Not only did Cincinnati’s population decline in total numbers after abandoning its streetcar system, it rapidly declined compared to other cities in the United States as well.
In 1950, a year before the last streetcar stopped running, Cincinnati’s population was ranked 18th, between Minneapolis (17th) and Seattle (19th). By 2007 Cincinnati had fallen to 56th between Anaheim, California and Toledo, Ohio.
The loss of streetcars was not the only factor in Cincinnati’s decline. Simultaneously we demolished countless buildings for parking lots and bulldozed large swaths of the city to build heavily subsidized interstate highways which separated neighborhoods from one another. The result—our population declined while other cities grew.
Reversing this decline will be difficult. We cannot move I-75 or I-71 to reclaim lost neighborhoods like “the Bottoms.” We cannot bring back the buildings that have faced the wrecking ball. But what we can do is make investments that promote growth in the city, not in distant suburbs. We can make investments that re-densify the urban core. Investments that will connect our neighborhoods, create new growth and accelerate development in our city.
Building the Cincinnati Streetcar will help with this endeavor. The Streetcar, in conjunction with “Smart Growth” zoning designed to make walkable neighborhoods and “Complete Streets” programs that encourage seamless integration walking, bicycling, transit, and automobiles will restore much of the lost connectivity and create the kinds of in which neighborhoods people choose to live.
There is no single factor which led to Cincinnati’s decline, and there is no one solution that will solve all the problems. There is no silver bullet. The only thing that is clear is that to sit on our hands and do nothing is unacceptable and will only lead to further decline.
We need put one foot in front of the other and move forward on the long road to return Cincinnati to its former glory. A revitalized Fountain Square, new developments in our neighborhoods, and beginning construction on The Banks are a start. Building the streetcar will take us a few steps further along this path. Support Cincinnati—Build the Streetcar.