Students Provide Food for Thought in Serving Inner City

Food retail – specialty stores, groceries, supermarkets, mini-marts, convenience stores and outdoor markets – is the basic ingredient in a long-term effort by University of Cincinnati students to build a better city.

Every quarter, teams of UC students gather around their design and research tables in an Over-the-Rhine studio classroom to serve up a menu of ideas that will benefit inner-city neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, East Walnut Hills, Corryville and the East End.  The effort, called The Niehoff Studio, began in the fall of 2002, and each quarter is building on the one before it.

“The Niehoff Studio will last for at least six years.  In the first two years, we’ll continually focus on food in some way.  What solutions can be devised to assure that low-income areas receive the services and goods necessary?  Can we attract new residents to rundown areas with the power of vibrant food retail?  How can suburban superstores be adapted to the inner city with its dense urban context?  There are so many economic, social and cultural implications.  There’s power to be tapped in the buying and sharing of food,” explained Frank Russell, co-leader of The Niehoff Studio and director of UC’s Community Design Center. 

This quarter, 27 urban geography, interior design, planning and architecture students are continuing the work that began last fall.  They will present their latest ideas in an open house from 5-7 p.m. Monday, March 17, in their studio located on the ground floor of the Emery Center, 110 East Central Parkway at Walnut Street.  Their efforts include:

• Focusing on improving the interior design of urban stores to better serve clients and vendors

• Designing supermarkets combined with entertainment functions.  One idea creates a grocery store/bowling alley.

• A survey of all supermarkets, groceries and other food retail in Cincinnati’s inner-city neighborhoods to determine which neighborhoods are underserved.

For instance, planning student David Parish of Warren, Ohio, and a small group of fellow students researched city records and physically canvassed the communities of Avondale, Clifton, Clifton Heights, Corryville, the East End, East Walnut Hills, Evanston, downtown, Fairview Heights, Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams, Over-the-Rhine, Paddock Hills, University Heights and the West End to note every retail food establishment.  They’ve combined this information with these neighborhoods’ demographic information in regard to race, income, age and other factors.  They are creating maps that graphically depict what types of food retail are located in low-income neighborhoods vs. higher income areas.

“Surprisingly, what we’ve found is that higher income areas tend to have fewer food retail overall.  We think that’s due to better access to private transportation, a car, combined with stricter zoning laws in higher income neighborhoods.  We’re finding more convenience stores in the lower-income areas,” explained Parish.

Other students will continue this project next quarter, he added.  “We’re just noting where all the stores are.  Next quarter, they’ll actually go into the stores and find out what’s being sold to better gauge if residents have easy access to all the goods they need,” said Parish.

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Architecture graduate students Jay Blackburn of Fairborn and Mark Siwek of Bartlett, Ill., are continuing work begun last quarter.  They’re furthering designs for an 80,000 square-foot grocery located at Calhoun and Jefferson streets in Corryville.  The pair envision a one-story grocery with 161 spaces of roof parking along with a roof “strip mall” comprised of a drug store, florist, book store, and restaurant. 

Said Siwek, “This could serve as a regional center with good pedestrian access, a children’s playground and a basketball court.”

The Niehoff Studio was launched last fall with a $150,000 gift from UC alumnus and Board of Trustee member H.C. Buck Niehoff as well as additional support from the Kroger Company, 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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