Friday, March 13, 2015

OPINION: Urban Inversion, coming to Cincinnati Neighborhoods near you

Communities like Knox Hill may well see their return as upper middle class neighborhoods
The dynamics within Cincinnati are on a pathway of rapid change. "Urban Inversion" , demographic changes are  returning cities to their old socio economic pattern, pre 1960's 'white flight". The inevitability of inner core communities being one of increasing wealth and prosperity and the decline of "old ring" suburbs built in the 1950's which will become more poor and crime ridden is not far in our future.

Some, call this "gentrification" but in reality it's just a change in market forces, fueled by  desire among the middle class and wealthy to live a more "urban lifestyle". There is no denying its happening in Over the Rhine as condos push the 300.00 a square foot build out, and ironically early "urban pioneers" (hipsters) are starting to see them selves 'priced out' of actual downtown and OTR, living and are trying to figure out where to go and their options are getting limited.

Areas like Covington and Newport are getting increasingly more expensive and unaffordable to those on the typical millennial salaries.

Developers want to historic redevelopment before they take the risk on new construction projects
Part of the problem for Cincinnati is it has largely "shot itself in the foot" by exercising  large "Blight Abatement Programs " which have wiped out large quantities of restorable historic housing stock in the city and ignored Historic Preservation as an economic redevelopment tool.  Literally, the city threw out the baby with the bathwater, unable to see the increasing demand for living downtown, the fact it will get only more expensive and being or close to it with a more affordable neighborhood alternatives will be in demand as well. Part of this caused by bad policy of the last administration, but it is compounded by the fact the new administration isn't yet thinking "Big Picture" yet.

I actually had a long time city employee, a building inspector, tell me with a straight face that if we empty out these blighted neighborhoods we can create proper suburban lots that developers will want to build on. This represents a misguided idea that people do not want to live in anything but ranches and do not desire urban density.

As we all know suburban models are the last thing people want these days and one can reasonably make the prediction that older suburbs will look more like the old downtown; poor, high levels of rentals and with high crime. This has already happened in cities like Indianapolis, St Louis and Chicago where the poor have been pushed out to old burbs and those areas are now the "high crime" areas, with gangs, educational challenges, drugs, high crime and must struggle with 'what to do'  with these areas as Shopping Malls die, check cashing stores and pawn shops move in. Ferguson MO is a prime example of a community that went from majority white to majority black and from middle class to poor, from low crime to high crime almost overnight.  Those issue s and problem will happen here as well.
We know new Historically inspired infill is desirable in other cities but it comes AFTER restoration of existing housing stock
As often happens, Cincinnati is not moving fast enough, still clinging to a failed "blight abatement" model and not realizing that before developers come in and build new construction , historic restoration typically has to come first. Developers want to invest in communities that already have invested individuals in them.

 There is also the mistaken belief that we must maintain more low income housing in these neighborhoods, but not realizing that demographic is already moving on. The poor move to where they feel comfortable and to be near family and friends. They have no desire for foodie restaurants and coffee houses on every corner and resent being a small minority in an upscale neighborhood, that is often looked down upon. Also we know developers use low income as "place holder" housing initially and once that federal funded requirement expire they will move that former low income housing  to "market rate".

Who are the winners and losers here? Well, near urban neighborhoods, areas like Incline District, Knox Hill, Camp Washington, West End, Walnut Hills, Mt Auburn and Westwood would seem to be the ultimate beneficiaries  and we are already seeing patterns emerge as restoration takes hold. The losers may well be those once considered 'safe' neighborhoods in the townships which will look more and more like the old urban city did.

The city has to start figuring out new models. For example building bigger roads to get people from suburbia to downtown everyday may not be the best model, long run. There may need to be a look at how do we expand public transit (bus services to service the poor in township areas) who can't afford to drive to downtown or to the far burbs which will be an expanding center of service jobs and commerce.

New methods of car storage need to be embraced now as part of future development

Other cites are embracing more neighborhood friendly car parking solutions and not pretending cars are going away. parking is being incorporated into new development
We also have to understand that the city is about to get more congested. As it becomes more wealthy, more settled, so come cars. While Millennials may not like cars, the rich do not give up there cars and there will be a need for more parking garages, off street parking, increased taxi and Uber services. In short there are going to be more cars downtown in the future, not less, and we need to accept that inevitability and we need to alter our idea of building code and design to accommodate stacked garages, underground parking and condo parking lots and not follow the advice and wants of people who will be priced out of neighborhood that will have this problem.


Corporate owned commuter buses may be the solution for Millennials in near downtown neighborhoods
Millennials (who are not car friendly) may find themselves living in neighborhoods without good public transportation and the city may need to rethink how we will get people from Price Hill, Fairmount and Walnut Hills to the downtown in an efficient manner and its not by building more roads to the far burbs but may involve public private partnerships with local corporation to provide shuttle services for employees from close in neighborhoods.

The challenges are many, and the city need to start focusing on its future and stop looking at its past assumptions of what things would be like. Clearly this effort will require greater cooperation with county agencies and the ability of city leaders to think "out of the box" and "big picture."

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