Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Over-the-Rhine

June 21, 2012 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits what is believed to be the largest most intact urban historic district in the United States: Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine

About Over-the-Rhine

Over-the-Rhine, sometimes shortened to OTR, is a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States. Over-the-Rhine was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 with 943 contributing buildings. It contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the United States, and is an example of an intact 19th-century urban neighborhood. Its architectural significance has been compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans, the historic districts of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and Greenwich Village in New York City. Besides being a historic district, the neighborhood has an arts community that is unparalleled within Cincinnati. Over-the-Rhine is bordered by the neighborhoods of Downtown, CUF, Mount Auburn, Pendleton, and the West End. Over-the-Rhine was voted best Cincinnati neighborhood in CityBeat's Best of Cincinnati 2011 and 2012.

A Brief History of Over-the-Rhine

The Miami-Erie Canal in Over-the-Rhine, before it was drained in 1920.  The canal once connected the Ohio River in Cincinnati with Lake Erie in Toledo.  The canal was drained for a downtown subway project.  When the subway project ran out of money in 1925, the tunnels were covered and replaced with Central Parkway.  The subway is recognized as the largest abandoned subway tunnel in the United States.

The term "Over-the-Rhine" originates from the reference to the Miami-Erie Canal as the Rhine River of Germany. The revolutions of 1848 in the German states brought thousands of German refugees to the United States. In Cincinnati they settled on the outskirts of the city, north of Miami and Erie Canal where there was an abundance of cheap rental units.  Not subject to municipal law, the neighborhood attracted German immigrants, bootleggers, saloons, gambling houses, dance halls, brothels, and others who were not tolerated in the City of Cincinnati.

The Christian Moerlein Brewery around the turn of the 20th century.  Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

German entrepreneurs gradually built up a profitable brewing industry and by 1880 the city was recognized as the "Beer Capital of the World" with Over-the-Rhine its center of brewing.  With over 32,000 residents per square mile and poor sanitation, epidemics of cholera, small pox, and typhoid fever were common.  By 1915, more prosperous residents left the dense city for newer suburbs, while new immigrants were attracted to fast-growing industrial cities in the Great Lakes region.  The largest economic blow came in 1917, when Prohibition abruptly shut down Over-the-Rhine's 30 German-American owned breweries, sending the neighborhood into decades of economic decline.  Ironically, while this decline prevented new development, it helped preserve much of the neighborhood's historic architecture and integrity.

Looking north along Vine Street in 1973. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

In 2001, the neighborhood was home to the Cincinnati Riots, the largest urban disorder in the United States since the Los Angeles riots of 1992.  This event effectively killed the neighborhood's revitalization of the late 1990s.  In 2001 there were an estimated 500 vacant buildings in Over-the-Rhine with 2,500 residential units. Of those residential units 278 were condemned as uninhabitable.  In February 2006 the city reported that Over-the-Rhine had the highest crime rate of the city's neighborhoods.  However, the number of serious crimes plateaued from 2002 to 2005, after which crime began decreasing at a rapid pace.

Recent revitalization efforts in the neighborhood have caused crime to relocate to other pockets of the community.  For example, in July 2009 a rise in prostitution was reported along McMicken Avenue; police said that new development was pushing the women out of other parts of Over-the-Rhine into a smaller area.

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