News: Fixing the City

New organizations attempt to reverse Cincinnati's decline

Doug Trapp

What Cincinnati needs is a new middle class, according to Terry Grundy.

If the urban center of our region — Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Mount Auburn, Mount Adams, Newport and Covington — is going to prosper, we need to attract young professionals and creative people, gays, retirees and immigrants.

That's the key principle behind a group of city-lovers calling themselves the Urbanists. A loosely organized group of about 30 people in their 40s and 50s, they include urban planners, foundation leaders, retirees, developers and demographers.

"There were a bunch of us who discovered we were thinking in similar directions," says Terry Grundy, an Urbanist organizer and a professor at the University of Cincinnati's School of Planning.

The Urbanists are one of three new groups seeking to fix the city's center, but not through the usual channels. The Urbanists have been meeting, having dinner and discussing ideas for more than a year in a fact-driven attempt to answer a key question: Why did some cities, such as Chicago, gain population and redevelop themselves in the 1990s and why haven't others?

The meetings are an "intense process of understanding what makes great cities great and why it is we're not achieving that right now," Grundy says.

That disconnected feeling
A few months ago the Urbanists were joined by a younger group of action-oriented city-lovers called Urbanists II.

Inspired in part by the first group, they're on a mission to create momentum in Over-the-Rhine by quickly completing a model district.

Urbanists II want to fill in the vacant spots in Over-the-Rhine, not kick people out, according to organizer Jeffrey Stec, director of planned giving at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. The mostly poor residents of Over-the-Rhine have a lot to teach the rest of the city, he says.

"I think it's all about economic re-integration, because that's how we're going to thrive," Stec says.

The Urbanists and Urbanists II are meeting Thursday to talk about joint projects.

Then, almost from left field, another person is trying to recruit formerly apathetic young Cincinnatians for another new group, Cincinnati Tomorrow. Nicholas Spencer, 24, is a first-time organizer studying political science at Xavier University. He was inspired to act in part by economic development expert Richard Florida (see [email protected]. Urbanists and Urbanists II have an open meeting from 6-9 p.m. Thursday at Kaldi's in Over-the-Rhine. Admission is $7, including refreshments.

· For more information on Cincinnati Tomorrow, visit Cincinnati Tomorrow meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley.