Revive Cincinnati: Neighborhoods of the Lower Mill Creek Valley

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio. Midwestern city

The Study

Public and Private Agencies funded this project, a $500,000 design study to begin coordinating the reconstruction of the corridor, sewer improvements, and the revitalization of the several neighborhoods. The purpose of the study is to create a vision for the communities and natural environment of the project area in a public planning process and then to prepare a framework of design initiatives and implementation strategies to coordinate and guide the efforts of the agencies to maximum their benefit.


The Agencies Issues

1.  The interstate highway was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s and must be rebuilt to improve safety and access. The highway has been a mixed blessing: it provides important connections to nearby communities and national access to the downtown area, but it was configured in a way that divided adjacent neighborhoods, limited local access to downtown, and caused economic decline in the corridor.

2.  One of the agencies is under court order to separate storm and sanitary sewage and eliminate infi ltration of sanitary sewage into waterways during storm events. Modifying infrastructure to comply with the consent decree will require billions of dollars in investment.

3.  The client is competing with other cities to attract jobs and investment. The agency would like to improve mobility to those neighborhoods and restore the natural environment along the project area.

The Opportunity: A Livable and Sustainable Future

The three issues represent billions of dollars of investment in the future of this project. They can be planned independently, managed in traditional departmental silos with little mutual benefi t; or coordinated design and implementation programs can benefi t each other and result in a more livable and sustainable future for this project. Fortunately, the agencies have recognized the advantages of coordinating their projects to achieve maximum benefi t for the neighborhoods and environment of this project. Those advantages include shared solutions that save money, the creation of new connections and synergies, environmental restoration, and leveraging infrastructure improvements to attract private investment and economic development.

The Process

To prepare this study and coordinate the participation of many stakeholders and hundreds of citizens throughout the valley and nearby communities, the agencies chose a multidisciplinary team managed by an architecture fi rm. This firm assimilated the feedback and efforts of community organizations, private businesses, environmental organizations, public agencies, and technical experts into a comprehensive and easily understood vision and series of implementation steps. 

The process included meetings with authorities, institutions, stakeholders and neighborhood organizations; public planning charrettes and presentations; and public hearings. The plan was adopted in 2011 and is now the offi cial guide for development of the area.


Response to Charter Principles

The Region: Metropolis, City, and Town

2) The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.

This planning effort is a collaboration of the regional municipal sewer authority, city transportation planners and city planning. This effort represents the federal goal of collaboration between EPA, DOT and HUD to solve complex urban challenges and prepare design initiatives that benefi t multiple agendas and goals.

4) Development patterns should not blur or eradicate the edges of the metropolis. Infill development within existing urban areas conserves environmental resources, economic investment, and social fabric, while reclaiming marginal and abandoned areas. Metropolitan regions should develop strategies to encourage such infill development over peripheral expansion.

This planning effort is located within city boundaries and reclaims old industrial land for new economic development, restores natural watersheds, solves complex infrastructure issues, and revitalizes historic neighborhoods.

6) The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.

Working with residents, local businesses, and community organizations in several separate neighborhoods along the planning corridor, the team designed solutions for infrastructure improvements and new development that reinforce neighborhood redevelopment. 

7) Cities and towns should bring into proximity a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty.

This planning effort is a key component of the city’s economic development strategy. Under-used properties are repositioned for a new technology park, distribution and shipping center, university and hospital growth, and new housing to strengthen the integrity of the historic neighborhoods in the corridor.

8) The physical organization of the region should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.

Investments in transit, streets and trails are a critical component of the corridor plan. Potential routes for multiple transit modes are proposed to connect neighborhoods to employment centers. New street improvements and connections are proposed to improve mobility around four interstate intersections. A comprehensive trail network is proposed along restored watersheds connecting to major city parks.

The Neighborhood, the District, and the Corridor

11) Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.

This study addresses all three urban forms. Neighborhoods are strengthened with land use and infrastructure investments from multiple funding sources. New employment districts are recommended in the valley as major opportunities for institutional and business growth. The corridor ties the neighborhoods together, each sharing a portion of the restored watershed, city arterial roads, rebuilt interstate highways, future transit alignments and new multi-purpose trails.

12) Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.

Redevelopment strategies for the neighborhoods propose a mix of commercial and residential units with emphasis on creating neighborhood centers within easy walking distance of homes. Proposed transit and trail corridors linking the neighborhoods to downtown and uptown will reduce dependency on the automobile.

14 ) Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, can help organize metropolitan structure and revitalize urban centers. In contrast, highway corridors should not displace investment from existing centers.

Our historic neighborhoods, once connected by transit, will again be connected with new transit modes that will lace the city back together. Reconstruction of the interstate intersections will improve access to the neighborhoods and employment centers and improve local mobility. The interstates are here to stay. The challenge is to design them to improve visibility and access for the neighborhoods they serve.

18) A range of parks, from tot-lots and village greens to ballfields and community gardens, should be distributed within neighborhoods. Conservation areas and open lands should be used to define and connect different neighbor- hoods and districts.

Most of the natural character of this ancient watershed was eradicated in the industrial era of the city. Rebuilding the natural watersheds will help the sewer authority manage stormwater fl ow and direct investments that would otherwise be spent underground towards restoration of the open space systems for trails, parks, recreation areas and wildlife.


Lessons Learned

This project is a heavily industrialized corridor packed with regional infrastructure, industrial lands and existing communities. The valley is home to a major railroad corridor and rail yards, existing residential neighborhoods, tired main streets, and industrial property. The creek has been channelized in many places and little open space remains. 

The communities face many challenges:

› Vacant Industrial Land and Buildings

› Poor Street Connections and Limited Accessibility

› Vacant Housing and Storefronts

› Few Parks

› Aging Infrastructure

The communities have strengths as well:

› Close proximity to Downtown and Universities

› Architectural Character and Heritage

› Immediate Access to the Interstate System and 


› Strong Social Organizations and Outreach Programs

› Diversity

The city has a unique and rare opportunity to coordinate a series of major infrastructure investments to dramatically transform the future of the project area.

Key initiatives include:

› Plan with a vision for future generations;

› Improve internal mobility within the city;

› Restore the natural ecology as a means for improving the quality of life;

› Build on the rich heritage and unique communities that exist today; and

› Capitalize on universities and businesses and position them as catalysts for economic growth.

Key Design Professionals
Project Lead
A. Urban Design Associates
Role: Master Planner
Public Process
Sub Consultants
A. DNK Architects
Role: Local Architect
B. Design Workshop
Role: Landscape Architecture
C. RL Record
Role: Civil Engineering
D. Wallace Futures
Role: Sustainable Engineering
E. Robert Charles Lesser & Co
Role: Market Analysis
F. Vehr Communications
Role: Public Relations

A. City of Cincinnati, OH
Department of City Planning & Buildings
B. Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center.
Status: Plan Approved
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Land area (in acres): 180
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency):
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 3900
Parks & green space (in acres):
Project team designers: Urban Design Associates
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -