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Old Posted Dec 30, 2010, 9:15 AM
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Stunning "old-school" density aerials from Cincinnati

I normally don't like to create one photo threads, but I just discovered this gem tonight, and thought it was too good to keep it to myself.

This aerial photograph of Downtown Cincinnati was taken in the 1920s and shows all of Downtown (before the Carew Tower, and the demolition of "The Bottoms"), most of the West End (before Union Terminal, Laurel Homes, Lincoln Court, and Interstate 75), The southern portion of Over-The-Rhine & Mount Auburn, and the western portion of Mount Adams (before Interstate 71).


Photo from: http://cincinnativiews.net (photographer unknown)

A quick comparison with this photo, and any equivalent aerial view from Google Maps/Bing Maps/Mapquest, etc. will show that the majority what you see was wiped off the face of the earth.
However most of the area of Over-the-Rhine & Prospect Hill (sub-neighborhood of Mt. Auburn) seen in this photo has remained intact.

Most of the West End was obliterated by glorious urban renewal, facilitated in large part by a desire beginning in the 1950s to "clean up" what was referred to as America's "worst slum."
Millions of Federal dollars allowed the city to systemically buy up, and tear down many of the structures, displacing thousands of residents (mostly poor African-Americans - BTW, the West End was long considered to be the heart of Cincinnati's black community).

This urban renewal plan -which consolidated almost a dozen districts in the West End down to two (Queensgate I & Queensgate II) culminated in the construction of I-75 in the early 1960s
- Only in the late 60s did community activism manage to preserve what was left of the West End (most notably part of Dayton Street).

Okay, well because I'm in a good mood...

Here's another aerial view showing a closer view of the central and western portion of the West End from the late 1950s:



(This photo has been making the rounds on the internet for at least 5 years, and I think was originally posted on cincinnati-transit.net.

I believe it was originally scanned from the book: "Cincinnati Then & Now" by Iola Hessler Silberstein, published in 1982)

A nice view of the West End, Over-the-Rhine, and the southern part of Camp Washington, and northern part of Downtown (in the central basin),
along with Clifton Heights, Clifton, Fairview, University Heights, Corryville, Mt. Auburn & Walnut Hills from 1949:


(from: flickr.com/mgsmith)

Mgsmith has posted a gold mine of vintage views of cincinnati on his flickr page. Among them, here are some great color photos showing how much
change can be made in less than a decade - taken from the Carew Tower:

Looking west (towards the southern part of the West End)



Photo taken by Nelson Ronsheim, June 1, 1958
(from flickr.com/mgsmith)

Annnnnnnd after:



Photo taken by Nelson Ronsheim, October 10, 1966
(from flickr.com/mgsmith)

Hooray for urban renewal!

....

Two more interesting before and after shots:

Looking west (towards Mount Adams)-



Photo taken by Nelson Ronsheim, June 1, 1958
(from flickr.com/mgsmith)



Photo taken by Nelson Ronsheim, May 1, 1978
(from flickr.com/mgsmith)

And what the hell - for good measure, a photo taken recently (in miserably overcast weather) - by me:



Hoped you enjoyed trip back (and forward) in time.
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  #2  
Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 6:37 AM
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I missed this!
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Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 7:28 AM
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Amazing density and comparisons.

The freeways that cut through so many American cities are just......I don't know, tragic.
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Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 10:02 AM
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It's a little bit shocking how much Cincinnati's terrain resembles Austin's. It makes for a unique situation to give you an idea of what a really dense West Austin would look like.
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Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 11:59 AM
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KevinfromTexas, at first I was a surprised by your observation. But, going back and looking at the the pics, I see what you mean. Something about the way the river meanders and is in a valley of sorts.
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Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 2:59 PM
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That 1949 aerial. Wow.
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Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 6:58 PM
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Thanks Paradox21 for your appreciation of my grandfather's photographs of the, um, "changes" suffered by Cincinnati over the years. It's really much worse than it looks. Though Cincinnati has been hailed for being one of the first cities to engage in "urban planning", most of said planning has resulted in utter disaster.

For example, Cincinnati's 1925 Official City Plan (available online) called for the area now known as the West End to be converted to railroad shipping and warehousing, and this was to be brought about through a "zoning" process, making Cincinnati (according to the planning document) the first city in the country to institute mandatory zoning regulation.

The reason for this? The city's fear that, lacking adequate land on which to build modern, integrated transshipment and warehousing facilities, the railroads would abandon the city. Yet, even as the plan was being published, railroads were reaching the apex of their success and beginning to be eclipsed by truck transport.

The West End actually survived until the early 1960s--outliving most of the railroads its removal was intended to benefit. By then, the city had come to the realization that freeways were the key to the city's future, not railroads. Accordingly, they planned for I-75 to pass close along the west side of the downtown area, I-71 to pass close along the east side, and a new east-west "distributor" connecting the two just south of third street.

It should have been obvious at the time that placing freeways on three sides of the central business district (cbd) would destroy downtown's integration with the surrounding communities and preclude any future growth of the cbd. In their narrowly-focused effort to facilitate automobile traffic in and out of the city, they nearly destroyed the reason why the autos were headed there in the first place!

Moreover, the freeways, as originally envisioned, were two, or at most, three lanes in each direction. As freeway traffic rose over subsequent decades, so did demand for widening and expanding them, especially from those traveling through the area on I-75 (as opposed to commuters headed to the cbd).

The ever-growing freeways (and their associated ramps and connectors) gobbled up more and more of the surrounding industrial and residential areas, isolating the city even further. Each expansion of the freeway was accompanied by increases in traffic (as well as noise and dirt), most of which was passing through, rather than terminating in the cbd.

The West End gets most of the attention with regard to this problem, but other areas of the city have suffered just as much. In the photo comparison below from 1949 and 2007, the progressive carving away of Mt. Adams may be seen. What was once a gentle slope with diverse businesses, schools and residences has been completely removed. In its place is I-71 and a tangle of freeway ramps. What's left of the lower portion of Mt. Adams has been replaced by a massive retaining wall (without which, most of Mt. Adams would have ended up on Eggleston Avenue after a heavy rain).


http://www.flickr.com/photos/michael...7622910067110/

As a consequence of freeway expansion, removal of streets, schools and business, and general destruction of the neighborhood, nearly all of the buildings which stood on what remained of the west-facing side of lower Mt. Adams were eventually abandoned and demolished (Oregon, Baum and Kilgour Streets).

In the photos below from 1958 and 2010, the degree to which the freeway has replaced businesses and homes is clear. Worst of all, the sweeping freeway ramps responsible for much of the land grab handle through traffic heading to I-75 north from I-471, rather than commuters heading in to the city. So in effect, a big chunk of eastern downtown and lower Mt Adams was sacrificed for the benefit of motorists passing through the area, saving them--at best--a few minutes compared to alternate routes.


http://www.flickr.com/photos/michael...7622910067110/

Last edited by MichaelGSmith; Jan 7, 2011 at 1:19 PM.
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Old Posted Jan 6, 2011, 8:22 PM
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Welcome and your grandfather is a hero!
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Old Posted Jan 7, 2011, 8:48 AM
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Wow. It was so much more fine-grained back then.
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Old Posted Jan 10, 2011, 5:54 PM
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Wow indeed. Those old photos are solid gold!
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Old Posted Jan 11, 2011, 11:35 PM
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@MichaelGSmith: I should first thank you for not only for taking the time to respond, but carefully preserving, scanning, and meticulously cataloging, and uploading these images online for all to enjoy. Your grandfather is truly a talented treasure.

Also, I did not know about the concerted effort in 1925 to …uh…redevelop the West End into railyard and warehouse space through zoning until I was enlightened by your post (I’m more familiar with the 1948 master plan than the 1925 plan). It is fascinating (albeit, in a horrifying way) to hear about the specious rationale used to justify the forced transfer of private property to private companies or government entities –particularly before the historic preservation movement really took off in this country in the 1960s.

I’m glad that you highlighted the fact that the cannibalism of the eastern portion of downtown and southern Mount Adams for a series of concrete ribbons was an unnecessary decision that did far more for commuters passing through the city, than it ever did for commuters heading into the city. The placid, seamless transition from Downtown to Mount Adams erased by urban renewal is too often overlooked by those (like myself) who are still too dumbstruck by the loss of the West End to stop talking about it.

Generally speaking, as far as American cities go, Cincinnati was somewhat lucky in the sense that it did not experience the same wholesale destruction in its core that other cities did (Look to Columbus and Louisville for nearby textbook examples of that). Yet, after looking at these pictures, I can’t help but wonder what could have been.

Sometimes, I think that preserving (and rehabilitating!) these thousands of lost structures could have had a bigger positive impact on the character and growth potential of the city than the completion of the unfinished subway.
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2011, 12:12 AM
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@Paradox21: You kind comments are very much appreciated.

Recently, citizens have become more militant in resisting eminent domain when the reason for government taking of property is not clearly vital to the public's well being. That kind of resistance might have benefited Cincinnati greatly in the past.

Nevertheless, I understand that there is a move afoot to chop off part of McMillan and McMicken Streets to expand and rework the Western Hills Viaduct. Doing so will certainly end up reducing this area to the same, sad condition as the western slope of Mt. Adams.

As for the subway, even at the time the city began construction, numerous studies predicted that the subway system would not increase the number of commuters taking public transportation. Riders would be cannibalized from other public transportation--buses, trolleys--and those systems would be bankrupted.

But just like today's "high speed rail", it was a shovel-ready project that had reasons for proceeding other than transportation. In the end, the subway was abandoned as an indirect consequence of the damage being caused to buildings by pile drivers and other ground-shaking, subway construction equipment. The cost to repair the damage was escalating faster than the city's ability to raise money, so quitting the project was the only way to avoid bankrupting the city.
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2011, 8:21 AM
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Wow, Cincinnati got utterly destroyed by that highway, what a terrible shame. It looked like it once had the density of a Philly or St. Louis. Im sure some sections of the city are still well preserved though?
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2011, 3:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by photolitherland View Post
Wow, Cincinnati got utterly destroyed by that highway, what a terrible shame. It looked like it once had the density of a Philly or St. Louis. Im sure some sections of the city are still well preserved though?
Density is still there in many of the neighborhoods, particularly the basin. Cincinnati was the second densest city outside of New York in the early 1800's and retains many of those structures northwest of downtown.
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2011, 5:39 PM
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I always loved the industrial grit of the Queensgate area, and am beyond shocked that it looked even denser before 75 plowed through there in the late 1950s.

Had no idea the base of Mount Adams was that dense before 71/471 came through, either. Fantastic finds all around
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Old Posted Jan 12, 2011, 6:37 PM
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In the name of progress?? That bottom of Mt Adams is shocking.
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2011, 12:28 AM
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Just looked at the city on google streetview and wow, I had no idea. It looks like a lot of the city is still well preserved south of downtown across the river. And lots of the north east parts and some other sections are still in good shape. Dont know how run down the neighborhoods are but they looked pretty decent overall. I would have never in a million years thought Cincinnati had good urban fabric hanging around.

What happened to Mt. Adams is simply depressing, it looks like it would have been an incredible area sitting on that steep hill like that. At least at the top of the hill that neighborhood is still intact. Fucking highways. I wish I had a time machine, Id go back and kick the shit out of those asshole urban planners back in the 40s-70s, they deserve to be locked up for crimes against humanity.
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2011, 10:51 PM
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It seems that city government has grown less enlightened over time. The following quote comes from the city's 1925 Official Plan of the City of Cincinnati, the section entitled "Housing Problem":
"...the housing situation, so far as wage earners are concerned, is more pressing than it has been at any time in the past. and there are fewer vacancies, more bad housing conditions and a far greater degree of room overcrowding. while tenement rentals are growing higher. The problem has become so acute that social agencies are stating that housing conditions are making it impossible for them to provide anything like a satisfactory solution of the family problems which they are attempting to adjust. The colored population is continuing to Increase fairly rapidly, while the number of houses in which they may live is remaining stationary. Nearly 3,500 new colored people have come into Cincinnati since 1920. This is bound to remain a problem for several decades to come.

"The west end of the "Basin" [is] where the majority of colored people live. In the west end, the oldest and more unsanitary tenements are occupied by colored people, where they often live six, seven, eight and even twelve people in a single room. These slum conditions could be much improved if the City had available even normal means for their control. Rentals have more than doubled since 1918. At least one-quarter of the average annual income per family is used for rent.

"Ten per cent of all the dwellings in the city are tenements and 30 per cent of the total population lives in tenements. This is a large proportion as cities go. Eighty per cent of all the tenements are in the "Basin." Fortunately from the standpoint of sanitation, the population of the "Basin" is decreasing about two per cent per year, due to their being forced out by the spread of industry and business. However, for the last two years this decrease has been counteracted by the unusual influx of colored people.

"The only way in which the housing shortage can be substantially relieved is by producing more homes. Single-family houses can not be built to sell for less than $5,000, including the land. [Due to their high cost] the construction of single-family houses can not meet the needs of the mass of the colored population and the white low-wage earners.

"The four-family house, and still more, the row type of house is the cheapest type today. The row type of house would be two stories high, with one four-room flat in each story. It costs about $3,750 per four-room flat, but even this type of apartment is beyond the means of the vast majority of colored families and a great many white wage earners. Therefore, it is obvious that new houses can not be built directly for wage earners, and that the only way housing accommodations ran be provided for them is by relieving the pressure higher up. In other words, as fast as the families in better circumstances move out of the older tenements and houses, they will become available for housing the lower wage earners. This means that it is not feasible now to give any consideration as a part of the City Plan to providing housing for low-wage earners, and that attention should be concentrated now on the amelioration of living conditions in the older parts of the town by zoning protection and by provision of parks, playgrounds, community centers, and open spaces." (p. 51)
The authors of this report ran the numbers and realized that the city cannot solve the housing problems of the poor, because the poor could not afford to purchase the housing units which might be built for them. On the other hand, promoting home construction for those who could afford to purchase new homes, would result in an increase in the number of reasonably priced, previously-owned housing units.

Nevertheless, the Laurel Homes project, which the City's web site says was "the second largest Public Works Administration public housing project in the country", was built just a short time later. Why? The ink on the 1925 Plan was barely dry, yet it's conclusions where being utterly disregarded. Apparently, it is permissible to disregard economic reality when the federal government is footing the bill, and nearly all Public Works Projects were (are) federally funded.

Though the few remaining buildings from the Laurel Homes project are labeled "historic", the project was not a success. It "negatively altered the physical and social fabric of the neighborhood" and "lead to the West End's demise" according to, among others, the Growth Management Institute.

Have we learned from the mistakes of the past? This article from the December 7, 2003 edition of the Austin Business Journal suggests not.
"Four years ago, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) won a $35 million Hope VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish Laurel Homes (Cincinnati's oldest--and arguably worst--public housing project) and rebuild it as a mixed-income neighborhood.

"Three years after breaking ground on the project, CMHA is at least two years behind schedule and somewhere between $12 million and $24 million over its initial $176 million budget.

"Would-be home buyers have had deposits returned because the project's master developer, The Community Builders, couldn't keep pace with demand. At the same time, some 60 market-rate apartment units, finished this summer, stand empty. So does 20,000 square feet of retail space built along Linn Street."
And from the December 2, 2010 edition of nky.com:
"Federal public housing officials will be in town Friday to tour financially troubled City West - the $200 million West End community that once aspired to be a national model for mixed-income living.

"Today, however, the community's developer and manager Boston-based The Community Builders Inc. (TCB) is in default on four of seven outstanding loans. PNC Bank, trustee for local lender Cincinnati Development Fund, has filed foreclosure on three of those loans valued in excess of $5.7 million.

"And in the latest financial tangle, TCB claims City West is missing out on as much as $1 million each year from the local public housing authority that could go to improve the community and build a reserve operating fund.

"The mixed-income, mixed-use community replaced two of Cincinnati's largest public housing communities, Lincoln Court and Laurel Homes, starting in the late 1990s.

"The development was the result of Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority receiving two federal HOPE VI grants, a program aimed at reshaping the nation's delivery of public housing assistance. It includes about 320 market-rate apartments and 366 apartments that receive federal housing subsidy."
Question: would we be better off, or worse off, if the city and federal government had heeded the advice of the 1925 Plan and not gotten involved in "providing housing for low-wage earners"?
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2011, 5:29 AM
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Amazing content.

Dammit, I hate boxy modernism and what it did to our great old cities at street level.

The loss of urban fabric between downtown and Mt. Adams is tragic.
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2011, 5:37 AM
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Amazing and tragic.
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