Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In defense of Westwood

Westwood is a great community that is trying to make itself better. Those who are critical of Westwood for its strong stand against continued apartment development, do not know the  history of Westwood and are trying to impose a "one-size-fits-all" approach to the issue of low income housing

Westwood, like Fairmount, was once its own town, not part of Cincinnati.   They were part of the great annexations that occurred from the late 1800-1930's when cities equated stature with size and population and without any real thought annexed land and communities because it was, 'the thing to do'. There was no regard to the sense of identity its residents felt about their town, it was the "bigger is better" mentality..

Harrison Ave, prior to the 1950's, was almost exclusively large mansions and estates

While a city can annex land, it cannot annex a peoples sense of place and community. many in Westwood are the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of the people who settled the Westwood area. Like most people proud of their community they do not appreciate government entities, or boards or non elected individuals , who do not live in their community, making decisions about it that directly effect their quality of life and property values. They want to see their tax dollars spent in a responsible manner too.

Westwood is a community in transition, it is a community of fine architecture, from grand mansions, to Tudor cottages built in the 1920's, the community has always had great style and that style includes several large apartment buildings built in the 1920's. Westwood has always been home to people of diverse income and culture.

In the 1950's, Westwood became home to many new apartment buildings quickly thrown up to accommodate young GI's and their growing families. Most of whom transitioned out of those apartments to single family homes in the neighborhood. They were ambitious , hard working and instilled a sense of values in their children who were respectful to their community.

Those apartment buildings were not built to last, not like the great buildings of the 1920's. They were poorly constructed of inferior materials. By the 1980's and 90's they were already well past their useful life. Little thought was given at the time to the auto traffic generated by these developments and the strain caused to narrow residential streets. The buildings, declined, rents went down, and became a magnet for drugs and illegal activity and those building drove down the quality of life for all Westwood residents.

They have a plan, remove blight. Remove the high density housing built in the 1950's and 1960's and eventually replace it with quality single or two family homes or in some cases appropriate retail development. If land is not yet ready for redevelopment, use that space for community gardens or thumbnail parks or even as expansion of yards for adjacent neighbors.

At the same time push city leaders to enforce the building codes and make sure that those buildings built as multifamily are maintained and make sure that those illegally converted single family homes are converted back. Encourage more home ownership which will build a stronger community for all its residents and ultimately improve the county tax base.

Westwood deserves better and its residents deserve respect for trying to make THEIR neighborhood a safe community that is on a path to improvement. Those who are critical of Westwood for its improvement efforts would better serve themselves by relying less on statistics and actually visit Westwood. If they did they 'might' understand that Westwood is an important part of the history of this city, rich in architectural heritage that should be preserved.


Anonymous said...

Please secede.

Paul Wilham said...

I dont normally respond to people who 'hide' and dont state their name but:

Maybe they should? They have zero representation in council or planning.

Cincinnati could lose 10 percent of its population , already below 300K after the last census and Cincinnati could be downgraded by Moody's and taxes would have to go way up to pay for all the 'entitlements' the city wants to provide.

Frankly the city is doing nothing to help my neighborhood. We are pretty much on our own to turn it around because VBML's and Condemn orders have redlined our neighborhood. The biggest thing holding this city back is city government.

lll_pl said...

As a resident of Westwood and living next to an apartment building that replaced what was probably a victorian home, I can attest to the issue of parking for these apartment buildings. The owners of these buildings should have to provide enough off street parking for the units. My street is congested with on street parking for all the units and the constant stream of visitors, totally destroying what was once a peaceful beautiful street. Also with that congestion comes noise and litter pollution. It is such a shame how much of Westwood has been destroyed. It amazes me to see the historic pictures of how the area once was. I often wonder how people that built these once grand places in what was an exclusive area at the time would react if they could come back and see what has happened to their homes and the area.

Anonymous said...

^ I wonder what they would think if they saw a sea of parking lots. Or what they would think had become of the local government that would require someone building housing to devote more land than the foot of the building to parking.

Instead of polluting the built environment with more parking and cars, why not charge market rate for parking on the street? Either through meters that print time slips for display in a car window or via selling resident/visitor pass bundles? Prices could be tinkered with until an acceptable number of cars are around on the street.

Revenue earned could be used for upkeep of public space in the neighborhood, or for historic preservation grants for homes in the area. You could probably think of other ways to use that money for neighborhood improvement. That way, something that annoys you (all the cars) can actually be leveraged for something good. And you don't need parking mandates which a) cheapen the aesthetics of the area, and b) create government red tape for developers who may want to invest in the neighborhood.

Paul Wilham said...

Parking can be done ina number of ways. I look at Indinapolis for example in which many downtown apartment buildings have underground parking or Parking behind a retail strip that provides an appropriate street look. Westwood is a low desnsity suburban model of a community, built when cars were in its infancy. The plan in Westwood should be not trying to build high density apartments and build more single and two family.

I always find it interesting however that suposed people living in poverty and needing housing assistance, often have cars, smartphones and big screen TV's. The real problem is how we establish "poverty" guildlines.

Some people mistakenly believe that the car is going away and we will live in some pedestrian utopia. Thats not likely to happen so one must plan for reality. This isn't a third world country and it isnt 1850.

Anonymous said...

You're reading much too much into my comment. If cars on the street are causing a problem, one way of fixing that problem would be to price them off the street. It's a far better solution than mandating parking lots to be built.

One solution brings in revenue which can be used to better the community. The other makes the community look worse than the unseemly buildings already do. Take your pick.

The commenter I replied to was advocating the latter. I pointed out there was another possibility which is more in line with the ideals of people who read this blog.

Note also that parking fees are regressive, so I would think you should like that aspect, Paul. If you can afford them, by all means, park park park!

BTW you don't have to go all the way to Indy for underground garages. Fountain Square, the Banks, and Washington Park all have them.

lll_pl said...

I hardly was advocating building more parking lots, why would that be a solution in an otherwise residential street, my point was, in this case, there is off street parking in the rear of the units and garages under the apartments, why are they not utilizing that option instead of congesting the street? The point is they have no investment in where they live and neither does the landlord, if he did he would clean the parking up or the garages up to be used? He would care that his tenants are tearing up the street and medians by parking out front. These apartments were built in the 50's and 60's, cars were a big part of everyones life then, parking should have been and still should be something the city looks at when giving building permits for these units, there should be something mandating there should be enough off street parking in a residential neighborhood for these units. No one wants wall to wall cars in a residential neighborhood.