THEY MAY VARY SOMEWHAT IN every city, but “The Projects” are always easily recognizable and definable: dour, anonymous, identical multistory buildings, separated from other neighborhoods by what seems like no-man's land. That's what stood for 70 years on 34 acres near downtown Cincinnati before the City West Revitalization project began.

“You'd drive by and say, ‘This is public housing. This is where poor people live,' ” says John Torti, president of Torti Gallas and Partners, the firm that designed City West.

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A public/private partnership, City West took three old “super-blocks” that isolated residents from the surrounding city, broke them into 14 residential blocks, and lined the new streets with a variety of housing types. The mixture of low-income, affordable, and market-rate housing gave long-time residents new living options and attracted new residents.

Architect Lawrence V. Antoine Jr. of Torti Gallas describes the architecture as “Victorian Cincinnati,” a style common to the city's west end. Individual housing units are delineated by a mixture of flat, pitched, and mansard roof massings, as well as alternating stone, brick, and frame cladding. Italianate and Second Empire influences are seen in elaborate bracketed cornices, pre-cast, hooded window and door surrounds, and copper-roofed dormers.

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The revitalized neighborhood preserved a semicircle of mature trees in a crescent-shaped park, part of seven acres of green space and ballfields. Buildings on the existing major north-south street feature ground-level retail; a 5,000-square-foot community center ties that thoroughfare to the major east-west residential street. A traffic circle at the project's center, landscaped and crowned with a fountain, connects the new neighborhood to the larger community and city, yet discourages high-speed, cut-through traffic, Antoine says.

With this return to a traditional streetscape, Antoine says he hopes Cincinnatians 70 years from now will drive by and see what continues to be a vibrant, livable neighborhood.

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Category: Attached/Townhouse community; Entrant/ Architect/Land planner: Torti Gallas and Partners, Silver Spring, Md.; Builder: D.A.G. Construction, Cincinnati; Developer: The Community Builders, Cincinnati; Architect of record: Glaser Works, Cincinnati; Landscape architect: Vivian Llambi & Associates, Cincinnati

A PLUG FOR PARTNERSHIPS City West Revitalization is a Hope VI project that uses federal grants as seed money to revamp a public housing neighborhood. One secret to the success of this public/ private effort, according to Torti Gallas and Partners president John Torti, was the engagement of citizens, city officials, and the housing authority in the development process. To achieve community buy-in, planners hosted two week-long public charrettes. Informal “drop-in” sessions gave residents and other stakeholders the opportunity to voice their opinions on the overall neighborhood design as it took shape, as well as on individual housing types. These casual sounding board sessions were punctuated by more-formal public presentations and discussions, creating a continuous feedback loop.