Yesterday was a warm sunny day (for a February in Ohio) and a road trip was in order. I decided that a trip to Cincinnati would be fun, and we set off specifically to vist the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood located near Downtown. Approximately 106 miles south of Columbus, a drive to Over-the-Rhine will take you around an hour and half to arrive — weather, traffic and construction permitting.
Similar to German Village, Over-the-Rhine was originally an ethnic settlement of primarily German immigrants who built up the area in the mid 1800s. The area was somewhat limited for development with the Miami and Erie Canal to the south (modern day Central Parkway) and hills approaching from the north. In turn, settlers built upward, with most buildings ranging between three to five stories. Retail shops lined the ground floors with homesteads above.
Today, much of the building stock of Over-the-Rhine remains intact, with some declaring it as the largest intact urban historic district in the entire country. Driving through it yesterday, I was reminded of the French Quarter of New Orleans, portions of Brooklyn, and the Mission District in San Francisco. Certainly, this is a very special place in Ohio, with nothing really comparable in scope and scale to neighborhoods in Cleveland or Columbus.
Like many urban neighborhoods all over the US, Over-the-Rhine suffered from population loss, white flight, and urban decay throughout much of the 20th century. Population of the neighborhood dropped from 44,000 in 1900 to a low of 7,500 in 2000. An effort to preserve and renew the neighborhood is under way by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3cDC for short), a nonprofit governmental corporation that is not unlike the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. 3CDC has developed a long range plan for the neighborhood, worked as a developer on certain projects within OTR, and has also lent money to other private development projects.
We began our day trip at the Taste of Belgium Bistro, located at the corner of Vine and 12th Streets in the “Gateway Quarter” of Over-the-Rhine — a sub-neighborhood that borders Downtown Cincinnati. The Taste of Belgium Bistro opened here just a few months ago, and being familiar with their waffles at the North Market, we were eager to give it a try. You can read our full review by CLICKING HERE.
After lunch, we walked up and down Vine Street, checking out a few of the neighborhood boutiques and peeking into some of the other local restaurants. Much of Vine Street on the southern end of OTR is fairly developed, with new infill buildings sitting happily along side of historic renovations. There are condos advertised for sale, local coffee shops open for business, and many other signs of new life. As you approach Liberty Street to the north, the number of boarded up buildings increases and the neighborhood certainly still shows its grit. To the west you’ll find Washington Park, which is currently under heavy construction with a $42 million renovation that will add two extra acres of park space, an underground parking garage, and better connectivity to Music Hall and other nearby amenities.
A few blocks north of Liberty, you’ll find the historic Findlay Market, a public food-centric shopping place somewhat similar to The North Market in Columbus. Findlay boasts three dozen vendors that range from produce to butchers to prepared foods to specialty groceries. Adjacent to the market building are rows of buildings that line the pedestrian walkways where additional stores and restaurants can be found, giving the area more of a “market district” vibe. Unfortunately, that has not carried very far, as the block surrounding the market has a large number of boarded up and abandoned buildings that can probably seem somewhat intimidating to market customers, keeping them contained to Findlay and its parking lot.
Over-the-Rhine is expected to receive another shot in the arm next year when the new Cincinnati Streetcar opens for ridership in 2013. The route will run from Downtown Cincinnati, north on Main and Elm Streets, and south on Race and Walnut Streets, criss-crossing through OTR to the Findlay Market and back.
If you’re an architecture buff, there’s a lot to like in Over-the-Rhine. If you’re a fan of authentic urban neighborhoods, then there’s also a lot to like here. OTR is simultaneously beautiful and tragic, and can be both awe-inspiring and intimidating. Take a trip down there to experience the amenities that exist today, but be sure to stay mindful of both the historic past of the area as well as what the future will hold for this unique section of Ohio.
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