Core Future

Plan Cincinnati places a renewed emphasis on urban living

Sep 5, 2012 at 9:21 am


ity officials on Aug. 21 finished and released the final draft for Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan since 1980. The 228-page plan, which can be found online at, touts a renewed emphasis on the urban instead of the suburban, citing a societal movement from neighborhoods back to the urban core of cities. 

“The pendulum is swinging back,” says Charles Graves, director of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning and Buildings. Graves says 30 years ago people wanted to live in the suburbs with a white picket fence, but a lot of people today want to move back to urban cores to be closer to city services and their jobs. Graves points to the growing number of young professionals and singles moving to and staying in the city. He says this group of people wants to rely less on cars and stay healthier by walking when possible, which has built a need for more urbanization.

Katherine Keough-Jurs, senior city planner, echoes Graves’ ideas. She says this is why Plan Cincinnati promotes a renewed emphasis on alternative transportation ideas, healthier communities and city resources being more readily available to residents.

Plan Cincinnati started coming together in 2009. Back then, city planning officials presented the idea for a comprehensive plan in the city’s neighborhood summit. Afterward, city officials met with community councils to draw an idea of what Cincinnatians would like to see in the plan. City officials then held what Keough-Jurs calls, “kick-off meetings.” The city hosted four meetings at the “four corners” of Cincinnati: Corryville, Madisonville, College Hill and Price Hill. With the initial input from the meetings — Keough-Jurs estimates more than 100 people attended each meeting — city officials began crafting the basis for the plan. “We didn’t go into any of this with preconceived notions about what was going to come out of it,” she says. “This was driven by the people.”

The four meetings were not the end of community feedback. Both the 2010 and 2011 neighborhood summits were entirely dedicated to the master plan. The events, which Keough-Jurs says helped reach about 600 people each, were set up as a conference, and the summits were used to get more feedback from the public.

City officials landed on the current plan after nearly three years of gathering feedback and setting goals. In its final draft, the plan seeks to make the transition to urbanization with five policy goals: increase the city’s population, build on current assets, build Cincinnati’s recognition worldwide, be aggressive in future growth and development and preserve and create a pedestrian-scaled city. 

One step in the plan is to emphasize community health. Cincinnati’s health department did a comprehensive study that outlined what illnesses and health problems are most prevalent in different parts of the city. Keough-Jurs says this allows the city to target programs in specific neighborhoods. “If certain neighborhoods have a prevalence of obesity-related diseases, maybe it’s an issue of not having access to fresh fruit and maybe it’s due to not having access to physical activity,” she says.

This kind of information led city officials to place a goal in the plan to establish access to “fresh, whole food” and a park or recreational facility within a half a mile of all residential areas. To Keough-Jurs, this is just one data-driven example of what Plan Cincinnati will do to promote healthier communities.

Another step is the plan’s emphasis on alternative means of transportation. This includes the streetcar, short-term car rental systems and, in the long term, light rail. It also includes more opportunities for walking and biking.

Graves acknowledges that the emphasis on alternative transportation could be an “expensive endeavor.” That has sparked criticism from groups like the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). In an email, Tom Brinkman, chairman of COAST, said the plan, “is just another social engineering plan that is dragged out every few years by liberal politicians to justify their over taxing and over spending.” As far as Brinkman is concerned, city plans are a “scam” to taxpayers. Brinkman says COAST isn’t necessarily against the entire plan, but he says the plan will never fully come to fruition.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve been hearing about these great plans, community input and all these great things, and nothing ever comes from them,” Brinkman says.

Keough-Jurs dismissed the criticisms. She says the plan isn’t so much new spending as it is “more of a vision.” The city is largely retargeting its current funding, not necessarily looking for new funding, she says. She also pointed out that Over-the-Rhine’s comprehensive plan has mostly been implemented as planned.

But it’s still unclear how much the plan will cost. City officials say cost estimates are purposely left out. In an email, Keough-Jurs explained the reasoning behind the move: “We have found over the years that providing cost estimates in long-range plans is problematic and the estimates can be misleading. Also, some of the Action Steps listed are not necessarily things that would have a monetary cost associated.”

To ensure the plan gets implemented despite the lack of funding attached, Keough-Jurs says an implementation committee will work with City Council. The committee will meet almost every quarter for the first couple years and then drop down to annual meetings as the plan progresses. She says there will be some flexibility in this process, which will allow specifics to get shuffled around as new developments occur.

The plan won’t work entirely through City Council. City officials also worked with different organizations in Cincinnati — Keough-Jurs mentioned community councils and Agenda 360 — to ensure goals are met without burdening the taxpayer or city budget.

With the plans for implementation and cooperation from different groups, Keough-Jurs hopes Plan Cincinnati will be the plan the city wants and needs.

“This really sets our vision and values as a community,” she says.