Addressing ‘missing middle’ housing in the Queen City
A form-based code would bring residents back to depopulated neighborhoods in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods are at a tipping point. The city has lost 40 percent of its population since 1950, leaving suburban densities in the city’s formerly urban neighborhoods. Many residential buildings and lots sit vacant or poorly maintained, with over 10,000 historically contributing units in need of renovation. Neighborhood main streets have withered due to lack of people, competition from nearby big box stores, and bad thoroughfare design that speeds cars and potential customers through these neighborhoods rather than to them. In addition, jobs followed the people to the suburbs.
Cincinnati has a diverse collection of Missing Middle Housing Types, a few shown in this illustration.
But Cincinnati has a tremendous opportunity. In these urban neighborhoods they already have what other cities want and are trying to build: A variety of urban housing types, including some of the best collection of Missing Middle Housing in the country; a network of neighborhood main streets ready to be revitalized; a rich, diverse, and well-built collection of historic architecture; and, easily accessible open space networks created by the topography weaving throughout these neighborhoods.
A sampling of the Missing Middle housing types that exist in in Cincinnati.
Many of Cincinnati's urban neighborhoods have struggled to survive, but due to their inherent urban pattern they are prime opportunities to meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.
One of the primary reasons for cities like Cincinnati to be optimistic has to do with the convergence of the two biggest population groups, the Millennials (Gen Y, ME generation) and the Boomers that are both creating a strong and growing demand for living in walkable urban places. What the Millennials want, the boomers need—small, simple spaces for living, community/people/density, access to transit, and proximity to services and amenities (i.e. main streets and downtowns). The Queen City is positioning itself to capture this demand, and putting a strategy in place to make these neighborhoods Complete Places with everything urban neighborhoods have to offer. A Form-Based Code is one of the tools in their arsenal to achieve these goals. A HUD Sustainable Communities Challenge Grant is funding the project.
The week of Saturday April 28th, Cincinnati hosted a citywide charrette with a multi-disciplinary team that included Opticos Design, Urban Advisors, Hall Planning & Engineering, Brandt Retail Group, Glaserworks, and The Wise Economy Group to frame the city’s opportunities and challenges and to strategize about how a form-based code can be utilized as a tool to enable the City to capture the potential of their unique urban neighborhoods and achieve “thriving re-urbanization,” which is a primary goal of their newly drafted Comprehensive Plan. As part of this charrette, Opticos built upon months of field documentation, including many hours spent on Google Earth, mapping analysis, photography, and an assessment of the existing zoning code to create an initial calibration of Cincinnati’s urban-to-rural Transect.
Cincinnati is making their move to capture the demand for urban living. Is your city ready?
Left: Revitalizing neighborhood main streets are necessary to make Cincinnati's urban neighborhoods viable. This corner in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood had the highest crime rate of any intersection in the City in 2005, but two years later looked like this. Right: With strategies to revitalize the broader neighborhoods, the diverse collection of Missing Middle housing types (all rich architecturally) provide many different living choices, including live-work in former corner stores.
Dan Parolek is principal of Opticos Design, an architecture and urban design firm with a passion for vibrant, sustainable, walkable urban places. This article originally appeared on Logos Opticos: Composing Vibrant Urban Places
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