Historical evolution of Cincinnati

by Sasha Mahajan


‘Evolution’ can be defined as the gradual advancement related to something, whereas ‘development’ is the process of experiencing change over a period of time. Human settlements have played an important role in the evolution and development of places. Also, human settlements can be treated as a major indicator in mapping the patterns in order to understand the evolution and development at a given geographic location. Exploring that can help to understand how a particular place grew spatially over a period of time.

This study focuses on mapping the patterns of evolution of the city of Cincinnati and its development within Hamilton County, Ohio, taking into consideration the ‘Built Year’ for a structure on a land parcel. Built year indicates the permanent and fixed form of settlement.


The American history of human settlements has a distinct pattern that started with urbanization followed by suburbanization and in the coming future predicted to be re-urbanization. All the rust belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati have experienced this pattern of changes. Prior to World War II, urbanization took place in these cities but Post World War II was the time of suburbanization. During suburbanization, some cities experienced first-ring suburbs: when this first-ring suburbs were saturated, second rings of suburbs arose, eventually making inner cities deserted and non-functional. This was the greatest shift in the history of American human settlements, resulting in many social issues like racial segregation, increased unemployment rate and poverty, lowering the standard of living and decreasing the city’s population.


Problem Statement

The City of Cincinnati has experienced the bourgeoning glory as well as the decline. The decline of the city was accompanied by a shift in population and a change in their housing preferences. The new growth was pushed towards the outer rings of Cincinnati. While moving away from the city, people preferred to live lavish and spaciously in houses; eventually, the number of single family houses increased significantly in the Hamilton County. Such outward growth impacted the market value of property and housing vacancy in the inner areas of the city of Cincinnati.


  • To study and analyze the patterns of evolution and development for the city of Cincinnati extending into the suburbs within the Hamilton County limits.
  • To observe the composition and spatial arrangement of parcels with respect to their land use.
  • To map the suburbanization with respect to time and to identify the peak periods of development.
  • To identify the distribution of total market value for residential properties in the Hamilton County.
  • To analyze the areas with concentrations of vacant housing units in the Hamilton County.
  • To examine if there is any correlation between the built year, the total market value of the property and vacant housing units.

Real world applicability

The analytical study related to the evolution and development of an area can reveal the patterns of human settlements, shift in population, urbanization and suburbanization. The major cities in the United States have experienced those changes making the inner cities less dense. This analytical study can be used by city planners, urban developers and builders to identify those less dense inner cities areas, so that they can be redeveloped, revitalized and re-urbanized. The market value in such declined inner cities areas is observed to be low and the vacancy is higher. Urban developers can take advantage of this situation and work towards a plan with more density in the inner parts of the cities, thus emerging re-urbanization.

Data and data sources

  • Land Parcel, Hamilton County, Civil Boundaries within the Hamilton County, Census tracts and water features shapefiles were acquired from The Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS).
  • Built Year for the buildings on the land parcels was obtained from the University of Cincinnati - Economics Center, who had requested this dataset from the Hamilton County Auditor. The dataset file was of the year 2012 that included information for structure built from 1800 to 2010.
  • Land use and Total Market Value attributes for the buildings taken into consideration were extracted from the Land parcel shapefile from CAGIS.
  • Vacant Housing Units data for the census tracts within the Hamilton County was extracted from the U. S. Census Bureau – American FactFinder. The table that was downloaded for the purpose of analysis was – B25004 VACANCY STATUS (2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates)

Data challenge and constraint

The dataset of ‘Built Year’ for the buildings, obtained from the Hamilton County Auditor had some issues with respect to its records. The dataset did not have information for the majority of the buildings in the city of Cincinnati, especially in and near the downtown regions of Cincinnati. I assume that those missing information records belong to the buildings that might have been torn down to make new structures on the same site. Therefore, the building's information for those old structures that did not match resulted in a significant loss in data. The following image explains the data challenge faced, the white space indicates the missing building records from the Auditor’s data. The analysis was carried with available records from the dataset.


Study Area

The Hamilton County of Ohio was taken into consideration as the study area, in order to analyze the outward growth of Cincinnati city into its surrounding townships and municipal boundaries forming the suburbs.


Aspects like Parcel Land Use, Built Year, Total Market Value for the property and Vacant Housing Units were considered to analyze the impact of urbanization and suburbanization in the Hamilton County.

The land parcel with Congregated Housing and Public Utilities uses were eliminated from the analysis, since the total number of parcels for each of them were considerably low. Then, the analysis was carried out with the rest of the land use parcels.

In order to study the patterns in the evolution of Cincinnati city and development within the Hamilton County, ‘Built Year’ for the buildings was taken into consideration. The dataset from the Hamilton County Auditor has the information for each parcel that has a built structure on it. With the help of Parcel ID, the auditor’s data was joined to land parcels obtained from the CAGIS.

The temporal animation tool from ArcMap was identified as the best tool for the visualization of dataset to depict the evolution of city of Cincinnati and development within the Hamilton County with respect to time. The land use data of parcel and built years were used to develop the animation. This also helped in understanding the dominance of major land uses throughout the Hamilton County. Furthermore, to analyze the peak period of development wherein maximum number of structures were built, the same ‘Built year’ information was used to aggregate the number of structure spanning from the year 1800 to 2010.

The Total Market Value Analysis for the land parcels within the Hamilton County was done with the land parcel data that had an attribute named ‘Total Market‘. Additionally, the vacant housing units’ data from U. S. Census Bureau for the census tracts within the Hamilton County was used to analyze the housing vacancy pattern.


There was a significant urban sprawl in the city of Cincinnati at the time of suburbanization that started from the 1960s. The first ring of suburb can be observed during 1960s, whereas the second ring of suburb started forming in 1980s.


The overall parcel land use pattern is predominantly Single Family Housing that account for approximately 80% of the total land use, followed by the Two Family and Multi Family Housing. The concentration of agricultural land can be seen in the northern and western parts of Hamilton County.

The number of structures built from the year 1800 to 2010 gives an impression about the rate at which the development was happening. There was a significant amount of structures constructed from 1960 to 1990 that were about approximately 100,000 units. Furthermore, after 1990s there was a decline in the construction activity.Timeline_b

The map of Total Market Value of Residential Properties shows the spatial distribution of properties with respect to the market value. Market value for the properties in the city of Cincinnati is low compared to other parts of Hamilton County. Suburbanization can be one of the reasons behind lower total market value in the city of Cincinnati. Properties in the eastern part of Hamilton County have higher Market Value compared to western and central part of Hamilton County.  The market value is higher in Indiana Hill, which is in eastern part of Hamilton County. Spring Grove Cemetery in the Spring Grove Village neighborhood stands out distinctly, as it is one of the properties with the highest market value, maybe because of its larger land area. Also, the graph indicates that the built year for the structures that has the total market value in today’s context. From the graph it can be said that the most expensive properties were built between the years 1920 and 1940.


The map of Vacant Housing Units in the Hamilton County shows spatial distribution of vacant houses with respect to the census tracts. The Crosby Township and major part of Cincinnati city has higher number of vacant houses. Indian Hill, which has expensive residential properties, has a significant amount of vacant houses.



There does exist a correlation between the built year, the total market value of the property and the number of vacant housing units. For the city of Cincinnati, development happened first within the city limits and then sprawled outside the city, which resulted in the structures within the city limits having lower total market value and a higher number of vacant houses.



City of Cincinnati. Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS). 2012. http://cagismaps.hamilton-co.org/cagisportal/mapdata/download (accessed April 29, 2015).

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes. County Auditor On-Line. 2015. http://www.hamiltoncountyauditor.org/ (accessed April 29, 2015).

U.S. Census Bureau . American FactFinder. n.d. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml (accessed April 29, 2015).

Credits of images and video:

Author - Sasha Mahajan

Production of Year - 2015

Title - as mentioned on images


Sasha Mahajan is an architect. Her areas of expertise include Architecture, Urban Planning, Urban Design, Geographic Information Science (GIS) and Economic Development. Currently, she is working as a Research Associate – GIS Analyst at the University of Cincinnati – Economics Center based in the United States of America. Sasha has professional working experience in USA and India.


Enviar comentario

Sin comentarios