Cincinnati is a city known for its unique and dynamic neighborhoods; and over the past few years many of these neighborhoods have transitioned through the work and dedication of community development groups, active and engaged stakeholders and residents, and the assistance of leading experts in the field.
Successes like new developments, restoration of historic buildings, and implementation of placemaking strategies, however, have not come without challenges and lessons learned. Building healthy and resilient places, such as in some of the neighborhoods of Cincinnati, is the focus of this semester’s Neihoff Studio open house.
The Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy have invited several community development experts to gather for an in-depth discussion on creating success in several of Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods on Thursday, April 21.
Building on the second year of the Building Healthy and Resilient Places theme, the open house is the culmination of a semester-long effort by DAAP students working with six neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Covington to identify potential redevelopment opportunities in neighborhoods such as Roselawn, College Hill, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale, Price Hill, and downtown Covington.
Kathy Schwab, of LISC, will present awards to the winning student group.
“Our theme is Building Healthy and Resilient Places, and students are encouraged to make places that promote health in a number of categories,” Frank Russell, Director of the UC Niehoff Studio told UrbanCincy. “Above all students were challenged with how to make form and program that would make these NBDs ‘centers of activity’ in accordance with Plan Cincinnati.”
The event will culminate with a panel of experts moderated by UrbanCincy. Panelists include Phil Denning from the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development; Kathleen Norris, who is the Principal and founder of Urban Fast Forward, a real-estate consulting firm; and Seth Walsh with the Community Development Corporation Association of the Greater Cincinnati.
The event will kick off at the Niehoff Urban Studio Community Design Center on Short Vine at 5pm this Thursday, with the panel discussion starting at 6pm. The event is easily accessible by Red Bike with a station conveniently located across the street. It is also accessible via Metro Bus Routes #24, #19 and Metro Plus.
These two neighborhoods represent the 21st and 22nd communities to participate in the program, which utilizes a 90-day collaborative focus between various city departments and community organizations to address crime hot spots, beautifying streetscapes, and tackling blight.
“Cincinnati has a long and proud history of neighborhood involvement and that core value is one of the reasons the NEP is so effective,” Mayor John Cranley (D) said in a prepared statement. “The importance of collaboration with local businesses and volunteers in making our neighborhoods sustainable cannot be underestimated.”
City officials say that Lower Price Hill’s NEP will take place from March through May, while the program will take place in Mt. Auburn from mid-August through mid-November.
While the NEP has consistent goals for each community in which its employed, city leaders also work closely with each individual neighborhood to make sure the program is tailored specifically to meet its needs. Those details, program administrators say, will be developed more for both Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn over the coming months.
In addition to reducing blight and addressing crime activity, the program has also started to take on signature projects identified by each respective community. Last year, this included the renovation of Grant Park Playground in Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Outdoor Gym in Roselawn.
“This program is about much more than just building playgrounds and cleaning up empty lots,” noted Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black. “It’s about making meaningful and sustainable investments in some of Cincinnati’s historic communities in order to ensure they’re thriving places.”
The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.
Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.
“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.
The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.
“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”
Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.
“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”
While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.
Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).
“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.
The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.
“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”
Other projects include:
Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”
The commission chose to table a zoning change request by Stagnaro, Saba & Patterson Co. (SSP) to rezone a property at 3443 Zumstein Avenue in Hyde Park from single-family residential use to office use, which would allow the firm to relocate four of its 13 employees from its adjacent office to the building’s first floor.
The zoning change was opposed by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, which fears the expansion of businesses onto its residential streets, a loss of parking, and uncertainty about the property’s future use.
“In our meetings with Mr. Saba [Peter Saba, attorney and SSP shareholder], he revealed that the short-term plan was to use the first floor for office, which appears to be rather innocuous,” said Gary Wollenweber, chair of Hyde Park Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee. “But then he explained that future plans may be to occupy the entire building, or demolish the entire building and build a parking lot, or perhaps enlarge his current building.”
Saba said that his firm was only exploring its options.
“Specifically, at that point in time when we looked at it, we realized our only plan we wanted to do is use that first floor space,” he said. “At this point, that’s all we have on the table. Anything else is beyond economic feasibility for us right now.”
SSP has a second office in Anderson Township, and it has been suggested that the firm could expand there. But Jeff Stagnaro, who is also an attorney and shareholder with SSP, said that the majority of his firm’s clients prefer the Hyde Park location.
“Your choice is really to move the entire firm to Anderson Township, or stay here in Hyde Park,” he said. “It is somewhat about us, but it’s about our clients more than it’s about us.”
To Wollenweber, the residents of Zumstein Avenue may have little defense over the zoning change, citing a recent change on Edwards Avenue as precedent.
“One of the arguments that was used against us was that it’s just one more parcel in the middle of a block, and what difference would it make if you just move one more parcel north?” he said. “This is the first parcel with a Zumstein address. So we are turning the corner off of Erie and now starting to march down Zumstein.”
The issue may appear before the commission again in May or June, giving time for the firm and the neighborhood to explore possible solutions.
In a less contentious debate, the City Planning Commission rejected a zoning change at 1780-1816 Section Road in Roselawn from residential multi-family use to office use.
Property owner Schuyler Murdock, who has run design-build firm CM-GC from the property since 2009, wants to make utility upgrades to her non-conforming building and is trying to market the adjacent parcels for the construction of two condominium buildings of four units apiece, plus a spa and wellness center.
Murdock told commissioners that she has already lined up an operator for the spa and has pre-sold two condominiums.
But with no concrete development plans and a fear that nothing would be built and the stepped-up zoning would remain, she failed to draw the support of the Roselawn Community Council.
As part of the latest partnership of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and ArtWorks, 60 bus shelters throughout the city of Cincinnati now feature photographic portraits of local residents, part of a project by nationally renowned photographer Richard Renaldi.
Due to a 2013 decision by Cincinnati City Council to prohibit advertising in the city right-of-way, SORTA as been left with the question of how to fill sign panels in Metro bus shelters. Last year, the transit agency partnered with ArtWorks to present a series of graphic prints, inspired by works of literature, on 24 bus shelters.
This year the entities have again teamed up to present Touching Strangers: Cincinnati. This project is also part of the 2014 edition of Fotofocus, a biennial celebration of the art of photography.
Originally from Chicago, Renaldi now works out of New York, and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world.
Renaldi took the photos during a June visit to the city. Residents of Cincinnati area posed for the photos; most feature two people, but in several of the images three are included. The subjects were strangers to each other, having met only for the taking of the pictures, yet are positioned in poses in that suggest a level of intimacy.
Four ArtWorks youth apprentices and two local professional photographers worked with Renaldi and produced additional Touching Strangers portraits.
Renaldi and several of the apprentices dedicated the collection of photos at an event on October 16 at a shelter on Sycamore Street downtown. On hand was a Metro bus that has been wrapped with one of the images from the collection.
Many of the shelters featuring the portraits are centrally located downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, the West End, and Uptown, but others are scattered around the city in neighborhoods such as Westwood, Roselawn, and Oakley.