Enhancing community connections in Cincinnati, by reclaiming alleys, sidewalks, and steps for the pedestrian.
While we continue to regain our bearings from such an incredible success that was The Jaunty Jubilee, Spring in Our Steps has recently taken on another neighborhood and policy issue, much akin to the threatened Kemp Alley sale in Over-the-Rhine to Chatfield College this summer. Expect more in the way of this–SiOS taking a stance on the threat of many alleys’ closure, impediment, or encroachment by private interests. While we will not always take a hard position on the fate of our alleys, dependent on contextual factors, the looming interest to erase the West End’s Curry Alley in part and Porter Alley in full deserved a position from Spring in Our Steps. Keep in mind that all commentary here does not necessary represent the views of all Spring in Our Steps board members, volunteers, or sponsors.
The following is an unabridged statement made by Christian Huelsman at the West End Community Council meeting on October 15th, 2013.
The West End has a long history of public and private space taken from its residents. From the 1920s with the construction of Terminal Parkway (now Ezzard Charles Drive) and Union Terminal eliminating dozens of residential and commercial neighborhood blocks; to the widespread demolition of the community for federally-backed, high density public housing in the 1930s; to the Interstate Highway System and post-WWII housing incentives in the 1940s and 1950s, creating a West End dominated by the erasure of many more neighborhood blocks for automobile transport and storage; to many more demolitions and elimination of entire streets from the 1960s onward. Many surface lots have dominated the landscape abutting the over-capacitated Bank Street, since the right-of-way was expanded in the 1950s and 1960s with subsequent demolition of its entire north side. Today, Bank Street has prevalent on-street parking and vacant lots that remain underutilized.
Background and Commentary
The suggested approval for the elimination of two public rights-of-way in the West End–Porter and Curry Alleys–for a surface lot is unfathomable in 2013. In today’s cities, considerable resources and strategies focus on the preservation of historic neighborhoods, their structures and their character. Not only do many historic structures in the West End add value to nearby properties, but the infrastructure can too. The West End has a long history of public and private space taken from its residents. Our alleys are some of the earliest relics in Cincinnati’s hillside and basin neighborhood, dating back to the 1860s and 1870s. We must not forget to preserve public space as we mind our real estate, as there is considerable precedence that the public space will never return.
In September of this year, St. Vincent de Paul gave permission for placement of a SuperCan dumpster by Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, for an extensive cleanup of Dayton and Garden Streets, as well as Porter Alley in its entirety. It was disappointing to read, in a letter dated September 23rd from St. Vincent De Paul, that the organization described Porter Alley as overgrown and not maintained after such a strong renewal of community commitment. Additionally, the proposal calls for vacation of Curry Alley between 1122 and 1124 Garden Street. However, as was the stance of Spring in Our Steps (SiOS) toward the interest of Chatfield College to vacate a portion of Kemp Alley south of Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine, a dead end alley benefits no one, attracting further disinvestment, and limiting the intrinsic qualities of an accessible neighborhood to monitor illicit activity. The city even amended the Charter in the 1920s to discourage dead end alleys. Over-the-Rhine Community Council saw the value to denouncing the removal of the alley and adjacent public space.
As SiOS remediates alleys in three neighborhoods—Over-the-Rhine, Mt. Auburn, and Clifton Heights—we find the most neglected alleys to be the ones that lead nowhere. Gated or closed alleys also invite similar disinvestment, as maintenance is an afterthought by lessees who are focuses more on the limitation of access. This is not what our public pathways were intended to be. Foremost, however, is the obligation that communities have to recognize their role in the upkeep of public space. It is a common misconception that sidewalks and streets are the city’s sole responsibility, but they require a shared responsibility with community and municipal resources alike. Our alleys are at a pedestrian scale as our sidewalks are, and deserve to be used by the residents, proprietors, and other stakeholders of the community. Cincinnati’s alleys were developed long before automobiles were a consideration. Today, many alleys in Mt. Auburn, Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, and Downtown serve as pedestrian connections to other community assets, such as bus stops, churches, schools, and for leisure.
The scale of buildings, as they relate to the depth of associate properties, matched with the walking experience along sidewalks and streets, have long-term effects on the long term value and allure of the neighborhood. As the forthcoming Liberty Street Road Diet Study facilitated by the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Master Plan will introduce a slimmed roadway and implementation Complete Streets for bicycle, pedestrian, beautification, and street calming measures, the underutilized width of Bank Street is likely to follow. Adding curb cuts or access points for automobiles will limit any positive effects awarded by the implementation of Complete Streets or the bicycle lanes already present on Bank Street.
Resolution and Conclusion
Spring in Our Steps would like to propose a shared Adopt-a-Spot commitment to the upkeep and beautification of Porter and Curry Alleys with West End Community Council, as communities should band together to preserve the walkable attributes of our wonderful city.
SiOS has demonstrated long-term commitment to overlooked pedestrian spaces in Cincinnati’s hillside and basin neighborhoods. We find the on street parking to be more than adequate, while the responsibility of providing safe workplace conditions is the shared roles of community and city. Porter Alley is a viable pedestrian connection between Garden and Bank Streets. Paving and curbs in Curry Alley are entirely intact, while tree coverage is plentiful. Neither alley presents significant obstacles for St. Vincent de Paul to develop expanded parking provisions for employees and patrons. SiOS strongly urges an alternative approach that keeps Porter and Curry Alleys intact, utilizing the existing neighborhood infrastructure to maintain value in the community. We would hate to see two of the most intact and least disrupted West End alleys to be erased from our city’s landscape.