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

Historic Restoration

In 2011, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, which works to prevent historic building loss in OTR, won 3rd place in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's nationwide This Place Matters community challenge. In 2006, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has listed the status of Over-the-Rhine as "Endangered." Since 1930, approximately half of Over-the-Rhine's historic buildings have been destroyed. More will follow unless currently deteriorating buildings are repaired. Between 2001 and 2006, the city approved more than 50 "emergency demolitions," which were caused by absentee landlords' allowing their buildings to become so critically dilapidated that the city declared them a danger to the public. Reinvestment could have saved them. Due to the situation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared Over-the-Rhine one of Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in 2006. Over-the-Rhine was included in the 2008 book, Frommer's 500 Places to See Before They Disappear, which noted the district's "shocking state of neglect".

A Rebirth In The Works?

Built in the nineteenth century during a period of extensive German immigration, Over-the-Rhine became notorious for its poverty by the end of the twentieth century. In 2001 Reason Magazine dubbed it "ground zero in inner-city decline." Since the late 1970s, advocates for historic preservation and low-income housing have struggled over how to preserve the neighborhood without causing mass displacement of the poor. The 2001 Cincinnati riots brought international attention to Over-the-Rhine, and accelerated a century-long trend of population decline. Low property value allowed developers to buy and renovate a large number of historic buildings. Since 2004 hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in revitalization projects, and since 2006 the crime rate has decreased each year. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "in just six years, developers have moved Over-the-Rhine from one of America’s poorest, most run-down neighborhoods to among its most promising," and according to the Urban Land Institute, Over-the-Rhine is "the best development in the country right now."

Despite poor national economic conditions, Over-the-Rhine's population has increased 2,030 residents since bottoming out in 2007.

1900 - 44,475
1960 - 30,000
1970 - 15,025
1980 - 11,914
1990 - 9,572
2000 - 7,422
2007 - 4,970 (2007 data from Cincinnati Drill)
2010 - 7,000

Phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar project will be a "figure 8" loop between Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati.  A future phase will extend the system to the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Zoo.  Image courtesy of The Transportpolitic

Redevelopment projects underway include a $14 million expansion and renovation of Washington Park, a $18 million underground parking garage, a new $80 million K-12 arts school and a streetcar line.  The Cincinnati Streetcar is a 3.9-mile fixed rail starter project that will connect Over-the-Rhine with downtown Cincinnati.  According to a 2007 feasibility study, Cincinnati stands to gain between 1,200 and 3,400 additional residences, raise an additional $34 million in property taxes, and yield $17 million in retail activity per year from new residents.  The study concludes that the benefit-cost ratio of the downtown and Over-the-Rhine line would be 15.2 to 1, which means for every dollar Cincinnati spends it will recieve $15.20 in return.

Image courtesy of the City of Cincinnati

A Lesson for Jacksonville

Like Over-the-Rhine, several urban neighborhoods in the vicinity of downtown Jacksonville have struggled through decades of economic distress and decline.  However, what's slowly taking place in Over-the-Rhine indicates that when a city invests in itself and quality-of-life, privately financed market rate development tends to follow.

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis

This neighborhood tour was given to Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis by Lisa Bouldin-Carter, Executive Director of the Community Land Cooperative of Cincinnati.  The Community Land Co-op is an alternative, grassroots approach to ownership of land and housing.  The non-profit acquires land and housing through gift or purchase.  Properties are then held by the Co-op forever, giving the community long-term control over the land's future use and development.  Houses are repaired or rehabilitated and then leased or sold to low- and moderate- income families.

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