Big plans in the works for Cincinnati

As many areas of Cincinnati are being rejuvenated, including OTR and Washington Park, the City of Cincinnati approved a comprehensive approach to focus on development in the city as a whole, not just targeted neighborhoods. 

Last Friday, the City Planning Commission approved and adopted Plan Cincinnati, which was designed with input from residents. The Plan is an opportunity to strengthen what people love about the city, what works and what needs more attention, says Katherine Keough-Jurs, senior city planner and project manager.
 
The idea is to re-urbanize suburbanized Cincinnati; in a sense, to return to the strengths of the city's beginnings. Cincinnati was established just after the American Revolution in 1788 and grew into an industrial center in the 19th century. Many of those industries no longer exist in the city, which is part of why Cincinnati has become more suburbanized in the past 50 years. One of the long-term goals of the Plan is to bring new industries to Cincinnati.
 
With a new approach to revitalization, Cincinnati is blazing the trail for other cities. With a focus on building on existing strengths rather than tearing down structures and creating new ones, the Plan aims to capitalize on the city's “good bones” and good infrastructure.
 
Cinicinnatians had a huge role in developing the Plan. The first public meeting for the Plan was held in September 2009, when residents offered their insights into “what makes a great city?" and "what would make Cincinnati a great city?” A steering committee of 40 people representing businesses, nonprofits, community groups, local institutions, residents and City Council helped develop the Plan.

The Plan also got support from a grant from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which the City received in 2010. The grant allotted $2.4 million over three years to support the Land Development Code, which combines and simplifies Cincinnati's codes, reviews the development process, implements Form-based Codes and considers more creative uses for land. The grant allowed the city to start implementing some of the ideas voiced in public meetings.
 
Visionaries included youth, too. City staff worked with community centers and Cincinnati Public Schools to develop an art project for children. They were given clay pots and asked to paint their fears for the city on the inside and their dreams for the city on the outside. The children saw the big issue was quality of life, just like the adults did.
 
“It was an interesting way to get the kids involved and thinking about the future,” Keough-Jurs says.
 
The Plan aims to strengthen neighborhood centers—the neighborhoods’ business districts. It maps out areas that people need to get to on a daily basis and found that most are within about a half-mile of the business districts. But in some neighborhoods, residents can’t access their neighborhood centers. 

The accessibility of a neighborhood center is based on walkability—not just for pedestrians, but also about how structures address walking. For exampke, if a pedestrian can walk from one end of the neighborhood center to the other without breaking his or her pattern (the window shopping effect), the area is walkable; if he or she has been stopped by a parking lot or vacancies, it’s not walkable, Keough-Jurs says.
 
The neighborhood centers are classified in one of three ways in the Plan: maintain, evolve or transform. Some neighborhoods have goals to maintain levels of walkability, whereas others need to gradually change or evolve. Still others need to completely transform in order to strengthen their business districts.
 
“Cincinnati is at the heart of the region,” Keough-Jurs says. “If we strengthen Cincinnati, we strengthen a region.”

The next step for the Plan is to go before the Cincinnati City Council, specifically the Livable Communities Committee, which is chaired by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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