Friday, November 8, 2013

Why OTR will still thrive without a streetcar and the adaptibilty of "vision".

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my friends in OTR who feel most passionately about the streetcar, let me speak about the reality of being an Urban Pioneer. Having been an urban pioneer for some 30 plus years, restoring over 25 properties, having served as president and in various board positions on countless neighborhood associations in several cities, and having served as a consultant to many municipalities, neighborhood groups, and development entities as a preservation consultant, let me say the one truth I know, you have to accept the inevitability that your vision will be replaced with another.

The streetcar ‘could’ have been a remarkable stimulus tool…. a decade ago. Had this city had the "forward vision" to say we need to do something dramatic, something creative, and been a “leader’ of movement rather than someone else , years later, who climbed on a bandwagon, the street car could have made a profound statement about OTR, caused rampant redevelopment and we would probably be a model for other cities in so far as ‘startup redevelopment’ goes. Yes we would be farther along if this had happened in 2000, but at the same time most of you living in OTR could not afford to live here today, if that had happened.

City leaders had bigger fish to fry, and, this city, in true Cincinnati form, was more concerned about relocating “the problem”, (the rioters) out of the urban core. They pushed them out to Price Hill, Avondale, S and N Fairmount, Camp Washington and Westwood and caused major disruption to communities minding their own business. The city “forced” section 8 into communities that didn’t need, nor wanted it, and the city upset their quality of life to get over the national embarrassment of the riots. It was wrong and it was unfair.

So city governement determined it was better to sacrifice several otherwise stabile neighborhoods, to “save face’ in OTR and sweep the embarrassment of the riots behind us.

People like us engage in Urban Pioneering to make a difference, but you do that with the understanding that at some point your ‘vision’, will be replaced by another. I have witnessed this first hand (more than once). At some point the building you bought for 20K is worth a million and your property taxes have gone from a manageable 2000.00 a year to 20K a year. If you are pragmatic, you made your money and you go on to save something else. You have done you job. You have saved a historic building and improved a neighborhood.

OTR has often been described as always being at a “tipping point”. It is, in fact, at another tipping point. The early days (back in 05) of buying a 900sq ft condo for 115K have been replaced with buying that same 900 sq ft at 270K. I realized in 2008, when I first decided on this city, that OTR was well on its way, would be successful, and really didn’t need my help.

OTR is at an enviable point of building at 300 a square foot and we are now seeing projects being spec’d out at 350-400 a sq ft. In short, OTR is about to enter its next phase. North of Liberty (especially near Findlay) will not be an enclave of “trendy hipsters”, it will be an enclave of managerial 40-50 something’s who will be hiring architects to take former tenements and turn them into million plus single family residences. Many of the small “starter’ condos South of Liberty will be combined. Much as I witnessed the Lockerbie Glove factory in Indy where I saw units combined and combined again to create huge upscale luxury flats. Those early 10 year tax abatements in OTR will soon expire and property taxes will go through the roof., it's just the way cities grow.

The “funky clothing stores” and “eclectic eateries” will soon be replaced with high end upscale eateries and that local bar will soon find it a better economic in selling upscale Martinis and offering live jazz than selling PBR and offering Karaoke. You will soon have a Starbucks on every block selling overpriced coffee products. OTR will soon be well past being a place college students hang out. It is just going to be that kind of successful neighborhood. The people paying 400K to over a million bucks  for a residence, do not need, or want, a streetcar. Nor will all the suburbanites who will visit OTR on the weekend to be “adventurous and cool”. They will want a secure parking garage.

Whether or not the streetcar supporters want to admit it, theoe new residents and visitors, will be perfectly OK to hop in cab to go from A to B, or maybe hop on a trolley bus or a “pedal bar”. It will be financial suicide for a developer to build a condo project or town home with out at least 2 car parking per unit and stacked carriage house storage will soon be the norm. OTR is well past the drean of being some multi culteral, multio income cum-bay-yah neighborhood where everyone would be happy.

Its not what the supporters of the streetcar want to hear, but your efforts have made OTR so successful, attracted out of state developers that you are about to be priced out of OTR. The economic argument for the streetcar has been passed by. Developers are here now, they can build upscale projects and lenders will now finance them.

This election was about the fact that communities who were “sacrificed” to make OTR successful saw a chance to turn the tide and take back their communities. The reality is that low income section 8 is headed to the suburbs and that will be another battle likely fought along the lines of a city-country combined governments to distribute this “mess’ in a fair way. The 28,000 who voted were voting on issues and were not the “disengaged” who vote in presidential or gubernatorial election based on which candidate they “feel good about”, or the candidate who they think “looks cool”. I would bet if we drill down into who voted they probably own their own home, have kids in school, and understand how to balance their checkbook. That is ultimately what this election was all about…real financial responsibility and it is something that has been missing in this city for years.

I would suggest that those who would want to fight, what will likely be a losing battle, to save the streetcar, to take solace in the fact it is their efforts that have made OTR successful and that the streetcar is not going to make or break OTR. That community is on its way regardless. It’s true its not your ‘vision’ of OTR and the people who will soon be your neighbors are not who you thought you’d have, but were it not for your pioneering efforts, the success of OTR would not have been possible.

The biggest question facing most urban pioneers is…. where is my next frontier? I chose Knox Hill, others may find Camp Washington or Lower Prices Hill intriguing, and maybe it will be the Brewery District or Dayton St/West End.

In short, you can beat your self up about the loss of your personal ‘vision’ or accept the fact that you are a stepping-stone in redevelopment and revitalization of a great community. You will be priced out of OTR soon and you should focus on your next steps. I know that is not what many of you want to hear and maybe I’m lecturing but trust me I’ve been there.

I would suggest, directing what will likely be trying to save a streetcar that the next wave of OTR residents will have no use for, to “where is my new frontier?”

For Cincinnati to be world-class city, it must have a variety of successful neighborhoods offering unique experiences. We would be making a mistake by concentrating on one neighborhood to the detriment of everything else. That has gone on for far too long.

Cincinnati has a lot of neighborhoods that need saving and we will be stronger community going forward if we realize that visions change and neighborhoods must adapt.


Matt Jacob said...

The secured parking garages that 3CDC has built have opened OTR market to those with cars and higher income as you've pointed out; however I think it'll be difficult to continue without improved public transportation (streetcar or not). The old streets will not be able to handle the sheer number of cars that the spaces will bring even if they can jam 3 garages every 3 blocks. A circulator like a streetcar will be necessary to alleviate

Neil said...

Do you realize that Cranley was the author of the VBML ordinance you so despise? (and justifiably so);wap2

If you didn't like the previous administration you are in for a load of pain when the traditionalists take back over - trust me, I lived in Cincy when they ran things and it was a miserable depressing place. I'll agree with you that the momentum is there, but Cranley has the severe ineptitude and poor leadership to completly turn back the clock, I have a feeling his poor interpersonal skills and myopic world view will pan this out, streetcar or no streetcar he's a dangerous mayor for Cincinnati to have at this stage of development.

Its just my advice, these are the people who got Cincinnati into the terrible shape that it was in in the first place.

Quimbob said...

You realize Section 8 is a federal program administered by a county agency? The city has nothing to do with it.
I agree, that the neighborhoods are pissed t decline but that's not all the fault of what's coming in but what left and allowed "that element" to move in. The thing is, most of the OTR area that needs redevelopment is vacant. So continuing worries about "those people" is utter fantasy.
I think a circulator (on rail) is important, too. I really don't see the entire area being repopulated without it.
and, yeah, this new government is not going to make rehabbers happy at all.