Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Urbanists, preservationists and new expectations about the way Cincinnati should work

One of my regular blog readers sent me a link to a New York Times article about the “Urban Pioneer’ movement in New York in the 1970’s. It talked about the ‘shortsightedness” of city officials and their demolition policies that resulted in the loss of significant architecture.

As I read that article I fast forward to today and I see the same thing happening in Cincinnati. Despite overwhelming evidence that demolition is not the way to address “blight” and that a ’blight=bulldozer’ policy is a failed model for Urban redevelopment our city officials persist in following this failed model of urban renewal which has been long abandoned by every forward thinking city.
This historic home,The Gazlay Mansion, recently several apartments, is now on its way back to its single family granduer thanks to the dedicated work of its new owner Michelle Holley, It is just one of several new rstorations in teh West End

The reason city officials persists is quite simple MONEY. The availability of federal dollars to demo property has created a City of Cincinnati that is like a “crack addict”, they are addicted to Federal funds to help pay the salaries of city officials who have no clue how to redevelop a city.
Few would have expected this house on McMicken in the brewery district to look the way it does today, but it is one of several new restoration in that area

Rather than embrace this “New Urbanist” and Preservation movement as a way to turn around neighborhoods, create jobs and improve the tax base, they continue to throw roadblocks at it. Things like the VBML (Vacant Building Maintenance License), and a condemn policy that has nothing to do with the structural condition of building but is rather an “escalation” for people who do not maintain their property or more likely refuse to submit to the city extortion of a VBML license.

Rather than early intervention when a person fails to comply with a repair order by taking that individual to court, the city passes out VBML like candy and it’s easy to understand why. A VBML means the inspectors on the Vacant Building Task Force get a ‘free pass”. They do not have to do the follow up to deal with a difficult property owner, or a more likely scenario, tracking down the bank that is getting the property to foreclosure. Rather they place the VBML and wait for some unsuspecting future property owner to come along and them blindside them with a VBML. One need only look at the way Newport and Covington are turning around to realize that Millions of Dollars of Preservation investment have gone across the river rather than be spent here,

Knox where? Just a few years ago no one knew where Knox Hill  Neighborhood was much less its rich history. Today the neighborhood is experincing a rebirth. Had we not bought this house, it is very likley the Historic Nagele-Merz house would be in a landfill now.

The “net result” of this is that Cincinnati is a hard city for preservationists, despite this city having the greatest collection of historic architecture in the country, many are reluctant to buy here because they know they will have to wade through tons of paperwork and be treated like a criminal for simply buying a house that the city would prefer torn down so they can be the recipient of more Federal dollars.

Despite this, people are coming to Cincinnati and they are restoring the “unrestorable’. I am not talking about “big picture” projects like the banks or the work of 3CDC but rather the individuals who despite all the obstacles are buying those houses that need serious help and despite all the roadblocks the city throws at them are persevering to turn around homes and in the process, neighborhoods.

The New Urbanists and Preservationists are like freight train now. In all parts of the city, OTR, West End, Brewery District, Price Hill, Knox Hill, Fairmount, Camp Washington, Mt Auburn, Pendleton, Westwood, and Sedamsville. Just about every neighborhood you could think of has active people restoring homes and neighborhoods that city officials “wrote off”. You can read about their exploits on a number of blogs like 1700 Vine Street, or City Kin which talks about raising a family in an Urban Environment

While today, thanks to a tanking economy and the foreclosure crisis, most people now know the term “upside down” having more invested in their home that they could sell it for, that a common thing to New Urbanists who are willing to invest in homes no one else wanted and are willing to wait until their neighborhood catches up. Just ask people like Bob Prokop in Westwood, who moved to Cincinnati from New Jersey and bought a fine Tudor home or Dave Zelman, an architect who owns a wonderfully restored historic home on River Road. They are content to live in the home of their Dreams and wait for everyone else to catch up to just how great their neighborhoods are.

More importantly there is a new communication and a common purpose among the New Urbanists who chose to live in Cincinnati and it around. The recent citywide effort to save the Gamble House has put a spotlight on historic preservation. The recent Westside Preservation summit brought a diverse group of people together from west side neighborhoods to talk about preservation interests.

Cincinnati Preservation Association has had a major up tick in new memberships, there is new energy and a “political awareness” and expectation that Cincinnati elected officials need to start “getting it’ or they may soon find themselves out of a job.

Preservationists and New Urbanists are “mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore”. The “Good ole boy’ Cincinnati network may find itself replaced with a new group of forward thinking preservation minded people in upcoming election cycles unless they get with the program, cast off their old idea that “We have always done it this way”. Demolition, that keep a few demolition contcators in business is no lober
City officials need to lead, follow or GET OUT OF THE WAY and start polishing their resumes…..The New Urban and Preservation movement is here and Cincinnati is headed in a new direction FORWARD!

1 comment:

CityKin said...

I agree that there is a movement, a change happening in Cincy. Many people don't see it because revitalization has failed in the past.