OTR isn't the only blossoming urban area

Posted at 6:01 AM, Mar 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-13 06:01:45-04

This is the first in a series of stories to examine re-urbanization in the Tri-State. Future stories will spotlight four specific areas in different stages of re-urbanization: Oakley and Hyde Park, Covington, Price Hill and Dayton, Ky.

You see it on the weekends in certain neighborhoods and in the evenings when the weather is nice: Folks are walking dogs, jogging, traveling by foot to the latest gastropub, microbrewery or fusion restaurant. They might be younger, and chances are that, though they have a car, they don’t drive it every day.

These are the people spurring the re-urbanization of America, and in particular the communities of Greater Cincinnati. Re-urbanization is blending the new with the existing in and around the city core. It applies to businesses as well as residences.

A few decades ago, few people went downtown — to any downtown. There wasn’t much to draw them there. Beautiful suburbs kept everyone’s attention with shopping malls and cinemas, chain restaurants and big box retailers. The times, however, are a-changing.

More and more folks are choosing to live where they can walk to work, not to mention to eclectic stores, restaurants, bars, parks and other entertainment venues. Over-the-Rhine’s recent renaissance has rightly been praised and held up as an example of revival done right, but it’s not the only place locally to experience a resurgence.

Stroll down Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue, Ky., to see an example of successful re-urbanization. You’ll find shops and eateries, and on the river you’ll see swanky new condominiums and apartments. The feel of the city is cozy and alive.

In Cincinnati, Hyde Park Square bustles with pedestrian traffic, not just the gas-guzzling kind.

The beauty of re-urbanization is watching a hipster walk by wearing skinny jeans, a newsboy hat and a handlebar mustache, followed by a more grizzled, gray-haired fellow wearing Wranglers, a Stetson … and a handlebar mustache.

Many factors drive the urge to move to a walkable neighborhood. The housing market’s collapse in 2008 started to change the game. Instead of increasingly larger homes being built on increasingly smaller plots of land in the suburbs, the better value was found in older homes in older neighborhoods. As more people have moved back toward the city’s core, those homes are becoming more attractive.

In addition to housing prices, as gas prices increased, so did the cost of commuting. While fuel prices have fallen dramatically from highs near $4 per gallon, it’s a lesson people won’t soon forget. Viable alternative transportation options, ranging from rideshare services to the streetcar, have made getting to and from and around Downtown both easier and more economical.

Between home values, cheaper commutes and cool places to spend downtime, what’s not to like about downtown living? Well, the same things that spurred urban sprawl years ago.

In a world where most of us can’t imagine not having a vehicle, the more people who move to walkable neighborhoods, the less parking there is. If you worked on Third Street and lived on Eighth, chances are you would walk, bike, skate or take public transportation to work most days. Because this is the Midwest, though, chances are you still have a car, and a car still has to be parked somewhere. That is cutting down on spots for your suburban co-workers.

Old homes might be a wonderful bang for the buck, but that doesn’t mean they come as live-in ready as a brand new, or even a 10- or 15-year-old home in Mason, West Chester or Independence. Wood rots and needs to be replaced. Foundations can be problematic, and, depending on the previous owners, general upkeep might not have been done for many years. There are gems in every neighborhood, but there are many more “handyman specials.”

Especially given the rise in heroin abuse and addiction, one can’t simply say crime is more prevalent in urban areas than in suburban or even rural area. Even so, the perception that crimes against people and property take place more frequently in urban areas persists in many minds and in pop culture.

Lastly, as more people come to the city, its resources become more taxed. Streets have to be widened and repaved, sidewalks need repairs, water and sanitation have to meet an increasing demand, and sometimes can’t. As needs increase, revenue doesn’t necessarily rise with them, often leading to loud demands for improvements that can’t be met immediately. Anyone who has tripped on an uneven sidewalk Downtown can appreciate how even a seemingly minor thing can become a major ordeal. In the ’burbs, it is rare to find a sidewalk that gets even half as much use as the adjacent road.