Mayor Mark Mallory on How Smart Growth Helped Turn Cincinnati Around

About seven years ago, when Mayor Mark Mallory came on the scene, Cincinnati was at a low point. To convince the crowd at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City last week of the gravity of the situation, Mallory started off with a story about livestock.

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory helped turn around his city's downtown by getting more eyes on the street. Image: Indianapolis Recorder

A little before Mallory was elected, a cow escaped from a city slaughterhouse. (Cincinnati, a historic meat-packing city, was once known informally as Porkopolis.) A search was launched, with police helicopters scouring the city. “They looked for the cow for 11 days,” Mallory said. “This was a sad period of Cincinnati. We just couldn’t do things right.”

The cow anecdote (which Cincinnati officials assure us is true) was actually a gentle way of putting it.

In 2001, four years before Mallory took office, incidents of police brutality led to upheaval in the streets on the city’s north side. The Cincinnati riots, which continued for four days, were reportedly the largest in the United States since the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King verdict.

For a long time that period clouded the city’s national reputation. But more and more, Cincinnati is seen as a promising urban comeback story. And Mallory — a strong proponent of walkable development — credits smart growth principles for the turnaround.

“Cincinnati’s like a lot of cities around the country,” he told the conference. “We saw our best times from around the turn of the century to the 1960s. Then, like a lot of cities, we saw a period of decline. We languished for decades. Our biggest problem in Cincinnati is that we had lost our way. We had forgotten what it was like to be a progressive city. We’d forgotten what it was like to be on the cutting edge.”

“I set out to change the way we did business in Cincinnati,” he said. “You have to have dynamic leadership.”

As mayor, Mallory began by addressing the real and perceived crime problem. He added police officers to the street, and he also tried to get more regular people, not just cops, back on the sidewalks. One thing Mallory has done during his two terms is to tear down the city’s enclosed skywalks, one by one.

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