The State of Sustainability in Cincinnati

April 10, 2018 2:32 PM | Anonymous member

Source: Green Cincinnati News, Chuck Lohre

Sustainability in Cincinnati has come a long way since 2002 when they received the results of an urban renewal report: 1. Establish a bridge fund to renovate OTR buildings for families, 2. Renovate Washington Park, and 3. Build a streetcar. 

16 years later we are reaping the benefits of the implementation of those suggestions.

Thanks to the Fortune 500 companies in downtown Cincinnati for contributing to the "Bank" that would lend money to those that wanted to rebuild in OTR but couldn't get a loan. Traditional banks could find no comparables so no loan. Even in 2014 one homeowner at the corner of 14th and Elm Streets went to 46 banks seeking a loan to renovate a 1800s building into three units. It got LEED Platinum in 2017.


Sadly in 2011, I witnessed a police car run over and kill a homeless person that lived in Washington Park. I saw it from my second floor window looking south over the park from 14th Street. The park was a wonderful place for the homeless although it also it had the highest crime rate in the city. Since the homeless shelter moved to Central Parkway and all the other improvements, the park really has become a center piece for the neighborhood and a magnet for dogs, kids and moms. 

You would think that they paved the streetcar route with gold based on all the development at every building. I have never seen such growth. Others might poo, poo the cost but the streetcar saved one of the most incredible architectural treasures in the world. The city of Cincinnati was built in 1850s as a walkable neighborhood with cisterns under the sidewalks and ideal three brick thick thermal masses.


The start of the sustainable growth in Cincinnati really took off with the administrations of Roxanne Qualls and Mark Mallory. They re-established the office of Environmental Quality and the tax abatement for building LEED in the city. 

At the same time the new USGBC Chapter joined with Ginny Fraizer to make the new Cincinnati Schools LEED. Ginny has a severe allergy to chemicals and could;t work in the first new schools. Contrary to popular belief "New Car Smell" is carsenigenic as well as stinky carpet. All the school building taught the local architects and contractors how to build LEED. But besides the new "Net Zero" Police Station on the west side, designed by Emersion Design, there are few other advancements in commercial sustainable construction. One big exception is the Cincinnati Zoo's Living Building Challenge African painted Dog House. We are very fortunate to have such an example of the future right here in the mid-west. You would have to go to Seattle, Pittsburg or Napa Valley to see another. Living Building Challenge buildings don't have a foot print. It's like they are a spaceship that landed on another planet, improving the environment. No combustion, no waste, no water use, no nothing. 


My 800 square foot LEED Platinum office on 14th St. is an example of doing sustainability on a shoe string. Total cost was $9500: $3000 for USGBC fees, $3000 for materials and $3500 for a fun but unnecessary settle stove to demonstrate a renewable energy source. In contract to the Living Building Challenge, the USGBC considers pellets made from sawdust or agricultural waste renewable.

And that brings me to what I want to have you take away from this presenation. It's not expensive to be sustainable. In fact, it always saves money and is more healthy. The city's leading clearing house for sustainability is the Green Umbrella. Started in 2004 by Brewster Rhoades, it now has over 200 member organizations and hundreds of individuals that get together every first Thursday at a local watering hole. I encourage you to join one of their Action Teams: Energy, Water, Waste, Outdoor Spaces, Food, Transportation and the Built Environment. Their success is based on "Measurable Environmental Improvement" just like LEED. It a language that just about everyone can agree on and foundations can contribute to.

And sustainability can pay you in the city of Cincinnati. For a $500,000 home the tax abatement offered will garner you about $40,000. That's more than enough to cover the LEED fees and minor upgrades required. Plus you'll get a third party inspected home that proves it's built to premium standards. The local chapter o the USGBC has a very successful series of Green Home tours every year since 2014. There you will learn from the homeowners how they did it and how they love it all the way to the bank.


One of the largest Action Teams of the Green Umbrella is the Food Team. Partnering with the Civic Garden Center which has over 50 neighborhood gardens, and local farmer markets; there are hundreds of volunteers and grass root organizations working to eliminate "Food Deserts;' and "Food Waste." The theme of the Greater Cincinnati Earth Day April 21, 2018, at Summit Park in Blue Ash will have four presentations on Food Waste, what it means and what you can do about it. The next day in Washington Park, another Earth Day event will allow you to recycle many hard-to-recycle items like electronic waste, fluorescent light bulbs, cell phones, and batteries.

So get involved, share your accomplishments and ideas at the next Green Drinks.

Read more in Green Cincinnati News.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software