Monday, June 25, 2007


I don't know why, but my house got robo-dialed by Steve Chabot's conference-call / virtual-townhall meeting tonight. It's not what I first think of when I think of e-democracy, but hey, it's something.

Actually, it was kind of cool. Around 7:30 or so when we were finishing up dinner, the call came in and told us we were being connected to Rep. Chabot's conference call. After hearing about how to get in the queue to ask a question, we heard Steve Chabot introduce himself and the town hall meeting. He was in his office in Washington and was holding the meeting with his constituents here on the west side of Cincinnati.

I guess it was like many town hall meetings. My biggest complaint would be regarding the screening of the callers who had a chance to ask questions. They mostly fell into two categories: 1) Vague softball questions for which Chabot had canned answers, and 2) Rambling non-questions. There were a few exceptions, notably the guy who asked the final question (about Iraq) which was fairly articulate and not easy to answer.

About halfway through the meeting the system said something along the lines of "You have been entered into the queue to ask a question." even though I never touched any buttons. At that point I was a little bit worried that they might actually ask me for a question so I starting surfing on I couldn't really come up with any good questions that seemed relevant to Chabot in particular, but luckily the queue never reached me. It wrapped up sometime around 8:30 or 8:45 I think. Everyone left in the question queue was transferred directly to his voicemail.

Despite the fact that Steve said a few things like "As far as illegal immigration, I'm against it." (Wow, really? Are you against any other illegal activites?) overall it was a neat experience. I respect Chabot for actually reaching out and talking to people. And I got to find out some things about him that I didn't know before.

Has anyone out there heard of these before? Was anyone out there listening along with me? Speculation as to why Chabot might have decided to have do one of these? Does he do these all the time?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Take Cincinnati Back(wards)

You know what I've noticed in a lot of campaign talk from City Council Candidates? A lot of people are saying stuff like: "I want to bring Cincinnati back to the great city it once was." Or something along those lines. I hate that.

I suppose in some cases this is just something that they say because they think that's what people want to hear. But to be perfectly honest, that type of talk is gonna make a candidate lose my vote. When it comes to voting, I don't care about how awesome Cincinnati was back in the 70's or the 50's or whenever these people were kids. I wasn't born yet and I don't remember it. That type of nostalgia doesn't work on me.

And it think it's a faulty game-plan on another level as well. We can't bring back the past. We can't make Cincinnati like it was before. Older residents may have fond memories of the past but that doesn't mean that if we make the city the way it was back then we will be in good shape. Demographics, global economics, technology -- everything is different now and it's going to keep getting different. We need to be thinking about the future. The past can't save us from anything.

Last, I think the "let's go back to the good old days" attitude makes for a overly-negative image of Cincinnati as it is today. Cincinnati has some problems, sure; every city does. But Cincinnati has a lot of good things going for it. It was recently ranked 38th most desirable place to live. I think when people talk about "taking Cincinnati back to the way it was" it subconsciously re-enforces the idea that the Cincinnati of today sucks. And that just ain't so.

< / rant >

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What is Inclusionary Zoning?

Many groups that advocate for affordable housing cite "inclusionary zoning" as one tool to help achieve that goal. Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is basically a requirement that a certain percentage of new housing stock must be affordable to households with low to moderate income. Usually this percentage is somewhere between 10-30%. Frequently IZ ordnances provide incentives to developers in return for the creation of affordable housing. The idea is to prevent homogeneity of income levels in defined areas, since a mix of income levels is seen by many as healthy for a neighborhood. In many cases IZ achieves it's goals of affordable housing, mixed-income neighborhoods, and less sprawl, but it does so with certain costs. IZ is seen by many as essentially a tax on new development assessed against developers. In addition, some question whether it's effects on the redistribution of low-income households is really a net benefit to those households. Last, as in the case of Madison, WI's ordnance, IZ may be viewed as rent control which is illegal in Wisconsin.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Inclusionary Zoning

PolicyLink: Inclusionary Zoning - What is it?

Guide to Pros and Cons of IZ (.PDF)

Who is Tim Burke?

This week Tim Burke's name seems to have popped up in enough places to register on my mental radar. In hindsight I realize his name must have been floating through the news for years now, but I just now made the connection. He was involved in the eminent domain case in Norwood representing the City of Norwood. He is also the Hamilton County Democratic Chair and sent out a letter explaining the reasoning behind the Hamilton county Jail Tax recently passed by Comissioners Portune and Pepper. And he was a prominent proponent of the City Link center. He is also currently involved in a battle over zoning in Hyde Park.

So, when someone has this type of profile, I think it's useful to have an independent source of information about them. Toward that purpose, I've created a stub page for Tim Burke on the Beacon's Cincinnati Wiki. Do you know anything relevant about Tim Burke? Help us all out by heading over to the wiki and editing it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Economist cites need for muni Wi-Fi

Two good articles popped through my feed-reader today via

The Economist cites need for muni Wi-Fi

Opinion: What municipalities should be asking in citywide Wi-Fi planning

"Internet access for residential users was never going to be the mainstay for municipal Wi-Fi. Most communities are pretty well served these days by cable, DSL and satellite internet services. As a result, competition has beaten broadband-access charges down to around $15 a month. And where such services are not competitive, they quickly become so the moment municipal Wi-Fi presses its nose to the window.

No, the future of municipal wireless broadband rests on making cities safer, saner and simpler to manage. Trivial pursuits like downloading songs or posting video clips can be safely left to phone and cable companies." ~ The Economist

What is happening in OTR?

Let me just say it plainly: I want facts.

I have two conflicting attitudes:

1) The new Gateway Quarter in OTR is (or could eventually be) my ideal neighborhood.

2) I have no interest in living there if my doing so is encouraging a social injustice.

I have tried to create the best definition I could of what "gentrification" means. See my entry entitled: "What is gentrification?". I have read a few papers written by people who should pretty much be the best experts on the subject. This one offers a definition of gentrification that differs from mine. The purpose, in my view, of that paper is to bring a new phrase into the discussion: "equitable community development" and to differentiate the meaning of this phrase from "gentrification". In this one they explain that, in addition to "gentrification", the term "economic mix" is also dangerous and it's use is frequently accompanied by numerous negative underlying attitudes.

But at this point in my life journey, the semantics of urban planning and community development are only minimally interesting to me. In other words, I don't want the "Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine" to be linguists; I want them to help me make a decision. What is right and what is wrong in this neighborhood. Be concrete and specific. That is what I want.

The experts will clearly say (if you pay attention) that the market-rate housing and an increase in home-ownership are not bad things. They will clearly say that market-rate housing and an increase in home-ownership are good things, but they are opposed to the use of these two things as the only tools to "improve" a neighborhood.

So, what do they want? Well, for starters they are asking for the same thing I am:

"In order for development to be equitable, we would need an accounting and monitoring system that tracks the rise and fall of property values and demographics in the neighborhood in order to ensure a just distribution of benefits from development and to avoid a patchwork of wealthy, isolated enclaves amid deep poverty in OTR."

That means they want facts, and numbers, and data, and studies that can be used to really say what is going on in OTR. If we had some way to know what was happening (for example if we had details regarding "displacement") then we could in turn answer whether or not what we're doing there is good or bad. I honestly don't know who should have responsibility for that kind of information, but we NEED it.

The paragraph that tells what they want continues like this:

"In addition to a serious effort to gather information to inform decisions, we need to be able to direct some of the benefits of rising property values, local incomes, investment opportunities to local residents. While this is not the place to lay out a detailed plan – for that would require broad consultation and revision – we note that TIFs, Real Estate Transfer Taxes, inclusionary zoning, and development fees are among the ways that some of the increased value of property and opportunity in OTR could be captured for more inclusive purposes. These mechanisms are in addition to those already operating, such as housing round funding, the ABC, LISC managed community development operating support, and city spending on infrastructure, safety, transportation and so on. "

So, I'm asking: Can anybody show me a specific law they want passed or repealed? I'll vote for it. Just put it in front of me. Give me an action item.

In the rest of the paper we're basically referred to PolicyLink to look for more concrete "best practices". That is an exercise I'll have to save for another day.

For now I'm interested in an answer to the following question:

"What specific injustices, if any, were committed in the creation of the Gateway Quarter condominiums?"

Much blame is put on 3CDC for "pushing out" residents. How was this done? Was it illegal? Where are the residents now? Is OTR actually so full that people are being displaced out of it?

I encourage any and all feedback. I am learning all the time.

Further Reading:

New blogs in the sidebar

I added a few blogs I've been enjoying lately to the sidebar:

Live Green Cincinnati


Building Cincinnati

And, last but not least: I've been hanging out on the new Cincinnati Digg-style news aggregator Cinplify and it's pretty cool.

They all rock; check them out!