Cincinnati’s 52 Neighborhoods: Bring On the Form-Based Code

plan-build-live1Plan Build Live is a project of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning and Buildings made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Plan Build Live was designed to include residents and business owners in the process of reviewing and reforming the city’s building regulations and zoning codes to optimize the unique built environments of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. The end result will be a Form-Based Code, which is different from conventional zoning in that the intended physical form – or desired place – replaces use as the organizing principle.

Example of form-based code in a community.

Example of form-based code in a community.

From Opticos Design, Inc. – the city’s primary Form-Based Code consultant – instead of a particular zone “being labeled single-family residential it might be called traditional neighborhood, and instead of a zone being called commercial, it might be called neighborhood main street. The terms neighborhood and main street tie back into the intended physical form or place, both of which may include a mix of uses and different building types that create a vibrant walkable urbanism.” For our neighborhoods’ historic business districts and surrounding areas in particular, Form-Based Code represents a paradigm shift in terms of planning, adaptive reuse, and walkability.

Map of Cincinnati's neighborhoods.

Map of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.

Cincinnati has 52 official neighborhoods, each with a unique developmental history and character. The neighborhoods generally go from oldest to youngest as you spread outward and upward from downtown’s basin area and the Ohio River, reflecting the growth of the city – the exceptions being neighborhoods originally starting as satellites, or as their own entities, but that were eventually annexed by the city (Madisonville, for example, was settled in 1809 but was not annexed by Cincinnati until the early twentieth century).

Topographical map showing Madisonville.

Topographical map showing Madisonville.

Many Cincinnati neighborhoods have gone through the inevitable growth and decline for urban communities—basically a biologically-based model.

Life stages

Life stages

The changes typically occur over a period from 50 to 100 years in population density and composition, economic function and commercial development. At the end of the neighborhood’s “life stages” there can be a complete collapse of the neighborhood, or a renewal, oftentimes with a pattern of gentrification with new and more luxurious commercial and residential development.

The term "charrette" is derived from the French word for "little cart." In Paris during the 19th century, professors at the Ecole de Beaux Arts circulated with little carts to collect final drawings from their students. Students would jump on the "charrette" to put finishing touches on their presentation minutes before the deadline.

The term “charrette” is derived from the French word for “little cart.” In Paris during the 19th century, professors at the Ecole de Beaux Arts circulated with little carts to collect final drawings from their students. Students would jump on the “charrette” to put finishing touches on their presentation minutes before the deadline.

The Department of Building and Planning, in conjunction with its Plan Build Live Form-Based Code consulting team, has just completed a week-long program of charrettes (intensive planning sessions where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development) with four neighborhoods in Cincinnati that have volunteered to implement the Form-Based Code first: College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, and Westwood. The PDF of the closing presentation on November 1st is available for viewing here: neighborhood charrette closing presentation.

Form-Based Code will be the inception of great things for Cincinnati’s neighborhoods that are awaiting their renaissance (cases in point being College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, and Westwood). It will provide the framework for redevelopment, but – as those attending the closing presentation heard several times – in order for the renewal/redevelopment of an historic business district to occur, to make that place a place where people want to be, to keep it unique, to capitalize on its individual history and architecture, to keep the historic fabric of the neighborhood intact, there can be No Compromise—the clear vision uncovered via the charrette process needs to be diligently supported by the city, and by the neighborhoods’ residents and business owners. So bring on the redevelopment, we’re prepared.