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Monday, June 30, 2008

Is gentrification inevitable in OTR?

So, is it? I tend to think that it is inevitable, but it does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. The word often comes with very negative connotations, especially when you throw race into the equation. This is exactly the issue in Over-the-Rhine, and it is also not a new one (see Buddy Gray).

Gentrification, by definition, is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. The key here is that gentrification often displaces poorer residents. An influx, of middle-class or affluent people, alone isn't a bad thing. It is what usually comes with it that is bad - the displacement of poorer residents.

NW View over OTR by Randy Simes

So far gentrification has been taking place in/around the Gateway Quarter, but displacement hasn't really occurred. Many of the buildings were vacant and there has been an effort, by 3CDC, to keep units at affordable levels. Some of the units have even been arranged to only accommodate individuals within certain income ranges.

As more and more new condos pop up and more new businesses arrive, the question seems only logical. How are we going to deal with the issue of gentrification in our city's most infamous neighborhood? It is something that will take work and courage from our leaders, and dedication from the developers to do what is right.

The gentrification of OTR doesn't have to be the divisive/negative aspect that it often is elsewhere. We know what we can do (inclusionary zoning techniques), and we know what we should do. The question really is whether the OTR power brokers will ultimately do the right thing and not displace those current residents just so they can fatten their wallets.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Contemporary Arts Center: ’08-’09 Exhibition Season

The 2008-2009 Exhibition Season, at the CAC, will be another great one. The CAC’s Chief Curator, Raphaela Platow, describes the upcoming season as “an opportunity to see ground-breaking moments in sculpture, painting, film, dance and multimedia, including new and site-related works.”

The season boasts artists like the 89-year old Austrian painter, Maria Lassnig, who will have her first U.S. exhibition; Mexican artist Carlos Amorales who will take part in the first collaboration with the Cincinnati Ballet in a site-related performance; the first museum exhibition of Donald Sultan’s early linoleum paintings; and the first-ever museum show anywhere for the Japanese painter Aya Uekawa.

You can become of member, of the CAC, for as little as $25/year with a Student or Senior Membership. All memberships get you exclusive discounts at the CAC store, a subscription to the CAC’s CENTERBEAT newsletter, 2 guest passes, and invites to some of the coolest parties/exhibits in town.

From left to right: Donald Sultan - Cantaloupe Pickers, 1983; Carlos Amorales - Black Cloud, 2007; Aya Uekawa - A Euro Lover, 2006; Maria Lassnig - Couple, 2005

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shaking up SORTA

This past week Cincinnati City Council passed a resolution that proposed a restructuring of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transportation Authority (SORTA). SORTA, as it currently exists, operates the Metro Bus Service and is primarily funded by the City of Cincinnati.

The City of Cincinnati currently dedicates .3% of its annual earnings tax (roughly $43 million) to the operation of the Metro Bus Service. This amounts to about 90% of the total operation costs of what is a regional transportation system. This is where the problem is with the current SORTA makeup.

Cincinnati pays an overwhelming majority of the costs, but does not also see an overwhelming majority control. Additionally they are essentially the only financial contributor to this regional system. In order for this regional system to truly flourish all the parties need to contribute financially and have representation that matches their contribution. This is just what the resolution calls for.

The resolution looks to “reward jurisdictions that invest in public transit a proportional share of control over the governing body in order to incentivize and reward public investment in public transportation.”

Essentially this resolution would automatically bring more entities to the table than now and it would also shift control to those who contribute the most. The board will consist of at least 11 members (no more than 19) with one representative from Hamilton, Butler, Warren, and Clermont Counties with the City of Cincinnati also being allotted one representative.

From there the rest of the board will be made up based on how much each of those entities contribute to the annual budget. The kicker here is that if a given entity makes up greater than 50% of the annual budget then that jurisdiction can appoint additional members, to the board, until they reach a majority control (if they do not have one already).

Seems to make a lot of sense and it is shocking that this isn't the way our current system works. John Cranley and the other members of City Council should be commended for their work on this particular effort as Cincinnati moves towards the creation of a better regional transit system.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati: '08-'09 Season

The Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has announced their 2008-2009 Season. The lineup includes six different works ranging from contemporary theatre award-winners, as well as, some Cincinnati favorites.

Three of the works have been nominated for Tony Awards. Grey Gardens has been nominated for 10 including Best Musical. The Seafarer and Gem of the Ocean have both been nominated for several (4 and 5 respectively) awards and are both nominated for Best Play.

In addition to those goodies you'll have the opportunity to check out Alice in Wonderland (a musical retelling of Lewis Carroll's classic story), Mauritius, and Don't Make Me Pull This Show Over: Dispatches From The Frontlines of Parenting.

Quit pandering, do what's right

City Council appears poised to not roll back the millage rate for Cincinnatians for the first time since 2000. The current millage rate (4.53) generates roughly $29-million a year for city coffers. The roll back essentially keeps that number flat from year to year.

Last year's roll back saved the average homeowner $1.39, while it would have collectively generated millions for the City. These millions of extra dollars could be used to help stabilize the City's budget and improve its credit rating. Additionally the City could look into providing more services to its citizens ranging from public safety to neighborhood improvements.

Interestingly enough there are still four members, on City Council (Monzel-R, Ghiz-R, Berding-D, Cranley-D), who believe it is a better idea (politically I'm sure) to roll back the millage rate and possibly even freeze it where it stands. Interestingly enough John Cranley (one of two Democrats in favor of the roll back) has also made repeated statements about the importance of investing in our neighborhoods and public safety. Chris Monzel is the most outspoken on this topic (only council member not on the Finance Committee) and describes the five others on council as, "hungry wolves at the public trough."

It would seem to be a better strategy, for the politicians, to look at what is ultimately in the best interest of its citizens rather than pandering for future votes. The City's finance department, City Manager Milton Dohoney, and five members of council seem to agree. Lets take the $1.39 hit for what is ultimately best for our city.

For some reason this issue reminds me a lot of the proposed Gas Tax Holiday - may score up some new votes, but ultimately it is not in the best interest of the public.

External Sources:
Cincinnati Enquirer - Cincinnati council leans against traditional tax cut
City Hall image (by Greg Hume) is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

OTR Ambassador update

About a month ago Vitality Over-the-Rhine, a group tasked with making resident/business driven initiatives reality, started signing people up for a new Volunteer Ambassador Program in Over-the-Rhine.

Since that time Ambassadors have started showing up on the streets of OTR. Ambassadors were spotted at the GoOTR 5k and Findlay Market. There are nearly 50 people signed up for the program dedicated to improving Over-the-Rhine. This group is made up of students from UC, XU, and the Art is made up of residents of OTR and owners, community leaders and activists.

Volunteer Ambassadors after the GoOTR 5k - Image provided by Queen City Survey

Shirts will soon be on display at a variety of locations throughout OTR including Park + Vine. These locations will serve as satellite sign-up locations for the program. Monthly social gatherings have been arranged for volunteers and community members, and most importantly Ambassadors are hitting the streets and making a difference.

Not sold yet, there are a host of OTR businesses offering special discounts and offers to Ambassadors. Simply put, if you're wearing the Ambassador t-shirt you get special discounts all over OTR. Meet new people, get connected in Over-the-Rhine, and help make a difference in one of Cincinnati's greatest neighborhoods. Become an Over-the-Rhine Ambassador today!

The next gathering will be at 6:30pm this Thursday (6/5/08) at Mr. Pitiful's (GoogleMap). Come out to hear more about the program and sign-up. Feel free to bring a friend along even if they're not necessarily interested in signing up.

Join the Vitality Over-the-Rhine Facebook Group

Monday, June 2, 2008

Welcome newbies!

The poll for May indicates that the majority of readers, on UrbanCincy, are relative newcomers (less than 3 months). Nearly 50% of the 151 respondents selected this as their response. The next largest group (25%) were those that have been reading roughly from the beginning (9-12 months).

As UrbanCincy enters its second year of existence I expect this number of newcomers to continue to rise and the level of regular readers also to rise. These are high expectations, but things have been good thus far. Keep reading...we'll keep writing.

Washington Park expansion

Washington Park offers a great opportunity for Over-the-Rhine. It is a historic park that has been owned, by the City, since 1855. The park boasts Civil War monuments, a historic bandstand, and some beautifully mature trees.

On the other hand the park has been plagued with perceived safety issues and an overall lack of investment in the surrounding area. This is rapidly changing with the massive investment from 3CDC and others. New residents, businesses, and a new School of Creative and Performing Arts are all offering the park and the neighborhood a fresh chance at new life.

Washington Park Conceptual Plan - Image provided by 3CDC

Washington Park Elementary once sat on the northern most portion of Washington Park and essentially cut Washington Park off from its northern neighbors. The demolition, of Washington Park Elementary, now offers an opportunity to expand the park where the school once sat. At the same time it will allow for a potential solution to another problem for new residents, businesses, and established destinations in the area (i.e. Music Hall, Memorial Hall, etc) - parking.

The expansion plan right now is to build a garage, underneath the expanded park, that would create 600-700 parking spaces. The total project cost is pegged around $25-million and a time line for completion will be created following more community input on the final plan.

This is all made possible by a recent agreement between Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Park Board with 3CDC. CPS has agreed to permanently transfer the title for the former school site to the Park Board.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What is a city to you? (part one)

Seems like a simple question, right? I've heard many different explanations from a wide variety of people. I have even heard wide-ranging opinions from people with similar backgrounds and formal training/education. So what is a city to you, what comes to mind when you hear the word city, and has your opinion changed over the years.

What a city is to me (Overview):
Wikipedia defines a city as an urban settlement generally with a large population. The definition I had when I was younger was much simpler...I thought of cities generally as the places where all the tall buildings were. Pretty simple, I know, but that was where it all began and where my interest (in cities) stems from.

Since that time the meaning and my opinion, of cities, has greatly evolved. I think of cities as living/breathing places that have their own heartbeat and rhythm. This rhythm is set forth by the cities people and then ultimately that rhythm dominates the culture until a major force acts upon it.

A city is a place of diversity (of all kinds - not just race), it is a place of culture, unique local experiences, uncertainty, and people...lots of people. Sometimes these items can be good, sometimes bad...but in the end they are the things that makes cities - cities. Nowadays when I hear the word city my mind starts racing and jumping all over the place seemingly impossible to tame - kind of like a city I guess.

Image Credit:
Yves Tessier, Tessima/Quebec City Tourism

Interesting related reads:
Who's Your City by Richard Florida
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

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