Since 1996, Miami University’s Department of Architecture and Interior Design has collaborated closely with community organizations of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in a variety of projects. Much of this work has been through the Over-the-Rhine DesignBuild Studio, which endeavors to advance the social and physical rejuvenation of the neighborhood.
An historic neighborhood adjacent to Cincinnati’s central business district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Over-the-Rhine suffers classic problems of many poor, inner-city neighborhoods. Population decline, homelessness, increased segregation, high rates of unemployment and underemployment, as well as a groundswell of new upscale development characterize the plight faced by the current residents of the neighborhood.
In 1950 approximately 30,000 people resided there, with whites constituting the vast majority (well into the upper nineties as a percentage of the population). Data from the year 2002 shows a population of about 7,600 residents, eighty percent of whom are black. An overwhelming majority of current residents live below the official poverty level for a family of four, and some estimate the median household income for Over-the-Rhine at approximately $10,000/year.
The work of the Over-the-Rhine DesignBuild Studio involves three primary modes of engagement. Our first and primary engagement is the redesign and renovation of the neighborhood’s historic housing stock through a variety of design/build projects. Working collaboratively with Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, a non-profit housing development organization, the Over-the-Rhine DesignBuild Studio donates design and construction skills to help bring the buildings of the neighborhood back into use for low- and moderate-income occupancy.
The Over-the-Rhine DesignBuild Studio also provides, from time to time, schematic design for Over-the-Rhine Community Housing in its proposals for Affordable Housing Tax Credit Financing. This is a federal program, administered by the state of Ohio, where the awarding of financial assistance is partly based upon design quality.
Third but not least has been our general Community Design Initiatives, wherein through participatory approaches we have assisted in articulating a spatial voice with community organizations and residents. Efforts here include the 2004 Cincinnati Freedom Summer Design Charrette for Social Justice; the Washington Park Housing Redevelopment Plan; an Alternative Design for Washington Park itself; and schematic design proposals for the Drop Inn Center and for a new HUD Senior Citizen’s Housing development.
Through all these forms of engagement the intent is always to impact the learning of students and community alike—mutual reciprocity.