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County sustainability series expands on infrastructure, takes aim at finances

The Hamilton County Planning Partnership held the second installment of its four-seminar series, Sustainable Hamilton County this November, at the offices of process management consulting firm TechSolve. The focus of this second event, "Trends that are Changing our Communities," built off the series' first seminar, "The Built Environment: Retrofitting Cities, Communities and Neighborhoods."

"It is important to acknowledge that 'sustainable' or 'sustainability' or any other variation of the term is used so indiscriminately that it has lost meaning," says Catalina Landivar, senior planner at the Planning Partnership. "We are talking about reinventing our communities, reaching a balance, using our resources in an efficient way and providing and maintaining a[n excellent] quality of life for all residents."

The Nov. 19 event featured presentations by experts in housing trends, the relationship between the physical environment and public health, and panel discussions on the relationship between these topics and infrastructure that supports multiple modes of transportation.

Attendee Mike Lemon said he appreciated the seminars' proactive approach to redefining the community. "We can't be "waiting for superman" to fix our problems," he said. "[We] need to reverse the trend of 'designing out' healthy lifestyles."

The third seminar in the four-part Sustainable Hamilton County series is scheduled for Jan. 21 at the University of Cincinnati's Tangeman University Center. Its focal theme, "Fiscal Sustainability and Quality of Life in our Communities," will expand even further the concept of sustainable planning in the Greater Cincinnati area, says Landivar.

"All those topics center on people," she says. "Putting it in other words, what do we want our communities to look like? What are trends telling us about our own situation and what can we do about it? How can we pay for the type of community we want?"

The Jan. 21 seminar will be followed by a final session, "Sustainable Hamilton County: We Can Do It!" which is scheduled to take place March 11 at Xavier University. For more information on the Sustainable Hamilton County seminar series, visit the Hamilton County Planning Partnership's website

Writer: Matt Cunningham


Lululemon clothes fitness buffs, educates about healthier lifestyles

Lululemon is not only a fitness-clothing store, but one focused on educating the public about living a better and healthier lifestyle. The store sells athletic clothing for any kind of fitness activity, including yoga, dancing, and running. Lululemon originated in Vancouver and has opened stores throughout the country including a new showroom in Hyde Park Square.

Jennifer Basa, the store manager, had to choose an area of Cincinnati to open the showroom, which is a smaller version of a regular store, in order to see if Lululemon would succeed. Basa researched the area and found that Lululemon's market was already in Hyde Park - an area with a number of health conscious residents. Not only does Lululemon fit the location with its boutique atmosphere, but Basa felt it was easily accessible from many areas in the city.

"Hyde Park is a great location for a boutique atmosphere with lots of local businesses. We all help each other out," Basa explained.

The store is open three days a week in order for customers to check out the store. The showroom also offers a complimentary yoga class every Saturday morning, taught by yoga instructors in the area from different studios. During the week, five employees seek out local studios and fitness locations to support and help build a fitness community. Lululemon hopes to be the education fitness hub of the city, informing their customers about the top places to engage in fitness activities. 

"We do the leg work and tell you who you can trust in the community. We want you to leave Lululemon with a great lifestyle," Basa offered.

Basa believes Lululemon will thrive in the Cincinnati because of the established fitness community. 

"All of the powerhouses working together is inspiring," Basa said. "Lululemon can be the catalyst and hub for the studios and business owners that get together and work for a common cause in the community."

Lululemon practices what it preaches by getting involved with the community, educating customers about living a healthier and longer life, and maintaining their culture about fitness and goals.

"We are here for the community, to educate and to help anyone we can. I am so excited to bring this to Cincinnati because there is so much potential in the city and now I can contribute," Basa said. 

Writer: Lisa Ensminger


More than a flip, Home Restart's take on renovation

Mention "real estate flipping," and many people will come back with a less-than flattering image. Maybe it's a shady businessman whose idea of a "rehab" is a new coat of paint and a 200 percent bump in his asking price. Maybe it's a semi-employed hairdresser with more money than experience, whose end product is all style and no structure. It's enough to warn friends and family away from the risks of home ownership, regardless of the many rewards.

But there are others involved in the real estate rehabilitation business; professionals whose work walks the fine line between building in value and preserving profit in a rehab project. And these rehab experts are quietly improving the faces of some of the Queen City's most desirable neighborhoods.

Locally based Home Restart, LLC, falls into the latter category. The company reports it rehabbed seven homes this year, in neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Oakley, Edgewood and Fort Thomas, Kentucky. With gross profits on the projects ranging from $50,000 to more than $100,000 over the homes' purchase prices, one might wonder if the company simply "pretties up" the properties. According to vice president Anne Pond, the improvements are very real, and are meant to improve more than just the homes where they're installed.

"There are a plethora of homes on the market today, many of them short sales and distressed properties that bring down local property values," she says. "We saw an opportunity with Home Restart to help build property values in neighborhoods."

She explains that some of the homes Home Restart targets are foreclosed or abandoned properties. Others, however, may be homes where the owners, for various reasons, simply can't maintain a home of a given size or complexity. And while Pond notes that, in the end, the numbers have to make sense before they pursue a project, Home Restart looks for opportunities to make substantive improvements to the properties. They range from installation of high-efficiency windows and HVAC to converting an historic home from four-family back to single-family use.

Foreclosed, distressed and abandoned properties could well be considered the windows of Wilson and Kelling's "broken windows effect" - decay invites more decay, driving down the value of an area. No neighborhood, regardless of status, is safe from these problems. But work like that done by Home Restart goes beyond simple profiteering to do something much larger: it is a company tapping a lucrative market niche, for certain. But it's also a service, helping, house by house, to keep Cincinnati's neighborhoods beautiful.

Writer: Matt Cunningham

Tom + Chee goes full time on Court Street

When Corey Ward and Trew Quackenbush decided to sell grilled cheese and tomato soup to ice skaters on Fountain Square last winter, not everyone was convinced it would work. The operators of the Square were skeptical that Ward, a freelance designer, and Quackenbush, a professional chef, could succeed where others had failed.

"They knew that this was our first venture, and the two [food vendors] before us hadn't done well at all," Ward said. "They were looking out for us, but we hassled them enough that they finally said 'just do it.'" 

The deciding factor was a batch of freshly cooked grilled cheeses that the men delivered to the 3CDC offices, Ward said.

Now, one year after they sold their first sandwich, the two men and their wives have opened a permanent restaurant location for their business, called Tom + Chee, on Court Street. They will serve lunch there starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

The Tom + Chee menu offers simple grilled cheeses and tomato soups, but many of their sandwiches have a twist. Doughnuts are a bread option, and ingredients include bacon and barbeque potato chips. With the new space and an oven, Tom and Chee will soon offer pot pies and new sandwiches, including a complete line of peanut butter and jelly.

"It's comfort food for the masses," Ward said. "It's simple food that can be done well."

All soups, which are designed by Quackenbush, will have tomato and/or cheese as an ingredient.
 
Quackenbush's wife, Jennifer, and Ward now run the new location while their spouses work other jobs. Quackenbush said that their concept is successful because it's cheap, but most importantly because it offers food that makes people feel good.

"Some people walk by and they see 'grilled cheese,' and they giggle, then they walk back ten minutes later and order one," Quackenbush said. "If they don't know what they want for lunch, they can settle for some good, old childhood memories."

The new location is their first step towards a larger presence in Greater Cincinnati. They plan to eventually open other locations, specifically one near the University of Cincinnati Campus. There, Ward said, some of their more creative offerings will finally reach their full potential.

"Then you could get a grilled cheese with barbeque chips and bacon on a doughnut at three in the morning," he said. "That's the way it should be."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Green Learning Station teaches sustainability in Avondale

Cincinnati residents looking to enhance the greenness of their green thumbs will soon have a new - and well-funded - resource. The Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati, an Avondale-based nonprofit organization that provides horticultural education to individuals, students and community groups, is receiving substantial support for The Green Learning Station, its environmentally oriented education program.

While the Civic Garden Center has offered gardening courses to the community and supported more than 47 active gardens in the city, the Green Learning Station takes its educational programming in a new direction. The Station's courses, seminars and actual construction will provide both training and research opportunities for those interested in sustainability through horticulture.

The Ohio EPA likes the idea; it recently awarded the Civic Garden Center a $50,000 general grant to fund field trips - including supplies and bus fees - for 60 middle school and high school classes.

"It has been our hope to be able to provide this hands-on, real world field trip and curriculum free of charge, and to provide funds for students to actually make a change at their schools," says Ryan Mooney-Bullock, program manager for the Green Learning Station.

She explained that while the Station's courses on gardening, green roofs and rainwater harvesting have significant value for gardeners, the hope is that they could sprout a grassroots solution to one of Greater Cincinnati's larger environmental problems: uncontrolled rainwater runoff that overflows sewers and dumps pollution into the region's waterways.

"We have all this water running off. If we can plant more gardens and bioswales, we're not only creating beautiful spaces, we're solving the rainwater problem," she says.

This falls hand-in-hand with the goals of the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati's Project Groundwork, a multi-year series of projects aimed at modernizing the area's runoff management system. In fact, the MSD is funding a series of sustainable control projects at the Green Learning Station. The efficacy of the projects will be measured, with the data made available to students and researchers investigating these green solutions to runoff problems.

Environmental quality organizations are not the only funders of this major educational initiative. The Greater Cincinnati Foundation is providing $50,000 to fund digital signage at the station, making its educational displays and information more accessible to the community.

"We funded the Green Learning Station not only because it is an innovative and collaborative project but it also gets the broader community involved in addressing the issue of storm water runoff," says LaToya Moore, associate program officer at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

The Green Learning Station's facility is under construction at the Civic Garden Center on Reading Road, with funding support from PNC Bank, Social Venture Partners and a growing list of local and regional foundations. If the support continues, Civic Garden Center officials say they hope to open the Green Learning Station, and begin spreading the knowledge that could support grassroots sustainability in Cincinnati, in April 2011.

Writer: Matt Cunningham
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Downtown dog park breaks ground, plans for spring opening

Working, living, or visiting in the downtown area and need an open green space to take your dog? The Downtown Dog Recreation Area will be coming to the east end of Downtown soon. 

The Park broke ground this month after a long and difficult start - the project initially began three years ago with a budget of $325,000 - but after the economy faltered the project was put on hold. But a new project manager, Craig Beachler, and a revised budget, have downtown in line to finally get an off-leash dog play area.

The recreation area for dogs and their owners has been funded and supported by local companies, residents, and the City of Cincinnati. The City and the State of Ohio donated the land  along with ten trees for the park. The new budget of $75,000 has been supported largely by a $50,000 gift from Procter & Gamble, and $7,000 from the private funds of supporters. The Downtown Residents Council raised 76 percent of the park's annual budget but continues to look for funding from local animal lovers.

"For me and for the dogs, it is all about raising more money so we can do this right," Beachler said. "The goal is to spread the word and have peoples' love of dogs play out through their financial donations."

When Beachler moved to downtown Cincinnati in 2006, he started a pub-crawl, "Bars Around the Block," to spread the word about the recreation area. The pub crawls have raised $7,000 alone - Beachler will host the sixth crawl this February with all proceeds going towards the dog park. Beachler emphasized the importance of liability and trust with the donations.

"I publish the results so that the people who come and contribute know exactly where their money goes. I have accountability in terms of the public and getting the project done and spending the money in the right way," Beachler said.

Once completed in 2011, Beachler thinks the park will be widely used by new and old residents.

"We wouldn't do it if we didn't think people were going to use it," Beachler explained. With the help of donations and volunteer labor, Beachler loves seeing people come together with the common goal to accomplish something good for the city.

"We are helping create a city where people want to live and don't want to leave. It is a part of the rebirth of downtown Cincinnati," Beachler said.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography by Scott Beseler.

OTR gets first pop-up shop in time for the holidays

Cincinnati retail will receive an innovative twist this holiday season with the opening of the region's first pop-up shop in Over-the-Rhine on November 26.  As a short term, high profile retail venue, pop-up shops offer customers a new way to experience local businesses and products, and offer an ideal way to find unique goods.  This year, holiday shoppers will be able to visit the temporary location at 1213 Vine Street and buy products from a variety of locally owned businesses. 

Pop-up shops have gained in popularity in large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, and are benefitting from holiday foot traffic in walkable neighborhoods across the country.  They have proven to be perfect destinations for smaller vendors who might otherwise find the cost of a traditional storefront prohibitive, and also encourage a more interactive shopping experience.  Over-the-Rhine has proven to be the perfect spot for independent business opportunities, and the pop-up shop will add another dimension for the discerning holiday shopper. 

Local patrons of the already bustling retail community in Over-the Rhine as well as first-time shoppers will be pleased to see products ranging from the hand-crafted truffles of Chocolats Latour to rock posters designed by Newport's Powerhouse Factories.  Locally produced clocks, coasters, and magnets will be available from Studio Vertu, and the design duo behind Artfully Disheveled will offer a selection of accessories for the well-dressed man. 

Colin Groth, co-owner of Cincinnati-themed apparel company Nati Evolvement, sees their involvement in the pop-up shop as a way to bring energy and excitement to the downtown area during the holiday season. 

"The pop up shop is a fantastic addition this year and a great chance to showcase small and locally owned businesses who may not have a retail presence of their own," Groth said.  "This is a great chance for Nati Evolvement to have a single retail location that showcases all of our products.  Our company is all about the Cincinnati community so we also hope to use our portion of the space to highlight some of the other great initiatives and start-ups that our group is involved in, and to get people engaged even after they get home."

The pop-up shop will run for nine days over four weekends through December 19th, and will be located at 1213 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.   More details, as well as hours for the shop, can be found here.

Writer: Kelly Carpe
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Lunar first to open in new bar and restaurant complex downtown

The creative team behind popular bar FB's will unveil their next project, a two-story space-themed lounge and nightclub called Lunar, at 435 Elm St. on December 10.

According to Bill Foster, an owner, the plan is to add a restaurant and outdoor concert pavilion to the complex by next summer.

Foster's first foray into the bar industry was with FB's, the richly-decorated downtown Cincinnati lounge that also hosts a basement dance club called "The Rabbit Hole." To open the establishment, Foster partnered with Cincinnati nightclub veteran Scott Sheridan. Sheridan had developed the concept after years managing local nightclubs including Club Clau and Purgatory. Foster, who has built a national warehousing business from Cincinnati in the last decade, provided the drive to put it into action, he said.
 
"We started out small just to get the kinks worked out, and now we're ready for a larger project like this," Foster said. "We're going to have a whole campus on this block."

The men partnered with Ryan Goldschmidt and Ron Goldschmidt, the building's owners, to create the complex. Their fifth partner is Jimmy Gibson, who worked for a decade as a chef for Jeff Ruby. He will design the menu for Lunar Lounge and direct the upcoming restaurant. 

Lunar's lounge and nightclub will maintain a futuristic, space-travel theme. Foster said bare concrete walls and an expansive lighting system with a liberal dose of LED's and chandeliers will be the defining decorative elements.

"We're bringing a lot of new technology to the area," he said. 

Lunar will also blur the lines between social networking and real-live-partying as an employee will scan twitter feeds of Lunar's guests and display them on monitors throughout the bar. The men also have plans for a rooftop bar that would open in about two years, Foster said.

The downstairs portion of the bar, called Lunar Lounge, will be open seven days a week, with the larger upstairs portion open Thursday, Friday and Saturday as well as for special events.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

GCWW's new facility enhanced by UV technology

To every outdoorsman, germophobe and gadget geek who has looked skeptically at UV water purifiers, consider this: The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati will soon use the same basic technology as products like the Steripen purifier to disinfect the city's water.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) is on track to open a 19,600 square-foot UV disinfection facility at its Richard Miller Treatment Plant on Kellogg Avenue by the end of 2012. According to Calgon Carbon, the company building the UV units for the plant, the $30 million facility will be able to treat up to 240 million gallons of water a day.

The UV treatment will actually be the third step in the plant's disinfection process. Water first flows through a sand filtration system; just like it sounds, sand traps larger particles as the water is forced through it. The water then flows through a Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filter, which uses a type of charcoal to pull more chemicals out of the water.

Both of these systems are effective and time-tested, but they can't catch some of the worst drinking water contaminants: microorganisms and viruses that can cause diseases like gastroenteritis, typhoid fever and cholera. Until now, most water utilities have relied on a system in which chlorine is added to - then removed from - the water. It's effective, but can't kill all the microorganisms, and leaves trace amounts of chlorine (a deadly gas in its pure form) in the drinking water.

While UV disinfection won't eliminate the need to use chlorine in Cincinnati's water, it will add another layer of protection. UV disrupts the internal mechanisms in microorganisms and certain viruses, leaving them unable to multiply or killing them outright.

So why add the large, sophisticated, $30 million extra layer of protection for Cincinnati water drinkers? The city has not seen an outbreak of a waterborne disease such as Giardia or Cryptosporidium in the recent past, after all.

According to a GCWW report, part of the reason is that there's been cause for concern about just such a problem occurring. A wastewater treatment plant in Alexandria, Kentucky, releases treated water into the Ohio River 11 miles upstream of the Richard Miller facility. And while GCWW doesn't report concerns about the Kentucky treatment facility's ability to do its job, it's taking a "trust, but verify" approach to the issue.

"New or unexpected contaminants are sure to be discovered in our source water in the future," reports the GCWW. "UV disinfection, combined with GCWW's current treatment processes, provides an extra layer of protection against those contaminants. This is an important step in insuring public health now and for future generations."

Writer: Matt Cunningham
Photography provided

Cincy Unchained's independent businesses building better neighborhoods

The holiday shopping season is officially underway and this year Cincinnatians are being encouraged to buy locally.  Sean Fisher, founder of BuyCincy.com, has planned Cincinnati Unchained for Saturday, November 20th.  Fisher has coordinated with local independent businesses within the city in twelve Cincinnati neighborhoods to offer special discounts, door buster specials, or donate a portion of the day's sales to their favorite charity.

Lisa Kagen, storeowner of Melt and Picnic & Pantry in Northside, thinks consumers who seek out independent retailers are choosing to support their local economy first. And that's good for the neighborhoods where independent businesses are located.

"This is the only way we can be patient with our economy and rebuild it by reinvesting in our local economy instead of chain businesses," Kagen said. "It is not a trend, but a movement back to how a real economy used to work."

Kagen opened Picnic & Pantry in May of this year. She found the need to add a local grocery and market in Northside and loved the area because of its diverse atmosphere, affordability, and historic appeal. Always attracted to neighborhoods on the cusp of blossoming, Kagen finds that Northside, along with other areas in Cincinnati, provide a lot of opportunity for independent shops to thrive. Kagen explained that she has no trouble finding local resources and that other businesses are willing to communicate and support one another.

Another thriving neighborhood for entrepreneurs is Over-the-Rhine with forty-seven new businesses in the past two years. Brian Tiffany, President of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, supports the Cincinnati Unchained event, and views it as a great opportunity to demonstrate that buying local during the holidays offers shoppers a unique alternative. According to Tiffany, Over-the-Rhine businesses attract a variety of age groups ranging from the younger community to the "empty-nesters" looking for something new in the historic area.

"The younger community is a lot faster at embracing the change and opportunity, but as the word gets out a wide variety of people seem to visit the neighborhood," Tiffany said.

Tiffany explains that Over-the-Rhine is attractive to new businesses due to the changes taking place in the neighborhood, including Washington Park's overhaul and SCPA's new facility, and the Chamber's Business First grant program. So much affordable opportunity is available for small businesses as well as for home ownership.

"For once in a long time, I feel like the planets are aligning in Over-the-Rhine. I think the neighborhood has been challenged for so many years, and now it is moving into its own and starting to recognize its full potential," Tiffany said.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography by Scott Beseler.
Picnic & Pantry

World planning day brings new ideas to Amberley Village

To celebrate World Planning Day in Hamilton County, ninety planners and planning students gathered in Amberley Village to brainstorm how the town might utilize vacant green space that would fulfill the community's goals.

The annual event, organized by the Hamilton County Planning Department and Cincinnati's chapter of the American Planning Association, helps one community think through their major planning issues each year.

The Amberley town government owns a vacant golf course and swim club, and the neighborhood also has an unused school. A town where young families are moving in and new ways of thinking are on the rise, Amberly hopes to improve its community dynamic while also staying green.

At the World Planning Day charette, planners gathered into groups to address the vacant properties, as well as the lack of sidewalks and bike paths in the community. At the end of the day they presented their ideas to the mayor and town council.

Mayor Merrie Stillpass said that almost all of the town is built-out except for the 133 acre golf course, Amberley Green, that is currently used by residents for walking and running, and its future is a hot issue in the small community.

"We are currently working on ideas - which this World Planning Day event helped us look at with a different lens - to develop it as a mixed use area," Stillpass said. "We've turned down some previously proposed developments because we're looking for the right mix and right density that adds value, is an amenity to the community and doesn't have negative impacts."

The planning group covering Amberley Green suggested one idea, or a combination of ideas, that stuck out to Stillpass.

"For the Amberley Green property there were some thoughts about having an interdisciplinary program that might be supported by a couple of the local college programs," she said. "A research facility that could become a sustainability center with an agricultural component and maybe a residential component, or a banquet center - something that could generate revenue for the Village but perpetuate the higher calling of sustainability."

Another big issue in Amberley is the lack of sidewalks or bike paths, and one group of planners suggested a hierarchy of pathways that could be built to begin connecting the Village's different neighborhoods to community gathering spots.

In a couple of weeks the ideas gathered that day will be posted on a website hosted by the Hamilton County Planning Department, and at that point Amberley's Mayor and Town Council will start sifting through the ideas to see which ones are worth future investigation, Stillpass said.

Hamilton County's director of planning, Todd Kinskey, said Wednesday's event had the highest turnout in the eleven years his office has helped to sponsor the event. Community's that are interested in hosting a World Planning Day charrette can contact his office for more information.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Illustration provided
The approval by Village Council of a plan to landscape the intersection of Ronald Reagan Highway and Ridge Road

Local author's history of Cincinnati's incomplete subway looks to future developments

When Jacob Mecklenborg set out to write a book about the two miles of empty subway tunnel that lie beneath downtown Cincinnati - a catacombish network of concrete that has never heard the clang of a rail car - he had no idea how much history he would uncover.

"I made the mistake of thinking because I had written an article on it ten years earlier that I had a really big head start, but that was not the case," he said at a book signing at Neon's in Over-the-Rhine. "So much of this story had never been told," he added.
 
His new book  "Cincinnati's Incomplete Subway; The Complete History," covers 150 years of rail development in Cincinnati, most famously one called the Rapid Transit Loop which included the two-mile subway tunnel. The bond issue that funded it did not provide enough money to complete the project once material costs skyrocketed after WWI and, as Mecklenborg's book follows in meticulous detail, repeated efforts to resurrect the tunnel over the next 90 years failed as well.
 
Mecklenborg argues that while pro-automobile federal policy exacerbated efforts to build the line, local smear-campaigns and inaccurate media coverage were what effectively killed it.

A photographer and graphic designer by training, Mecklenborg was commissioned by the History Press to write the book after one of their editors read an article about the subway that he wrote and published on his website.

A transit-enthusiast, Mecklenborg warned that the same problems that kept the subway from being built still threaten transit issues in Cincinnati.

"The struggle for all of us who are interested in improving the public transportation situation in Cincinnati is that the local media does not report state law, federal law, and the transit situation here in an accurate way," Mecklenborg said. "People can say whatever misinformation they want, and they don't get rebuked or fact-checked."

One common misconception that the subway failed because rail cars wouldn't fit, is entirely false but still persists, he said. That particular myth was promoted by a group of young politicians who were trying to embarrass the political establishment that built the tunnel.

Mecklenborg attributed the recent success of Cincinnati's streetcar campaign to the advent of "fact-checking" web sites that informed local voters about where funding for the system would come.  He believes the original subway tunnel might still be used to house light rail transit someday, and tells his readers what infrastructure improvements would be required to do so.

Mecklenborg, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of local transit history, sums up his hopes for the future in the book's introduction:

"I believe that this book will help clear the fog surrounding the subject, and in doing so remove the subway's construction and nonuse as a dependable 'argument' of anti-rail, anti-city forces."

Mecklenborg's book is available through History Press.
Link to the new video !!!
Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography provided.

Wind turbine at Zoo about more than just electricity

Since June, visitors to the Cincinnati Zoo have had a unique, but non-animal, attraction to see: the zoo's new, 30-foot vertical-axis wind turbine, or VAWT.

The turbine, is the first such unit installed at a zoo, and produces an estimated 2000 kilowatts of energy per year - enough to run a typical dishwasher and refrigerator for a year, according to the Zoo.  The turbine and a series of solar panels are providing a third of the power needed to run the Zoo's ticketing building.

It's a nifty concept, and an aesthetically interesting one to boot: Rather than the propeller/windmill shape many have come to know as typical for wind turbines, the VAWT looks more like an elongated eggbeater blade, or some type of kinetic sculpture. Videos on the zoo's website show the aerodynamic blades turning slowly in this summer's light breezes, looking more like a child's mobile than an efficient generator.

And the videos show another side of the turbine, too. Comments on one, accessed through YouTube, harp on the zoo for spending a significant amount of money on a turbine that produces very little power (the actual cost of the turbine is not listed, but smaller residential units retail for roughly $4,000). In a sense, the comment has a point: why raise a turbine - in an area not known for consistent wind - that can only power a fraction of one building on a very large, very energy-costly campus? Is that really money well spent?

A little digging suggests two responses: first, it's not about electricity. Second, in that light it's money very well spent.

Visit the Zoo's website and peruse its medial information about the turbine, and it's clear that the installation is less about producing energy than it is about education. There are videos describing the vertical axis design, and showing it at work. There are pdf brochures and pages of information about residential use of wind generators and solar arrays. There is coverage of the Zoo's efforts to save polar bears, whose habitats are at risk due to global warming. And pages throughout the site feature the phrase "what can I do to go green?"

The Zoo's turbine is about education. It's a unique eye-catcher, and a touchstone for Zoo media staff to use when connecting visitors to its other, more action- and results-oriented sustainability efforts. The Greenest Zoo in America may not have the most powerful, cost-effective wind turbine on the planet, from a purely numbers standpoint, but taken in larger context, it's a valuable player in a larger effort to produce sustainable, environmentally friendly change in Cincinnati.

Writer: Matt Cunningham
Images pulled from Cincinnati Zoo video.

Fabricate finds a new home in Northside

Fabricate, a local boutique and gallery owned by Aileen McGrath and Chris Salley, relocated to 4037 Hamilton Avenue in Northside, and will be holding their one-year anniversary and grand reopening on November 13th from, 7-11 p.m.

Fabricate opened exactly a year ago, sharing a space with friends at Red Polly but they always had dreamed of finding their own space along Hamilton Avenue to obtain future goals and have a greater retail presence.

"We constantly looked along Hamilton Avenue and finally we found the right fit in a perfect spot located near stores and restaurants with a lot of traffic," Aileen McGrath said. "Our first space was a little more hidden and off the beaten path, now we have our own store front window and street presence."

The almost move-in-ready store consists of teal blue walls, hardwood floors and handmade furniture created by storeowner Aileen McGrath. Conveniently located near other shops including Cluxton Alley Coffee Roasters, Take the Cake, and Shop Therapy, Fabricate's new location allows customers to roam freely from shop to shop and increases retail traffic for the store. McGrath hopes to see future sales rise with the new location and will use the larger space to feature more local artists. Fabricate features locally crafted items, ranging from artwork, handmade clothes, t-shirts, soaps, jewelry, stationary, accessories, purses, hats, furniture, and lighting. Any item bought at Fabricate is one of a kind and unique.

McGrath finds artists through word of mouth, social media networks such as Facebook, and the Crafty Supermarket

"If the work of local artists meets our aesthetic, we showcase their artwork in our store," McGrath explained. Fabricate is geared towards a modern "indie" style, where the items are free to be "out of the norm" or "quirky," which is extremely encouraged by the owners.

Every second Saturday, Fabricate holds a group art show where they feature new artists' artwork with beverages and a DJ. This month's group art show will be unique, celebrating the grand reopening and the one-year anniversary with an after-party following the show at Mayday. The show, titled Microcosm, will feature 4 x 6 works of art by favorite past artists, as well as new artists that they will be showcasing in the coming year. Customers are free to browse, enjoy the event, and also buy anything on display.

McGrath wants to continue to promote and sell items locally crafted and recycled to better serve the community. In the future, she hopes to start a gallery hop in Northside, featuring artwork in all the surrounding shops, restaurants, and bars.

"We love the community here and we are excited to have our own shop. Last year was awesome, and this year will be even better," McGrath noted.

Writer: Lisan Ensminger
Photography by Scott Beseler.

OTR "question cart" looks at redevelopment using art, community input

Ethan Philbrick, a University of Cincinnati graduate student and artist, received an individual artist grant award from the city of Cincinnati in 2009 to fund Project CincinnatUS - a year long series of public performance events tackling societal issues in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.  Project CincinnatUS has already featured collaborations between cultural workers and artists and Philbrick's most recent effort, "The Over-the-Rhine Question Cart," engages residents living in Over-the-Rhine and questions their feelings about redevelopment in their neighborhood.

Philbrick collaborated with sculpture artist, Chloe Paisley, to create a mobile cart and the resulting short film about the project. Philbrick and Paisley rode around the neighborhood and asked residents questions about the potential in the area and their thoughts concerning redevelopment. The film shows a diverse collection of people as they each share different opinions and stories.

In creating the project, Philbrick, a three-year resident of Over-the-Rhine, noted intense feelings associated with redevelopment in the neighborhood. He had heard mixed responses about how renovation was great for the city, but sometimes difficult and emotional for those who have roots in the area. He decided to make the film to capture those thoughts and emotions.

While many residents expressed excitement about the potential in Over-the-Rhine and efforts to make it a better place, some OTR residents shared stories about their fear of having to relocate and not having a place to live in suburban areas where affordable housing is scant. Others shared concerns that redeveloping may not fix the problem of poverty but only disperse it throughout the city. Philbrick wanted to put multiple voices together and see how it made the viewer feel overall.

"The message of the film was supposed to be complex and not a perfect picture of how a lot of people are relating to this neighborhood in different ways," Philbrick explained. 

Philbrick has been showing the film around Cincinnati - you can see it now on Project CincinnatUS's website - and said he wants viewers to engage in more complex thinking about future decision-making in Over-the-Rhine.

"I don't want to think about Over-the-Rhine in a polarized manner," Phibrick said. "I wanted to make it quickly and see what kind of work it can do in the world at this moment."

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography by Ashley Walton.
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