This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
” - Will Rogers
How green is Cincinnati?
by Michael James Casey, November 29, 2010 The purpose of this study is to analyze the actions being taken by the city of Cincinnati, Ohio to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable urban growth and social development policies. Looking beyond the surface goals of a municipal Climate Action Plan (CAP) released by city council in 2008, this report will offer context in the form of a brief history of Cincinnati’s historic development and energy consumption patterns, with a particular focus on transportation and its intrinsic influences on city life. State and federal policies will be scrutinized and laid out to give a clear picture of how much public and private money is currently being spent on projects that vary from packaging redesigns to building retrofits to entirely new transit corridors and much wider implications for urban revival. Finally, I will focus on the revival of Over-the-Rhine as a thriving and densely settled urban district, emphasizing the importance of this inner city re-densifcation and offering ideas for why this area is integral to Cincinnati’s overall climate change strategy.
The initial growth of Cincinnati was naturally catalyzed by the Ohio River, a major tributary of the Mississippi and vital link to the nascent east coast cities of the United States. One of the country’s first inland boomtowns, it began life as ‘Losantiville’ in 1788, only to be renamed Cincinnati (a name that traces back to the Roman legend Cincinnatus) two years later. In 1789 the layout of the city was plotted with a regular grid of 400’ x 400’ blocks running parallel and perpendicular to the Ohio River. While commercial and civic functions were kept close to the riverfront, the northern confines of this settlement grid was offered to new settlers on the basis that they “construct a substantial home on their own plot”15. Accessed from the east by riverboats, the town grew at a steady rate until completion of the Miami & Erie canal in 1827, at which point growth accelerated rapidly. Between 1831 and 1841, Cincinnati’s population doubled to 50,000 people, and nearly half were German immigrants. The majority settled in the area north of Downtown, now separated by the Miami & Erie canal. Homesick German transplants started referring to the canal as the Rhine river, thus giving the neighborhood its unique name of Over-the-Rhine (OTR). By the second half of the 19th century, German entrepreneurs had built a robust brewery industry along the banks of the canal, with beer halls and shops lining the neighborhood’s main north-south streets, all of which provided the necessary capital for Over-the-Rhine to become a vibrant cultural district. This rise in the neighborhood’s social importance to Cincinnati would soon be manifested in its architecture. Between 1855 and 1891, almost all of the wooden structures in the neighborhood were razed and replaced with substantial stone, brick, and cast iron buildings15that housed factories, breweries, beer halls, hospitals, liveries, saloons, and the surviving centerpiece, Music Hall.
These halcyon decades give OTR its lasting architectural character, as the bustling success of breweries, beer halls and shops along the north-south streets generated jobs and the construction of a dense residential district along the east-west blocks. The 362acre (1/2 sq. mile) concentration and variation of this urban fabric of brick row houses is reminiscent of other immigrant neighborhoods built in the same era, such as New York’s Greenwich Village or Lower East Side10. At its peak in 1891, OTR’s original grid plan had encouraged the development of a densely settled urban fabric. Lots only averaged 100’, leaving half of the blocks to be further developed in the rear with alleyway access15. This dense concentration of compact row houses and apartment buildings housed a peak population of over 45,000 people. In 1889, the first Cincinnati streetcars were opened, complete with inclines that connected the river basin districts of Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End to new suburbs being developed on the steep surrounding hillsides of Mt. Adams, Mt. Auburn, and Price Hill. After decades of high ridership rates for these systems, in 1917 Cincinnati voters took the next step and approved the construction of a subway system to loop under downtown and link to emerging suburbs to the north, east, and west. To accommodate a thriving turn-of-the century population and important position in the nation’s economic development, Cincinnati’s subway system was modeled after those seen in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The stagnant MiamiErie canal served as the starting point for construction of the subway’s downtown loop, being easily drained and replaced with concrete subway tunnels. Between 1920-1927, workers dug over 7 miles of additional tunnels and built several underground stations in downtown Cincinnati, only to give up on the project when public bonds ran out. An erosion of public support and zero remaining funds for construction left Cincinnati’s subway as the nation’s largest transit system to be abandoned before seeing a single customer. Within most of the suburban tunnel routes were demolished and
The above map is dated 1841, and shows Cincinnati’s emerging neighborhood patterns, with Downtown and OTR at center.
View of the Miami-Erie canal, which provided a vital source of growth to the city in the era before railroads and automobiles.
Cross-section of a typical subway tunnel and platforms.
replaced with interstates that utilized the same rightof-ways that the city had acquired for the subway project. About two miles of tunnels and three stations still remain intact under the streets of downtown. The lack of public support for Cincinnati’s subway system points to the automobile’s dictation of 20th century American settlement patterns. Not only did auto-oriented development contribute to the demise of the subway, by the 1950s
expansion of the vast I-75 corridor was also responsible for destroying the historically black West End neighborhood and displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes. Many of these families settled in adjacent Over-the-Rhine, which by then had been largely abandoned for the suburbs by the newly middle or upper class descendants of the neighborhood’s original German immigrants. Starting in the 1940s, Over-the-Rhine also became a haven for many itinerant Appalachian residents, who were drawn to the neighborhood’s cheap rents, quality buildings, and proximity to factory jobs14. Eventually most these new residents cycled out to the suburbs or other midwestern cities, accommodating a sustained influx of African Americans from the Deep South and other Cincinnati neighborhoods. By 1980, the area was mired in pervasive violence, drug use, and poverty. Social services became a growth industry, introduced in the hopes of alleviating this widespread destitution but mostly perpetuating it14. Slum conditions were reinforced by federal housing policies which allowed landlords to reap generous tax credits for renting units to lowincome residents, with the stipulation that unsightly metal bars be affixed to ground floor doors and windows14. Due to a “combination of white flight and no compensating foreign immigration,”17 the neighborhood rapidly lost density in the 1980s and 90s. Although much of Over-the-Rhine’s original building stock was lost or deteriorating by the 1990s, the area’s architectural character and affordable rents drew a substantial amount of middle class artists and hipsters to the area. The presence of these new bohemians resulted in the arrival of nightclubs and specialty shops along Main St., which had historically hosted the neighborhood’s most successful commercial and social environments15. These pockets of gentrification gradually spread outward from the Main St. district, and at the height of the nineties OTR revival, “young downtown office and restaurant workers placed down payments on future apartments that still had garbage piled on the floor and pigeons nesting in the walls.”13. Uneasy relations between the old destitute and
This historic photo shows subway construction progress along the former site of the Miami-Erie Canal, now Central Pkwy.
A camera flash illuminates part of the 1920s subway tunnels as they appear today, remarkably well preserved.
Urban blight, as seen above in this 1990s shot of Over-theRhine’s northern confines, close to Findlay Market. These scenes of boarded windows and crumbling brick facades have stigmatized the inner-city neighborhood for decades.
new creative classes in Over-the-Rhine would soon come to define the neighborhood’s identity. We will return to the recent history of OTR at the end of the report, framing its redevelopment as an important component of the city’s future sustainability initiatives. The following section offers an explanation of Cincinnati’s utility energy portfolio, recycling efforts, and climate action plan.
Due to Cincinnati’s downstream proximity to the Appalachian mountain range and major mining states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, coal has and continues to be the dominant source of utility energy for the area. Barges carry over 3 million tons every year8 to the the Zimmer Power Station in Moscow, a small town located on the Ohio River 30 miles east of downtown. The construction of this plant was a long-delayed and debated process that stretched over several decades. Planning began in the late 1960s and construction commenced in 1972 on what was to have been an 800 megawatt nuclear station7. But as early as 1974, workers began filing complaints that the quality controls for the plant’s construction were inadequate8. Although construction proceeded to a point of 97% completion, by 1981 the Nuclear Regulatory commission fined the Cincinnati Gas & Electric (CG&E) utility $200,000 for their management and safety shortcomings, ordering a halt to all but safety related work the following year8.
In January of 1984 the major utilities involved in the project, CG&E, Dayton Power & Light Co., and Columbus & Southern Ohio Electric Co., became the first in the nation’s history to convert a nearly operational nuclear power plant into a coalfired unit8. The project’s initial cost of $240 million ballooned with the additional $1.7 billion cost of coal conversion, $600 million of which was used for pollution control devices7. In addition, 2,000 people lost their jobs when nuclear-related work ceased and the plant’s conversion began. Addressing public fears over the safety of the shoddily built nuclear plant, Cincinnati mayor Arnold Bortz said at the time that “the issues of safety of Zimmer as a nuclear plant can be put behind us. I think the decision is a victory for common sense”8. Operational as a 1,300 megawatt coal-fired plant by 1991, the story of the Zimmer power station shows how engineering shortcomings among local contractors and a disregard for quality oversight resulted in a much more environmentally destructive and expensive power station than originally intended. Thanks partially to the Zimmer station, Ohio is one of 25 states that rely on coal for over 50% of their electricity generation. The lack of a federal emissions regulatory program precludes the success of low-carbon alternatives, whose cost simply cannot compete with traditional and conveniently acquired resources like coal4. Although the city’s climate action plan calls on regional utility conglomerate Duke Energy to reduce the carbon intensity of its power generation portfolio by 60-80%, this is mere encouragement from municipal government. Comprehensive climate change legislation at the federal level is needed to make any of these ambitious reduction goals a reality.
Diverting landfill input through recycling and reuse of waste is a major component of any municipal climate strategy. Cincinnati has already put in motion a series of incentives to increase the number of residents who utilize their curbside recycling program, which is currently estimated to be 40% of the city’s house-
Aerial view of the power station in Moscow. An Ohio River barge can be clearly seen at center, along with a massive coal storage pit to the right, and nuclear style cooling tower at left. 4
holds4. Spending $3.8 million of stimulus grants in addition to public bonds (and ringing in at $41.65 each), the first of 100,000 larger recycling carts are being introduced to selected city neighborhoods, to supplement the typical 18 gallon bins6. In her book Emerald Cities, Joan Fitzgerald has suggested that “we must not only reduce the waste going to landfills as a necessary environmental end in itself, we also need to view waste as an economic opportunity.” In this vain, Cincinnati’s increase in curbside pickup capacity is being coupled with the introduction of a popular incentives system called RecycleBank. This private company partners with local and national businesses to reward households with points, the amount of which is determined by the overall weight of recycling pickups. A market-driven, volume based incentive program, RecycleBank will initially give Cincinnati $1 back for every ton recycled, and will double to $2/ton once recycling rates surpass an annual rate of 13,000 tons6. RecycleBank has found success in a growing list of neighborhoods within cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago, but Cincinnati represents their largest municipal partner thus far in the midwest region. The company predicts an increase in the recycling diversion rate to 37% (40,000 tons/year)4, but this incentives system is not without flaws. Instead of advocating for less consumption overall, RecycleBank is rewarding people for increasing the amount of materials they put through energy intensive recycling streams. While there is no doubt to the benefit of reducing landfill-bound waste, incentivizing recycling through coupons and discounts that enable more consumption conjures the mental image of a dog chasing its own tail. Despite these inherent shortcomings, the RecycleBank program is an important part of the larger effort to bring energy and ecological awareness into mainstream discourse in the community.
Representing another instance of a private company promoting efficiency measures, Cincinnati’s largest employer and world’s leading consumer product manufacturer Proctor & Gamble (P&G) has recently announced a plan to drastically eliminate waste from its production and packaging processes. Setting ambitious long-term targets with decade timeframes, the company plans to run 30% of each of their worldwide plants on renewable energy resources by 2020, with eventual goals of 100% recyclable packaging and renewable energy16. P&G is even partnering with RecycleBank to advance consumer environmental awareness, piloting a “first of its kind effort” to reward consumers for learning and blogging about sustainability topics5. Targeting the 70% of the population they deem as “willing to be more sustainable but lacking the knowledge base”, P&G is the first corporation to add a social media component to their RecycleBank partnership5. Although these efforts by private corporations are admirable, they fail to question the systemic problems of consumption that our society is facing and further highlight the absence of national leadership on an environmental agenda.
The Green Cincinnati Plan
With assistance from the ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), Cincinnati released a comprehensive Climate Action Plan in 2008, offering an ambitious agenda of ideas for reducing the city’s greenhouse gas portfolio, including detailed considerations and timetables for implementation. This 200+ page document is organized into six categories that represent a broad array of energy and resource consumption topics: building energy, transportation, waste, land use, advocacy, and food resources. Utilizing a software model developed by ICLEI, Cincinnati was able to determine its greenhouse gas emissions inventory. The results indicated that the city produces 25.5 tons of carbon annually per capita, slightly above the national average of 24.54. A chart on the next page breaks down these greenhouse gas emissions by source. Mitigation goals are ambitious yet feasible, aiming for an 8% reduc5
Cincinnati greenhouse gas inventory commercial/industrial buildings 40.7% transportation 26.6% residential 18.6 % industrial 15.6 %
source: Green Cincinnati Plan, 2008
loans (air sealing, insulation and HVAC upgrades, solar water/photovoltaic systems, to name a few) and provide low-inerest loans that would allow homeowners to install these technologies4. This program would complement the existing Hamilton County Home Improvement Program (HIP), which allows Cincinnati residents to borrow money for repairing and remodeling their homes or rental properties at an interest rate 3% below the lowest bank offers, on five year terms and with a maximum of $50,00019. These loans are only granted if property taxes are current and the home’s assessed value is below $350,000. Originally implemented in 2002 and reinstated in 2008, the HIP program has distributed over 2,300 individual loans in the past eight years20.
tion to the 2006 CO2 equivalent amount of 8.5M tons by 2012, with that amount increasing to 40% within two decades and 84% by mid-century4.
Quantitatively addressing the problem of building energy consumption, the plan calls for over $20 million in energy retrofits for all city-owned buildings. Considering that the city only owns a few dozen properties, these efforts are just a small fraction of the overall building energy picture. With about 200 new homes built annually, the city planning agency and local home builders’ association encourage (but do not require) all new residential construction to meet Energy Star standards4. A “multi-layered marketing plan” and enhanced website portfolio are the main educational strategies recommended by the plan, along with vague outlines for the creation of green schools and efficiency technology training programs modeled after successful energy and environmental literacy initiatives in Boulder, Colorado4. The extent to which the Green Cincinnati plan suggests efficiency education programs as the starting point for sustainability targets underlines the pervasive skepticism of environmental causes among the area population. Beyond these retrofits to city-owned property, the plan does not propose any actual efficiency upgrade programs, but points to public education on efficiency topics as an important part of the climate change adaptation process. The plan’s most promising proposal for widespread residential efficiency upgrades is the creation of a Utility Lending Institution, a government-backed entity that would identify about a dozen home energy upgrades that qualify for
Representing a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas inventory18, transportation plays a significant and highly evident role in climate change. For these reasons, transportation implementation strategies are the main feature of many municipal climate action plans. As Joan Fitzgerald says, cities can make the most positive emissions impact by “reducing vehicles miles traveled [and] increasing public transportation and other non-automobile options”1. Beyond mere improvements in vehicle efficiency, a public transit system anticipates the next half century of peak oil adaptation and has positive implications for entire cities and economies. Currently, Cincinnati’s only form of mass transit is the Metro bus system, operated by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). Green Cincinnati calls for greater interconnectivity between outlying suburbs through the addition of bus routes running east-west and entirely outside of the radial downtown paths, as well as more neighborhood shuttles and limited stop express routes4. Although the expansion of bus routes is a worthy goal, taxpayers have defeated past mass transit proposals in 2002, due mainly to a half-cent sales tax increase for funding. The plan also aims to raise the rate of area residents (16% in 2008) who participate in RideShare
programs for their work commutes, in addition to the introduction of car sharing services like Zipcar. Improved options for bicycling are also proposed in the form of an Ohio River Trail, which would connect an existing trail loop in the eastern suburbs to Downtown and the Riverfront. While buses, car sharing, and bicycling are all legitimate aspects of a city’s future growth goals, the most critical goal for Cincinnati’s long-term sustainability efforts is to re-densify the city’s inner core as a transit-oriented district, catalyzed by a streetcar system that is currently in the earliest phases of conception.
The Cincinnati Streetcar is a multi-phased mass transit system that has great implications for the city’s future. It will become the centerpiece of the SORTA system when operations begin in 2013, providing a new link between Cincinnati’s inner city districts. Citing the success of streetcars in generating urban renewal within a growing list of American cities (Portland, Memphis, and Charlotte among them), city council has approved the first phase of the streetcar system. It will consist of a circulator loop running between the Riverfront, central business district, and northern confines of Over-the-Rhine. Depending on the success of this initial circulator loop, a second phase may ascend Mt. Auburn and link into the University of Cincinnati’s campus, connecting the city’s two largest employment centers with a dedicated public transit corridor. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, the majority of City Council, and many area residents are eagerly awaiting construction of the $128 million system. Empowering the city government in their implementation of the streetcar system are three private sponsors: Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), stakeholders for The Banks riverfront redevelopment, and Duke Energy corporation. The success of Portland’s decade-old streetcar system has been evidence enough to convince Cincinntians of the project’s benefit. As Fitzgerald explains, “streetcars are easy to add [and] can fit the scale and
Rendering of the proposed streetcar, with the Cincinnati Public Library and Kroger company headquarters in the background.
The Phase I streetcar route will permanently link Cincinnati’s redeveloping Riverfront and the Banks with the downtown business district and historically dense Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. 7
traffic patterns of existing neighborhoods... and tend to stimulate development along broader swaths [than light rail stops].” Despite these positive longterm benefits, Cincinnati’s streetcar detractors still criticize the project’s capital cost, questioning the wisdom of such a project during a recession. In a pair of memos released this summer by city manager Milton Dohoney Jr. the various sources of funding for the streetcar project are outlined. As of August, $114.5 million of the total $128 million capital cost had been identified, though not guaranteed. In May 2010, city council approved the sale of $64 million in public bonds to be repaid from city capital, tax increment financing revenues, and proceeds from the sale of surplus city property. The sources for bond repayments are dedicated to the streetcar system, and cannot be used in the general municipal fund10. The Ohio Kentucky and Indiana regional council of governments (OKI) approved $4 million in congestion mitigation/air quality funding. Ohio DOT also approved $15 million for the project’s utility relocation costs. In addition, the city provided $2.6 million, earned from the sale of streetlights to Duke Energy, and $775,000 to cover pre-construction activities10. To pay for the construction and operation of the system, the city has cobbled together funding from all levels of government. To date, Cincinnati has received $25 million in federal money, through the federal transit administration’s urban circulator grant program, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “livability initiative”9. Cincinnati has also applied for an additional $35 million from TIGER II, a program that allocates $600 million for nationwide infrastructure investments. At the state level, the city applied for $35 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) program for Phase I funding, as well as $7.75 million for Phase II . The results of these TIGER II and TRAC funding applications is expected in December 2010. The city cannot spend any of this capital until it creates an environmental assessment document9. The current projection for annual system operation and maintenance costs is $3 million, down
from an initial estimate of $3.5 million in 20079. More than just an urban circulator, the streetcar system will become an economic development engine for Downtown and especially Over-theRhine. In a feasibility study released in 2007 by the Omaha-based architecture, engineering, and consulting firm HDR, transit access is cited as a crucial means of stimulating demand for residential units in the vicinity of the line and near major stops11. The study claims that over a 35 year period from the start of streetcar operations, Cincinnati will see a huge economic return on the streetcar investment in the form of higher property values, renovations and reconstruction of housings units, new businesses, and a growing income and property tax revenue from the new jobs and residents that will call Over-the-Rhine home11. The city of Cincinnati is anticipating a wide range of civic and economic development benefits resulting from the streetcar’s construction. Along the line itself, the city hopes to redevelop up to 1,135 new housing units in 90 acres of vacant or underutilized properties and 92 acres of underutilized surface parking, and an additional 10,000 housing units and 7.4 million square feet of office and retail space within a three block range of the system10. To help ensure this urban revival and re-densification, the city will seek to establish a transit-oriented zoning classification for the Downtown and Over-theRhine districts, “a critical step in reducing parking demands and maximizing the streetcar’s ability to catalyze development within its service area”9.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory at a streetcar press conference.
The environmental costs and benefits of the streetcar are also explained in the Green Cincinnati plan, which predicts that over 30 years the system can reduce VMT by 128,000,000, saving 4,231 tons of CO2 per year directly from operation and over 17,000 tons every year from the denser settlement patterns that will result. Of course the streetcars themselves will require energy to operate, with Duke Energy estimating that the 7.9 mile route will use over 2.36 million kWh of electricity annually. For every kilowatt hour of energy needed, 1.9 lbs. of CO2 are generated by Duke Energy, meaning the entire system will be responsible for 2,248 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
manufacturing base that resulted from the proximity to the big three American automakers, this crucial sector of Ohio’s economy has struggled to cope with the decades-long decline of those automobile companies and resulting loss of skilled and well-paid manufacturing jobs throughout the region To help catalyze a partial transformation of this manufacturing infrastructure from automobile parts to clean energy technologies, the Deploying Renewable Energy in Ohio initiative invests over $42 million of state energy program funds into the state’s struggling manufacturing industries2. The Ohio Energy Gateway fund is a private-public partnership that will “expand access to capital to grow and sustain the fuel cell, solar, wind, and energy storage industries in Ohio”, utilizing $30 million from the state energy program and $10 million from the Ohio Bipartisan Job Stimulus Plan2. At the municipal level, there are a number of financial incentives that encourage home and business owners to improve building performance. The city of Cincinnati currently offers 100% property tax abatements for commercial and residential buildings that are constructed or renovated to meet LEED standards, set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Enacted in December 2007, these tax discounts are available for any building within city limits and do not require a demonstration of financial need. They last 15 years for new constructions, 12 years on renovations, and designate commercial buildings as any structure with four or more individual residential units20. In the absence of comprehensive national climate change legislation, the municipal government of Cincinnati and many other American cities have drafted Climate Action Plans. Although the Green Cincinnati plan charts an ambitious course for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the real measure of the city’s sustainability will be how it actually goes about implementing these plans in the near future. Until that progress is evident, Cincinnati’s sustainability initiatives are weak in comparison to cities like Portland and Seattle.
There are a wide variety of funding sources for the previously discussed efforts at emissions mitigation. The following is a breakdown of the public money that is being spent on these programs, starting with the federal programs and then focusing down to state and local policies. Enacted by President Barack Obama in response the national financial crisis, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or the stimulus bill, provided a total of over $512 million dollars to the state of Ohio for renewable energy deployment and housing assistance2. These stimulus funds are utilized in conjunction with state programs that pay to weatherize low-income households, assist businesses with efficiency investments, and implement solar panel projects for individual communities. The Ohio Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant grants an additional $15 million dollars to local county and municipal governments to cover energy improvements that were not directly allocated by the federal government2. With a population of almost 12 million people, Ohio accounts for over $45 billion annually in energy spending, placing it fifth in the nation for total energy spending2. Of all the states that have been affected by the Great Recession, Ohio’s problems are particularly acute. With an extensive
A street fair set against a backdrop of restored 19th century buildings in the newly branded Gateway Arts District, 2010.
This is not the first recent attempt at reviving Overthe-Rhine. In the 1990s, the installation of a high speed fiber optic data line under Main St. enabled a promising influx of internet entrepreneurs to establish businesses and live in the neighborhood. This new “Digital Rhine” is described by redevelopment manager Jim Moll in a New York Times article from March of 2001: “These young people love being near the Main St. entertainment district. They love the architecture it’s what’s attracting them to the area” Of the internet startups, he says “the companies themselves are younger and more eclectic and want to be in an urban environment where people are able to network easily with their peers”12. Just over a month after this article was published, the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19 year old black man in OTR by Cincinnati Police resulted in three days of civil unrest that made national headlines. Crowds roamed the streets in protests that soon escalated into looting and arson of numerous businesses, necessitating the deployment of riot control officers and a citywide curfew for several days. In the wake of the riots of April 2001, demand for apartments disappeared, galleries closed, and businesses had to relocate because customers refused to drive into the area. Not only did the creative classes leave, but many residents who had inked thirty year federal housing contracts back in the 1960s received portable vouchers that enabled them to also vacate the neighborhood. The riots “set the neighborhood back a decade”, leaving 500 of the neighborhood’s 1,200 buildings vacant and bringing property values to a new low13.
The most promising of Cincinnati’s emissions mitigation efforts by far is the streetcar system, and no other neighborhood stands to benefit as much from the project as Over-the-Rhine. Since the riots of 2001, the city’s corporate powers have been forced to take a vested interest in the neighborhood’s revival, in order to protect their interests in the adjacent central business district. 3CDC was created in 2003 with an initial $80 million raised by the city’s corporate leaders, and is the driving force behind Over-the-Rhine’s current wave of gentrification. Between 2005-2006, 3CDC invested $27 million in the neighborhood, buying over 100 buildings and vacant lots and completing 28 new condominiums along Vine St., with plans for at least 70 more. 3CDC is trying to create a few revitalized patches of critical mass, in the hope that these areas can create positive momentum on their own14. To supplement Music Hall, major arts organizations like the Art Academy of Cincinnati, ArtsWave (formerly the Fine Arts Fund), and the School for Creative and Performing Arts have all relocated from other neighborhoods to help establish Over-the-Rhine’s emerging artistic identity. These institutions, which act as anchors for smaller arts groups, and the availability of renovated housing stock has been steadily drawing new people and investment in the area13.
One of many vacant storefronts and apartment units, 2006.
An aerial view of Over-the-Rhine’s northern confines shows some of the neighborhood’s surviving 19th century character. The high number of vacant buildings and lots along the impending streetcar line represents a great opportunity for inner city redevelopment and densification.
The streetcar system is arguably the most crucial component of this latest attempt to revive Overthe-Rhine. The long term reductions in VMT that will result from this revitalization represents the most significant contribution to the city’s emissions mitigation efforts. Once it is operational, the streetcar will catalyze redevelopment along its environs and promote denser urban settlement patterns. The other critical requirement for the streetcar’s success is jobs, which will provide a reason for more and more people to use the system. However, existing white collar and service jobs that result from gentrification will not be sufficient enough to jump start the city’s revival and justify these streetcars. The fact that this latest wave of gentrification in Over-the-Rhine is backed by the city’s corporate elite gives it a good chance at success. But to sustain the district’s revival over the long term, Over-the-Rhine should capitalize on its surviving brewery and warehouse infrastructure and proximity to the university’s world-class knowledge base to develop new clean energy industries.
These medium to highly skilled jobs in manufacturing, installation, and scientific research could bring a whole new employment base to the area, simultaneously improving the district’s density and energy performance. Toledo provides a successful template. This northern Ohio city has recently adapted its existing but underutilized glass manufacturing facilities to produce photovoltaic solar panels for a number of new energy companies1. Though notable strides in planning and implementation have been made in the past few years, the major goals of Cincinnati’s sustainability agenda are still only in their earliest stages of realization. With some creative planning, the right financial resources, and strong political leadership, Cincinnati could convert its available stock of empty commercial and industrial buildings in OTR into the base of a new clean energy industry. As the rest of the region and country changes its policies and industries to meet the challenges of energy adaptation in the 21st century, Cincinnati can no longer afford to be ten years behind the times.
1. Joan Fitzgerald, Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010),117, 148, 157. 2. Lisa Pat McDaniel - Director of Ohio Dept. of Development, “Impact of Recovery on Clean Energy Industry” (paper presented as testimony to the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, Washington D.C., March 3, 2010), 2-5. 3. Ellen Bassett, Vivek Shandas, “Innovation and Climate Action Planning: Perspectives from Municipal Plans,” Journal of the American Planning Association Vol. 76, no. 4 (2010), 435-447. 4. City of Cincinnati Office of Environmental Quality, The Green Cincinnati Climate Action Plan. Version 4.0 (2008), 11-202. 5. Neff, Jack. “P&G, Recycle Bank join in Cincinnati” Waste & Recycling News, October 11, 2010. Accessed November 18, 2010. 6. Jane Prendergast. “Giant Recycling Carts on the Way,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 30, 2010. 7. Tim Sansbury, “Coal Conversion Plan in Motion at CG&E,” Journal of Commerce (1987): 7A. Accessed October 4, 2010. 8. “Nearly completed nuclear plant will be converted to burn coal” The New York Times, January 22, 1984, Section 1, Pt. 1, Pg. 1, Column 5. National Desk. 9. Milton Dohoney Jr., “Cincinnati Streetcar Project Update - July/August 2010” (paper presented to Cincinnati City Council, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 2, 2010). 10. Milton Dohoney Jr., “Cincinnati Streetcar Project Update - June 2010” (presented to Cincinnati City Council, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 21, 2010), 2-5. 11. George Vredeveld Ph.D, Jeff Rexhaussen, Irem G. Yelnecki, et al. “An Assessment of the Cincinnati Streetcar Study” University of Cincinnati Center for the City. Accessed November 1, 2010, 2-4. 12. John Eckberg, “Decayed Cincinnati Area gets High Tech Revival,” The New York Times, March 4, 2001. Section 11, Pg. 7, Column 1. Real Estate Desk. 13. Christopher Maag, “In Cincinnati, Life Breathes Anew in Riot-scarred Area” The New York Times, November 25, 2006. Section A, Pg. 10, Column 1. National Desk 14. Christopher Swope, “Over the Rhine Again: in a historic Cincinnati neighborhood, will new investment end years of frustrating neglect?” Preservation: the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Volume 59, Issue 2 (2007), 30-34. Accessed November 8, 2010.
15. Brenda C. Scheer, Daniel Ferdelman. “Inner-city destruction and survival: the case of Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati” Urban Morphology, Volume 5, Issue 1, (2001), 15-27. Accessed November 10, 2010 16. Dan Sewell, “P&G sets new environmental goals,” The Associated Press, September 28, 2010. Accessed September 29, 2010. 17. William Fulton, Rolf Pendall, Mai Nguyen, Alicia Harrison. “Who Sprawls Most? How Growth Patterns Differ Across the U.S.” Brookings Institution Center on Urban & Metropolitan Policy, July 2001. Accessed September 11, 2010. 18. Emil Frankel, Thomas R. Menzies Jr., “Why Focus on Transportation for Emissions Reduction?” TR News, May-June 2010. (publication of Bipartisan Transportation Policy Center, Washington D.C.) Accessed October 18, 2010. 19. Hamilton County Website, http://www.hamilton-co.org/hc/default.asp 20. Dsire Solar Policy Information - North Carolina State University, http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=OH31F&re=1&ee=1