Wednesday, June 16, 2010

OTR: Can we connect the dots of Development: Part 2

Yesterday we talked a bit about neighborhood impressions and an overview of problems concerning OTR development and connecting the dots of those "islands of development". Today I will throw out some possible solutions.

First while the Streetcar is a key component in OTR turnaround it is not the "salvation" of OTR. Businesses are not going to suddenly wake up and say "hey I'm going to open a business down there" NOR are people going to suddenly be compelled to restore a building because of the streetcar. The streetcar, maybe because of the opposition to it, has been seriously oversold and
'hyped' to a point that even if it is a success on some levels it will be viewed as failure because the expectation are so high. In my opinion a modern New Urbanist "Portland style" streetcar was a mistake and it should have had a more historic feel in keeping with the historic character of OTR

BUT, It is a key component in OTR but only as an accessory to a larger , more comprehensive plan. We have to connect South of Liberty development to North of Liberty development

Many who are cheerleaders for OTR ignore certain facts that are out there so lets talk about the "real world" of OTR.

1.) OTR will never have the population density it had in the Victorian era, nor would anyone want it to be that 'crowded'.

2.) Given that lack of urban density the idea that one can fill the street retail with businesses that will be largely supported by people who live there is a unrealistic.

3.) OTR will only be truly successful as a "tourist based" destination not a self sustaining neighborhood.

That is the "real world" . In order for business to locate in OTR you need a considerably larger consumer base than would be possible just from the downtown or OTR residents. That means that OTR has to be "branded' as a Historic destination much in the same way as a Charleston or a New Orleans. The economy of OTR will be dependent largely on those from outside visiting OTR not from those who actually populate it. It must be marketed, TV ads in regional market, placed ads in travel magazines etc.
Local leaders and city planners need to be working towards a Business mix that will work. Things like art galleries, Antiques shops, gift stores, boutiques, restaurants , entertainment venues and small Inns and small boutique hotels. One need only to look at King street in Charleston to see what that might look like.

Linkages and connections: The Urban planning side.

There is no doubt that the streetcar project will create some walkable infrastructures to link area together sidewalks will have to be rebuilt as part of ADA.

At the moment however OTR is not a "walkable neighborhood". One need only to observe people at Findlay Market to see that. Findlay market is successful because it creates what is viewed as "safe enclave' The closing of Elder the control of the parking lots and a visible police presence all positively enforce that this is a 'safe place'. That combined with the Historic colors, awnings , flower boxes, and planting all say "you are welcome here this is a safe place".
Unfortunately the large urns like these at Findlay market, used to create "safe zones' hinder development across the street and foster a safe vs unsafe attitude among shoppers.

You can see that "created barrier" by watching people circle and circle to get a spot in the "safe haven' of the North or South parking lots. Those of us who know OTR have no problem parking on Race or Elm but the average visitor is not going to "take the risk' as they view it of parking in a perceived unsafe area. So how do we change that?
Overgrown trees like these on race street create dark 'unfriendly zones' that discourage development. Trees should be replaced with smaller scale slow grouth species to open up the historic views.

We change that by creating walkable 'safe zones". In my mind those would be Vine, Race and Elm. The treescape on those streets it now terribly overgrown. If the area were viewed as "safe" that would not be a problem, but since its not those trees should be removed and replanted with smaller more open species that will provide greenery but not create 'closed environments". We also ELIMINATE ALL parking meters North of Liberty for a 5 year period and we look at current city owned lots to be perhaps privately developed as co-operarative neighborhood parking lots where residents own their parking space. These lots would be landscaped and fenced and would open up streets for visitor parking.

Consideration should be given to making Race street a single "wide-lane" street. Expand the sidewalks and create a more pedestrian friendly space with better lighting and "open up' this area. Consideration should be given to "Historic facade grants" to paint and restore street facing facades in period colors.

The purpose is to create what I call the "OTR Walks" or "ON the Rhine" Historic Walks. Properties along the designated historic walks would be researched and much like Betts Longworth, historic plaques would be placed on key houses and places. Pedestrian friendly planting and benches would be added. landscaped buffer strips with fences behind them would be created at the vacant lots to visually separate the walkway from the vacant lots. Special signage/banners would identity the "historic walks" area. It would be the 'first step' to developing interest in restoration on the cross streets. Security cameras would be installed along the area.

Initially people will be afraid to venture into these areas and I would suggest "guided historic tours perhaps based around Findlay Market and the Music Hall/ Washington Park areas. This could be a sponsored venture between OTR Chamber, 3CDC and Cincinnati Preservation. Cincinnati Police would add foot or bike patrols in these areas as well. A major "criminal cleanup" is needed along these Key corridors and now is the time to start.

New Linkages and Projects:

Outlined in red the proposed OTR Art Walk Park

While the above projects will help create 'walkable areas. An east/west connection is needed and I would propose a new project... called the OTR ART WALK Park.

3CDC continues to march up Vine and eventually will reach the 17-1800 block of Vine. The question becomes how to "link" that to Findlay Market and create a real walkable loop. I would propose that ELDER be closed permanently from Race to Vine of vehicular traffic. A "intersection" would be left for access to cross Elder on Republic to those properties on the north. The goal would be the creation of an arts and antiques market in the business buildings on that street and perhaps artist lofts in the residential spaces above.
The vacant lot at Republic and Elder could be an outdoor performance venue for music and maybe combined with an outdoor cafe or Beer Garden.
Elder would become a Pedestrian Esplanade (like those found in Europe). There would be fountains, places to sit, larger scale sculpture could be on display and there could be a rotating displays of art.

The net effect of this would be to extend the perceived "safe zone ' of Findlay Market east all the way to Vine and provide a permanent linkage between the two while creating a new Tourist based development that will bring in new business and create jobs..
We have to think of more linkage projects and the type of developments that will create market zones attractive to new business, and create traffic to and interst in OTR. We have to throw out the idea that OTR will be some sort of carless neighborhood that will be self supporting, and we have to plan now for accomodations of both residential parking and creation of new parking opportunities for visitors (like underground parking garages).

Thoughts, ideas anyone?


Randy Simes said...

I have a few thoughts on this:

1) I think most people, OTR cheerleaders included, understand the the population densities once seen in Over-the-Rhine will never again be had. Additionally, I know I have specifically said that it will be impossible and unsustainable to attempt filling all of the existing street-level commercial spaces with businesses. An effort should be made to convert some of these spaces into non-commercial purposes (residential, lobby space, etc).

2) Over-the-Rhine is a walkable place. While its perceived safety might deter some walkers, that is only one element of a place being walkable. Virtually every other factor points to OTR being a very walkable neighborhood, so if you are able to improve the perceived and real safety of the neighborhood, it will score perfectly on that scale.

3) In terms of parking I think a better solution than the neighborhood parking coops would be residential parking permits along the streets in place of the current parking meters. This would provide parking for those structures that are currently without and would provide close access for those residents. The lots should be utilized for commercial activity.

4) I like your idea for Race Street.

5) The historic walks you mention do exist in some cases (Architreks & Queen City Underground). There are other temporary tours that exist during Bockfest and other celebrations as well.

6) Your Art Walk proposal along Elder Street screams of gentrification and displacement. There are people currently in this area and the idea of making it an arts/antiquities district seems somewhat arbitrary and would be immensely different than what currently exists. It might prove to be more successful to see what can be grown from within that area so that it is truly unique and empowers the current residents instead of ignoring them.

7) I do not believe 3CDC will march up to the 17-1800 block of Vine Street any time soon. They have in fact stated that they would prefer not extend themselves north of Liberty. Instead they are shifting their focus west towards Race and Elm streets.

8) Comparing OTR to Charleston is silly. Historic Charleston serves as the primary business center for that small metropolitan area. This is why you find high end shopping and department stores along King Street. With that said, there are only a few streets that boast any commercial activity whatsoever in historic Charleston...most are completely residential.

9) Love the idea of turning Elder Street into a pedestrian esplanade.

JYP said...

I concur with many of the comments Randy said. In addition I would like to add that the street trees along Race and Elm should be maintained because they aid in slowing traffic. I think the trees should be trimmed and shaped to better compliment the historic structures surrounding them.

Also the cobra head lighting needs to go. Replacing this type of lighting with the appropriate historically contextual luminaries that are brighter and lower to the ground than cobra head lights will go a long way to changing the feel of that street corridor.

Paul Wilham said...

Elder and that intersect with Republic has a lot of vacant structures, and very little owner occupied structures. I am not suggesting we displace anyone, however a "targeted approach' at developing the vacant buildings can create a viable neighborhood.

Randy, I do not view "gentrification" as a "dirty word" . I can only imagine what you must think about the 'dog parks' and elimination of the basketball courts from Washington Park.

There is a economic reality that it costs 100-150 a square foot to restore a building, people are not going to do that next to variety store or a pawn shop.

Neighborhoods must be allowed to grow and change. 1860-1920 OTR was a propserous German Community, 1920-1960 it was mostly Appalachian ghetto, from 1960-2001 it was an African Anmerican Ghetto . After the Riots, it has been largely EMPTY. OTR will become something new, it won't be a German Community, it wont be a Applachian Ghetto, It won't be an African American Ghetto.

It, most likely, is going to be an upscale , mostly white, well educated, proffesional demographic. I would not be surprised to see most of the 20 somethings who live in OTR now priced out of the market within a decade.

Anyone who thinks OTR will be some sort of magical cum-bay-yah lets all get along community hasn't spent enough time looking at other communities around the country that have already turned around to see that isnt going to happen.
Unless you are proposing 'rent conrols'. That's the fastest way to kill development.

I'd rather local interests control it before some out of state, or foreign developers comes in and develop OTR. The property is too cheap and eventually it could happen.

3CDC pretty much is the big guy in the room right now and they have "set' the prices, but property is too cheap for them to be the major developer forever.

Randy Simes said...

Actually Paul I do not think of "gentrification" in and of itself as a dirty word. In fact I have actually spoken and written about this publicly. I do, however, view displacement as something that should be avoided.

While the previous occupants of Over-the-Rhine may not be what makes up its future majority, that does not mean we should ignore those people and their culture either. I very firmly believe that the existing black culture in Over-the-Rhine can be maintained while also providing for the new majority you speak of.

The reality is that costs can be kept low so that rents can be kept affordable to a certain degree without imposing rent controls. Reducing parking requirements and offering density bonuses are both examples of how to achieve just that.

With that said, I'm not sure how viable another art strip through Over-the-Rhine would be. There is already Pendleton and Main Street which includes the Art Academy and theatres within its proximity. If any future art activity will occur naturally, I would think it would occur in one of these two districts. And even to that end, it's not really up to planners or city administrators to decide what businesses go where. That's a function of the free market. Planners and city officials are just suppose to create the environment for the free market to operate. And in this case that's through investing in public assets and resources like streetscaping, transportation, facade improvement grants, and public policies.

St Charles said...

Randy wrote There is already Pendleton and Main Street which includes the Art Academy and theatres within its proximity. If any future art activity will occur naturally, I would think it would occur in one of these two districts. And even to that end, it's not really up to planners or city administrators to decide what businesses go where. That's a function of the free market.

Randy that is not true. The most successful historic districts in the country have been program by the government. Check out the Paducah Artist relocation program. The entire historic district was saved through this program. There were somethings about it that did not work Like forced borrowing for rehab and the like but essentially a ghetto was transformed.
If the arts are survive and thrive it is important for the government to assist. OTR has a lot of space so an open mind is absolutely required. Pauls ideas are fabulous.

Randy University City Loop in St Louis is a great model for diversity.

Paul Wilham said...

Cities "influence" development all the time, via zoning restrictions or variances of use.

Indianpolis through infrasturture improvements made Mass Ave arts district possible. Though due to rising rents I see that area going through more changes. Indy has artists in Fountain square, Fletcher place, Broadripple and of course museums spread all over town.

On my last trip to New Orleans there were antique dealers all over town as were artist and gallery space.

Personally I would not look at locating our gallery (which deals in Antique lithographs and originals of the 1870-1900 era) on Main St or Pendleton arts because I have no desire to pay inflated building acquisition costs. Cincy really doesn't have a cohesive antique district either. YET.

Findlay needs close by development to grow its' base. The idea of Findlay rolling up the sidewalks at 4 Pm on Sunday is Silly. In Charleston the "slave market"
shops are open late 9-10 o'clock.

There is not a viable bar or restaurant near Findlay. It could easily become another entertainment district if there is a variety of shops.

People could go to the market, go down the steet to browse galleries and antique shops and have dinner at a local restaurant. Maybe spend the night at a small B&B or boutique hotel in the neighborhood.

That part of OTR should be an all day experience. Not "hop in the car go in the market, hop back in the car and go home.

I'm just saying we can't limit ourselves and the city passes out tax credits right and left for business development and expansion. Clearly thats targeted development. the city regulary solicits new buisness development and tries to match space up with potential business.

We just can't "limit" our thinking.

Randy Simes said...

I don't know why the assumption is being made that I want to "limit" the possibilities. I'm actually saying the alternative and believe that we should leave all options open. This is, in part, why i criticized your idea of turning Elder Street into an artist/antique district. Quite simply, that is not how planning works unless you're playing SimCity.

The City should take its resources and invest them in public assets. A great idea would be for the City to invest money into turning Elder Street into the esplanade you suggested while also offering up some facade improvement money. This could then be combined with efforts from the OTR Chamber of Commerce to offer small business startup assistance. As for what decides to go there, in my opinion, is up to whatever the market wants there. That might be art galleries, it might be antique dealers, restaurants, bars, clubs, co-ops or anything for that matter.

St Charles said...

Randy we will have to agree to disagree on what good planning and zoning is. But a far more important issue is recruiting people to the area. I think the City needs to embark on a WE WANT YOU PROGRAM. Far more valuable then an government grant programs is people. Recruit those who lost their homes, jobs and or business for a second chance with no mortgage. Many were swindled by the banks into tricky mortgages. Others are just victims of the economy. Adopt OTR is a begining of this. Recruit those convicted of minor crimes and have learned their lessons to start businesses. In the US people are blackballed for life. How about an agressive Marketing campaign. Over the Rhine The City of Second Chances. We want you! Hate the banks? Live free from the banks. Do you know how many people out there that feel they have no future do to the economy or some one time stupid mistake. Another group that we could recruit for OTR is the Progressive christian Group Owe no man anything but love. They are ambitious industrious non jugmental group> After all OTR needs a second Chance too. I do think the seed money for business startups is imperative. With the recruitment program and the seed funds. OTR could very well be the

PS I still think we need a section exclusively for the arts around Music hall would be good.

St Charles said...

OTR Could be the Greatest American City. Where the American Dream still lives.

St Charles said...

OTR MUST have a vacant buildings registration fee of at least 500 bucks every 6 months. In St Louis City the simple requirement has pushed the dead azzes off their duff and forced them to sell or fix up their property. It is a little grease to move those stuck in position. It wards off House horders and house holders/investors who we call blisters. They let everyone else do the work and then show up when the works done and try to collect.