On one hand, this is a bit of bright news. A massive cheerleading effort -- led by city government, local media, some local business interests and a small group of urbanistas -- has paid off with approximately 1,400 people moving into an estimated 600 new and freshly re-habbed residential units. Woo hoo.
Drop in the ocean touted as big news
However, even with that growth, downtown residents account for less than 5 percent of the city's 297,000 residents. That's hardly a trend worth obsessing about. But it gets worse. The new report does not attempt to detail whether these new downtown residents are truly new to the region, or just moves from elsewhere in the city or its many suburbs. This matters because the city is one of the few in the U.S. that charges income tax to non-residents who work inside city borders. It gains nearly no tax advantage from downtown workers moving closer to work.
More importantly, the downtown report does not mention that the city of Cincinnati actually lost about 29,000 people between 2000 and 2010.
Given the vast and serious challenges this city faces in terms of lost population, the 1,400 folks moving downtown is nothing much to crow about. And when you think about the truly massive public investments going into downtown, that growth number seems even less impressive. Tens of millions in public money pumped into the Banks, Fountain Square, Washington Park and more. $200 million to be spent on a streetcar (counting the inevitable stage II to Uptown). For what? 1,400 more residents? Or was it supposed to be about jobs?
Meanwhile 2,000 downtown jobs vanished
The state-of-downtown report does state an employment figure for the downtown workforce: 60,218. But its authors chose not to show any trend info. Understandable -- given that the new figure reflects a LOSS of nearly 2,000 jobs, based on that group's report from a year ago. Nobody seems to be asking why an exodus of jobs occurred despite all that downtown development; despite the completion of the city's newest, tallest building; and despite so many sweetheart tax deals given to would-be tenants of the Banks, various other restaurants and such.
And we won't even discuss the failure of the giant Reds and Bengals stadiums on the job-creation front. There's not enough space on the Internet to detail that disaster.
If you want to contend that comparing this year to last year is shallow, I'd agree. But if you go back into downtown's history, the jobs figure would be even more depressing. In 1990 (did those feel like the good old days at the time?) the CBD workforce was about 82,000. So as of this latest report, downtown jobs in Cincinnati remain down about 27 percent. Yet, city council people keep getting re-elected.
Getting less car-friendly
But hey, as the report states, other signs of life are bleeping a bit stronger downtown. Hotel room rentals are up. That's nice for a few businesses. Attendance at a variety of arts and cultural attractions have bounced back from ugly drops reported in the past couple years. That's also nice.
So, it turns out that despite annoyment about parking costs, overinflated fears of crime, and the occasional street bum, large numbers of people who don't live downtown are, in fact, willing to visit downtown. That's a healthy sign, right? So what's the city's response? Let's make downtown even less car-friendly.
Supposedly, the daily rate to park downtown is modest. But monthly parking rates -- for that dwindling number of workers -- are quite high. They're above national average, higher than Cleveland and Columbus, and on their way higher. The city's new policy to encourage apartment development is to require fewer parking spaces for tenants -- thus pinching the supply of downtown parking. The stated goal of some urbanistas is to make it even more expensive to park downtown -- with the goal of chasing away cars. And to add to the irony, the rising parking rates will be used to pay for a sliver of the streetcar boondoggle -- a train that very few of those commuters will ever be able to use.
I know I'm out-of-step with the urbanista movement. And that's fine. If people want to believe it's cool to live in Cincinnati's version of "big city life," good for them. But why are the 95 percent paying to subsidize this lifestyle for the 5 percenters -- when the city is so utterly failing to take care of the basic, general needs of the overall population?
How can 280,000 voices be so silent?
We have a city that cannot keep its streets paved, cannot afford its (generous) salaries and benefits for city police and firefighters, cannot cover its obligations to city retirees, cannot clear the snow from side streets, and cannot seem to do anything much to blunt to devastation of the foreclosure crisis/residential real estate bust crushing so many city neighborhoods.
Imagine how many semi-historic houses could be rescued, how many other non-so-historic ones could be bought up and torn down for re-development, how many fix-it-up loans could be funded, how many save-me-from-the-bank loans could be offered with the $200 million being wasted on the frivilous streetcar. Well, at $80,000 a house, $200 million outright buys about 2,500 houses -- that's a LOT better than 600 new apartments. And a housing fund doesn't have to simply buy houses.
I "get" why the urbanistas don't care about house owners in uncool places like Sayler Park, Price Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Avondale or various other places. But I don't get how city council gets away with ignoring the neighborhoods. I don't understand why the 280,000 have no voice, but the 13,000 have the city's ear.