What would you do without a car? Have you ever thought about it? I recently had to.
My car blew up on Thanksgiving, leaving me stranded in my apartment for three days with little hope of leaving my neighborhood. This could have been a big problem - but it wasn't.
I just moved to Over-the-Rhine three weeks ago, and on Friday, while holed up in my new digs, I decided to venture out (on foot) to get some necessities. I walked across the street to Metronation for some mulling spices, then down a block to the Vine Street Kroger for some apple cider (and a little red wine), and finally to Venice on Vine for a post-Thanksgiving pizza. On my walk back to my place, pepperoni pizza in hand, I passed a man praying to Mecca - Belou is the Imam in the mosque across the street from my place. He explained the five pillars of Islam to me, and invited me to a service sometime. And just as we were finishing up, Santa Claus flew by
on a Segway, and offered me a candy cane. Wow...not a bad way to be stranded!
I tell you this story only because it opened my eyes to a very important aspect of community. I just moved from a big house with a yard into a small loft in OTR with no balcony - no private outdoor space at all. That generally would be disconcerting and a real detractor from an otherwise very cool living arrangement. But, in OTR, I do have outdoor space. I have the street. Because my neighborhood is so dense, I have hundreds of neighbors within a few blocks, and I've got lots of things to do. From shopping to dining to random religious conversation, Vine Street has become my outdoor living room.
Communities can consciously create outdoor living rooms, and did a great job of it prior to the invention of the car. But, in the 1950s, we preferred to drive rather than walk. We wanted to live on cul-de-sacs and pull into our snout garage. We sought convenience, and in doing so, lost our opportunity for the great walk through our neighborhood.
Retail and office and residential development spread further and further apart from one another. And now, we're lucky if we know a neighbor or two.
Not everyone wants to live in Over-the-Rhine. I get that. But I do believe that we all want unique experiences close to home. That is why Cincinnati has seen an in-migration of young professionals and baby boomers back into more urban communities. In fact, CNN reported in 2007 that "young professionals are driving a national trend back toward walkable communities," and in reviewing Forbes' most attractive cities for young professionals, nine of the 12 top-ranking cities had a common theme connecting them - less dependence on vehicles and more pedestrian friendly options. We no longer want to depend on our car.
The same qualities that attract young people to a community also attract the empty nesters. According to the AARP, a livable community for older residents includes elements that help them to maintain independence and quality of life. A pedestrian environment, easy access to grocery stores and shopping, a mix of housing types, and nearby recreation are all important elements that positively affect the daily lives of retirees.
And developers and city officials in Greater Cincinnati have recognized this change. Over the past year, and more recently, this week, the Urban Land Institute, Cincinnati Chapter, in cooperation with Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls and local city officials, developers, architects and residents, have been working to update our region's respective zoning codes to, among other things, promote unique "outdoor living room" environments. A tool developed prior to the 1920's, called Form-Based Code, has been utilized in communities nationwide, and locally in Columbus, Louisville, Nashville and Chicago (suburbs), to help reverse sprawl and transform the strip mall and parking lot into a vibrant, mixed-use space built on character and developed by the residents of the neighborhood.
A growing contingent is getting pumped about this tool, including several Cincinnati neighborhoods and the City of Bellevue. If you would like to learn more, check out your options for getting involved with your neighborhood by visiting here
And consider working with your community leaders to create your own outdoor living room.
Candace S. Klein is an attorney with Graydon, Head.