Monthly Archives: February 2008


Alleys are an important element in urban design. While they rarely still serve the technical functions they were intended to serve they offer a unique perspective of what is happening, and has happened, at the margins of the urban experience.

I always thought that one of the best things about living in downtown Indianapolis was the alleys. I loved knowing the shortcuts, but also they had this really pedestrian sense to them. In contrast to the large boulevards of the grid iron streets downtown the alleys provided a bit of refuge and at the same time some pleasant surprises. It is always easy to spot interesting architectural details, historic paving and public infrastructure or discarded belongings, art, furniture and other items in alleyways.

OTR has some great ones too. Unfortunately many have been separated from the rest of street network and public space because of an exploitation of their best qualities. Hopefully one day the eyes on the street will enable them to become part of the urban fabric again. Until then here are a few shots of some that remain open and have been terminated at some point or another.











Filed under alleys, Historic Preservation, OTR, public space

Ghost Signs Like People Too

Outdoor advertisements that have been allowed to fade are commonly referred to as ghost signs. The term carries with it more or less specific qualities, but in general they are hand painted and were made in the first half of the 20th century and earlier before most cities started heavily regulating the outdoor advertising industry.

They are an important representation of the commercial graphic arts of the time and even though they have become obsolete they survive as reminders to what once was. They speak to the social, economic and physical character of the past and the time that has passed. Viewing them in their contemporary context often provides an interesting juxtaposition.

Cincinnati and OTR in particular is filled with these. While they may be interesting from a visual perspective alone, they are also significant contributors to the historic character of a place. There patina cannot be emulated. Only time can create the story that they tell, the sense that they give us.

While hand painted signage is still created in OTR and other neighborhoods there is a significant difference in the scale, placement, quality and techniques of ghost signs. I am a fan of both old and new, but want to see more efforts to identify exceptional examples that may merit some degree of preservation effort.
“We” Like People

along McMicken in OTR


Filed under Cincinnati, ghost signs, graphic design, Historic Preservation, OTR

Snow Covered


The snow is great for seeing the city in a different light. Not only does it temporarily cover the grime, but it reveals some of the ways we move through the city that are rarely observable. This alley seems very insignificant on a usual day, but the snow shows that it is heavily traveled. It also seems to emphasize the alignment with the steps and the relationship with the buildings.

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Filed under Cincinnati, OTR


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Filed under Imaging, OTR

Portland foreshadows the failures of success

It was brought to my attention that Portland, that place that we all envy, has blemishes. It is easy to point to Portand on so many levels and want to emulate them; streetcars, bicycle planning , walkability, green, and the general cool factor. Portland in many ways epitomizes the place Cincinnati wants to be. But there is at least one thing that Cincinnati could learn from Portland’s mistakes, a bit of foreshadowing of the failures of success.

The City of Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement has created a program called the Restorative Gentrification Listening Project. The intent is “to understand the harms of gentrification by listening to the stories of those most directly impacted and then working to repair the harm and prevent further harm.”

I believe that gentrification gets a bad rep. It is not inherently a bad word, it has a negative connotation, but it is exactly what some places need. Many communities may be best served by introducing a higher earning demographic to spur community development.

Having said that it is important to find ways to minimize the negative effects and to maximize the opportuninties for mutual benefit. The Restorative Gentrification Project is attempting to do just that. My question then is what can be done ahead of time? Instead of assuming that our actions are not harmful how can we engage both sides in support of insuring that there is no need for restoration?


Filed under Elsewheres, OTR, planning

Public Spaces of Diverse Publics

A recent discussion brought up the apparent lack of public space in the city where we can see the spectrum of cultures and classes interacting, or at least occupying the same spaces. Findlay Market was cited as one example. In this sense Findlay is great because it has something for everyone and it is acceptable for anyone to be there for a lot of different purposes. Many of the vendors accept “foodstamps” and credit cards, sell soul food and gourmet there are places to sit, people watch, eat, shop, enjoy public arts and more.

The idea of “thirdspaces” is a buzz word in planning and design circles. The basic idea is that they are the places that we occupy when we are not at work or at home. While they may not be public in the traditional sense of the word they are public in the sense that they do not explicitly exclude anyone. This contemporary nature of public space is a blessing and a curse. While they may not explicitly exclude anyone some people are just not desirable, and there for intentionally left out of programming.

One criticism I hear a lot about the progress happening in Downtown and OTR is that they seem to appeal only to a certain demographic. I agree that often little is done to mediate between the seemingly disparate groups in Cincinnati.

Fountain Square is often cited as an example where the tenants and events seems directed at a targeted groups. I have had experiences in Fountain Square that counter this notion of homogeneity, but I think it is a reasonable claim. The “plaza” in front of P&G is a notorious examples of a private public space.

I understand that it is important to draw people to these places so they can see for themselves that worthwhile things are going on and these people very little would be going on.

But I want to know if there can be more of an attempt to create public spaces, traditional or contemporary, that foster more diverse uses, users and possibilities for interaction. Could a more deliberate attempt be made and still capture the range of people this city should be accommodating. Or are we just all that different?

Maybe these are already in existence and I am overlooking them. I have heard of others, but tell me what you think.


Filed under Cincinnati, public space

It could be worse

In doing some reading for a course on historic preservation I came across some quotes that seemed relevant to the discussions that have been happening on this site. I decided to post a few, not to digress, but to illustrate that these things are not unique to OTR and that they could be much worse.

They are from Tung’s Preserving the World’s Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis.

The last chapter considers The City is a Living Museum “of human cultural evolution- helping us to understand why various societies are different, how distinct places fostered singular accomplishments, and what is universal to the human experience.”

It goes on to talk about the context of preservation strategy…

“Yet this project can not be divorced from a larger development strategy that results in politically motivated acts of territorial expropriation.”

This is used to refer to all large cities, and Jerusalem in particular where…

“Restoration is justification [for the] seizure of disputed land”

The happy ending makes it all worthwhile.

“By thinking of the city as an interactive educational experience subject to interpretative presentation, we may enhance our critical grasp of material culture that surrounds us, alter our collective understanding of the city as a whole, and change the way we see its future.”

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Filed under Cincinnati, Elsewheres, Historic Preservation, OTR