Sunday, October 03, 1999

Will riverfront be kid-free zone?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The new riverfront will be for adults only. A kid-free zone. At least after dark. Otherwise, the plans unveiled last week surely would have mentioned — in a visionary way — a school. Or some big apartments.

        And I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't pretend it's anything else.

        Right now, the Cincinnati Riverfront Advisory Commission is pretending it is a neighborhood. It is not. It is a district. An entertainment center. A singles complex and pre-retirement village.

Just passing through
        “The Banks,” the commission says, will be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, diverse, pedestrian-friendly urban neighborhood including housing, specialty retail stores, restaurants and entertainment, office and boutique hotel space.

        If you have children, they apparently are hoping you'll walk through, spend your money and go home. Oh, and it might cost you some money before you get there. This is one of those niggling details visionaries don't handle.

        “It looked delightful,” said Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin. “But where do we come up with the money to do it?”

        He knows. We all do.

        “To be competitive,” County Commission President Tom Neyer Jr. said, “that development will require some public subsidy.”

        The advisory panel argues that investing $248 million for streets, parking, utilities, green spaces and a boardwalk with shops and entertainment near the river's edge could bring $600 million in private development. They've said some of the money could come from “unobligated” revenue from the stadium tax.

        Well, all this high finance is simply too much for my poor, little head. But some of the arithmetic is simple. The plans call for 600 to 800 apartments and condos on the waterfront and another 300 to 500 housing units to be built along Third Street. That means at least 900 units and at most 1,300.

        The panel has estimated 1,746 new residents. Obviously, they do not expect these new dwellings to be occupied by two parents with 2.5 children.

The Cincinnati edge
        “We simply must create something that people care about,” said Jack Rouse, who chairs the group. People care about a neighborhood where they can put down roots, Mr. Rouse. They do not care passionately about a singles complex they must desert if they decide to have children. Or an empty nest they will abandon as soon as their IRA finances their move to the golf course.

        Actual neighborhoods thrive on long-term residents. Middle-class people with kids are not leaving the city because they cannot find a parking space. They are leaving because they have children. And however much they love them, they would not like to sleep in the same bedroom with them.

        And they would like to send them to a good — a really, really good public school.

        If we want people to leave the suburbs for downtown — even for an afternoon, if we want them to bring their kids, we might start out by making it attractive for some of them to live there.

        Experts say communities all over the country are working on plans like this one, combining housing, shops, restaurants and office space. As the report points out, “Cleveland has The Flats. Baltimore has Inner Harbor. Denver has LoDo.”

        So, how will ours be any different? What can we offer that many American cities don't? Well, we might learn from our successes. We like families here. Don't we? We think children are part of the landscape — urban or otherwise. Don't we?

        An early rendering of The Banks pictures a guy in a cowboy hat with some kind of urban tote bag. Or maybe his lunch. There was a woman walking her dog. But I didn't see anybody pushing a stroller. Or playing ball or skipping rope.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

ENQUIRER EDITORIAL: Riverfront plan is solid investment in Cincinnati's future