By Joe Baur
There’s no better time to live here than now.
$1 billion in mixed-use investment along our long overlooked waterfront, tying together our sports stadiums alongside a brand new transit center is the talk of the nation. Estimates say the project will spur more than $600 million in private investment and create new homes for 3,000 residents. The American Planning Association recently awarded the development with the 2013 National Planning Excellence Award in the implementation category. Not bad.
Speaking of transit, construction is finally underway on the $110.4 million 3.6-mile streetcar loop. This after having to stave off the auto-oriented plans of the statehouse and an oddly masochist representative in the House of Representatives. The city stood strong for smart planning that will help attract the increasingly car-free young professional demographic that cities thrive off of. The project has been a long time coming, and the advocacy of city residents like John Schneider helped keep the project alive. Turns out, city leadership is listening after all.
There are reasons to be skeptical and pessimistic, to be sure. The national economy is hardly a bed of fresh roses, and we continue to lose population at alarming rates. But listening to the mayor speak at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City last week, it’s a comforting reminder that we’re being led by someone who understands the importance of progressive city planning.
To address the perception of crime downtown, the mayor began eliminating skywalks.
“Smart growth itself is a crime fighting initiative,” he said. “The more people on the streets the safer you are.”
Yes, our city is truly on the rise.
It’s refreshing to witness such foresight at a time when other cities – like Cleveland — continue to make mistakes proven to be detrimental to long-term growth.
The mayor has refocused attention to the dilapidated heart of the city by pouring $44 million into a renovation project in 2005.
“The city rebuilt the parking garage, enlarged the ice rink, built a public stage and a restaurant. They also built a water works play area for kids. That project has resulted in private renovations to many of the major retailers and hotels surrounding the square,” reported Angie Schmitt at streetsblog.org.
Now music fills downtown every Thursday through Sunday during the summer, drawing folks of every stripe by bike and foot together for good food and drink.
This investment in downtown has spurred revitalization efforts in our troubled neighborhoods, including a $48 million renovation of Washington Park – a stunning achievement that shows this city is a green city. Even our neighbors have taken notice, applauding the “amazing” comeback in both our neighborhoods and downtown, asking their respective leaders to “take note.”
The most notable addition? How about a $322 million office tower that has given new life to our skyline and financial district.
For most cities, that would be plenty. But the good news keeps on coming. Yesterday it was reported that a parking garage downtown would be leveled to make room for a 30-story mixed-use building.
For those keeping score, Cincinnati is removing skywalks as Cleveland talks of building more. Cincinnati is taking down a parking garage in favor of mixed-use development, nearly a year after Cleveland demolished a potential mixed-use building for a gaudy casino parking garage. Considering the plethora of studies showing young professionals and empty nesters moving to urban cores that emphasize mixed-use development, I think I speak for us all when I say – Thank God we’re not Cleveland.
We’re hardly over the hump, but it’s hard not to be hopeful as smart decisions continue to be made, while other cities suffer from leaders who don’t “insist on better planning and urban design.”
Yes, Cincinnati is a city on the rise.
— Joe Baur, future Cincinnatian?
Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at MildlyRelevant.com and on Twitter @MildlyRelevant.