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Va c a n t L a n d i n O v e r - T h e - R h i n e Kathleen Roosen, Thomas Revis, Peter Sullivan, Joseph Haydon

Ta b l e o f C o n t e n t s 3 Introduction 4 Existing Conditions Aesthetics and Usefulness Community Tensions Food Security and Nutrition 8 Goals and Objectives 10 Concepts and Practices Sculpture and Flower Garden Liesure and Pocket Parks Large and Small Scale Urban Farming 14 Implementation 21 Conclusion 23 Resources



Over-The-Rhine. For many Cincinnati residents, the name conjures images of poverty, homelessness, crumbling buildings and crime. However, this was not always the case. The inner-city neighborhood started as a German settlement in the 1800s. Many of its beautiful Italianate buildings still remain and the neighborhood became historically protected in the 1980s. Unfortunately, its architectural significance has been undermined by the disinvestment the neighborhood has experienced for the better part of the 1900s. Today, OTR is home to approximately 7,000 individuals, less than 20% of its peak population in 1900. Much of OverThe-Rhine has been abandoned. Buildings have been condemned, left empty and often razed, leaving behind empty lots and boarded up façades. This plan hopes to shed light on how a simple technique applied to vacant lots throughout Over-The-Rhine can change the neighborhood and its residents’ quality of life for the better.


Existing Conditions


Aesthetics & Usefulness If you are walking through Over-The-Rhine and stray from the major thoroughfares like Vine or Main Street, you can feel and see the emptiness that has been the result of a decreased population and years of institutional disinvestment. Many of the buildings appear to have been hollowed out. The windows are missing, making the structures feel less like buildings and more like skeletons. Sometimes, you pass whole blocks that have been razed. In their place is fenced off concrete and gravel. From the looks of them, many of these vacant lots have remained completely untouched for years. Some have become dumping grounds filled with trash and broken furniture, mattresses. Others have been reclaimed by nature and are now home to trees and bushes and other greenery.

According to Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, Cincinnati’s preferred private developer, there are approximately 500 vacant buildings, 700 vacant lots and 1,667 vacant housing units in Over-The-Rhine. Many of these vacant buildings are deteriorating; some to the point that they can be expected to be demolished in the near future. With so many empty lots and crumbling buildings, it should come to no surprise that property values had dropped significantly since 1900. The general unappealing nature of living next to or across the street from a vacant lot, especially one that has become littered with trash, has encouraged the abandonment of Over-The-Rhine by wealthier populations. The trend has slowly been reversing itself. Starting about 20 years ago, artists and small business owners slowly have moved into Over-The-Rhine. Today, large corporations, predominantly 3CDC, own a lot of property in OverThe-Rhine that they have been able to purchase at rather low prices. Through adaptive reuse, 3CDC has been able to make a profit turning old constructions into expensive urban lofts and storefronts, such as the Lackman and Lavomatic.


Community Tensions Just looking at 3CDC’s developments in Over-The-Rhine, you can see that the housing, restaurants, bars and stores cater to an audience that is not necessary “native” to Over-The-Rhine. For the most part, current and long-term residents of Over-The-Rhine cannot afford the pricey lofts and condos, or the drinks at the new corner bar. Statistics show that about 80% of the Over-The-Rhine population earns less than $20,000 a year. 28% are unemployed. This has caused tension between the two groups. New residents and patrons in OverThe-Rhine tend to see themselves as Over-The-Rhine’s saviors because of the money they channel into the neighborhood. Current residents have viewed these same people as invaders trying to take the neighborhood away from them, redeveloping it without their input.


Food Security & Nutrition Due to neglect and disinvestment, many Midwestern inner cities have become food deserts. Although Over-The-Rhine has a Kroger, it doesn’t provide quality produce at an affordable price. Findlay Market offers quality meats and produce six days a week. Unfortunately, many of OTR’s residents require the support of food stamps and only a few vendors at Findlay accept them. This has resulted in nutritional deficit among low-income residents. • A third of children born in 2000 are expected to develop diabetes during their lifetime. • Children have shorter life spans than their parents because of diabetes and chronic disease related to obesity. • Excess weight costs $3 billion a year in direct medical costs. • Obese children are at a higher risk for reduced academic performance, lower self-esteem and depression. • Due to genetics, African American and Latino children are eight times more likely to develop obesity and diabetes; low socioeconomic status increases this. All these factors affect the Over-The-Rhine population, especially the children in the neighborhood. Already at a disadvantage, Over-The-Rhine’s residents have to fight hard to ensure adequate education, housing and nutrition.


Goals and Objectives


Aesthetics & Usefulness Com m un it y Tensions Food Security & N utr iti o n

Increase general attractiveness of the neighborhood, as well as remedy the feeling of dead space and emptiness. • Better the upkeep of vacant lots, even if future structural development may occur. • Increase usefulness of dead space by assigning purpose and direction. • Increase street life through outdoor activities.

Address possible and existing conflicts between community members, new and old, through conversation, common activity and community development. • Develop gathering places and spaces for informal interaction. • Create groups that foster community through membership. • Encourage interactions between diverse groups by establishing a common goal.

Increase nutritional options and availability at affordable prices to ensure community health and heighten general quality of life standards. • Increase the quantity of food produced locally. • Create options for fresh, quality produce for community members relying on food stamps. • Educate community on healthy eating habits through hands on activities.


Concepts and Practices


Sculpture and Flower Gardens

Sculpture and flower gardens are a great implementation for vacant lots in Over the Rhine. They are aesthetically pleasing and offer the same great benefits that large urban parks provide. They allow for a place to meet, socialize, and improve community connections, as well as find refuge from a busy city. Sculpture gardens have the potential to partner with nearby art institutions such as The Art Academy in Over the Rhine to create a tighter community bond.

Leisure and Pocket Parks

Leisure and pocket parks are useful in areas where structural development may be inefficient. This includes smaller vacant lots where housing or commercial businesses would not normally be built because of the compactness of the lot. Pocket parks also provide a place to meet, socialize, and spend leisure time such as a midday lunch.

Small and Large Scale Urban Farming

Urban and civic agriculture has been a growing trend in large urban areas like New York and Detroit. Urban agriculture allows the community to take part in a process that provides cheapand nutritional food. It can become a source of community pride, as it entails community members to come together to help themselves.


Brooklyn, New York

Sioux City, Iowa

Jones Street Community Garden is one urban garden that sprouted at the request of the residents to improve neighborhood conditions and economize fresh produce. A total of ten households was all it took to implement this initiative. Together, they lobbied to the Sioux City government to raise money for this initiative. In total they were able to collect $16,000 in federal stimulus money. This allowed the resident to use one vacant lot and create 16 plots of farmable land. At $1,000 per lot, the residents were able to buy soil and fertilizer, young plants, tools, and a fence around the perimeter of the lot. The demographics of the neighborhood are important to our study because they are so similar to those in OTR. Most citizens have a low to moderate income and live in rental houses that prohibit gardens.


The developers took 20 gardens located around NYC and distributed them into three categories: Community Development, Open Space, and Civic Agriculture; in order to analyze their impact on the community in each of these areas. In order to develop more gardens like the Latino Community Gardens, developers branched out to organizations for support, including “Just Food�, while keeping government policy and guidelines in mind. They found that the gardens were an effective tool for crime reduction, create a sense of community, provide economic opportunity, and enhanced the environment. All of which fell into the Community Development category which was the most important concept of supporting organizations. They also found that gardens were particularly important to Puerto Ricans who used the lots for Open Space and Civic Agriculture. Lastly, the gardens provide cheap and affordable food for residents, a place for hosting social events, and boosted overall community involvement.

Baltimore, Maryland

Cleveland, Ohio

As of 2007, Cleveland had approximately 3,300 acres of vacant land within its city limits. As a result, a group of concerned individuals formed Re-Imagining A More Sustainable Cleveland. Their strategies involved restoring soils to support vegetation and assist with storm water management. Compost is integral to Cleveland’s urban farm and community garden programs. Compost is especially important in cities where soils are poorly supported by organic life. This urban project was particularly important to Cleveland because it minimizes dust particles in the air. Community pride also sprouts alongside these gardens, and it converts wasteful space into useful community initiatives.

The Baltimore Vacant Lot Restoration Program was a joint effort between community members, local government and a private foundation. Since Baltimore has suffered from similar problems as OTR, it is beneficial to understand how it dealt with its problems. The Department ofHousing and Community Development and Parks & People partnered to create an adopt-a-lot type of program. They also created training classes and workshops that assisted in the maintenance of the lots both through physical labor and the seeking out of funding. It was important to the city to assist their people in coping with the holes left in their community by the demolition of buildings.


I m p l e m e n tat i o n


As shown previously, there are multiple solutions to the vacant lot problem in Over-TheRhine. Each of these strategies can be implemented on any parcel of vacant land, but the implementation ultimately depends on the funding sources and committee authorization of such projects. We have targeted a few organizations to aid in the starting of this kind of project.


Our strategy includes converting vacant lots into one of the before mentioned parks or gardens, increasing support for existing organizations, such as Findlay Market and OTR Homegrown, encouraging community participation, and increasing public funding for such projects. Each different strategy will require specialized attention and skill. However, there are some requirements that will be common throughout implementation. Pursuing consistent engagement with both the community and the project partners is a very important task. It is crucial to engage with the community because they will be the true drivers of this project. They are responsible for participating, maintaining, and creating positive buzz in their neighborhoods. In order to appropriately maintain these projects, a maintenance staff must be hired by the city on a full-time basis. The role of this employee would vary with each project, but the primary functions would involve keeping the space clean, fixing any deformities, negotiating funding, and pushing community interest. It is also important to be thinking about future possibilities and partnerships. Community preferences are ever changing, and it is important that projects meet the community’s desires.


Once organizational partners and funding are established, it is important to plan a dedication or celebration event to kick off each project and alert the community, maybe even gain some media recognition. Each new vacant lot development must include a maintenance and expected expense plan, which is a never ending task. These maintenance plans must be determined on paper before funding can be petitioned and the sites are developed. The individual that is hired for the full-time position should be a charismatic individual. He or she must have the best interests of the neighborhood’s residents in mind at all times, black or white, rich or poor. Training must include marketing strategies, crisis management and negotiation and leadership techniques.

Employing a full-time maintenance staff is the best way to overcome the issues that Over-The-Rhine is currently facing and may face in the future. By constantly monitoring and improving the sites, the community’s aesthetics will be dramatically improved. Vacant lots will be transformed into beautiful, fullyfunctioning parks that will benefit OTR immensely.


A major role of the full-time staff member would be working with Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation. As CIncinnati’s preferred developer, 3CDC owns a large amount of property in Over-The-Rhine and is in constant collaboration with the city of Cincinnati. During their development stages, pre-construction, the properties they own remain empty and fenced off. Often, these lots remain empty for multiple years. If approached correctly, 3CDC could be convinced to work with the community to put these same plots to use during their planning phase.

This map shows property 3CDC owns south of Liberty Street.


Vacant Lots in Over-The-Rhine

Parcel Street Land Opportunity*

*does not include existing surface parking, parks, green spaces, or over-grown/wooded lots


Miles 0.05 0.1

This map was created to show the potential size of and sites for this project. You can see that many of the lots south of Liberty are in fact owned by 3CDC.



The future of Over-The-Rhine is being discussed and decided on right now. While we all can agree on the fact that OTR deserves our attention, many disagreements arrise concerning how the neighborhood should be developed, how the land should be used and who should truly benefit from current and future investments. This proposal shows a path that should be taken for the simple fact that it benefits everyone: young and old, rich and poor, black and white. It is obvious that the location of this neighborhood is of importance to the city, but it should be remembered that the people exist too and some of them need our help. By using the land to create places of rest, a source for food and opporunities to meet, we can ensure a brighter future for all who work and live in this neighborhood. After all, it is the people who make these streets and buildings what we loved. namely Over-The-Rhine.



Goldstein, Nora. “Vacant Lots Sprout Urban Farms.” Biocycle 50.10 (2009): 24-26. Business Source Premier. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. Tanaka, Laura, and Marianne Krasney. “Culturing community development, neighborhood open space, and civic agriculture: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City.” (2004): n. page. Print. de Roo, Gert, and Donald Miller. Compact cities and sustainable urban development : a critical assessment of policies and plans from an international perspective . 21. 4. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Unlimited, 2000. Print. Jess, Clarke. “Sioux City’s Jones Street Community Garden.” Parks & Recreation (2011): p 8. Graziano, Paul. Neighborhood Open Space Management: A Report on the Vacant Lot Restoration Program in Baltimore. 2002. “Faculty: Sharon E. Fleming.” Nutritional Science & Toxicology. University of Berkeley. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <>. Bellows, Anne C., Katherine Brown, and Jac Smith. “Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture.” Community Food Security Coalition. Community Food Security Coalition. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <>. Chiesura, Anna. “The Role of Urban Parks for the Sustainable City.” Science Direct. Elsevier. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <>. Goosman, Gary. “Funding Community Gardens.” NC State University. North Carolina State University, n.d. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.


OTR Vacant Land Plan  
OTR Vacant Land Plan