Friday, January 22, 2010

Cincinnati Preservation: How we make a difference!

I was on the Urban Ohio forum last night and as usual was involved in several forum boards on preservation and restoration. Someone from another Ohio city asked "how do I make difference in Cincinnati preservation?'

My reply was that they should talk to everyone they know about Cincinnati. It sounds like a simplistic answer but its key to the survival of Preservation in Cincinnati. WHY? Numbers!

Cincinnati had a population of 500,000 in 1930 Today the "city proper" shows we have 335,000 and I suspect the next census "may' show a slight decline from that. Despite the city governments "blight=bulldozer" mentality and demolition of hundreds of houses a year, we still have probably 30-40 THOUSAND vacant structures in Cincinnati and with the foreclosure crisis, more every day. OTR is no doubt the "poster child' of this but there are blocks of Fairmount, Price Hill, Walnut Hills and Avondale where only 1 house may still be occupied or for that matter, there may only be one house on a block. New people are coming in but people continue to move farther out.

The Preservation Community likes to talk about the 'success' of 3CDC and the Gateway and no denying it is a major success and we should all be proud of it, but IF you do the math we are in trouble. If restoration continues at the pace it is RIGHT NOW in Over-the Rhine and West end, it will take 70-90 YEARS to repopulate it and restore the houses and the business Buildings. 90 YEARS!

So before we pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves on how far we have come in the last decade, we need a dose of reality. We have an uphill battle and the city is not 'helping' us with their bulldozers.

So how do we, as the out of towner put it to me, 'STOP THIS!"

Well we have to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. First we have passionate group of preservationist who care , who 'get it', who understand how important architecturally this city is and how our architecture may be our best hope for the economic turnaround BUT there are not that many of us and we need more.

We need to educate our young people whose opinions are in a way shaped by parents who feel 'stuck' in Cincinnati, either by circumstance or lack of education. We need to spend more time getting younger people Interested in architecture and old houses and we have to do it early. We need to start a heavy guest lecture program in CPS to outreach to our youngest. We need to at the high school level encourage people to think about a career in Preservation. It is a growth industry, we need out trade schools to offer restoration courses rather than the stock building in suburbia training they currently do. When we find a young person with an interest we need to mentor them and encourage their interest.

We need, as 'distasteful' as this is for some of you in the preservation community to deal with, to get a more "In your face" approach with the city. What we are doing right now isn't getting us there. No more "Please, please will you LET us save this Building" approach. Or a 'Will you let me restore this house"? approach. We need a "We ARE saving this building and you can help or get out of our way". We all know the city isn't following the rules on its demolition and VBML policy and we need to call them on it. We need transparency and ACCOUNTABILITY in city government and, if necessary, we need to be prepared to go to FEDERAL COURT to stop illegal activities and violation of State and Federal guidelines and laws, which we KNOW are being broken.

We need a "Promote our Architecture" marketing campaign, a "Move to Cincinnati" campaign. We need a goal of convincing 50,000 out of state "preservation minded" people to make this city their home over the next 10 years!. To come here, restore here, and get involved. To restore those tens of thousand of vacant homes, to restore our Urban neighborhoods. We need to promote what a "bargain" Cincinnati is. People outside of Cincinnati, for that matter people who live in Cincinnati have no idea. A GROW HISTORIC CINCINNATI PROJECT.

We need to be spending our Federal dollars not on bulldozers but Facade grants, paint up/fix up monies, thumbnail parks and gardens. Those federal monies are called the "community DEVELOPMENT block grant" funds not the " community DEMOLISH block grant" funds and we need to demand the city understand that. We need to take the decision making out of the hands of few select city employees who've been doing it 'their way' for years, who funnel those monies to the usual suspects of developers and demolition contractors who just happen to support certain politicians for re-election. We use the Governmental Conflict of Interest Laws and the Ohio Sunshine Laws, to get transparency and stop the "backroom-closed-door-decision- making" that has been going on for decades.

In conclusion. We need more people. New people, people from out of state with fresh ideas. We need help, we cannot do this monumental undertaking of Restoring Cincinnati, by ourselves. We need to grow Cincinnati, we need to fill those vacant houses with people who care, who take pride in their neighborhood. We need to partner with our business community and start a Marketing and Advertising campaign to showcase our best assets, our historic architecture!
We need to TELL people what we have to offer, the greatest architecture in the country and bargain basement prices! Instead of commercial that promote the region with the "Creation Museum or Kings Island", we need a commercial showing Findlay Market on a Saturday, people restoring grand old houses, kids playing in Urban neighborhoods, we need to PROMOTE what we have and have people say, "I didn't know Cincinnati looks like that, I'd like to check that out". We should advertise Cincinnati in the National Trust Magazine, This Old House, Victorian Homes, web sites like . In short we talk to anyone who will listen, about what we have to offer. Because we just can not turn this around by ourselves!

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