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New UC Series Commits to Urban Neighborhoods:
The Heights, Over-the-Rhine Feed Off Creative Forces

Date: Oct. 28, 2002
Story by: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Archive: General News

Cincinnati - The curriculum is community outreach and community transformation for a challenging, long-term series of design studios just begun at the University of Cincinnati.

Called The Niehoff Studio at UC, the new program draws upon the talents of UC's students and faculty to resolve the most pressing needs of the university's urban neighbors. So strong is the community focus that this design classroom recently moved off campus into the area where downtown and Over-the-Rhine meet.

The first initiative of The Niehoff Studio, named for UC Board of Trustees member H.C. Buck Niehoff who helped to make this effort possible, focuses on issues involving food service, outdoor markets, groceries and supermarkets in the inner city. What solutions can be devised to assure that current residents receive the services and goods they need? Is it possible to attract new residents and revive rundown areas with the power of vibrant food retail?

"The urban context is dense. There's no room for superstores, so how do we adapt superstores to the inner city? Food retail is so important, because the shopping for and sharing of food has enormous social and economic implications. We collaborate and connect over food," explained Frank Russell, director of UC's Community Design Center, who will co-lead The Niehoff Studio for at least the next two years.

Other studio leaders from UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) involved this quarter are Jeff Tilman, assistant professor of architecture; Menelaos Triantafillou, visiting associate professor of planning; Udo Greinacher, associate professor of architecture; and Architect Frances Halsband, visiting studio critic from R.M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects, New York. Kroger is serving as a corporate partner this year.

Russell continued with emphasis, "If food isn't available, that will keep people from moving into an urban area. Food is a valued tool for keeping the inner city fresh and vibrant, for restoring it."

Currently, The Niehoff Studio comes together from 1-5 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, on the first floor of the Emery Center, Central Parkway and Walnut Street. There, the DAAP master's level students, routinely ranked among the world's best by professional designers, are already serving up solid, practical, ideas. Click here to listen in as student Chris Cannel describes the challenge of the project courtesy of an interview on WVXU-FM.

The students' overall ideas include:

  • a market hall that would be partially outdoors in the summer with all the produce and other goods that shoppers want to touch, see and smell for themselves;

  • a multi-story market with space for dining, play and other words, "a space for all those who are dragged along for shopping but don't really want to be there," said architecture student Mark Siwek;

  • a two-story grocery with roof space for a summer outdoor market or outdoor café

  • an L-shaped grocery divided into six sections. Each section could serve as a stand-alone independent, specialty shop or the complex could serve as a unified whole for the bulk shopper;

  • an underground superstore that would also scale down parking problems.

    These concepts could be applied anywhere, in any land-locked, urban location where space is at a premium. And all the ideas are undergoing rigorous critiques. For example, the underground superstore was praised by planning faculty Menelaos Triantifillou. "It's not uncommon in Europe," he said, "To have a tiny entrance to a store on street level and then to go down to a tremendous space." On the other hand, architect Udo Greinacher questioned whether Americans would consider that such a store had sufficient visibility.

    This kind of creativity and debate is just what Buck Niehoff sought in sponsoring the studio. He explained, "Specifically, I want this studio to inspire ideas for developers, business people, everyone downtown, to make downtown more vibrant so that we can better see the value of urban living. We need to get planners, architects, real estate professionals, lawyers, and sociologists all involved in urban issues. Urban living is so important for people. Americans have forgotten how to live in cities...We have to re-educate ourselves about the value of urban life for the human spirit."

    While The Niehoff Studio at UC will spend this year focusing on food retail in University Heights, it isn't limited to just this one topic nor to the short term. For the next two years, students will gather every quarter to examine and refine what best fits the nuances of Cincinnati's neighborhoods in terms of setting a food plan. In the future, the studio - which will run for at least six years - will include a wide array of UC students from a variety of disciplines to tackle other fundamental challenges on behalf of the city.

    The ongoing studio series was launched by a $150,000 gift from Niehoff as well as additional support from Kroger, UC's Community Design Center, UC's Institute for Community Partnerships, UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences and UC's College of Education.

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