The proposal by Mayor Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemmie calls for eliminating the planning department while budgeting $4 million over two years to implement the Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive Plan.
It was the planning department that got advocates of market rate development and advocates of affordable housing to work together on a plan to fill in Over-the-Rhine's many vacant buildings. The process, led by Planning Director Liz Blume, took nearly two years. Make that former director Blume. She resigned Dec. 7, before city council even held its first public hearing on the budget.
In his budget message, Luken wrote the city will still "perform all functions related to planning that are mandated by city charter." The open question is whether the city is giving itself a lobotomy by eliminating the planning department, cutting half of the 25-member staff and reassigning the rest. Who's going to ensure the city doesn't end up with cookie-cutter development?
Luken knows what he's doing, according to Assistant City Manager Rashad Young.
"I don't think he's trying to create a situation where you have development that runs kind of unchecked," Young says.
While there's much to support in the budget -- tens of millions for neighborhoods and a few million for the arts, for starters -- one has to wonder if Luken and Lemmie understand what attracts young people to cities.
Cincinnati has a long history and the architecture to match. But with the exception of festival weekends, many downtown streets, surrounded by surface parking lots, have been comatose for years. Cincinnati leaders forgot what it meant to be a city and failed to wed good planning with market-driven development.
Does killing the planning department indicate Luken and Lemmie don't understand the long-term value of good urban design? Summed up, it's the difference between the Fields-Ertel disaster and Hyde Park Square.
The effort involves creativity, coordination and sometimes taking the hard route instead of the easy one. If Luken and Lemmie don't get it, not only will more of the city's streets be "Clean and Safe" -- Luken's new budget mantra -- but they'll be empty as well.
On the other hand, Luken is asking council to approve even more capital money for the arts than what the administration recommended.
"2003 will be a banner year for Cincinnati, and much of that has to do with our commitment to the arts," Luken wrote. "We will reopen the Taft Museum, we will open the Contemporary Arts Center, our Broadway Series will bring thousands to downtown, and the fruits of last year's Arts funding will (be) recognized."
His recommendation for capital projects in the arts is $2.7 million for each year of the biennial budget, with $700,000 used for city-owned properties and the rest doled out by the Arts and Culture Committee.
Arts funding is Luken's only change from the administration's budget.
"The arts brings people to Cincinnati and I am committed to furthering the positive ends that are associated with the arts," Luken wrote.
While campaigning in 2001, Luken said he wanted an arts committee on city council and continued funding of capital improvement projects for the arts. He's followed through on these goals.
However, the proposed budget isn't sticking with all of the city's commitments. Last year city council approved Councilman John Cranley's proposal to hire 75 new police officers by 2003. But amnesia seems to have set in.
"We have increased funding for police visibility overtime, and we have maintained our commitment to hire 75 new police officers by 2004," Luken wrote.
That's one year later than promised. So much for consistency.
BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.