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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cincinnati Zoo goes platinum, grows attendance

It doesn't take a die-hard Cincinnatian to know that the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens is one of the region's real assets. The Zoo provides a tremendous learning opportunity for children, terrific family outings, and so much more. And while the Zoo is one of the best in the country, it is also a community leader.

The Cincinnati Zoo was just recently deemed "America's Greenest Zoo" by the green building community. It is the first zoo in the country to have multiple LEED projects, and is the second zoo in the country to attain the prestigious LEED Platinum certification for one of its buildings. As the zoo continues to grow and improve itself, Zoo leadership has pledged that all future projects will pursue the LEED certification - a first of its kind commitment in the country.

Vine Street Village photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo.

What is even better news is that while the economy continues to slug its way out of hibernation, the Cincinnati Zoo is posting record attendance numbers. Zoo officials will welcome the 1 millionth visitor to the zoo this year sometime this week. The attendance numbers represent a 23 percent increase over the same time in 2008, and also is higher than total attendance numbers posted over the past four years.

The Cincinnati Zoo (map) is open daily from 9am to 5pm for the rest of the year (except Christmas), with tickets starting as low as $13 for adults. Metro provides bus service to the Zoo via the #1 (directly serves the Zoo...this is your best option), 46, 51, and 78 bus routes (plan your trip now); bicycle parking is also available.

Whomageddon rocks Northside Tavern, benefits WVQC

Halloween, local music, and legendary rock and roll bands will come together tonight for a unique event. Whomageddon will feature local bands dressed up and performing as The Who, The Ramones, and Devo. The performers include John Curley (The Staggering Statistics, The Afghan Whigs), Andrew Higley (Pearlene, Chocolate Horse), Scotty Wood, Jason Knarr, Dave Cupp, and more. This week, John Curley talked to the Enquirer about the event and his love of The Who.

The show takes place at Northside Tavern tonight, starting at 9 pm. Admission is free (you must be 21+ to enter), but proceeds from the bar will benefit WVQC, the new public access radio station being launched by Media Bridges.

WVQC has been in the works for several months, and Media Bridges is trying to raise the last bit of money needed to launch the station. Do your part in helping to get local voices on the air--and just have a good time--by coming out to tonight's fundraiser.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Glass House Lofts and Dandridge Town Homes Come Together for Final Friday

In combination with the Final Friday festivities this evening, you have the chance to check out two terrific residential developments near the Pendleton Arts Center. The first is the newly opened Dandridge Studio Town Homes which features price points ranging from the mid- to high-100's. Homebuyers there can take advantage of grant money for new graduates to stay in Ohio and stimulus money benefits to help make the finances work for you.

The new town homes were celebrated by community leaders yesterday at a ribbon cutting ceremony where some people believe this is a moment where the neighborhood is "taking back" their community from the bad elements that once had a strong grasp of the neighborhood a decade ago. The Dandridge Studio Town Homes also feature a variety of unique features like cut outs to let in daylight, spiral staircases to media rooms, large windows, front and back decks, and overall well laid out interior spaces.

Also available to check out is the Glass Houses Lofts development around the corner. Only a few units remain in this gem of a restoration, but visitors will be able to check out a model unit, common spaces and the newly finished wine room in the basement designed by yours truly. There will be a DJ, food, and wine at Glass House and will make for a perfect jumping off point for your Final Friday festivities.

Dandridge Studio Town Home photographs by Jenny Kessler

Cincinnati takes critical step towards preserving historic Over-the-Rhine

The City of Cincinnati has been facing increasing pressure in regards to its policy on historic preservation, and now intends to create a special task force related to the economic development and historic preservation of one of the nation's most important historic districts: Over-the-Rhine.

The vote is music to the ears of local preservation organizations that have been pushing for new policies in regards to historic preservation throughout the city and specifically in Over-the-Rhine. The Over-the-Rhine Foundation and Cincinnati Preservation Association first made the suggestions earlier this year and have been pushing the issue for more several years.

Interesting to note that only five of City Council's nine members voted for the new task force. Council members Chris Bortz (C), Jeff Berding (D), Leslie Ghiz (R) and Chris Monzel (R) all voted against the measure (all four of these council members are running for reelection this November 3rd).

The move also comes on the heels of my recent appearance on City Talk Radio where we discussed (listen to the show) historic preservation in Cincinnati specifically focusing on Over-the-Rhine. During the show I discussed several critical items that must be addressed from a policy level to make historic preservation a priority in Cincinnati.

Relaxed parking requirements: Minimum parking requirements can become costly for developers working in historic districts where parking can be quite difficult to incorporate, especially for small developers. Relaxed parking requirements in historic districts can reduce cost burdens and help preserve the integrity of the neighborhoods.

Make preservation a policy priority: The City should adjust its policies to make historic preservation a priority. In cities like Savannah and Charleston they do just this by aggressively mandating preservation and even to the extent of purchasing historic properties in danger of demolition so that they can be placed in good hands and restored. City code officials need to adopt work practices that treat historic properties differently from the rest, with an emphasis on stabilization instead of demolition.

Remove the cost barriers: Relaxed parking requirements are just one way to remove the cost barriers and improve the attractiveness of investing in urban historic districts. Investment in quality public assets like parks, transportation and other infrastructure help create the dynamic urban environments that many urban dwellers demand. Investing in these improvements at the public level can make for lower capital costs for developers and/or improve the desirability of a historic neighborhood thus making price points more effective for private investment.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Don't Be Tricked, Vote No on Issue 9 Party

On Friday, October 30 you are invited to join UrbanCincy at Neon's Unplugged for the Don't Be Tricked, Vote No on Issue 9 Party. At the party will be a variety of local celebrities, drinks provided by Christian Moerlein, food from Kroeger & Sons Meats, live music Jim Kennedy, bocce ball, and much more.

The festivities start at 6pm and will last until 1am. There is no cover to get in, but food and drinks are cash only. Please come out and support Cincinnati by showing your opposition to the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment Cincinnatians will be voting on this Tuesday, November 3.

Issue 9 may end up being a tricky one for Cincinnati voters given the broad wording used and the unclear meaning of what a no and a yes vote mean. Issue 9 proponent Chris Smitherman might have said it best on the very ballot language he helped craft with his buddies at COAST.

"This is nothing short of madness and political corruption. There is no explanation for a Yes meaning No and a No meaning Yes. This is not a tradition, but an attempt to trick voters."

Don't be tricked. Vote no on Issue 9 this Tuesday, November 3rd and help keep Cincinnati moving forward. Cincinnati does not need any more red tape of confusing Charter language. Feel free to come in costume if you would like. The party is a come and go as you please event. Please tell your friends and make it part of your Friday night plans.

Cincinnati's regional transit authority proposes reduced service cuts, additional fare hikes

Earlier this month Metro officials looked for public input on how to balance their budget and deal with potentially massive service cuts and/or fare hikes. After weighing the public's input Metro officials have now come up with a proposal that will represent a 12 percent service reduction combined with fare increases to balance the budget that is facing a $16+ million shortfall.

“We listened to our customers, both at the public meeting on Oct. 2 and through surveys. Most were willing to accept a fare increase with a smaller service reduction, which is the option we are recommending,” said Marilyn Shazor, Metro’s CEO. “Our goal has been to preserve as much service as possible for our customers. But we're facing a $16 million shortfall next year and the money only stretches so far. We are required by law to have a balanced budget.”

The fare increases, proposed by Metro, are subject to Cincinnati City Council approval, but if passed, will prevent a larger 20 percent service reduction which will save 1 million rides annually and 55 full-time jobs. The new proposed fare increases would result in the following:

  • Zone 1, base fare: $0.25 increase (Zone 1, City of Cincinnati)
  • Zone 2 fare: $0.40 increase (Zone 2, Hamilton County)
  • Transfer charge: $0.25 increase
  • Monthly passes: Increase monthly pass and Fare Deal sticker prices to reflect fare increases
  • Zone 1 pass discount: Eliminate the $5 monthly pass discount

Paratransit service would also be affected under the new proposal. Metro officials have not yet come to a conclusion, but the following options are on the table whether the fare increases are proposed or not.

  • ADA service only: Provide service only at the level required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (Access currently provides limited service to some “grandfathered” customers that goes beyond what the ADA requires)
  • ADA maximum fare: Increase fares to the ADA-allowable fare (twice Metro’s fare for a comparable trip)

The Banks & Queen City Square

Cincinnati's new tallest building, the Great American Tower at Queen City Square, continues to climb upward as it now appears to be over the half-way mark in terms of total height. Meanwhile, The Banks is climbing above street level, the new street grid continues to develop, and the underground parking garages that will lift the development out of the flood plain are pretty much completed for phase 1 of the billion dollar mixed-use development. The first of the multi-floor residential buildings with street level commercial space should be rising within the coming weeks.

Here are a series of pictures taken over the last week or so of some of the progress being made on both developments happening Downtown. Aside from the few taken from the upper deck at Paul Brown Stadium, they are mainly a street view of where things stand these days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Little by Little, Cincinnati Improves Recycling Program

Last week the city of Cincinnati announced changes to its current curbside recycling program. Members of City Council, Mayor Mallory and representatives from Rumpke and the Office of Environmental Quality gathered at the original LaRosa's pizza location on Boudinot Avenue to make their announcement. In partnership with Rumpke Recycling, the City will now collect more items than ever before including all plastic bottle types (still no lids), jugs and pizza boxes (no leftover pepperoni or banana peppers please). Additionally, households can put out multiple recycling bins if their recycling needs exceeds the single green bin.

Click here to order your extra recycling bin.

Acceptable Items for Recycling:
  • All plastic bottles and jugs (no lids)
  • Glass jars and bottles of any color
  • Aluminum, steel and bi-metal cans
  • Empty aerosol cans with lids and tips removed
  • Brown grocery bags
  • Computer paper, and other mixed office paper
  • Corrugated cardboard, broken down to 3' X 3'
  • Envelopes, with or without windows
  • Junk mail
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers with inserts
  • Paperboard, such as cereal boxes
  • Telephone books
  • Pizza boxes (free of food residue)

Download the list of acceptable recycling materials and guidelines to keep around the house or post for your tenants.

Please be sure to rinse out and dry all jars, jugs and bottles before placing them in your bin. Bottle caps are not currently accepted in the City recycling program, however, plastic lids (i.e. milk jugs) can be taken to any Aveda Institute for recycling. Metal lids (i.e. spaghetti sauce jars) can be recycled at any scrap dealer in the area who accepts steel.

For those residents who do not currently have curbside recycling services (households who have private trash service dumpsters) can collect their recyclables and take them to various recycling drop off locations around the city. Signage at the drop off centers will be updated within the next few weeks to reflect the changes in materials accepted.

Rumpke has not expanded these changes to the entirety of its service area. These changes are only reflected for the City of Cincinnati. According to Sue Magness from the Office of Environmental Quality, "Technically, the new sorting facility is still under construction and they are temporarily warehousing the materials. So Rumpke will expand as new contracts are established (as in the case of the City), or after the installation of the “state of the art” equipment is complete."

The announcement comes on the heels of tumultuous budget discussions that backtracked on a funding promise that would have provided new larger recycling carts for Cincinnatians and gotten the city started with a RecycleBank program that rewards users for the amount they recycle. Those upgrades to the City's recycling program would have paid for themselves almost immediately through the higher payments the City would have received from Rumpke Recycling for higher recycling volumes.

Cincinnati Recycling Program Announcement photograph by Jenny Kessler.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This Week In Soapbox 10/27

This Week in Soapbox (TWIS) you can read about fundraisers being held this week for Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Northside urban redevelopment corporation, a new study with positive economic results for Mt. Auburn, a new art gallery and studio space in Covington, two brothers working in OTR on interesting rehab projects, and the potential to revive the Interstate 75 urban landscape as it is reconstructed in the coming years.

If you're interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week's stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

When you have a chance there are also two really great feature articles in this week's issue. Matt Cunningham writes about home grown food movement happening in Cincinnati, while Feoshia Henderson writes about Cincinnati's energy alliance that is making "green" benefits, economic gains.

TWIS 10/27:
  • Over-the-Rhine Community Housing uses fundraiser for diverse development - full article
  • New Mt. Auburn study shows great potential for Uptown - full article
  • Northside redevelopment corporation seeks funding to continue affordable, green development - full article
  • Pike Street art gallery reopens as The BLDG with fresh new approach - full article
  • Urban Design Associates to create vision that will revive Cincinnati's I-75 corridor - full article
  • C.A.R. Construction's latest project in OTR celebrates history, passion - full article

Getting to Know Andrew Bench

UrbanCincy recently had a chance to catch up with a new friend of ours that we met back in early September at a lunch over at Findlay Market. Andrew Bench is brand new to town and has seen quite a bit of the developments in rail transit first hand around this country of ours. He has worked in the rail transit industry for twelve years and has been in construction for a total of two decades. He has had a chance to settle into Cincinnati over the last six weeks since we last saw him, and we were interested to check in with him and get his initial observations about his new surroundings.

Living in Downtown Cincinnati – It’s amazing how small the city blocks are here especially compared to the last city I was in (Salt Lake) which makes the urban core so walkable. Five blocks here is about the same distance as two and a half blocks in Salt Lake. I do find it frustrating that there are no easy grocery options in downtown. I don’t always have a car and aside from the Over-the-Rhine Kroger and Findlay Market there isn’t much else available. If even just the streetcar was in place I would be able to get on and ride it up there, and get to other options such as the Kroger at the University. A few years from now I’d be able to ride over the river to Kentucky. The options are endless really.

Regarding Rail Transit in Cincinnati – A phrase from the poem titled Maud Muller written by John Greenleaf Whittier sums up the whole situation. It says "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "it might have been!" I think Cincinnati has the potential for a rail transit system that would spur redevelopment. Imagine a streetcar connecting neighborhoods to the core, light rail connecting the suburbs, and high speed rail for those trips to Columbus and even further.

An example of How it All Fits Together – We were in Portland for our annual meeting a few years back and we were waiting for the streetcar. Along it came, and it was packed, but everyone got out where we were because it was the MAX connector which is their light rail to the suburbs. Clearly people were using the combined streetcar and MAX to commute to and from work downtown. I was just in Portland earlier this year and there is still new development happening on the streetcar line ten years after the first phase opened up!

Salt Lake is More Progressive Than Cincy – The typical response is “NO WAY!” But they have a $2.6B program underway that is scheduled to be finished by 2015. It includes a mix of rail transit and after living there it is clear that they are thinking about the future, not just for right now. They are investing heavily in rail transit to solve problems and attract young folks to their city, essentially making sacrifices now for future generations. They fought and fought the light rail but now the cars are jammed pack and all the outlying cities not along the route are asking to be included.

About Issue 9 – Issue 9 is about options and if it passes the city will be crippled for years to come. It’s about all kinds of rail transit options for the city of Cincinnati which in turn could make the Metro more useful and profitable if it is paired up right to compliment the rail transit choices. Cincinnati really does have the potential for redevelopment and growth and need to look at this issue as if they are solving for future transportation problems for their kids.

Come out and help defeat issue 9 by joining a few of your UrbanCincy writers at the Cincinnatians for Progress phone bank at 1344 Vine Street tonight! Last week we had quite a crowd and hope for the same tonight! Just comment on the post if you want to join us. Please plan on bringing your own phone along though as there are only a few down there.

In the meantime, enjoy this video from our friends at Soapbox Media. Andrew let us know it was his favorite one of the all the No on Nine videos making the rounds.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cincinnati's Krohn Conservatory goes digital

Visitors to Cincinnati's famous Krohn Conservatory can now enjoy an even more interactive and engaging visit by utilizing the new technology available that includes podcasts, videos, self-guided tours, and a virtual tour.

A new partnership between the Cincinnati Parks, the Primax Group, Cincinnati Public Schools' Zoo Academy, Sound Images, and Apple has led to the implementation of the new technology that can be used to enhance your experience to Krohn. "Our design partners have put together a phenomenal combination of information, photos and audio files to be used as pre-visit preparation or self guided touring," according to officials at Krohn Conservatory.

One of the new features is the availability of MPEG-4 audio and video tours that can be downloaded to your mobile device. If you aren't privileged enough to carry your own mobile device like that, then you can try to borrow one of the few that Krohn has to lend out. With the audio and video tours guests can learn at their own pace about the botanical collections at the Palm House, Tropical Fern House, and the Desert House. There is also a special piece on the history of Krohn Conservatory. A new virtual tour of Krohn that highlights the best of the botanical collections at Krohn including the conservatory's history.

The current Fall Floral Show, Backyard Birds and Wildlife, is the first show running with the new self-guided iPod tours, and is the first show since the Krohn Conservatory completed its major renovations earlier this year.

Krohn Conservatory (map) is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Free parking is available in nearby Eden Park surface lots. Metro's #1 bus route also serves the facility (plan your trip now), and nearby bicycle parking is also available.

Image Provided

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Important videos to watch about Cincinnati's Issue 9

Randy Simes on 55KRC's City Talk Radio tonight

I will be on 55KRC's weekly talk radio show called City Talk Radio tonight from 7pm to 8pm discussing historic preservation in Cincinnati. The focus will primarily be on Over-the-Rhine and the ongoing changes happening there.

You can of course tune in on your radios to 550AM, stream the show live on your computer, or if you're busy, download the show's podcast. Listeners can call or email their comments to the show while we're broadcasting live by calling (513) 749-5500 or emailing

Friday, October 23, 2009

Skywalkers III

The Great American Tower at Queen City Square continues to rise. The tower will eventually become Cincinnati's tallest skyscraper and be the new headquarters for Great American Insurance and the Frost Brown Todd law group. The tower is currently about 25 stories up from the ground and will continue to rise over the coming months.

Photos courtesy of Casey P. Coston

boom! a Hit at the Know Theater

The Know Theater this weekend will feature an intense, futuristic comedy called ‘boom!’ From the theater’s website, ‘boom!’ is “a funny, slightly warped and ultimately hopeful look at the apocalypse that follows a young marine biologist as he prepares for the imminent end of the world.”

I saw the play this past weekend, and was thrilled with it. The entire production included just three spectacular actors, whose interplay harmonizes to create a humorous look at the tensions between hope and fatalism. Maybe I read too much into it, but I thought the play also included an undertone of the tension between intelligent design and evolution, and even spoke to the tension that couples living together experience.

Though the play engaged me on this level, it’s also fascinatingly entertaining, and manages to exist as passive entertainment at the same time. The Know Theater’s intimate setting allows a spectator just relax and enjoy the show. But the opposite is also true. Because of the theater’s intimate feeling, the audience has the ability to fully engage the actors by being so complete taken in with the production on the stage. It's all up to the spectator.

boom! features phenomenal acting and an incredibly high production value. The show will run 4 times per weekend through November 7, but many of the shows are already sold out. Tickets are just $12, providing an affordable outing. After the show, the bar at the theater opens and the actors come to mingle with anybody interested in talking with them.

The Know is easily served by numerous bus lines. Go to the METRO trip planner, enter your address in the first box and enter the Know’s address, 1120 Jackson Street, in the second box. Couldn't be easier. If you insist on driving, there is plenty of safe, off-street parking in the Gateway Quarter Garage, accessible from 12th Street. Click here for directions.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Best Cincinnati Streetcar Video Yet

The Pedestrianization Acceleration of Cincinnati

Guest post by Greg Meckstroth:

If anyone has had the experience of traveling throughout Europe, you may have noticed a predominant feature in their center cities not found in typical American cities: pedestrian only thoroughfares. Many of these thin ‘streets’ have been around for decades, as European’s slowly took back their medieval centers and placed pedestrian access and connectivity in the forefront. Places like Paris, Copenhagen and Amsterdam have all created such places in their center cities, and, coupled with modern transit systems, have formed vibrant, provocative, and eclectic urban places.

Venizelou Square in Iraklion, Greece (photo by Randy A. Simes)

On a recent trip to Crete (known to be conservative by European standards) I again noticed an abundance of pedestrian only streets. After talking to a few locals, it was brought to my attention that many of these pedestrian thoroughfares were relatively new to the large city of Iraklion, and that they had finally come on board to the notion of pedestrianizing their center city, following western and northern European standards. This got me thinking; if even the most conservative western European places are completely pedestrianizing their center cities, it’s only a matter of time before the United States does the same.

Actually, the United States is already beginning to come on board with this trend, proven with the recent news that New York City has been experimenting with pedestrian only plazas in Times Square and Herald Square. Even Indianapolis, Indiana has started a significant road diet, as seen in their downtown Cultural Trail, where road lanes are slowly disappearing and making way for multi-use, pedestrian/bike facility zones.

Indianapolis' Cultural Trail (photo from Indy Cultural Trail)

These trends indicate American’s are warming up to the idea of pedestrian only thoroughfares and ‘pedestrian malls’ in their downtown’s, an idea initially rejected by American’s in the 1960’s and 70’s. In 2009, America is continually becoming an urban-oriented society and our cities need to start planning for a pedestrian acceleration that I believe will occur in our urban centers.

Cincinnati needs to understand this and start planning for the future to stay competitive in attracting the creative class. Luckily for Cincinnati, the city already has an amazing built environment suitable for pedestrian-only thoroughfares and malls; found in amazing Over-the-Rhine. A number of the neighborhood’s streets, especially the east-west routes, are thin, intimate, and well connected, making them ideal for pedestrian only access.

So what can we do now to get ready for the pedestrianization acceleration that will eventually dominate the American urban landscape? In the immediate term, we can choke down car-centric streets like Liberty and Central, increasing sidewalk widths, adding bicycle lanes, and decreasing vehicular speeds. In the long term, we need to develop a strong multi-modal transportation system for the city.

Not surprisingly, pedestrian only zones cannot withstand themselves without being supported by a modern, multi-modal transportation system. You simply cannot expect people to live in a car free environment if they do not have attractive public transportation options. If Over-the-Rhine is ever going to become pedestrianized, we must promote modern transportation options such as the Cincinnati Streetcar. If Cincinnati doesn’t offer these options, good luck keeping up with the impending pedestrianization acceleration and good luck attracting the creative class! Please don’t rely on luck for a successful Cincinnati, please vote NO on Issue 9 on November 3rd.

Greg Meckstroth holds a Geography degree from the Ohio State University along with a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati. Greg currently works as a planner with an urban design firm in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

AIA Debate Displays Tone of Issue 9 Campaigns + Volunteer Night!

This past Thursday evening, the Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Architects held a traditional debate discussing Issue 9. Arguing for Issue 9 was former SORTA board member Stephan Louis, as a representative for the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes (COAST). University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees member and Cincinnatians for Progress chairman Rob Richardson argued against Issue 9. UC Professor Terry Grundy acted as moderator, and did a fantastic job in moving the points right along and keeping things official.

Nearly 50 students, professors, architects and concerned citizens filled the lecture hall, each one interested in what the two men had to say for and against Issue 9. Mr. Louis opened the debate stating that Cincinnati had already built three transit failures (the subway, Union Terminal, and Riverfront Transit Center), and pulled out the ever popular phrase "boondoggle." Sitting calmly up at the front of the room, Mr. Lewis seemed very straightforward and full of "facts," which were later completely debunked by Gordan Bombay, writing for the Phony Coney (read his fantastically detailed write up here).

Rob Richardson was an entirely different story in practically every way. Hardly had Professor Grundy given him the floor than Richardson was up out of his chair, coming down off the stage to look students in the eye and speak to us directly. He spoke passionately of Cincinnati's future, stating quite frankly that our fair Queen City will face serious setbacks in practically every way if Issue 9 passes. The language is too broad and too over-reaching. The point of a representative democracy is to elect officials you trust to make decisions, and Mr. Richardson warned the room of what could happen if Cincinnati allowed Issue 9 to convert our current system into a California style government.

There were several excellent questions coming from various people in the audience, directed toward both debaters. Overall it was interesting to note that the general overtone of the "Yes on 9" conversation was incredibly accusatory and negative. Mr. Louis was not able to state how in fact he supported public transit, or what he saw for Cincinnati in the next 5 years concerning rail. He was only able to repeat sound bites intended to affront and astound - warning of the horrors of public money being spent, and even once comparing the streetcar to abortion. It's okay if you're confused - I was there and I didn't quite understand the reference, much less comprehend why he thought it was okay to compare the two in the first place.

The overriding theme of Rob Richardson's tone and message when voting against Issue 9 was one of hope and promise for Cincinnati. He spoke with conviction on how passenger rail will bring development and retain talent in our community, and how it can only help Cincinnati, not diminish its value. The difference in demeanor and attitude between the two debaters was incredibly palpable, and it's an important difference.

Choose negativity and fear, or hope for the future. Vote No on Issue 9.

Urban Cincy Volunteer Night!!
Tonight a few of the staffers at UrbanCincy will be gathering at the Cincinnatians for Progress office located on 1344 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. We will be making phone calls from 6pm to 8pm, and tentatively going out to grab a drink and/or food afterwards. Be sure to bring your own phone, or laptop computer (using Skype-$3) from which to make phone calls. If you're interested in helping but don't want to do it alone, tomorrow night will be a great opportunity to help this cause and hang out with some like-minded people!

Issue 9 debate photo by David Cole via The Phony Coney

UC's student government hosting Issue 9 debate tonight

The University of Cincinnati Student Government Association (SGA) will be hosting an on-campus debate on Wednesday, October 21 about Cincinnati's Issue 9, the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment, at Tangeman University Center's (TUC) Mainstreet Cinema at 2pm.

The debate will feature COAST's Mark Miller and former mayor of Cincinnati and current councilmember Roxanne Qualls. Councilmember Qualls will be arguing for greater transportation choices and against additional red tape, while COAST's Mark Miller will be arguing against additional transportation choices and for the amendment that would require a vote on any passenger rail expenditures in Cincinnati regardless of their scope.

The debate is free and open to the public, and will coincide with SGA's Sustainability Day on campus that includes UC's Climate Action Plan presentation at 12pm and a book signing by UC faculty specializing in sustainability also in the Mainstreet Cinema.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Week In Soapbox 10/20

This Week in Soapbox (TWIS) you can read about Jean-Robert's latest restaurant venture, Covington's new Assistant City Manager, a new innovative funding strategy that will help several center city developments, streetscape and park changes on the way for Clifton Heights, the completion of City Home's first phase in OTR, and a new authentic Mexican restaurant in Covington.

If you're interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week's stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

Also be sure to check out the fantastic feature article by Casey Coston on why Issue 9, the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment, is bad news for Cincinnati. See video below for even more Issue 9 coverage.

TWIS 10/20:
  • Jean-Robert's Table to bring relaxed French cuisine to downtown Cincinnati - full article
  • New innovative funding strategy to help center city developments - full article
  • Covington taps OKI planner as new Assistant City Manager - full article
  • Fresh look on the way for Clifton Heights' business district - full article
  • Over-the-Rhine leaders celebrate completion of City Home's first phase - full article
  • Casa Mexico opens in Covington's Latonia neighborhood - full article

The "Other" Portland

On a recent vacation, I had the opportunity to visit Portland. No not the west coast Portland that everyone is talking about in regards to Cincinnati's Issue 9, but rather the east coast Portland. During a week spent mostly in mid-coast Maine, I took some time to drop in on Portland to see what that city had to offer. With a metro population of 230,000 it is rather small compared to what we are used to here in Cincinnati, but it is home to one quarter of all residents in Maine. I honestly was not expecting too much, but was rather surprised by what I found.

Being a coastal town, I did think that this would be a city center full of shops and dinners that catered to Maine tourists and took advantage of their geographic location. I had pictured lobster flavored beer and lighthouses on doormats. But, much to my surprise what I found instead was a city block after city block of eclectic shops and independent restaurants. As I spent my evening wandering around shops and stopping off for dinner and drinks, I thought “this is exactly what OTR could be given a chance” and an UrbanCincy post was born.

The biggest thing that jumped out was that Portland seemed to have was a unified vision of what they wanted in this area. It could have been tacky t-shirt shops and chain restaurants. They could have promoted tear-downs and rebuilds to bring a more modern feel to the town. Instead funky shops, boutiques, and art galleries lined the street and used old buildings that had clearly been in downtown Portland for quite a while. While I was there on a Wednesday night in what is the start of the off-season, there was a good amount of people out and about enjoying themselves.

If nothing else Portland, Maine has an identity, and that is something that our area desperately seems to be searching for. It is my opinion that with a streetcar, a successful Banks project, and continued development on the river in Northern Kentucky we will have one that is appealing to long time residents, local college students, and outsiders that may consider Cincinnati as a place to live. The photos above are a small sampling of the establishments around downtown Portland.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Books by the Banks - Reading Fun for Everyone

If you're looking to get your book fix tomorrow, Duke Energy Convention Center is the place to be... at this year's Books by the Banks book festival.

The public libraries of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have teamed up with Joseph Beth Booksellers, the Mercantile Library, University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Magazine to offer up a festival celebrating the written word. There will be more that 80 authors on location for you to meet and sign copies of their books. From kid lit to sports, Cincinnati history to chick novels and back again, there will definitely be a book, author, panel discussion or demonstration to pique your interest.

National bestsellers Jeannett Walls (The Glass Castle, Half-Broke Horses), Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed, Best Friends Forever), Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain) and Barbara Bradley Hagerty (Fingerprints of God) are headlining the panel discussions occurring from 11am-3pm (a variety of authors speaking on the hour.) For a complete list of speaking authors, check out the program schedule here.

here will also be the Target Kids Corner, complete with lots of fun activities for families to do together, as well as story times throughout the day and character meet-n-greets. Personally, this blogger is incredibly pumped about the tattoo station (available all day) and meeting Curious George (1:40-2pm).

Books by the Banks is Saturday, October 17th from 11am-4pm and will feature plenty of books will be available for purchase through Joseph Beth Booksellers, which is a perfect opportunity to get a head start on Christmas shopping. The Duke Energy Center is located at 525 Elm Street (map) in downtown Cincinnati. There are several dozen bicycle parking locations within two blocks of the building, and Metro's # 1, 21, 27, 50, 64 and 77x bus routes also serve the Duke Energy Convention Center. Plan your trip now using Metro's Trip Planner.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Defeating Issue 9: How YOU Can Help

Election Day is just 18 days away, and now more than ever, is the time for those of us who are concerned about defeating Issue 9, the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment, to kick the campaigning into high gear. Odds are, if you're reading this, you probably know the basics about Issue 9 and are aware of the negative implications it will have on our city in the future. The bottom line is, you don't need convincing. That's great!

However, it's going to take many more votes than there are readers of this blog in order to stop this permanent alteration to our City Charter. One of the biggest obstacles passenger rail proponents have in defeating Issue 9 is eradicating the confusion surrounding the entire subject. Education and information are the keys, as well as putting faces of real people behind the language.

There are 52 neighborhoods in the city of Cincinnati, and Cincinnatians for Progress has been working very hard to get out to as many neighborhood meetings as possible and talk to citizens there. There are certain neighborhoods that are considered "swing" circuits, with a varying mix of demographics. These are the voters that need to be informed and educated.

Did you know that anyone can volunteer? To those of you that live outside Cincinnati city limits, this is THE way to have your voice heard on this issue and make a positive impact. While you may not be able to cast a ballot on November 3, you most definitely can volunteer your time and effort to the cause. Think of it, if you just went into a booth and cast your vote, you are one voice. If you can volunteer just 2 hours of your time and reach 60 voters, you can make a huge impact. To those that border the city limits of Cincinnati, you know how this issue will impact you and your community. Get out and help so that Cincinnatians for Progress can reach as many voters as possible and educate them on the ballot language as well as the issue ahead of November 3.

Cincinnatians for Progress is organizing phone banks during the week and canvassing on weekends. We here at UrbanCincy will be volunteering our time and efforts and we would love to have you come along with us. Keep an eye on the site for dates and times where we will be volunteering so that you can join us!

Also be sure to come on out to the Don't Be Tricked, Vote No On Issue 9 Party at Neon's Unplugged on Friday, October 30. The party will run from 7pm to 1am and feature beer from Christian Moerlein, food from Kroeger & Sons Meats, live music, Bocce Ball, and a host of special guests. There is no entry fee and everyone is encouraged to come and go as they please. Beer and food sales will be cash only.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Issue 9 debate tonight at 6pm on UC's campus

The legendary Terry Grundy will be hosting John Schneider, Rob Richardson and Chris Finney tonight at 6pm to debate Issue 9 (the Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment). The debate will take place in room 5401 inside the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning on the University of Cincinnati's main campus.

The debate is free to attend and is a great opportunity to hear both sides of the argument if you haven't yet already...even better if you're a student at the University of Cincinnati where the Student Body Government recently voted unanimously to oppose Issue 9 and take a strong stance in support of passenger rail transportation in Cincinnati.

Free parking is available in a limited capacity on surrounding streets, but tons of bicycle parking options exist within a stones throw of the entrance to the building (map). Metro's #17, 18, 19, 39, 51 and 75x bus routes also will drop you off within two blocks of the building. Plan your trip now using Metro's Trip Planner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

World Music Fest takes place this weekend in Covington

There’s something happening on the south side of downtown Cincinnati this weekend that is worth some attention as the World Music Fest runs all weekend at multiple venues through the heart of Covington. This event is part of the Covington Full Spectrum series which has something artsy going each and every weekend through the entire month of October.

This is the third annual World Music Fest, and while you may be saying “I’ve never heard of a World Music Fest in the Cincinnati area”, that’s probably because it’s never been as ambitious and as large as it is going to be this year. In prior years there was just a single concert in Newport but this year there will be more than 40 performances at seven different venues around Covington over the course of the entire weekend.

We have linked the entire schedule for you here, but wanted to take the time to point out a few highlights of the weekend:

  • Friday Oct 16, 6-10pm – A VIP mixer at the Baker Hunt Cultural Center which features food, wine, and live music by Faux Frenchmen and Kyle Ferguson. While the cost may be $30, aside from just this kick off mixer, it also gets you into the Global Afterparty (Oct 17), the show at the Madison (Oct 18), and two tickets to a CCM performance. Think of your ticket to this event as your passport for the weekend.
  • Saturday Oct 17, 9am-3pm – Come kickoff the day European style with a complimentary breakfast from the good people at Taste of Belgium and our friends from Coffee Emporium. Music will run until 1pm, but there is a Kids Zone that goes all the way to 3pm with story tellers, workshops, and children’s entertainers.
  • Saturday Oct 17, Noon-6:30pm – Over at the Leapin Lizard on Main Street is a Moroccan-style Bazaar with vendors and two stages of live music. While there will be a mix of genres, there is an emphasis on Middle Eastern music. This one is a freebie as well, though there is an afterparty at Leapin Lizard from 9pm-Midnight which will cost you $5.
  • Sunday Oct 18, 5pm-10:30pm – The main event of World Music Fest is a full night’s worth of tunes at the Madison. Headliner Javier Mendoza has quite a résumé including appearing alongside acts as diverse as Willy Nelson, Los Lobos, and even The Roots. While the others are mainly local acts at $12 advance (or free if you went to the VIP party!) this is a great deal any way you look at it.

Nearly everything throughout the weekend is free admission aside from a the few events that we’ve outlined here so be curious and get out to see some great music from all around the world in your own backyard. In the meantime you’ll be supporting some great businesses in Covington that have decided to take part World Music Fest 2009.

Life in Cincinnati with the streetcar (video)

Vote for Cincinnati to win $5k for its recycling efforts

Cincinnati-based Get Sick Productions has only recently gotten its start, but is already competing at a national level for a video the new viral marketing and new media production company put together for Cincinnati's Office of Environmental Quality.

The video focuses on promoting Cincinnati's recycling program and is now looking for your votes as it competes with five others from around the country for your votes. The winning city will take home $5,000 for their local recycling efforts. You can vote once a vote early, and vote often for Cincinnati as the public voting closes on Saturday, October 31. VOTE HERE!

Also be sure to check out Feoshia Henderson's story on Get Sick Productions in yesterday's Soapbox issue.

Bringing street vendors to life in Cincinnati

It's the smell of the roasted nuts while taking a stroll through Midtown Manhattan, the ambiance of the taco trucks in Los Angeles, the frenzy of activity and chatter in Chinatown, and even the echoes of the "peanuts, bottled water...cheaper out here than inside," from the vendors on your way to the game.

In so many ways street vendors add activity and life to our otherwise lifeless and cold streetscapes. And whether you're grabbing a quick snack, lowly meal, or are just passing by, we are all impacted by the life these vendors add. This is a point that William H. Whyte hit on in his 1980 book entitled The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

"If you want to seed a place with activity, put out food. In New York, at every plaza or set of steps with a lively social life, you will almost invariably find a food vendor at the corner and a knot of people around him - eating, schmoozing, or just standing."

And, as Whyte continued, "vendors have a good nose for spaces that work." So while it should be a goal to increase the amount of vendors we have on our streets, so that we're increasing the amount of social activity that is occuring, it is even more important to create the urban spaces that foster this kind of environment.

LEFT: Produce vendors at the Court Street Marketplace attract distributors, browsers and shoppers alike. RIGHT: A typical daytime vendor at 6th & Vine streets in downtown Cincinnati serves up customers and attracts a line of people. Photos by Randy A. Simes.

In Cincinnati we have the typical daytime vendor serving up hot dogs and other like delicacies, the standard vendors selling knock off sunglasses and jewelry, the game day vendors for Reds/Bengals games, and now Nada's new taco stand. But can Cincinnati grow its street vendor scene and foster even more lively urban spaces?

The fact of the matter is that these street vendors open because they either see a market demand and an opportunity to make money, or they are too small to open up their own store or restaurant that meets the necessary codes. In relation to this issue James Cox writes:

"One of the largest hurdles a developing restaurateur or chef needs to overcome is the initial cash outlay for a licensed and inspected kitchen from which to produce the food one sells. You need a fire suppression system in the ventilation system and a gas shut-off valve that is connected to the whole thing. You need a certain amount of space between the stove and the wall to allow emergency escape if there is a fire. You need NSF-Certified work surfaces and either high-heat or chemical sanitation systems in your dishwasher."

As Cox discusses the issue from a Portland perspective he then identifies the "Domestic Food Service License" that has been created there to allow individuals to make food for sale to the public out of their home kitchen legally. This simple, yet politically complicated, issue has fostered one of America's best street vendor communities complete with taco trucks, cookie vendors, chocolatiers, and a variety of ethnic foods. And while boosting the amount of street activity through additional street vendors, the policy has also helped Portland's thriving farmers markets.

Nada's new taco cart attracts people to the corner of 5th & Elm streets in downtown Cincinnati. The self-congestion theory is demonstrated here as people cluster around one another even though ample space is provided. Photo by 5chw4r7z.

For Portland it was less about the design of their urban spaces and more about the policies that govern this interesting group of entrepreneurs. And I would say that Cincinnati is in a similar position where our urban spaces are already well-suited for dynamic and vibrant street life. What is needed now is a more flexible approach to dealing with those looking to operate in such a way.

Let the street vendors grow organically, where they want, when they want, and how they want. Provide as few hurdles as possible and only require the information needed to keep track of the total volume of the street vendors. By embracing these individuals we not only create an avenue for more small businesses, and the grassroots innovators, but we can also create a better city by spurring more activity.

So what food vendors would you like to see in Cincinnati? Where would you like to see them? Is it possible for Cincinnati to facilitate an environment where street vendors flourish?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Week In Soapbox 10/13

This Week in Soapbox (TWIS) you can read about World Food Bar's new Downtown eatery opening this November, the first public K-12 school in the state of Ohio to achieve LEED certification, Mt. Washington's efforts to slow down traffic along Beechmont Avenue, new lending opportunities for green building strategies created by LISC, and the latest redevelopment plans for Covington's Jacob Price housing project site.

If you're interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week's stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

Also be sure to check out the fantastic feature article by Jeremy Mosher on what Cincinnati can learn from Portland's transit network, and the piece by David Lyman on Cincinnati's Twitter scene. Below watch this week's feature video that takes you on a ride of Portland's modern streetcar.

TWIS 10/13:
  • World Food Bar Restaurant Group opening Mayberry Downtown this November - full article
  • Pleasant Ridge Montessori achieves LEED Silver certification - full article
  • Mt. Washington moving forward with potential traffic calming measures along Beechmont Avenue - full article
  • LISC creating new lending opportunity for green building - full article
  • Redevelopment plans continue to evolve for Jacob Price site in Covington - full article

Monday, October 12, 2009

An important question for Cincinnati voters to ask

COAST has debuted their new yard signs that prominently feature a decorated bus (much like the Holly Jolly Trolley seen Downtown every holiday season and the special event trolleys that take people on tours of the city). The signs also simply state "Stop the Streetcar" instead of "We Demand a Vote" or "Stop All Passenger Rail" or "Any Means Any" or "No Taxation Without Representation" or "Lets Go Teabagging" or anything that would be closer to the truth.

When it comes down to the very core of COAST, and their stance on Issue 9, it's not about Democracy, voting, or even empowering the public to keep their government in check. What Issue 9 is all about for COAST (a special interest political group that has fought everything from gay rights to red light cameras to funding for our public libraries and childrens museum) is permanently changing our city's charter to more closely fit their political ideologies.

They're paid to fight for this while the rest of us are not. Our city's future is far to important to fall for the tricks of a special interest group looking out for no one else but themselves and their futures. A wise man once said, "follow the money trail."

Moerlein beer tasting at the Verona - 10/15

In true Cincinnati politico fashion, a Christian Moerlein beer tasting will be held for Councilmember Greg Harris' reelection campaign. The beer tasting will take place at the historic Verona at Eden Park (map) on Thursday, October 15 from 5pm to 7pm.

If the great beer isn't enough to get you there then maybe the chance to rub elbows with Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory or President and CEO of Christian Moerlein, Greg Hardman, will do the trick. And since this is a political fundraiser there are suggested donations (listed below) for those interested in attending.

Event organizers say that free valet parking will be provided, but the Verona is also served by Metro's #1, 4, 11, 31 and 69 bus routes. To plan that trip that works best for your schedule use Metro's Trip Planner. Please RSVP by emailing, or by calling (513) 515-8464.

Suggested Donations
Brewmaster - $250
Homer Brewer - $100
Beer Drinker - $50
Lightweight - $25
Designated Driver - $10

Christian Moerlein photograph by Flickr user pnkermiz.

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