Plan Build Live: Your Ideas Matter

This is the second in a series about Cincinnati City Planning and Building Department’s Plan Build Live project. The first post in the series is here.


Citizen participation in the Plan Build Live matters. To participate and share your ideas, register or sign in via facebook at The first phase of Plan Build Live will culminate in a four day Citywide Form-Based Code Charrette April 28-May 2 where residents and professionals will work together to identify what the Form-Based Code should contain. More immediately, Plan Build Live seeks citizen input right now. And, there are rewards for those who participate in Plan Build Live the most.

Using Over-the-Rhine as an example due to its large collection of historic architecture and high density, I will share a few ideas that I believe ought to be considered. As America’s first boomtown and first major inland city, Cincinnati’s neighborhoods have an abundance of historic architecture and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that were created for a world without the automobile. Many city neighborhoods retain a complex network of pedestrian infrastructure like public steps and alleys. Now is an opportune time to improve the pedestrian- and bicycle-friendliness of the city’s streets. So long as priority is given to auto-centered development, we will continue to lose our historic urban fabric.

Streetfilms, the smart transportation and design media organization, put together a fantastic series titled “Moving Beyond the Automobile.” The series addresses 1o key issues:

  1. Transit-Oriented Development
  2. Traffic Calming
  3. Parking Reform
  4. The Right Price for Parking
  5. Road Diets
  6. Bicycling
  7. Car Sharing
  8. Bus Rapid Transit
  9. Congestion Pricing
  10. Highway Removal

All of the above and especially the first several videos are especially relevant to Plan Build Live and the sort of changes in approach that must be taken if the city is to have fully revitalized urban neighborhoods.

Parking Minimums: One idea mentioned in the transit-oriented development the entire elimination of parking minimums and, in some cases where multi-modal transit is easily accessible, parking maximums. Nashville and other cities have done away with parking minimums for its urban cores while larger cities in the New York metro area and San Francisco have enacted maximum parking ratios around transit-oriented development. Cincinnati should follow Nashville’s lead in abolishing its parking minimums. In 2010, the Cincinnati Planning Commission approved a 50% reduction in residential parking requirements for residences within 600 feet of a streetcar stop.

Pavement to Parks: Another idea is simple: take underutilized street space and give it back to people. This reform can take many forms. The following video demonstrates how parklets and transforming pavement into parks can improve the quality of life of urban neighborhoods:

Complete Streets: The OTR Brewery District’s Master Plan is the importance of complete streets. One of focus areas of the Brewery District’s Master Plan is the encouragement of complete streets. A major component of this aspect of the plan is repairing Liberty Street by giving it a road diet, calming traffic, expanding sidewalks, adding separated bike lanes, among other things. View the Master Plan here and the Complete Streets section here. Another aspect of this plan for Liberty Street which I will explore in greater detail in a future post is the necessity of Liberty Street between Sycamore Street and Reading Road.

Sign Regulations: The other day I asked a friend who would know, “What are the chances a banner sign like this could ever happen in OTR?” The sign is from Bleecker Street in New York:

Common sense would say installing a simple, banner sign would be easy, especially in comparison to the Herculean tasks already accomplished in OTR’s revitalization. Sadly, my in-the-know friend said otherwise:

Here’s the problem with a sign like that in OTR: Historic preservation would never ever allow it. I do think it’s a cool sign though! In order to get ANY sign in OTR you not only have to meet the building codes (which are burdensome as hell), but you also have to meet the rules of the historic overlay, and then you have to file for a revocable street privilege for anything that extends into or over the right-of-way which basically gives the fire department permission to crash though it if they need to. Revocable street privilages are nearly impossible to navigate the procedure if you don’t have an architect hired. Plus, if you do ANY hanging sign, you have to hire an architect and/or engineer to calculate the weight loads and stamp it. In other words, it’s really really expensive! Sucks for small businesses.

I guess my point is…the city and its small businesses could really benefit if the city did a better job both of streamlining the signage approval processes and just making it less impossible to even find the rules. The City of Cincinnati’s website is one of my biggest pet peeves. Transparent government goes a long way to helping people and businesses feel confident they know what is going on in their communities and allowing them to engage actively. Plus, you wouldn’t believe how expensive it is to hang a sign off the front of a building.

There has to be a better way, and any reform at City Hall will be insufficient if it does not address the aforementioned issues.

Public Steps, Sidewalks and Alleys: Cincinnati has a bittersweet abundance of underutilized pedestrian infrastructure. Bitter because some of it is inaccessible, closed, crumbling, littered, overgrown or privatized and sweet because it is provides a profound opportunity to reconnect our fabric of walkable urban neighborhoods while simultaneously beautifying the city and illuminating its rich history. The Cincinnati Public Steps (second only to San Francisco in number of public steps) are on facebook here, and Joe Gayetsky has done an incredible service by mapping and categorizing all of the city’s public steps here. Christian Huelsman and Pam Sattler are an engaged couple who recently launched Spring in Our Steps – a promising campaign to reclaim the city’s forgotten pedestrian infrastructure. Check out the Spring in Our Steps blog here, like it on facebook here and follow it on twitter @SpringInOurStep. These three individuals among others are shining a light on some incredible assets that ought not be ignored any longer.

Highway Removal: Cities across the country are knocking down the highways that sliced and diced their way through once-vibrant urban neighborhoods. At every possible turn, the city should take a proactive position for minimizing the presence of interstate highways in urban areas and for fixing them. Everywhere a highway goes, neighboring property values fall – leading some to name them “cheapways.” The Seattle Transit blog said it best: “Still, it’s one of the underrated tragedies in American history that what we feared Soviet bombs would do to our cities, we in a small way did ourselves.”

The strangulating spaghetti bowl of asphalt around downtown (high quality graphics by the author)

Feasibility of Aerial Tram linking Downtown to Mt. Adams: In the above picture, one can see a spaghetti bowl of interstate highway at the base of Mt. Adams. This area east of Broadway and south of Seventh was once known as Bucktown. If the highway’s presence was mitigated (via burial) and an aerial tram (like the one in Portland) was constructed, it could link the lively Mt. Adams to some of the most sought after real estate in the region. That would give new meaning to “Bucktown Rising.” Another imagined scenario would link the casino to Mt. Adams.

Streamline Byzantine Development Rules: The recent case of Mike Morgan battle against Byzantine development regulations is a wake-up call. After three years as the Over-the-Rhine Foundation’s Executive Director, Morgan left the OTR Foundation in 2010 as “the neighborhood’s most vocal advocate for historic conservation, pushing city officials to use code enforcement and development incentives to encourage redevelopment of aging, vacant properties. He said he’ll continue that work as a volunteer.” This month, his struggle against those very codes made headlines: “Michael Morgan wanted to prove a small developer with a sensible plan could restore a decaying historic building in Cincinnati without a lot of subsidies or hassles. Instead, he ended up in court, fighting over whether his plan met historic guidelines and whether the city followed its own rules when reviewing his requests to move ahead.” Something is very wrong with this picture, and the City needs to find a way to streamline its rules for those laboring to rejuvenate endangered historic structures.

These are only a few ideas. Share your own by visiting and signing in.

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