Revitalizing Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (Part 2)

Last week I wrote the first installment of my miniseries about Cincinnati’s remarkable Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As I wrote then, this distinct and historic quarter adjacent to Cincinnati’s downtown is full of promise but bears considerable scars from decades of disinvestment, having declined in population from over 40,000 at its peak to under 10,000 today. Much of its splendid 19th-century architecture has suffered serious decay, and it has had all the problems of poverty and crime that plagued too many of our inner-city neighborhoods in the late 20th century. The good news, though, is that I believe OTR can become a nationally significant model of inclusive, green revitalization if everything falls into place.

One of the main reasons that I have much hope for Over-the-Rhine is that it has some tremendous neighborhood assets to build a recovery upon, starting not just with historic architecture but also with a resilient existing community of residents. My impression when visiting last month was that, poverty and problems notwithstanding, OTR feels like a real neighborhood and a real community. It will be critical that the neighborhood’s restoration includes these residents at every step.

As I noted last week, the neighborhood sits right between the central business district and the uptown University district, the region’s two largest concentrations of employment. That’s a terrific location, one that all the current urban trends suggest is highly favorable to recovery. Moreover, the neighborhood’s 19th-century architectural scale, along with block sizes manageable for humans as well as for cars, make it ideal for walking.

In addition, the neighborhood’s striking physical assets include Ohio’s oldest public market (see photo), a lovely neighborhood park that is being expanded, Cincinnati’s Music Hall, a wealth of churches and soon, if all goes well, a streetcar.

I didn’t have the image capacity here, but on my NRDC blog today I’ve featured a Google Earth image with all of these marked, along with a dozen ground-level photos. Please visit and let me know what you think. Next, I’ll conclude the series with some thoughts about the progress so far and the prospects for making it green.

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


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