Bike trails, local food, mass transit help fuel our region's growth

Millennials (and others) want sustainability
Posted at 7:00 AM, Jun 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-07 07:12:18-04

Second in a two-part series

On a crisp, sunny spring Sunday the patio at Julian’s is always packed.

A colorful mass of bicycles is parked nearby as riders on the Little Miami Bike Trail take a break before heading back out for the afternoon. Robert and Julie Zins, the owners of the downtown Loveland restaurant, busily tend to the full house.

“When we opened in 2011, we had 20 indoor seats and 20 patio seats,” Robert said. “Now, we have almost 100 indoor seats and 125 patio seats. There’s no question it’s because of the bike trail. In fact, it’s all of downtown Loveland. It’s just thriving right now because of the bike trail.”

The popular 78-mile bike trail, which brings travelers through Loveland every day, is such a factor in the Zins’ success that they’ve gone from calling the spot “Julian’s Deli & Spirits” to referring to it as simply “Julian’s on the Bike Trail.”

“When it comes to the bike trail, everyone wants to be downtown,” said CeeCee Collins, president of the Little Miami River Chamber Alliance. “We’ve almost run out of spots downtown because of it.”

A 2011 University of Cincinnati study concluded that homebuyers pay $9,000 more to be within 1,000 feet of the scenic trail, with a $9 increase every foot closer to the entrance.

Cyclists and diners congregate at Loveland's Trailside Cafe on the Little Miami Bike Trail. A 2011 University of Cincinnati study concluded that homebuyers pay $9,000 more to be within 1,000 feet of the scenic trail, with a $9 increase every foot closer to the entrance.

But while Loveland is proof that the region’s popular trail system provides a form of environmental sustainability that fuels commerce and breeds community, it’s often difficult to track whether such programs are a major factor in attracting new residents to the area.

Still, strategic initiatives manager Erika Fiola of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber said an earth-conscious mindset is an increasing factor in home sales.

“We certainly do know this is something that young professionals are incredibly interested in when considering places to live,” said Fiola.

The New, Environmentally Aware Status Quo

New data shows the population of the 45202 zip code — the urban core of Downtown and a current hotbed of sustainability and environmental initiatives — is seeing major growth in the past six years. The average home price in Over-the-Rhine has leapt from $169,000 to $205,000 in the past two years alone, with trends predicting continued upward growth. Still, it is difficult to attribute that growth specifically to environmental sustainability.

Neighboring Walnut Hills is feeling the effect as well, seeing a more than 22 percent increase in home values over the last five years. And a younger demographic moving back to the city might be the key.

In the absence of hard and fast statistics on people moving into the city, answers could lie in a millennial generation that is interested in living an environmentally responsible and sustainable lifestyle.

“These things are non-negotiable for millennials,” Fiola said.

Fiola said an environmentally friendly and efficient transit system is a magnet for young professionals. Millennials are trying to avoid reliance on automobiles. They would rather walk, bike or use mass transportation to get from place to place.

That’s great news for the Tri-State. A 2015 study by the League of American Bicyclists named Cincinnati’s growth in bicycle commuters the third fastest in America, with the number of commuters growing by 350 percent between 2000 and 2014.

But the city is not only supporting bike growth. In May, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority announced the development of a new app that will allow bus and streetcar riders to pay via their smartphones or tablets.

“It’s something brought about by the millennial generation but has a value benefit to everyone,” Fiola said.

How Care Breeds Culture

Home sellers also are taking notice of the ways millennials are beginning to create different demands in the housing market.

“I see a lot of clients who are looking for something that’s walkable and close to Downtown,” Keller William real estate agent Diana Tisue said. “One couple is looking for a home where they won’t need to be reliant on a second car. This kind of thing is definitely becoming a part of the conversation for buyers.”

Shayna Royal, 30, relocated to Cincinnati and lived in several different neighborhoods before she discovered that Over-the-Rhine fit her environmentally conscious lifestyle best.

“I try to stick to a sustainable vegan diet and love that there are several places right outside my door that help me do that, in addition to being able to walk, bike or bus Downtown,” Royal said. “It’s a joy to rarely need to get into my car — usually, I forget where I’ve parked it.”

People increasingly want to live near green space and they want to be able to enjoy the outdoors. Here, Ryan Moore relaxes with Meghan Wilma and dogs Cota and Chewy.

Kristin Weiss, executive director of environment-centric nonprofit hub Green Umbrella, said these changes can affect the habits of a city.

“Environmental sustainability can help provide a lifestyle that many people are looking for in terms of outdoor recreation, active transportation or local food,” Weiss said. “A lot of these things fuel the culture of a city, so that lifestyle component may influence where a millennial wants to move and what they’ll be doing on the weekend.”

This same lifestyle, over time, can change the face and focus of a neighborhood.

“I believe these things are all connected,” Fiola said. “People want to live where they can get around. They want to live near green space. They want to be able to enjoy the outdoors. I think it’s a culture boom and that environmental sustainability is a big part of it and will increasingly be a bigger part of it.”