Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why Cincinnati Needs to change it's Demo policy

Now I know many think I am just a "Rabid Preservationist" who wants to keep 'everything old'. The facts are that not all buildings can be saved but most can, and should be saved. Cincinnati has perhaps the greatest collection of intact architecture in the nation, BUT, if the city keeps on bulldozing everything we will just be another rust belt city.

Case in point, Indianapolis. I have spent the last 10 years or so working on restoration or preservation of what is left of Indianapolis's historic neighborhoods. Indy has 'some' historic
architecture left, mostly in the Old Northside, Meridian Park Arch and Woodruff Place.
One of the things Indianapolis business leaders lament is that they are not a historic Tourism destination. People simply don't plan vacations around the idea of going to Indy to "look at the old houses'. Indianapolis pretty much bulldozed most of its Urban environment in the 1960's and 1970's. Mostly for wonderful things like Parking. Many of its Historic areas were "clear cut" blocks of grand houses deemed "blighted' by the city.......Sound familiar?

My point is, and has been that Cincinnati is special. It actually HAS it's history. It is a rare commodity, something that most cities in this country WISH in retrospect that they had.
We are at a crossroads, Cincinnati can be another New Orleans, Charleston SC, Savannah or San Francisco. Cities that bring in millions of dollars in historic tourism dollars, provide thousands of jobs in the hospitality business and actually have a tax base, OR we can be Detroit.

We are at the tipping point and either those who love old houses, believe in neighborhoods and want this city to "be something" need to get involved and push the city council and this mayor to get off their "lazy" and develop a long range plan to develop this city's historic Tourism potential or we will be another rust belt 'has been' city like Detroit or Flint Michigan.

So today's photos are an illustration of what 'might have been' Indy's historic tourism industry. Every one of these buildings is GONE! Bulldozed for "progress' for things like parking lots or gas stations, or strip malls or tacky apartment buildings. It is all GONE. Look around Cincinnati people, look at the buildings, do you really want to LOSE YOUR HISTORY?


Sarah said...

Hi Paul,
Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog! I too think that we could have a wonderful regional tourism program based around our wealth of historic architecture, but also feeding off our two professional sports franchises, strong German heritage, wonderful museums, restaurants, and setting in the hills of the Ohio Valley. Why does no one get this?? I hope we as a city can figure it SOON. I'm getting impatient... :)

Incidentally, I spent a lot of time in high school rehabbing buildings in Fairmount - you've piqued my curiosity about Knox Hill and I can't wait to pop by and check it out sometime!

Anonymous said...


You are laboring under the misapprehension that "the City" (as if it were a sentient entity unto itself) has a policy. You are sadly mistaken.

If there is one overriding principle in this town, it's that he or she with the most voting screamers wins. Not too long ago, Westwood presented the Department Formerly Known as Buildings and Inspections with a list of offensive buildings they wanted torn down. The big word was Blight. There was very little wrong with the buildings themselves, and while none of them were jewels in the Queen City crown, they weren't in dire need of demolition. But simply because the Westood community councils found them offensive, and Westwood knows how to scream real loud, those buildings are gone.

City Council people keep their jobs by catering to the voters. With miserable little two year terms, and 3-term limits, their time is spent scrabbling for votes and smooching the proper rear ends. The poor sorry b******s who work for those nincompoops keep their jobs by smooching council's rear ends, and their people do the same, right on down the chapstick-sponsored rumba line. Until recently, the push was on to tear down every blighty dilapidated eyesore in town, if it offended the local community council folks.

And now look--you show up with a noisy bunch of like-minded citizens who care about the local architecture, and by gosh, I've heard the sound of the Big Machine's brakes beginning to squeak and squeal. If you keep at it, you might just get your way. Throw in a building-hugging community council lady with the right combination of outrage, tears, and votes, and you just may have something there!

I wish you luck, Sir. And I wish you clear vision. "Policy"--it is to laugh!

Paul Wilham said...

Thanks Sarah, there are some great houses in our neighborhood and we have a good core group of people. We are working away every weekend on the house so feel free to stop by sometime. There are buildings to save and the more interested people we have the better.I,or one of our neighbors would be happy to take you on a tour. There are hoems that can be bought for as little as 3000.00 in our neighborhood right now. It won't stay that way for long, ESPRCIALLY with what we are going to be doing in Marketing and PR.

Anonymous: Actually I stand by the "city policy" argument, I have had enough discussions with city officials to know that many of them have no idea what 'historic' is. There are some good people in city Government, they just need to take a position and help establish policy. As for the city council who are "exceptionally quiet", I don't know if it's fear or just they hope we will go away.The council at 62K each per year,is paid twice to 3 times what councilman make in cities 4 times cincy's size and their job is hardly a full time position.

I agree some of the houses demoed in Westwood could have been saved and it is interesting that Westwood is talking about seceding from Cincinnati. We need a mechanism to "bank" these properties until people come along to restore them.

The South Fairmount Community Council is no better as they continually ask for demo and not rehab monies. One of the reasons people in other parts of Fairmount are looking to our group for leadership.

The BIG problem is, Cincinnati has done no marketing of its historic properties nationally. If it did you would be surprised how many would flock to Cincinnati.

Oh and by the way keep an eye on the Cincinnati Enquirer next week , a reporter has interviewed members of our group and a story is coming out. I will post the link when it comes out.

We are keeping the pressure on.

lasallemom said...

Just wanted to add a bit of info regarding the buildings in Westwood. While there MAY have been some single family homes on the list, by and large 99% of the buildings on the list were multi-unit apartments buildings. Paul, I know you know but I love for someone, anyone to come into Westwood and tell us that we shouldn't want to remove as many as these outdated, crappy apartments as we can get them to remove.
What the City and yes the past people civic "leaders" in Westwood allowed to happen here is outrageous and what we are trying to do is "right the wrongs" of the past.

Anonymous said...

^ Yay to Westwood for what they have done and hopefully continue to do with those apt. buildings.

Nice photos of Indy, never would have guessed they were from there. I don't think of historic anything when I think of Indy. I was in some "historic" place of little houses right near downtown (Indy) once, it was laughable. Even though Cincinnati still has a lot of nice houses/buildings left there could be pages and pages of super-neat places that were torn down... and more to come I'm sure. It's more than too bad.

Anonymous said...

"Has been" city?

I note your dismissal of my city, Flint, Michigan. Do you really know Flint? Have you been there in the last two years?

While I agree with your basic point about preservation, I think your perception of Flint is based on media reports and not on personal knowledge. Flint is certainly going through a rough transition but it is very much alive, the downtown is bustling with new restaurants and businesses opening every month, and there is a vital art and theater scene.

On just one evening last year, there were three different productions of Shakespeare in downtown Flint on the same night; one at the university of Michigan-Flint, one at a funky coffee house and one in a glorious 57-acre park.

Flint has a rich past but its present is still very much alive.

[Note: the system makes me choose "anonymous" but my name is Michael Kelly and I live in Flint]

Paul Wilham said...

Lasalle Mom and Anonymous: The thing that sticks out in my mind were two properties in Westwood (on Harrison) that were demoed. A White Brick 2 1/2 Victorian that was VERY restorable and an international style Art Modern apartment building maybe built in the 1930's that was demoed. THOSE were a BIG mistake in my opinion. However I agree that the vast majority of the 1960's era apartment buildings were not "contributing" structures to the neighbrohood and coming down was good thing.

The Historic "little houses" you are talking about are in Lockerbie. Those little houses now sell for upwards of 500-750K (many have new luxury additions on the back) Buildable Vacant lots sell for 300K plus downtown. All the parking lots that were around Lockerbie are now filled with luxury 300-750K condos. It is one of the most desired areas because you can walk to your office downtown.A decent sized house in Lockerbie recently sold for 1.2 million dollars.

Cincinnati "could' be the same way in 10 years with good leadership and marketing.

Paul Wilham said...

MIKE: Flint is serious;ly considering a "Urban renewal" plan that will demo large sections of the city residential housing stock and create "green zones' in am effort to "reduce' the size of the city. It is perhaps the most dangerous plan I have ever heard from an Urban Planning standpoint. I grant you Flint has some nice things going for it however this plan to bulldoze complete neighborhoods is INSANE!

The saddest thiubng is the Obama administration is studying this crazy idea with the possibility of applying it to 50 metropolitain areas accross the country!

geewhy said...

I understand your concern about the shrinking city plan for Flint, but I think you're misinformed about the proposal. First, entire neighborhoods would not be eliminated. The plan would be on a block-by-block basis.

The proposal would involve widespread community involvement and any suggested relocations — if any — would be completely voluntary.

Finally, the city is shrinking all by itself. Vacant structures are crumbling into the ground or burning down. Flint is shrinking; why not have a plan to manage it? There's a reason it's called urban "planning."

Finally, you really need to visit Flint before you comment further on this. I'm not trying to be a smart ass. You seriously can't understand Flint's situation without visiting the place. The population has been cut in half — from 200,000 to 100,000 and still declining. The unemployment rate is officially 27 percent, so the real jobless rate might be closer to 50 percent.

Parts of the city are like a ghost town because there are so many abandoned buildings. It's estimated that close to 40 percent of structures are empty or abandoned.

What exactly is Flint supposed to do, given its budget shortfalls, lack of jobs, shrinking population and abandoned structure problems? Historic preservation is a vital concern to me, but I'll admit I have my limits. Every abandoned fire trap in Flint is not historically significant, but these structures are significant in that they are making it tougher for Flint residents to improve their community.

Again, I'm not trying to challenge your views or be sarcastic. I just think you may underestimate the realities of Flint, Michigan.

geewhy said...

I forgot to add that many of Flint's historic homes are in historic districts — including the city's oldest homes in Carriage Town — and have some protections against demolition.

Paul Wilham said...

The city of Cincinnati had a population of over 500,000 in the 1930's , today it is at 330,000 despite several land annexations over the years post 1930. In fact OTR in Cincinnati had a population density similar to New York City.

Other major US cities suffered serious loss in population during the 1960's caused by "White Flight". (Cincinnati not so much so) The urban planning model of demo is a failure. The issue in Flint is the cities inability to attract jobs, that falls with city leadership. The housing situation is a by product. Letting the same people who are failures at attracting new business determine your Urban planning is sheer folly in my opinion.

Cincinnati was a magnet for the poor in mostly rural areas who came to the city looking for jobs. Cincinnati has a huge section 8 program that has laid waste to many historic homes that in other cities would have been preserved after the city off loaded its problem to nearby urban neighborhoods.

We live in a "new is better" society, it is only after we lose our history that we appreciate it. Our problem here is that property that shpould be declared historic and protected isnt viewed by the city as worthy. Maybe they appreciate a 10000 square foot mansion but not a detailed worker cottage. We have to educate our city leaders to the value of these properties they do not think as worthy.

New Orleans on the other hand is striving to save everthing it can post Katrina, from simple worker cottage shacks to shotguns. They are gaining back their population, because the the same time they are working hard to attract new business.

I am not picking on Flint, but I believe that picking a plan out of desperation, is not a strong position to work from.

By Comparison with Flint Indianpolis was a MAJOR US car manufacturer in the 1920's and several manufacturers were from here. Even as late as the 1990's the city was major manufacturing center. That has almost totally changed. The city worked to diversify and attract new kinds of business. That is what Flint needs to do. But those people who will come need a place to live. Suburban sprawl is not an answer when that time comes.

geewhy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
geewhy said...

I'm the last person to defend Flint leadership, but you need to look at Flint's job loss on a per capita basis. The city lost 75,000 jobs in a city with 200,000 people. Flint would have been lucky to lose jobs at a rate similar to Cincy or Indianapolis.

And you make it sound so simple...just find new jobs to replace the 75,000 GM jobs, plus the thousands of non-GM jobs that left along with them. No problem, right? Just need some good leadership and the problem's solved.

This was not simply a problem of local leadership. This was caused by huge global economic shifts far beyond the scope of local mayors and city council members.

Anonymous said...

I know this is being nitpicky, but there's a few things Paul Wilham said that I want to clarify.

First, the City of Cincinnati has lost a lot of population since its high in the mid 20th century, but there's been almost no new land annexed by the city since the mid 1910's. Nearly all the outlying neighborhoods (Fernbank, Sayler Park, Delhi, Mt. Airy, College HIll, Winton Hills, Carthage, Hartwell, Pleasant Ridge, Kennedy Heights, Oakley, Madisonville, California, and Mt. Washington) were annexed between 1909 and 1914. Since then however, only small areas (like one or two little subdivisions at a time) have been annexed, not greatly expanding the area of the city, nor its population. It is fascinating to know that Over-the-Rhine was once one of the most, if not the most dense neighborhoods in the country, with something close to 100,000 people per square mile.

Also, white flight has been a big problem here, with blockbusting being documented in many neighborhoods (notably in Mt. Auburn, Walnut Hills, Avondale, and Bond Hill), but other neighborhoods have seen white flight, such as Kennedy Heights, Madisonville, parts of Westwood, Price Hill, and Evanston, even if blockbusting wasn't deliberately going on. You are correct however, that this in and of itself did not change overall population much, but the effects can't be ignored.