Heroes on the Home Front

Memorial Day is a fine American tradition. Once a year, we have the opportunity to pause and reflect on those who have died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Having now just celebrated the occasion, it behooves us to think more broadly about veteran’s affairs and the ways in which we as a community can support those who have sacrificed and served.

Cincinnati veterans are fortunate in terms of the services and opportunities available to them. This means, of course, that the rest of the Queen City’s population can easily become involved in the projects and programs that serve our nation’s veterans.

Of particular note to those living in Cincinnati are two organizations: the Joseph House and the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance (TVCA). cincyopolis recently sat down with Nathan Pelletier – Director of the Joseph House, Director at Large on the board of the TVCA, and himself a veteran – in order to learn more about these programs and understand better the needs of veterans in our community.


Nathan Pelletier, Director of Joseph House

Mr. Pelletier is a commanding presence in the room. Broad-shouldered and well-spoken, he cuts the sort of figure that one would expect from a soldier. His military history, however, sets him apart from other faces in the crowd. Mr. Pelletier graduated from West Point and completed training at Army Ranger and Airborne schools. He then served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as an infantry platoon leader, an executive officer, and a company commander. As such, he earned a Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star for outstanding leadership. Mr. Pelletier came to Cincinnati to work at P&G and has since shifted his career focus to working with fellow veterans who are finding the transition to civilian life to be particularly difficult.


A Joseph House residence on Pleasant Street

At Joseph House, Mr. Pelletier manages a staff of twelve people who assist homeless veterans battling addiction. The organization has its headquarters at 1526 Republic Street, but housing for the thirty-six inpatient clients spreads across five properties in Over-the-Rhine. At each building, Joseph House provides a safe and sober living environment as well as personalized counseling and education services.

Joseph House establishes a lasting relationship with its clients. After months of helping clients develop sober living habits, Joseph House personnel help their graduates reunite with family, find steady employment, achieve financial stability, and become mentors and advocates for new clients in the program. Indeed, Joseph House creates a life-long network of support whose goal is to ensure that all veterans thrive as productive members of the civilian community.


The Tristate Veterans Community Alliance shares this laudable goal. The mission of this organization is to make Cincinnati and the surrounding area hospitable to veterans by providing a kind of clearinghouse for available services. Since many veterans and their families may not know how to access particular resources or even know that certain opportunities exist, the TVCA streamlines access and referrals across veteran services in the area. With particular focus on education, employment, mentorship, and health services, the TVCA guides both veterans and their families through the twists and turns of reintegration to civilian life.

Both the Joseph House and the TVCA are looking to improve and expand the work they do in the community. Mr. Pelletier is in the process of a five-year plan to revamp the Joseph House from the inside out. After first focusing internally on developing a lasting clinical and operations team, Mr. Pelletier has turned his focus outward. He is working now to build partnerships with and create awareness in the community in order to connect veterans with the services they need. With greater resources, Mr. Pelletier looks forward to greater outreach to and inclusion of female veterans. He also seeks to centralize operations in a single, modern facility.

To achieve the goals, Mr. Pelletier and the Joseph House staff will need the active support and assistance of the community. To make a donation and to find out how you can help, please follow the links below.



Bike Planning: Lessons Learned from Lakewood, Ohio

Guest Post by Nick Workman

While a student at UC, I had the opportunity to intern with City of Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland. As an intern, one of the projects I worked on along with other city officials was a bicycle master plan. What I learned during my time working on the plan exposed me to the both the opportunities and challenges and that local governments face when creating bicycle networks in Ohio.



Cycling is one of the “cleanest” forms of transportation out there. Research has also shown that, if by 2050, 14% of travel in cities around the world is done by cycling, it could cut carbon emissions by 11% (Schmitt). On the local level, Cincinnati could benefit from cycling as part of its efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

Nationwide, one of the biggest health concerns is obesity. In Ohio, nearly a third of the population is considered obese, a figure that has risen from 11% in 1990 (The State of Obesity in Ohio). With regular diet and exercise (which includes cycling), obesity can be controlled and reduced. For example, in the Netherlands, where nearly 27% of trips are made by bike,  the obesity rate is only 10% as of 2010 and is predicted to decrease to 8% by 2030 (O’Brien).


Bike sharing is an excellent way to make cycling more accessible and affordable to the general public. Rather than spending $200 to $500 on a bike, excluding maintenance and anti-theft equipment, people can rent a bike for a low price and use it while commuting, running errands, or just for recreational purposes. Cincy Red Bike allows people to rent a bike for up to 24 hours for $8 per day or $80 per year (which includes unlimited 60-minute rides). Students may also purchase a $30 per semester bike rental membership. With bike rental stations located throughout urban core neighborhoods of Cincinnati, bike sharing is a convenient and economical way for residents to ride bikes (Rates).


Citielakewood-bike-signages should redesign local streets to include bike lanes and shared-use road markings. By revising its street design laws to require these types of accommodations for cyclists, cities can create an environment that is more conducive to cycling. Some cities, such as Cleveland, have adopted “complete streets” ordinances, which require that, in addition to traffic lanes for cars, streets also provide bike lanes and bus/streetcar lanes constructed using permeable materials to prevent stormwater runoff (Ott). Policymakers should also reform local development by requiring business to provide bicycle parking in areas for bike riding is popular.


Cyclists often find the traffic conditions in cities like Cincinnati to be discouraging for riding. As someone who rides on a street with bike lanes and sharrows, drivers have honked, shouted at, and passed by me at dangerously close proximity that I have been too scared to ride my bike. Cincinnati recently adopted a “safe-passing” law requiring drivers to provide at least three feet of space when passing cyclists (LaFleur). The city should educate drivers on this law by posting signs along busy roadways.


Lakewood Bike Corral

While Lakewood’s flat topography make it easy for cyclists to get around, Cincinnati is a very hilly city. For inexperienced cyclists, this can make cycling extremely difficult. One solution to this problem is placing bike racks on buses. This has been done in Cincinnati and allows cyclists to ride the buses throughout hilly areas.


Cincinnati has taken great steps over the few years to become more bike-friendly. It’s bike planning efforts have been recognized by the League of American Cyclists, which awarded it a Bronze Medal (Bicycle Friendly America – Cincinnati Profile). With a dense urban fabric comparable to that of Lakewood, Cincinnati should continue in its efforts to promote cycling by investing in bike infrastructure throughout its neighborhoods.





Living with the best intentions



Today’s guest post is by Mickey Mangan.

At one point in my first six months as a transplant in Cincinnati, I lived on a property with five people, a cat, a dog, a rat, nine chickens, and two goats. No, I was not out in College Hill working as a farmer at Bahr. I was in Mount Auburn, commuting a quick two miles every morning by bicycle to my job at the Chiquita Tower. My housemates had all found one another through a shared interest in environmentally sustainable living. At the Earnshaw Ecohouse we enjoyed fresh eggs from the chickens and free labor from the goats, who were happy to clear our backyard of its invasive yet delicious honeysuckle. Kids from the neighborhood would come over to hang out with us, helping out by catching the odd escaped chicken. The ones who behaved would sometimes get to use our Wi-Fi, on the occasion that they had gotten their hands on an older sibling’s phone.

The Ecohouse is just one example of an Intentional Community here in Cincinnati. There have been movements built around the concept of living intentionally, often accompanied with words like “mindfulness,” “sustainability,” and “social justice.”  If these words describe your values, and you enjoy sharing space, then you might just be interested in bailing on your condo and joining an Intentional Community.

unnamedMy first exposure to intentional community was last year, when I spent the month of January as an artist-in-residence at a cooperative in Berkeley, California. During that eye-opening time sharing meatless meals and meaty conversations, I accepted a job offer in Cincinnati. I had only a few weeks to figure out where I would live and, not knowing a soul, I took to the internet to explore what Cincinnati might have to offer in terms of community-driven shared living situations.

My search led me to the Earnshaw Ecohouse. After applying online and interviewing by Skype with the homeowner and one of my future housemates, I happily moved in on a brisk Sunday in February 2015. That night I enjoyed dinner at the Mac House, sister community of the Ecohouse. I still feel very lucky to have had such a warm welcome to the city I still call home.

In most ways, there is nothing extraordinary about what an intentional community tries to achieve. It’s just people living together trying to get more out of life. The common thread that weaves between all the various intentional communities I’ve encountered is that members strive towards a common goal. Whether the goal is something measurable, like off-grid living, or less-so, like the contemplative harmony of a monastery, an intentional community always acknowledges the goodness inherent in people coming together.

Cincinnati is particularly fertile territory for intentional community houses. In Norwood, the recently established Merton House hosts monthly community potlucks and weekly contemplative meditations to live out its values of simplicity and faith exploration. Residents of the Enright Eco-Village in Price Hill connect across multiple homes to cast a wide swath of community health and biodiversity. And the aforementioned houses in Mt. Auburn are home to a crew of the most energetic, generous, and joyfully radical people I’ve met.

I no longer live at the Ecohouse, but I am forever grateful for the unique connection it gave me to the neighborhood of Mount Auburn and for deepening my appreciation of our environment.thumb

Living intentionally can seem like an unresolvable paradox. After all, who ever was born on purpose? But even if life only happens accidentally, community cannot. The houses I’ve mentioned are spaces organized to enrich community, and I see them as microcosms of the larger fabric of this city. I urge you to explore them to see how they work together to achieve great things in small numbers. If we all participate, there’s no reason Cincinnati couldn’t be the world’s first Intentional City!

For more information on the intentional communities mentioned, follow these links:





Should these walls come tumbling down?


At the request of Fran Barrett, an attorney for the owners of the Dennison Hotel (716-718 Main Street), the Historic Conservation Board has postponed a hearing to consider the owner’s request to demolish the historic property.

The Dennison Hotel (constructed 1892) lies within the federally recognized Cincinnati East Manufacturing and Warehouse District, an area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Such a designation already confirms the cultural value of the building and the contribution it makes to Cincinnati’s urban identity.  Claims to the contrary – including the curious assertion that the Dennison is not one of superstar architect Samuel Hannaford’s “important” projects – are as irrelevant to the current debate as they are misguided.

The hearing will judge whether the destruction of this publicly valuable property is appropriate according to the private owner’s request. This is why the request for the demolition argues “financial burden.” Such a request merits a critical eye.

What exactly do “financial burden” and “economic unfeasibility” mean in any demolition request?  These seem very slippery terms that a well-practiced debater can use to shift the focus of the argument. Rather than considering the potential of the structure within a broad economic framework, financial burden arguments can show that current owners have arrived at the conclusion that rehabbing a particular building will not work for them.

Cincinnati.com quotes Barrett in regard to the Dennison project: “There was a very thorough analysis that was done,” Barrett said. “A multitude of uses was sought, each was determined to be economically infeasible.”

Such arguments leave the public, as outsiders and non-specialists, to simply trust their civic identity to the rigor of an investigation sponsored not by a disinterested party but rather by the same people making the demolition request. But what does the public – who has a real stake in the rehabilitation of the property – know of this analysis? Perhaps it was sweeping, active, and conclusive. Perhaps it was narrow and as passive as the verbs used by Mr. Barrett to describe it. No critical eye can blindly accept such claims.

The public must focus on the evidence that is open and accessible to them. They must ask: what has caused owners to declare a 124-year-old property – attractive enough for them to spend $744,431 to acquire – to become economically unfeasible in the span of about two years?

What does the public have to gain and to lose should the demolition get approval? The answers to this question must go beyond the promise of another corporate office building. Why should the public give up an historic piece of their identity for the vague possibility of a hypothetical structure that will most likely require public subsidy?

What does such a verdict imply not only about property developers in Cincinnati but also about the institutional structures in place to manage them? Can and do these institutions rigorously assert and defend public interest and public money? Or do the laws and committees of Cincinnati skew in favor of powerful and rich private interests? Do the current processes and the people who administer them lend legal legitimacy to the very projects which the public relies on them to block?

Much, much more than bricks and mortar are at stake on May 26.

The Dennison and the Myth of the Free Market in Cincinnati

Cranley on preserving the Dennison: ‘I’d rather let the market decide’

That was yesterday’s headline for Chris Wetterich’s article in the Business Courier about Mr. Cranley’s take on the best use for the Dennison Hotel site.

On this particular issue,  I have to admit, I strongly agree with our mayor.

I, too, would rather let the market decide what we build and what we tear down in this town.  But that’s not the way things work.  Laws of supply and demand have absolutely nothing to do with decisions regarding commercial real estate development.


Proposed development for the Dennison site


There hasn’t been a major office building constructed in the last forty years without significant government intervention to override existing market realities.

Take Great American Tower, for instance, the most recent Class A office building completed in Cincinnati.  In order to make that project economically feasible, our local government had to pay for over $65,000,000 of the costs.  The 2,250 space garage.  The pedestrian promenade.  The lobby.  The escalators.  The plaza out front. We also abated the property taxes for over 30 years so Eagle Realty (a Western & Southern subsidiary)  doesn’t have to pay their fair share of the costs of basic services like police and fire.  The city also picked up 47% of the cost to build the 84.51 building now owned by Kroger – and abated the property taxes.

Now the developer of the Dennison site wants us to over-ride existing district protections to destroy an important historic structure well-suited to needs for residential housing, and we’re supposed to do this in order to speculate on the remote chance that  a major corporation might want to move to Cincinnati and bring lots of jobs.  And we’re supposed to believe this in spite of everything we’ve witnessed on a local basis that indicates big corporations are reducing personnel and need less traditional office space – the reason Cincinnati’s Class A vacancy rate is 13.7% versus 7.3%  in Pittsburgh and other comparable cities our size.

Members of the current administration also claim parking is a goldmine and so the city can’t seem to build them fast enough.  Shouldn’t the private sector be more than eager to keep those profits all for themselves without the need for government subsidy if that’s the case?   That is, unless private developers are worried about streetcars, self-driving vehicles and shifts in generational taste like I am.

Yes, Mayor Cranley, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment.  City governments should not interfere in the real estate markets and subject taxpayers to the risks associated with those investments. It’s time to return to business decisions based on logical assumptions about supply and demand.  It’s time for government to leave real estate speculation to the private sector where it belongs.

Going Green in OTR


“We finally did it,” says Janice Liebenberg of completely rehabbing a building in OTR with her husband and daughter. She is quick to add, “And we will NEVER do it again!”

Janice trod a long road to arrive at her urban dream home. She started down the path about sixteen years ago. The new millennium found Janice, originally from South Africa, living in Cincinnati.  She came; she liked what she saw.  “There was already a real energy about the place, and I wanted to be a part of it.”  She met Andy Holzhauser, the man who would become her husband, at a special event at the Contemporary Arts Center.  She finished school and got a job working for Scripps. With plenty of incentive to stick around the Queen City, Janice decided to stay.

In the early part of their relationship, OTR was just becoming a date-night destination. Washington Park was still a gravel pit.  Nonetheless, Janice and Andy came to be a part of the neighborhood. They moved into the Hale-Justis building on East Central Parkway. They welcomed the opening of the first restaurants on Vine Street. Janice became more and more involved in the Cincinnati arts community, serving on the board of the Cincinnati Opera and then switching careers to join the development team at ArtsWave. She and Andy, founder the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, took to walking to work and ditching the car during the week. Life was now in OTR, and the two, now married, decided to make it their permanent home.

11695035_10206600892322523_789611776051402999_nAt the time of their search, the building they fell in love with was part of 3CDC’s ‘Park Haus‘ project.  “Building ‘green’ was our biggest priority,” she says. “We wanted to buy the shell of a building, choose our own architects and be involved in every detail of our house”  Not all of their plans, however, were available through ‘Park Haus.’ After long negotiations with 3CDC the couple entered into purchasing contract as long as they could line up the financing to complete the project.

At this point of the story, however, the home-buying process started to slow down. Although the couple had chosen a property and wanted to move ahead with the development of the property, they were unable to find a bank willing to take the risk of financing an independent project. They schlepped around town to all of the big names, but none of these major players found the idea of financing a small project in an as-yet undeveloped neighborhood particularly attractive.

11017824_10205490386120562_7410382040427050986_nAn accurate appraisal of the project proved to be the greatest obstacle on the course. At the time, single-family homes were an anomaly in the neighborhood, so there were no comparable standards of measure for their project. Appraisers neglected the couple’s development plans and kept producing estimates that reflected the property’s foreclosure cost from years ago.

Janice and Andy finally found a way forward working with Central Bank from Kentucky. A small bank that maintains mortgages in house, the institution was willing to work with the couple, understand their vision, and become a part of it. With the bank, Janice and Andy found an appraiser who helped them think of the property in a new way, not just as a single-family home, but as an apartment building in which their residence occupies the majority of space.

The result of the project, a collaboration with Daniels Homes, is a four-unit building that is LEED Platinum certified. The group earned the certification by making environmental choices from top to bottom – quite literally, since they installed solar panels on the roof. Environmentally responsible choices continue throughout the home. Working together with Greener Stock, they found the greenest materials available, including Marmoleum floors in the bedrooms. “They are made out of flax seed,” notes Janice. “You could probably eat them.” The walnut floors throughout the home come from within five-hundred miles of Cincinnati. Maintaining respect for the past while incorporating the latest environmentally friendly technologies, the complex also boasts competitive state and federal historic tax credits.

Janice and Andy, sitting together with their daughter Olivia, look around their home and sigh with relief. “We’re here, though it was a long time coming.” But they are encouraged by their ordeal and know they can help others endure it. “The point now is for us to share our experience with other people. They should know that it’s possible – that everything is possible: restoring historic property, building green, family life, community engagement. It’s all happening here.”


Artichoke Sprouts Up at Findlay Market


Construction crews are popping up like weeds around OTR. Scaffolding crawls toward the sun and creeps along the walls of the neighborhood’s famous historic Italianate facades. Residents debate whether the new luxury developments that seem to appear almost overnight are choking out the longstanding features of the neighborhood that give the area its unique character and attractive charm.

Thoughtful citizens think of ways to develop the neighborhood that will nurture and support the urban identity of racial and economic diversity that already thrives there. They embrace the historic landscape rather than plough it under in order to plug something more “profitable” into the space. They recognize that OTR is fertile ground that deserves tending.

“We want to complement the market. We’re not here to compete,” say Brad and Karen Hughes, owners of Artichoke: Curated Kitchen Collection, a kitchenware store set to open on Saturday, April 2 at 1824 Elm Street.


Brad and Karen are longtime residents of OTR and active members of the community. “We had decided to open a kitchenware store after we retired, and then we started thinking about where to do it,” says Brad. Retirement seemed like an opportunity to start a new life chapter in a new city. The two have children scattered across the country – a son in San Francisco, another in Houston, others in Portland and Baltimore, so relocation was tempting. “But,” he continues, “ we thought about how much we have invested in the neighborhood, the work we’ve done here, and we realized we wanted to continue to be a part of it.”

Brad and Karen, for example, are founding members of Believe in Cincinnati, the progressive citizen organization responsible for promoting successful public transportation systems in the city. Now owners of a business planted right along the streetcar route, the two have a tax abatement set up to fund directly the operation and maintenance of the system.

1824_front_RenderingOpening a business is never an easy task, and the experience of Brad and Karen is no exception. The two struggled at first to find a location. “The point was never just to open a storefront and work to make money. We’re doing this because we want to add something to the community, and the most logical place to make a contribution of this sort is around Findlay Market,” explains Karen. So the two had to compete against larger development groups that already have multiple projects in the neighborhood just to secure a property. Perseverance and savvy diplomacy finally earned them the nineteenth-century structure located just on the north edge of the market’s parking lot.

The building’s renovation is a mix of thoughtful renovation and clever innovation. Karen, a graphic designer by trade, designed the store’s logo, which is now embedded into the custom Rookwood tiles that pave the Elm Street entrance. A connected stairway tower allows secure access to the two upper-floor apartments, ready for tenants after so many years of vacancy and neglect. Wrap-around decks and a paved easement link the building with its market host, inviting patrons back and forth between the historic structures.


Brad and Karen are ready to welcome shoppers to their new store on Saturday. They look forward to serving a broad range of the community. “We have some very fine French cookware,” they are proud to say. It reflects their philosophy of offering products that are thoughtfully designed and responsibly produced. Such items carry, as one might imagine, a price tag appropriate to their quality. “But we’re here to help everybody. So, we have a wide range of prices and products.” Karen adds, “We want neighborhood kids to come in to the store and know they can find gifts for their parents.”


We’ll see you on Saturday at Findlay, cincyopolis readers!

For more info, check out the facebook page.

Cincinnati’s Transit Revolution

Today’s post is by guest blogger Christine Celsor

One very important element of a world-class city is an effective transit system. Tourists and residents alike need to get around the city without a car. Transit reduces the amount of energy expended on transportation and reduces pollution emissions. The more efficient and effective the transit system is, the better it improves environmental quality, and the better it contributes to Cincinnati’s urban vitality.

The streetcar is an amazing opportunity for Cincinnati. Urbanists who have great visions for the future of the City have won the political battle. The streetcar is a symbol for those who believe that Cincinnati can be one of the best cities in the country. We can attract and retain new talent, by serving the needs of residents of all kinds – including those who can’t or don’t drive.

The streetcar is just the beginning. Its design might be the beginning of a light rail system that provides fast and efficient connections along heavily traveled routes. Imagine being able to hop on a train downtown and get to UC in about ten minutes, without having to worry about parking. The more the rail network expands, the more useful it will be. The streetcar is also re-defining Cincinnati Metro. Cincinnati Metro plans to redesign the exterior of buses to match the streetcar colors to capitalize on the energy from the streetcar.

Cincinnati Metro has great potential to expand its bus system as well. In most areas, bus service provides good coverage. Currently, however, even when people have access to a bus route, the bus does not come very often and does not efficiently connect origins and destinations. People are not very likely to choose the bus if the trip takes two or three times longer to get to their destination than if they would drive. When there is an extensive network of buses that come frequently, people have many options to transfer and get to many different destinations quickly.

The map below shows existing Cincinnati Metro bus service identified by frequency. Red lines represent bus service every 15 minutes; orange every 20-30 minutes; blue every 45 minutes to 1 hour; and yellow is express bus service. This map is not meant to show every route individually, though it could be made into a map that shows both frequency and individual routes. The intent of this map is to give a big picture of Cincinnati Metro’s strengths and weaknesses. Bus service from many neighborhoods to downtown is very good. What is sorely lacking is at least one frequent crosstown route, ideally more than one. Frequent crosstown routes could turn Metro’s system into a much more usable network.


The next two maps show existing employment and existing population density. Employment density is very important in determining where bus routes will be successful in attracting riders. The minimum employment density to support good levels of transit service is about 10 employees per acre (shown in the lightest purple). The medium purple represents 20-30 employees per acre, and the darkest purple represents 30 or more employees per acre.


unnamed-2Population density is also important. Ten-to-twenty persons per acre can support good levels of transit ridership (shown in the lightest yellow), and above twenty persons per acre can support very good levels of transit ridership. The darkest yellow-brown represents 30 or more persons per acre. When areas have high employment and population densities combined, they are very likely to support very good levels of transit.

When a city is designed only for cars, it fails both people and their cars. When a city is designed for people, it ends up working for everyone, including drivers who benefit from reduced traffic and parking congestion. Part of Cincinnati’s transit revolution should include improving bus service. Improving bus service is a cost-effective way to make a big impact on the city’s transit system.

The maps provide some useful big-picture information to start thinking about how we can improve Cincinnati’s bus system. How can we connect our neighborhoods better? How can we connect employment centers with residential neighborhoods? How do we make Metro more user friendly? Coming up with answers to these questions and implementing the solutions will make Cincinnati even better.



Yours and MyCincinnati

Today’s guest blogger is Eddy Kwon, director of MYCincinnati (Music for Youth in Cincinnati)


MYCincinnati is a free, daily, youth orchestra program for children in Price Hill. The program was founded in 2011 on the idea that personal transformation can be achieved through the pursuit of musical excellence. That personal transformation has the potential to uplift families and to change the social fabric of a community. Every student in MYCincinnati has the opportunity to study violin, viola, cello, or double bass and play in an orchestra. Now in its fifth year, MYCincinnati has over eighty young musicians that meet for two hours every weekday in an historic firehouse in East Price Hill. The program consists of orchestra rehearsals, sectionals, private lessons, advanced chamber music, secondary instrument classes, social awareness training, and academic tutoring. MYCincinnati is a program of Price Hill Will, a non-profit comprehensive community development organization.



In the beginning, we had just 11 students, two teachers, a borrowed space, borrowed instruments, and very little money. By necessity, we started small. But that smallness allowed us to dedicate ourselves fully to each of the students and their families, facilitating the growth of a positive, family-oriented culture. When a child missed several days in a row, we called home. When they didn’t answer, we sent Facebook messages. When we didn’t hear from them, we visited their homes. Through persistence and consistency, we developed strong bonds of trust with each of our families. From the beginning, we wanted to make clear that this was about more than learning music. It was about building and strengthening community.

*Video ~ After 5 Weeks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_nzAveh6H8


Music as a Vehicle

MYCincinnati’s approach to music education and youth development is unorthodox and informed by its commitment to community building. First, a vast majority of a student’s musical learning happens in a group setting. From day one, a child is embedded within a group of peers, learning as part of a team. If one student is distracting or disrupting the rehearsal, the entire group waits patiently. Instead of emphasizing punishment, teachers are encouraged to reinforce the positive behavior of students who are excelling in the hope of inspiring surrounding students who may be struggling. It is a long road, but the result – a supportive, positive culture focused on group success – is well worth the daily struggle.

*Video ~ After 1 Year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmrdHZnulCw



I’m so proud of how much we’ve been able to accomplish together over the past four-and-a-half years. MYCincinnati’s students – now numbering over eighty – have performed with the Cincinnati Opera, Maestro John Morris Russell, pianist Awadagin Pratt, Swedish Grammy-nominated songwriter Jens Lekman, and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, among others. We’ve collaborated and partnered with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Cincinnati Symphony, and other diverse cultural institutions. We’ve secured grant funding from major organizations and foundations, including Impact 100, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, ArtsWave, and the L&L Nippert Charitable Foundation, among others. And, of course, we’ve moved into our own space – a beautiful, historic firehouse in the heart of East Price Hill.

*Video ~ After 4 Years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYkhhG8KUu8

Teachers as Community-Embedded Artists

At the core of MYCincinnati’s success is the dedication and drive of its teaching artists. Each teacher brings much more than technical knowledge to the rehearsal – they bring a complete commitment to the growth of each child, immense creativity in pedagogical approach, and a deep love for the neighborhood. It is worth noting that all of MYCincinnati’s staff members live in Price Hill, within walking distance of the program building. We shop at the same Kroger as our students and families, walk to the same parks, and go to the same coffee shop. I can’t run errands in the neighborhood without stopping and chatting with at least one MYCincinnati family. And when I drive down my street to go home, I see MYCincinnati students playing in their yards and sitting on their porches.


Parents as Community Builders

As of now, there are five mothers in the orchestra, attending program daily to learn violin and cello alongside their children. Parents frequently help transport other children to and from the program, and many parents consistently donate snacks. One grandmother has joined the Price Hill Arts Council and is now publishing a book that features Price Hill artists. Almost all parents attend every single concert, connecting with other MYCincinnati parents across traditional barriers of language, race, and class.

MYCincinnati as a Model for Community Building

There is a community building and thriving in Price Hill. This community is diverse, it is connected through music, and it is deeply invested in the health of the neighborhood. Slowly but surely, MYCincinnati’s musicians will become the city’s arts leaders, and their families will be the drivers of growth in Price Hill. It is with their vision and imagination that Price Hill will develop into a strong and vibrant community.


Connect with MYCincinnati online at www.mycincinnatiorchestra.org

or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mycincinnatiorchestra

Contact Eddy at eddy@pricehillwill.org



Price Hill Will Did – And So Can You!

Today’s post is the second in a series by Ken Smith, Executive Director of Price Hill Will

Residents of other communities often ask me about how Price Hill Will was created and how we’ve managed to accomplish as much as we have in a relatively short period of time.  I am always happy to share our story in the hope that it could be beneficial to others.  If we are to succeed at the herculean task of improving neglected neighborhoods, we have to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.  Of course, we are certainly more likely to send out press releases about the latter and hope no one notices the former.

At Price Hill Will, many elements played a role in our success to date.  I will share the ones I think helped us the most.

Community-Engaged Planning

First and foremost, I credit our success with the multi-year process that engaged thousands of residents and led to a comprehensive, asset-based, community-driven plan for Price Hill.  Without that foundation of engagement, we would not have had the needed buy-in from residents, the city, or funders.


The original planning initiative had an amazing steering committee composed of key stakeholders, neighborhood leaders, and concerned residents.  This committee brought their wide range of talents, experience and knowledge to the effort.  They gave the work credibility, both inside and outside the community, and they were able to transcend (or at least hold at bay) much of the neighborhood politics which can quickly doom an idea.  The importance of having key people involved in community efforts cannot be understated.  When Price Hill Will incorporated as an independent organization we were lucky than many members of the steering committee agreed to continue their efforts as our first board of directors.  Over the last 11 years we have been able to recruit dedicated leaders from our neighborhood when we’ve had a board vacancy.

Timing & Funding

Price Hill was chosen to be one of the three original neighborhoods to receive focused, place-based support from a Cincinnati funding initiative called Place Matters, which serendipitously coincided with our founding.  The community already had a strong human services organization, Santa Maria Community Services, but Price Hill Will was in its infancy with minimal staff and no full-time executive director.  In order to be selected as a lead agency for Place Matters, Price Hill Will had to agree to add capacity and expertise, which was exactly what the Place Matters funding allowed us to do!  Price Hill Will was also extremely lucky to receive a significant grant from the city of Cincinnati to begin work on our single-family rehab program called Buy-Improve-Sell.  Those two funding sources, along with support from SC Ministry Foundation, allowed us to get our feet underneath us.  As a result of early and continued successes, we have been rewarded with continued and increased funding opportunities.


Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the staff at Price Hill Will.  We began with just two contracted staff and a few AmeriCorps members.  Today, we have nine full-time and four part-time employees working on housing, economic development, business support, real estate development, community gardening, neighborhood promotion, creative placemaking, and youth development.  We have been very fortunate to attract talented folks who are committed to the mission of the organization. Eight of the 13 employees live in the neighborhood.  Without these dedicated staff members, Price Hill Will could not achieve it mission.

Many communities are seeing similar problems with general disinvestment, crime, social ills and a deteriorating built-environment (public and private).  This commonality presents a tremendous opportunity to learn from our peers and implement best practices.  My fellow community development professionals have been more than willing to share their knowledge with me, and in return, I am happy to assist where I can.  I believe the Cincinnati region could benefit from more interactions amongst the neighborhood leaders, both volunteer and professional.  If you are interested in making your neighborhood (and ultimately the city) a better place, I encourage you to reach out to other people inside and outside your community.  Have a beer, talk about what each of you is doing, find ways to collaborate, and most importantly, build relationships.