Elements of Urbanism: Cincinnati 2009

June 29, 2009 29 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores the urban core of the Midwest's Queen City: Cincinnati

Tale of the Tape:

Cincinnati Pop. 2007: 332,458 (City); 2,155,137 (Metro-2008) - (incorporated in 1819)

Jacksonville Pop. 2007: 805,605 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro-2008) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Cincinnati (503,998)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Cincinnati: +7.24%
Jacksonville: +16.97%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Cincinnati: 1,503,262 (ranked 26 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Cincinnati: 2,237.8
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2007

Cincinnati: +1,173
Jacksonville: +69,988

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Cincinnati: Duke Energy Convention Center  - 195,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Cincinnati: Millennium Hotel (872 rooms), Hyatt Regency (486 rooms), The Westin (456 rooms) all connected via skywalk system.
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Cincinnati: Carew Tower (current) - 574 feet; Queen City Square "Western & Southern Financial" (U/C-2011) - 660 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Downtown Fortune 500 companies:

Cincinnati: Procter & Gamble (20), Kroger (22), Macy's (96), Fifth Third Bancorp (302), Western & Southern Financial (441)
Jacksonville: CSX (240)

Urban infill obstacles:

Cincinnati: Interstate 71 cuts downtown off from the riverfront.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Cincinnati: Over-the-Rhine's Main Street.
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  This four block stretch is home to four bars and clubs.

Common Downtown Albatross:

Underutilized riverfront, although Cincinnati is in the process of dealing with this issue.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Cincinnati: 91 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Cincinnati as keyword)
Jacksonville: 95 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Jacksonville as keyword)

Cincinnati - Jacksonville Scaled Comparison

Jacksonville municipal borders: present (red), pre-consolidated city limits (green)

Jacksonville present (red line) and pre-consolidated city limits (green line) over Cincinnati city limits (red shaded area)

The Cincinnati Subway

Image by Gyopi at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gyopi/129410931/in/set-72057594107830170/

The Cincinnati Subway is a set of unused tunnels and stations for a rapid transit system beneath the streets of downtown. It is recognized as the largest abandoned subway tunnel in the United States. Construction on the first seven mile tunnel took place from 1920 to 1927, but the project was not completed so it never hosted a paying customer.

The project has been described as "one of the city's biggest embarrassments," and "one of Cincinnati's biggest failures." Some argue that because rapid transit was never completed Cincinnati is smaller, forces its citizens to be automobile-dependent, has its downtown area dominated by highways and parking lots, lacks "walkable communities," motivates people to live outside of the city, and has spawned today's traffic jams. Others say it may have been abandoned anyway due to waning ridership, as was the case with the city's original streetcars and the Mount Adams Incline.

Proposals to complete the subway have been near continuous since its initial failure, but all attempts to use the tunnels for transit have failed thus far. Many Cincinnatians do not know subway tunnels exist under their city.

The last proposal occurred in 2002 when the tunnels were proposed as a route for a regional light rail system that would cost $2.6 billion and take thirty years to build. The tunnels were favored because they were in an ideal location, they could easily be used to connect the east side and the west sides of Cincinnati, and they would've saved the city at least $100,000,000 in construction costs at the time. The light rail plan, called MetroMoves, proposed a tax levy that would've raised sales tax in Hamilton county by a half-cent. The plan was voted down by more than a 2-to-1 ratio.


Today, the city has plans to construct a $103 million modern streetcar line that will connect the waterfront to the University of Cincinnati.  Backed by the mayor, the city believes this streetcar starter line will lead to more than $1.4 billion in economic activity in Over-The-Rhine and Downtown.


The proposed streetcar line is represented by the green lines in the image below.  The old subway tunnels, which still exist, are highlighted in red.

Downtown Cincinnati Aerial

Downtown Cincinnati

Procter & Gamble was founded by William Procter, a candlemaker, and James Gamble, a soapmaker, in 1837.  As of 2008, P&G is the 8th largest corporation in the world by market capitalization and 14th largest US company by profit.  Well known P&G products include  Always (feminine hygiene), Bounty (paper towels), Crest (toothpaste), Dawn (detergent), Gillette (safety razors), Head & Shoulders (shampoo), Old Spice (aftershave), Ivory (soap), Pampers (diapers), Pringles (potato chips), Secret (deodorant), Tide (laudry detergent) and Vicks (over-the-counter medicines).

Across the Ohio River: Downtown Covington, KY.  Northern Kentucky will be covered in a future Elements of Urbanism article.

Yeatman's Cove Park

Yeatman's Cove Park, opened in 1976, was named for Griffin Yeatman who ran the "Square & Compass" tavern back in the 1790's. This part of Sawyer Point, located between Central Bridge and the "Skyline Arches" underneath L&N Bridge, is a popular spot for concerts, picnics, festivals, and river watching. Unfortunately, expressways cut off the waterfront from the downtown core.

The Banks is a mixed-use project under construction along the riverfront.  The development is being constructed over surface parking lots that sat between Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati Bengals) and the Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds).  Components include the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Riverfront Transit Center, multi-family housing, 70,000 square feet of retail and a 40 acre riverfront park.

Driving west along West 4th Street.

Walnut Street looking south from 8th Street

7th & Vine Streets

Looking west along 7th Street from Vine

An alley between Vine and Walnut Streets

Looking south at the intersection of 5th & Walnut Streets.

Designed by Zaha Hadid, the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art is located at 44 East 6th Street.  

A parking garage with street retail adjacent to the Museum of Contempory Art.  There are four parking garages in the downtown area that allow visitors to pay a $1 to park up to two hours during the week.  

Cincinnati is the hometown of the funkadelic William "Bootsy" Collins.  In 2007, Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby and Bootsy Collins teamed up with a plan to add a rock-and-roll vibe to downtown's nightlife. The result is Bootsy's, a two-story restaurant and nightclub that boasts memorabilia from Collins' career, art from around the world and Spanish-spiced cuisine from Ruby's chefs.

Founded by Bernard Henry Kroger in 1883 and headquarter in downtown, the Kroger Co. is the second largest grocery retailer in the country, with Wal-mart being the largest.  Kroger pioneered the first supermarket surrounded on all four sides by parking lots in the 1930s.

The Aronoff Center is a large performing arts center that opened in 1995.  The center was designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli.  The Aronoff Center and the Contemporary Arts Center are the anchors of an area of downtown known as the Backstage District.

Smile for the camera, I bet you didn't think your wedding day would make the front page of Metro Jacksonville!

Established in 1817 and located in the center of Garfield Place, Piatt Park is the oldest park in Cincinnati.

Looking west along 8th Street at the Elm Street intersection.  The building with the clock tower is city hall.  City hall is Cincinnati's best remaining example of Richardson Romanesque architecture.

Fountain Square

Fountain Square has been the symbolic center of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States since 1871. The square, which replaced a butcher's market, was a gift from Henry Probasco in memory of Tyler Davidson. Probasco traveled to Munich and commissioned a bronze allegorical fountain from Ferdinand von Miller named The Genus of Water that symbolizes the uses of water, both natural and man-made. Today, Fountain Square remains the restaurant and entertainment hub for the central business district.

Founded in Columbus, OH in 1929 as Federated Department Stores, Inc., Macy's, Inc. is now headquartered in downtown Cincinnati.   In addition to the Macy's at Fountain Place (image above), downtown also has a Saks Fifth Avenue, TJ Maxx and a three-level shopping mall called Tower Place Mall.

Unique Cincinnati

- Cincinnati is considered to have been the first American boomtown in the heart of the country in the early 19th century.

- Cincinnati is known for having one of the largest collections of 19th century German architecture in the U.S.

- The city is named after Cincinnatus, the Roman who was called to serve Rome as dictator, an office which he immediately resigned after completing his task of defeating the Aequians.

- In 2008, Cincinnati was ranked as the 10th most walkable city in the United States.

- In 1977, Jerry Springer, the controversial talk show host, was elected to be the mayor of Cincinnati.

- Popular local cuisine includes Cincinnati Chili and Goetta.

- In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked Cincinnati as 10th in a list of "America's Hard-Drinking Cities."

- Cincinnati has an abandoned subway system.  Construction stopped in 1924 and today, the subway tunnels are used as a conduit for fiber optic and water lines.

- According to Forbes Magazine, Cincinnatians spend 20% of their income on transit, which makes the city the sixth most expensive city for commuting in the United States.


Over-the-Rhine is a historic district, treasured for its massive collection of 19th century Italianate structures, that was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1983. It contains 943 contributing buildings. Approximately 75 percent of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine are vacant.

The neighborhood's distinctive name comes from its builders and early residents, German immigrants, many of whom made a daily trek across bridges over the Miami and Erie Canal which separated the area from downtown Cincinnati. Jokingly, the canal was referred to as "the Rhine," in reference to the Rhine River in Germany. So if one needed to go to the German part of town they would need to cross "Over the Rhine." The neighborhood has since changed considerably in terms of demographics, economics, and architecture, but elements of the old style remain.


Findley Market

Founded in 1852, Over-the-Rhine's Findlay Market is Ohio's oldest continuously-operated public market.  The market routinely attracts the most socially, economically, racially, and ethnically diverse crowds found anywhere in the city.

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

Originally the Cincinnati Union Terminal, after the decline of railroad travel, most of the building has been converted to other uses.  It now houses museums, theaters and a library, in addition to Amtrak.  During its heyday as a passenger rail facility, Union Terminal had a capacity of 216 trains per day.


Article by Ennis Davis