10 Year Anniversary Series: How Green Spaces Drive Transformation in Over-the-Rhine

In 2008, Soapbox reported on how a neglected pocket park in Over-the-Rhine was transformed by a community coalition. As part of Soapbox’s Ten Year Anniversary Series, we take a look back at Northern Row Park and how community gathering spaces in OTR have evolved over the past ten years.

In the mid-2000s, a group of Over-the-Rhine residents banded together to makeover a small park that had come to be called “a public latrine,” according to organizer Ken Cunningham. Nestled just a block off of Main Street at the corners of Melindy and Clay, the park was an eyesore to residents and a turnoff to visitors. After more than a decade of effort, hundreds of phone calls to the city, a handful of successful grant proposals, and hundreds of hours in manual labor, the community surrounding Northern Row successfully completed a total overhaul. Community residents continued to maintain and make use of the park for another seven years.  

In March of 2015, community organizers then passed the torch to the Goodland Condo Association, an organization that owns a building adjacent to the park. Today, community involvement in the park has slowed down, though it continues to exist as a small green space for residents and their dogs in the urban core. Though the park’s significance as a community focal point has waned, the commercial and retail composition of the block it sits on has transformed in the decade since the original story ran.

The park is now surrounded by businesses including Liberty’s Bar and Bottle Shop, which opened in 2014, Crying Heart Tattoo and Black Plastic Records OTR, which opened in 2015, as well as the New American restaurant Please and Brush Factory furniture shop, both of which opened in 2016. The overall Main Street corridor continues to grow with new businesses, and the makeup of the neighborhood continues to change. According to the OTR Chamber, “since 2006, more than 175 new businesses have opened in Over-the-Rhine.”  

This influx of new business coincides with significant changes to the landscape of the neighborhood, with new and updated green spaces springing up throughout the community, especially in the past three years. Since 2008, both Washington Park on Elm Street and Ziegler on Sycamore Street have been entirely transformed through a private-public partnership between the The City of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, the Cincinnati Park Board, and private nonprofit development corporation 3CDC. 3CDC Director of Communications Joe Rudemiller explains how the remodeling of green spaces in OTR has been pivotal for the neighborhood. “We view the Washington Park renovation as the biggest catalyst of economic growth and resurgence of the neighborhood.”

In 2008, Washington Park had just changed hands from the Cincinnati Board of Education, who owned it as part of the recently closed Washington Park Elementary School. Once the Cincinnati Park Board got ahold of it, renovations were planned and underway by 2011. Planners added a parking garage, the iconic light-up fountains in lieu of a swimming pool, and a civic lawn, totalling a $47 million investment.

Rudemiller explained that “not only is it an amenity for the neighborhood, it’s a regional draw, bringing people from the suburbs.” The Washington Park remodel became an economic driver for the neighborhood. As the Over-the-Rhine Chamber explains on their website, “The renovation of Washington Park in 2012 and the relocation in 2010 of the School of Creative Performing and Arts (SCPA) have leveraged new and existing commercial strength along Race, Elm and Central Parkway.”

The 2017 remodel of Ziegler Park pushed forward even more change to the neighborhood. Ziegler, which is just a few blocks from Northern Row, was reopened last summer after a $31.9 million investment. The park previously featured basketball courts, a small lawn, and a swimming pool. The new space features a larger pool, civic lawn, and playground equipment, as well as a new parking garage to increase accessibility.

“It was more successful than we had imagined,” said Rudemiller. “The old space was an acre and a half and they had about 1,500 people that visited the summer in 2015, when we reopened the pool we had 1,500 people in three days.” During the 2017 season, 19,000 swimmers visited the pool. “It’s the most democratic space in the city,” said Rudemiller. “You have people of all ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds coming together. It has became a great gathering place for the neighborhood.”

In 2008, Northern Row Park represented “a ‘tremendous lifting of the spirit’ for the Northern Main Street neighborhood” during a time when divestment and blight had caused some to view Over-the-Rhine as a neighborhood to avoid. Today, the story of Northern Row Park has become a small part of a larger narrative of ongoing transformation that continues to be told in Over-the-Rhine.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kamal Kimball.

Kamal Kimball is a freelance writer and co-founder of Ampersand Creative Services.