operations quite feasible, but Schaser says the real trick is coming up with the initial capital needed which they project to be around $250,000.

“If we can make this sustainable then there’s not going to be much opposition. Our goal is to make a program work here that won’t require taxpayer or major funding to make it happen.”

One way to get things going, Schaser says, is to get large employers to sign on as a charter member thus providing an upfront base of users. Once such member could be the City of Cincinnati which could be able to save millions of dollars annually by ridding itself of vehicle ownership and maintenance. After selling 329 vehicles, the City of Philadelphia was able to save $6 million through lower insurance costs, less use, and less abuse in just three years with its partnership with Philly CarShare.

But beyond landing an initial charter member, the committee feels like there will be some work in making Cincinnati a better place to live either car-free or car-light.

“In Cincinnati people are addicted to their automobiles,” exclaimed Schaser. “We think that the Cincinnati Streetcar will be well-used, and marrying a carsharing program with our existing and future transit options will help create a lesser dependence on cars.”

Right now the committee is conducting an online survey to gauge initial interest levels in Cincinnati.  The survey can be taken through December 1, 2010.  At that point Schaser says that the group hopes to take the idea and preliminary business plan to City officials for further development.

Business News Politics Transportation

Zipcars don’t live here

As Cincinnati painstakingly works its way towards a more comprehensive transit network we must not forget that American cities are largely built around the automobile and sometimes having access to an automobile makes life easier. This does not mean that you must own and maintain a personal automobile though.

The option for those looking to live car-free or at least car-light is urban car sharing which has taken off in several American cities. In a nutshell urban car sharing compliments lifestyles that use public transit, walking and/or cycling as a primary means of transportation. In these cases the car sharing then acts as an option for trips otherwise not possible through the aforementioned means of transportation.

Out-of-town trips, special occasions (i.e. moving, joy ride, date), or trips to locations accessible only by automobiles are then made easily accessible for those not interesting in owning and maintaining a costly automobile. Users of car sharing programs like Zipcars have been found to reduce the number of automobiles per household and increase their usage of transit, bicycling and walking.

Programs such as these are often popular in high density urban locations well-served by public transit or near places with low car ownership rates like college campuses. In Midtown Atlanta alone there are 21 Zipcar locations that serve the high density urban community which is also home to the Georgia Institute of Technology and its 20,000 students. Comparatively, Uptown Cincinnati has zero Zipcar locations to serve its high density urban community and the University of Cincinnati’s roughly 40,000 students.

If you look further to downtown Atlanta you can add in another seven Zipcar locations with two more in the Inman Park/Little Five Points area just a stones throw away. In downtown Cincinnati and historic Over-the-Rhine the trend continues with zero Zipcar locations serving a higher density urban community than its Atlanta counterpart.

In the rest of Atlanta another 14 Zipcar locations can be found bringing the total to 44 Zipcar locations in Metro Atlanta with one to two cars per location while Cincinnati has none. Meanwhile in Cincinnati car-free individuals struggle to make things work in a limited-bus and car only city with many more looking to have the option of living car-free or car-light.

The number of American cities that boast public transit systems comprehensive enough to allow for mainstream car-free lifestyles can be counted on one hand. As a result car sharing programs like Zipcars play an instrumental role in the process of creating a lesser demand for personal automobiles. And it seems to me like Cincinnati is a perfect urban region for such a program, and regional leaders in Cincinnati should examine establishing a local carsharing program as has been done in cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland.