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Monday, June 8, 2009

Building a great city

A recent comment by John Schneider got me thinking about this concept. Schneider said the following comment in reference to a recent trip he made to Portland, OR.

"The quality of the new buildings, starting at the airport and evident throughout the city, the mass of people walking the sidewalks, on the streetcars, and at events, was amazing. They are building a great city there."

Cincinnati for the longest time was building a great city. Our park system, boulevard network and grand collection of diverse architectural styles has always been impressive. Cincinnati is considered to be the birthplace of contemporary American urban planning when it became the first major American city to endorse a comprehensive plan in 1925 that complimented the Park Plan of 1907 that we still follow today.


Our urban environment was methodically planned out and carried out with the highest quality until about the mid-twentieth century when we started engaging in the urban renewal and suburban sprawl policies sweeping the nation.

New Columbia Square development in the heart of the historic Columbia Tusculum NBD

Cincinnati is not certainly alone in this regard, but what can be done to counter this trend. I think most of us can agree that the quality of buildings, the urban form, social and cultural institutions pale in comparison to what we used to build here in Cincinnati.


Cities like Portland, Seattle and even Charlotte to a lesser extent seem to be getting it right with their recent actions. Their history does not come close to Cincinnati's and they will never be able to boast many of the amenities we have today, but we have lost much and they are building great cities today, while we seem to be content with building sub-par city based around anything but the people who live here.



New development in (clockwise from top-left):
Seattle, Washington; Portland's Pearl District; Charlotte's South End
Seattle & Portland photos by Jake Mecklenborg

4 comments:

Mark Kinne said...

To be fair the office building on the corner isn't bad, it blends in stylistically, addresses the street pretty well and does a decent job of concealing it's tuck under parking. What kills it is the sea of surface parking behind it and the suburban strip mall. Would it kill them to move the buildings up to the street edge and put parking behind?

Mark Kinne said...

One other thing, you will notice in the Charlotte, Portland and Seattle images two things A. Density and B. Transit, which reinforce and sustain each other. A light rail corridor down Columbia Parkway would be tricky, but the point stands that we just aren't seeing this quality and scale of development in Cincinnati yet.

Mark Kinne said...

At the risk of hijacking this blog this quote regarding the new stadium for the nets totally captures the spirit of your post:

"But what’s most offensive about the design is the message it sends to New Yorkers. Architecture, we are being told, is something decorative and expendable, a luxury we can afford only in good times, or if we happen to be very rich. What’s most important is to build, no matter how thoughtless or dehumanizing the results. It is the kind of logic that kills cities — and that has been poisoning this one for decades."

Randy Simes said...

That is a great quote for this topic, thanks Mark.

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