Friday, April 23, 2010

Cincinnati Preservation and the new "Westside Energy"

Things are "happening" on the westside of Cincinnati. In my view its a good thing and I expect to see great things occurring in the western neighborhoods of Cincinnati this summer and over the next few years.

Now I know my blog has a national following so I probably need to define the area I am talking about. I am talking about neighborhoods like Price Hill, Incline District, Covedale, Fairmount, Knox Hill, Sedamsville, and Westwood. All neighborhoods that were in a bit of a "bad streak." The neighborhoods are on the west side of the Mill Creek Valley which a natural 'divider' so to speak for the city. As someone who didn't grow up here I can not really explain the EAST vs WEST thing but Cincinnati residents waste an incredible amount of energy debating which side of town is "better". They both have the same classic architecture designed by the same great architects and builders and some of the most important people in Cincinnati history come from both sides of town. It seems to primarily come out of old High school football rivalries.
One 'difference' I see is that most of the Western neighborhoods were in fact cities and towns that were annexed into the city mostly in the early 1900's. That may explain the more "independent nature" of the westside. There has been a lot of "blaming" in the last 10 years about the westside becoming a "dumping ground" for low income and section 8. It is a fact that most city employees , (in position of power) live on the east side. But as Section 8 makes its inevitable drive to the townships and suburbia that issue may soon go away. But I think that the western neighborhoods are getting past that , perhaps realizing they are wasting valuable energy debating the past and I see the westside now looking at a future.

The "new energy ' is everywhere. One of the 'good things' about the foreclosure crisis is that the slumlords and get rich quick investors are walking away. That has opened up some pretty good historic houses for the first time in years and you are no longer competing with investor types on these properties. Many newcomers to Cincinnati are looking at the prices on the east side and realizing they can get more house on the west. That is fueling renovations and restorations as more Realtors realize the quality of the housing stock here, the low prices and the greater opportunity for appreciation over the long haul.
Many if the large houses and old mansions on Harrison for example are being converted back to single family by young couples who found their "dream homes". The battle over the Gamble house has raised the credibility of Westwood Historic, Westwood Civic and Westwood Concern as forces to be reckoned with on Preservation battles. Several of the problem ridden Apartment houses built in the 60's and 70;s have been bulldozed and more are in the works. When you get out on the side streets off Harrison there is a lot of restoration going on and it's everywhere!.

Lower Price Hill has successfully argued several zoning issues in their favor. A great deal of restoration activity ongoing and the neighborhood as close to town as it is is increasingly drawing the attention of preservationists who see the opportunity there. Price Hill and the Incline district are both on steady paths to improvement. If people take the time to actually drive around there are now some very nice blocks.

The Fairmounts (North and South) continue to deal with high vacancy rates but new people are coming in because its so close to downtown via the viaduct. I've driven around and all of a sudden "pop" a house being actually restored, not "rehabbed". Many of those who were willing to fix blight with a bulldozer are being replaced by preservation minded people who see the opportunity. With really incredible architecture and accessibility to downtown the neighborhoods have allot to offer. A lot of the 20 somethings couples who want homes as opposed to condos are discovering the area and thanks to super low prices many young couples just starting out are starting to call the area home.

Covedale has always been a great place to live and there is a dedicated group of people who are continually working on improvement. Sedamsville faces the greatest challenges but has the greatest opportunity to 'reinvent itself' and if anyone can do it John Klosterman can.

Dave Zelman with Riverside Civic Club continues to work on the improvement in his area and be a strong advocate for the entire westside with his work with CPA.
Nobody even heard of Knox Hill in 2008 and here we are now working on a historic registry nomination, recently toured by a state representative and with our Citizen complaint with HUD against the City on section 106 review, we are taking on the tough issues and the city to task.
The new energy is everywhere and I encourage those who '"haven't been on the west side in years" to take a Sunday drive and look, really look, at all the things going on. Remarkable things are happening here, perhaps small steps, but the energy and people behind them are determined. Determination when harnessed is an incredible force to reckon with!

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