There's not much green in the area of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, where Vine Street still finds itself home to a slew vacant buildings, vandalism and littered sidewalks. You won't find trees; just the occasional wayward clumps of grass that manage to triumph through cracks in the concrete.
That's an odd dichotomy to correspond with a neighborhood claiming the largest area of historic Italianate architecture in the country.
As efforts to preserve historic landmarks across the neighborhood continue to flourish, others are taking notice of another key element in revitalization that's been neglected: the presence of a safe, green public space that could spark a type of interest in urban renewal more conscious of natural greenery and it. That's been achieved in the area of Over-the-Rhine south of Liberty Street with the expansive Washington Park, leaving its northern counterpart noticeably more drab.
That sentiment is what propelled a trio of designers and architects to mold a proposal for a parklet in front of Tucker's Restaurant, an iconic Over-the-Rhine greasy spoon that attracts both locals and tourists in a somewhat deserted portion of the neighborhood, bereft of the nearby Gateway Quarter's bubbly atmosphere.
Mike Uhlenhake, a local architect, was first introduced to the parklet concept in San Francisco, where the parklet was founded and now flourishes. A parklet is exactly what it sounds like: a small, urban "park" that typically only occupies enough space to displace two parking spots. They're praised as a way to offer a public, green gathering point in urban areas where parks or wildlife are especially lacking; they might include trees, fountains, sculptures or small cafe tables. Uhlenhake sensed the need for something similar in the northern area Over-the-Rhine, which remains largely untouched by the mass renovation efforts taking place just blocks away.
"That stretch [of Over-the-Rhine] really seems to lack life. It feels empty, like no people are ever on the street ... it needs a more homegrown feel," says Uhlenhake. "A place like Tucker's really deserves something like this if they want it."
When the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio and the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati held the D.I.Y. Urbanism Competition this spring, Uhlenhake teamed up with two members of Flourish Cincinnati, Michelle Andersen and Becky Schneider, to create a formal entry for the contest, which can be found here or nestled in the back of Tucker's Restaurant on the rear wall.
Their proposal earned the People's Choice Award, which granted them $250 toward implementing the parklet. They've since partnered with local artist Alan Sauer, who assisted in the creation of Tucker's plot in Cincinnati PARK(ing) Day 2009, which staged a tiny patio in front of Tucker's featuring live music and chalk art.
Today, they're all working on putting together a PowerPoint presentation to present to City Council, which would provide an overview of the parklet, design sketches and an outline of its benefits. Once presented, City Council would just have to agree to give up the two parking spots directly in front of Tucker's; although Uhlenhake isn't exactly sure how much the parklet will cost, he's confident fundraising efforts will be all that's needed to foot the bill. Tucker's customers have been the main point of support, he says — dozens have offered to pledge some kind of help to make the vision come true after seeing the plan on Tucker's back wall.
"This really needs to be a community project. The more people we can get to help, the better."