Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Support the Streetcar Now

To whom it may concern:

I am a resident of the city of Cincinnati, living at XXXX Walnut St, in Over-the-Rhine. My neighborhood is a depressed neighborhood that is thick in the middle of a renaissance. Where this community has seen a dramatic vacancy rate for the past few decades and has been a concentrated haven for crime, things are dramatically changing for the better. Each month, more people are buying or renting property in this Cincinnati neighborhood, choosing to live or work in a community that was once regarded as the "Paris of the West."

Building a streetcar system would offer a critical economic investment to my neighborhood and many others in Cincinnati.

I moved to Over-the-Rhine over seven months ago after spending over five years in the more northern community of Oakley, also a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Oakley and Over-the-Rhine couldn't be more different. Where OtR is more urban and in the throws of revival, Oakley is a quaint neighborhood with tree lined streets and a vibrant square with shops and restaurants.

In the 1930s and 40s, Oakley was a thriving, mini-metropolis four miles north of Downtown Cincinnati. With a streetcar line running through the heart of the square every five minutes, people would hop on the line in droves to go to butcher shops, women's clothing stores, an old fashioned ice cream parlor (which still exists today) and other shopping mainstays. Oakley had a vital community center that was, in part, greatly attributed to the streetcars of Cincinnati's past.

Today, Oakley is still charming and hangs on to a few steady outposts - watering holes and a handful of boutiques striving to stay open. The fact is, while we all still love Oakley, it clearly isn't the community it used to be. Industry has left the neighborhood, a big box store and other shops have closed their doors. Some of the homes on those tree lined streets look a little tired. Oakley doesn't have the critical mass of foot traffic it did during the streetcar heyday. People aren't motivated to get off at a stop, stroll the streets, buy groceries and other goods from local vendors.

Instead, they get in their cars, spend money in different zip codes, and fail to make the day-to-day investment in the neighborhood where they live or work.

Oakley has taken a hit since the streetcar system was dismantled in 1951.

Today, I look at the proposed streetcar line as a great opportunity to encourage concentrated economic investments in key communities in Cincinnati's core. By building a new streetcar system, the people who work or live in Cincinnati will develop lifestyle habits that encourage more foot traffic and more spending along the route. By making a permanent streetcar line, more potential business owners will decide to put down roots in Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton and other communities along the route.

More 20 or 30-somethings like me will choose to move back to the urban core. We'll buy condos or buildings for single-family homes. We'll raise children and support the neighborhood schools, walk to parks near the streetcar route. Instead of hopping in our cars to drive downtown for a night out on the town, we'll catch streetcar lines to see shows at the Aronoff and linger in the city a little longer, grabbing dinner or nightcaps before catching a safe streetcar ride home. (Aside: Did you know Cincinnati was voted the tenth most walkable city in the U.S. in 2008?)

In 1900, Cincinnati was the 10th largest city in the nation. In 1940 (when Cincinnati had a solid streetcar system) we were the 17th largest city in the nation.

According to the Census Bureau, we're now the 57th largest city.

By supporting the streetcar, you have an opportunity turn around a trend. You have an opportunity to further encourage the renaissance already happening in Over-the-Rhine. You have an opportunity to lure small business and property investment back to Cincinnati's Central Business District.

You have an opportunity to make an investment in a city I love.

I wrote my letter to support Cincinnati's streetcar. You can, too. Just email, and please do so by 5 PM on Friday. Your support is critical.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

1 comment:

Kevin Dugan said...

Kate: re: "Paris of the West" what's ironic to me is that we'd still have that title were it not for public transportation like the street car vanishing. We started building our subway about the time Chicago was a peer of ours during those said Paris days. We stopped, they continued investing in the L and other public transportation infrastructure. We continued to invest in our arts. And when you compare our arts to our public transportation, which one's robust and which one's damn near a no show were it not for Metro? We need car pool lanes, we need street cars we need more public transport options.