Neighborhood improvement: The 90-day plan

The 90-day Neighborhood Enhancement Program focuses on building relationships and developing the assets of Cincinnati neighborhoods. It’s a collaborative effort between city departments, neighborhood residents and community organizations.
The NEP focuses on integrated service delivery, including building code enforcement, crime and beautification, in order to create more livable neighborhoods. To date, 16 neighborhoods have participated in the NEP, with two on deck for this year: East Price Hill and Walnut Hills.  
Launched in 2007, Price Hill, Avondale and Northside were the first to participate in the program. Data analysis ultimately chooses which neighborhoods will be chosen to participate, but according to Ethel Cogen, senior community development analyst for the city’s Department of Trade and Development, a neighborhood has to be ready and organized.
“It’s not a tool that works for every neighborhood,” she says. “The NEP works best for those neighborhoods that are on their way back up, whereas neighborhoods with more serious problems need more help than the NEP can give.”
NEP makes a difference
Just like the program isn’t for everyone, not every neighborhood has the same problems. But the NEP caters to the unique needs of each neighborhood, and finds ways for them to tackle the issues.
For instance, Carthage, which participated last year, wanted to help the growing number of prostitutes on its streets. In order to do so, Carthage Civic League teamed up with the Cincinnati Police Department to hold a group meeting. Although many were unsure how many people would turn out, it was a successful event.
“The NEP really helped the neighborhood get started on things,” says Bob Hartlaub, president of the Carthage Civic League. “It taught us how to work together, and what we can do on our own, every day, to better our community.”
Some neighborhoods were interested in retaining residents, and bringing back those who had moved away. Evanston, a 2008 participant, has a wealth of good housing stock, and is currently working with the City of Cincinnati and Port Authority to rehabilitate some of its blighted homes.

It’s also currently working on redeveloping an 81-unit apartment building that will be ready in June. It’s holding 26 apartments for returning residents of the complex, and the rest will be for new residents. The NEP helped the neighborhood move forward with the development.
“We’re currently targeting anchor buildings in our business district and trying to stabilize single-family housing,” says Anzora Adkins, president of the Evanston Community Council. “Our goal is to improve the quality of life in Evanston.”
Evanston also developed a 10-year plan to help set goals and continue to work with its partners for further revitalization of the community. The neighborhood wants to rebuild its business district and work to improve façades throughout the community. 
Working together
Many of the neighborhoods wouldn’t have formed relationships with other community organizations without the help of the NEP. The program, above all else, encourages neighborhood groups to work together toward a common goal.
For Jerry Culbreth, pastor of Tryed Stone New Beginning Church, it’s the first time in the 40 years he’s lived in Bond Hill that he can remember businesses, residents, government entities, education groups, faith-based organizations and other associations working together.
Culbreth helped form Bond Hill’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team, which is a group that meets monthly to continue to work on the issues addressed during the NEP in 2011.
“We didn’t just want a 90-day blitz,” he says. “We’re trying to keep the stakeholders at the table in order to work together on future projects. It’s always a challenge, but we’re making progress, and everyone wants to see Bond Hill be successful.”
College Hill, which participated in the NEP in 2009, is still seeing the benefits of the relationships formed during the program. Those relationships have helped the neighborhood further its redevelopment goals along Hamilton Avenue and North Bend Road, as well as in its mid-business district.
“We still have those great relationships with city departments; they didn’t just end at the end of 90 days,” says Elizabeth Sherwood, past president of the College Hill Forum.
As a result of its ongoing redevelopment efforts, College Hill has been chosen as the 2014 CiTiRAMA neighborhood. Developers will build six homes for the September show in Witherby Meadows, which is just a mile from the central business district, and when finished will include 24 homes.

Three of the neighborhoods that have participated in the NEP (College Hill, Westwood and Madisonville, along with Walnut Hills in 2014) were among the first to adopt Cincinnati’s form-based code. The new code makes it easier for redevelopers who are doing mixed-use projects.

Many of the NEP neighborhoods held community cleanup days in partnership with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and student volunteers from the University of Cincinnati. Carthage is continuing that cleanup effort with its Great American Cleanup on April 26.
“In our neighborhood, we broke the NEP down into three parts,” Hartlaub says. “Breaking it down helped people see how it would personally affect them. Many residents wondered what the program would do for them and how they would benefit from it.”
So Carthage looked at the NEP as:
  1. A Home Enhancement Program: Residents received help with maintaining their houses and fixing things up.
  2. A Business Program: The business district received attention that will ultimately make local businesses more successful.
  3. A Neighborhood Family Program: Efforts were made to make the community safer for families and children to play.

Going forward
Across the board, the NEP hasn’t ended when the 90 days is up. Neighborhoods have continued to redevelop, stop crime and beautify their communities.
“The NEP was really like ‘Extreme Makeover: Neighborhood Edition,’” Sherwood says. “We did so much in a short amount of time, but we’re not stopping because the program is over.”
Momentum from the NEP has kept all 16 neighborhoods going forward with plans and ideas. And on March 4, the NEP goes into effect in East Price Hill, and Walnut Hills soon after.

Sometimes just a little collaboration can have wide and lasting effects for our neighborhoods.
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Caitlin Koenig.

Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.