Other City Sidewalks: Cincinnati, Ohio

[The view of the vast Ohio River from the Taylor Southgate bridge, with Cincinnati's stadium-encrusted waterfront on the right, and Covington, Kentucky off in the distance.]

Of all places I have walked, Cincinnati has the saddest sidewalks in the world. I’ve never felt such pangs of regret, of tragedy, of missed opportunities than walking the streets of Cincinnati last summer. It’s one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to digest my experience there, part of my last summer’s Amtrak trip through Chicago, DC, Savannah, Durham, and New London.

I was in Cincinnati for a friend’s wedding, staying in a nice hotel downtown, and my first reaction to the new place, after stepping out of the wonderful train station, was how similar the city seemed to my Twin City hometowns. Cincinnati, like the Twin Cities, is an old Midwestern river city that was extensively modernized during the 50s and 60s, and serves as a regional hub, boasting of local pride. The population of Cincinnati is just above Saint Paul’s, and just below Minneapolis’s. And, just like locals love mentioning Garisson Keillor, anyone from Cincinnati will tell you to try the skyline chili, a local mix of spaghetti, chili, oyster crackers, and tons and tons of shredded cheese. Similarly, the city’s slogan – “The Queen city” – is everywhere, as are barges and paddleboats and bridges and fans of the local baseball team. (Not only that, but the Twins and the Reds have long been joined in a kind of vampiric symbiosis, as their two General Managers had worked together and arranged a great many trades for some of the most mediocre players in the majors, like Kyle Loshe and Luis Rivas. [shudder])

There is, too, a similar sort of backwardness. Mark Twain allegedly quipped, ’When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.” (And that was 120 years ago!) The same could certainly be said of Saint Paul, and in either place you get a provincial feeling of a place on the edge – for Cincinnati, the Ohio River marks the edge of the North and the great South, and the TC sits on the edge of the East and the West, with nothing between here and the Pacific Ocean save Butte, Montana.

[Just like in Minneapolis, Cincinnati has one of these sidewalk-eating parking ramps that sticks its little tongue out into the middle of the walkway and laps up cars, forcing people to walk underneath a concrete tunnel.]

If they are similar, though, Cincinnati seems to me a Twilight Zone version of the Twin Cities where everything urban has gone wrong. When I did some research on the city before going there, everything said that I needed to get to Fountain Square, which was the heart of the downtown. It was most disappointing. The fountain had been moved and de-centered a few years back, and today it lays surrounded by a desert of poured concrete, hemmed in by the tall dull facades of bland office buildings. There was an occasional group of people hanging around it the fountain, but it largely had the feel the many lifeless institutional modernist plazas that dot the landscape of American cities like measles (e.g. Hennepin County Gov’t center, which is actually far more lively than Fountain Square).

[Three views of fountain square, one of them flattering. The fountain is very nice, though. It spouts water in all sorts of ways from a great variety of cast iron figurines. One of my great problems with Fountain Square is that its not demarcated; its almost as if the street extends right into the middle of the square, and you can easily imagine some dude in an SUV just driving all over this piece of pedestrian pavement. It compares quite unfavorably to Saint Paul's Rice Park, for example.]

The city was apparently trying to liven up its square. They were hosting events, and had installed a giant rectangular TV screen above the facing Macy’s. The screen was largely illegible during the daytime, and screened a constant ‘big brother’ feed of the square, as if to say “you’re being watched.” But during the evenings, they were using the screen to show movies to the public, and I guess it’d be fun to watch a film there if you enjoy the visual experience of a drive through. It's certainly an attempt to move in the right direction, to recreate some life on the city's sidewalks, even if a few neck-craning details had been overlooked. But Fountain Square was far too institutional and alienating for me, even though the fountain itself is very nice.

[A scene that will be familiar to any Twin Citian: a map and skyway, only here it lurks in a city that doesn't even have winter to speak of.]

Cincinnati is also one of the few cities in America, save for our very fine Twin Cities, that can boast of a skyway system. I’ve often complained (and I will again) that our skyways are a soul-sucking blight on our downtowns, feature the worst kind of public space, and represent not just a stratified class system but reinforce a veritable fear of the out-of-doors, but at the very least we have a dozen or so cold winter days to justify these lifeless bridges between buildings. In Cincinnati, they don’t even have snow! It might be a bit hot, climate-wise, but if you ever want to see a place whose streets have been destroyed by skyways, go to Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s like an entire downtown of nothing but Town Squares and City Centre’s, Galtier Plazas and Pillsbury HQ’s. Most of the office buildings host interior atria, like this one in the gargantuan Westin Hotel,* where everything closes at 5 pm and boasts all the ambience of a high school swimming pool.

[Aaah, the pleasant experience of walking to the riverfront.]

Cincinnati also has a legacy of terrible freeway placement, and auto-oriented streets. The interstate, I -71, runs directly between the downtown and the Ohio River, which, quite frankly, kicks the Mississippi’s butt when it comes to being a large, impressive river. (Our river might have a nice name, but it carries less water than the Minnesota, Missouri, Saint Croix, or Ohio…) And the large freeway makes it difficult, unpleasant, and boring to actually try and walk down to the riverbanks, to attempt to enjoy the wide muddy vistas between Ohio and Kentucky. The freeway in the way means that anyone trying to find the water has to explore the undersides of massive overpasses, spelunking along sidewalks that run under cars, along mesh fences. The riverfront itself is concrete, and there’s not much down there except the two massive stadiums that the city has no doubt subsidized to the gills, and a museum devoted to the African-American experience.

[Four scenes of the riverfront area, and how it makes life difficult for those on sidewalks. Everything's out of scale. Everything's concrete. Imagine walking around here at night!]

The stadia sit along the river’s banks like a hippo in a kiddie pool, and whatever hope the city may have once had to get people living alongside and enjoying the riverfront once again was surely nixed by these humongous concrete structures. Apparently, the giant blank space in the photo below will one day be a mixed-use development, but the funding hasn’t come through, and at present, the only thing that’s down by the river is the backside of football bleachers. (Now, I did go to a Reds game, an interleaguer where I saw Sammy Sosa delightfully strike out, and the experience was probably exactly the kind of isolated, completely determined environment that major league sports executives like – the kind of thing where the stadium is an island, and every dollar spend on the evening goes right to the team, from food to parking to souvenirs… (I dream of ballparks that are embedded in their communities, and allow for economic agglomeration effects and spillover with mixed-use environments near the stadium, e.g. Wrigley, Fenway, old Yankee, …) At least we’re cramming our new waste-of-money stadium on a small site between a garbage burner, freeway, and a giant wall of parking lots. (What Cincinnati did would be kind of like having two Metrodomes right where the new Guthrie theater is, virtually guaranteeing that nobody would enjoy walking along the riverfront ever again.)

[The side of Cincinnati's new "Great American Ballpark", where the Redstockings play. To its left sits a giant vacant parcel, where someday a mixed use development will be placed. Personally, I think its the perfect site for Trooien's Bridges of Saint Paul.]

It’s a shame that Cincinnati's riverfront is so dominated by pro sports, too, because the city’s bridges are wonderful to walk across. There are a number to choose from, leading from Ohio to Kentucky, but the one that everyone should walk on is the purple people bridge, a pedestrian-only walkway bridge that carries folk from Downtown Cincinnati to Newport, Kentucky. Now, Newport is a place that’s has one of those new suburban potemkin downtowns, like Maple Grove or Woodbury, with little shops lining a very walkable sidewalks along the riverbank. Every local that I talked to in Cincinnati told me to go down here, because it was nice, and because its practically the only place I ever went where I saw people from the suburbs enjoying themselves. If anything, Newport serves as an example of what the rest of the city could look like if they ever pulled their sidewalks out of their modernist asses.

[Two views of Newport, Kentucky: on the left shoppers prepare to enter a Barnes & Noble; on the right, people gaze at Cincinnati from a safe distance.]

Finally, a few folks told me that Cincinnati has a lot of corporate headquarters (a boast exactly the same as a common Twin Cities meme). But the one that I found, Procter and Gamble, sat on the edge of downtown like a fortress, surrounded by gates and concrete and giant parking lot moats. All in all, there were precious few sidewalk-friendly features in downtown Cincinnati, and from my street-level view, it seemed that most of what the government was attempting to do was having negative effects, making the walkability problems even worse. (The same holds true for the massive Kroger HQ.)

(The one exception was this nice rapid transit stop, along the street that runs just past Fountain Square. It was kind of like a Bus Rapid Transit stop, and definitely broke up the concrete uniformity of the downtown core.)

[One of the main streets of Cincinnati, Ohio, where people wait for the bus and admire the 60s architecture.]

So, that’s all the bad stuff. I suppose we should say that Cincinnati has a right to do what it wants with its space. As far as that goes, Cincinnati would be just another typical American city, like Dallas or Charlotte, albeit a particularly bleak and lifeless example. But that wouldn’t be enough to make Cincinnati's sidewalks the saddest sidewalks in the world . . .

No, the big difference between Cincinnati and the Twin Cities is that Cincinnati is far far older than Saint Paul or Minneapolis. In fact, Cincinnati was the first non-coastal boomtown in America,** and peaked sometime in the early- to mid-1800s with a flood of German immigrants crossing the Appalachians to get to the very-navigable Ohio River. Cincinnati boasted large populations of people who, at one time slaughtered more pork than anywhere in the world (Cincinnati named itself “porkopolis”). And today, Cincinnati has the largest contiguous historic district in the country in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. I’d read about Over-the-Rhine on historic preservation websites: it was a huge area of old buildings next to downtown Cincinnati, and had recently been given, en masse, historic preservation status. It was named after the old Miami and Erie Canal that had run from the Ohio River and around downtown, which the German immigrants had taken to calling the Rhine River as they crossed it to go to work every day.*** So one Sunday morning, I set out to find it.

I didn’t have a map, so I wandered off in what I’d thought was its general direction, off to the East in the direction of the train station. As it turned out, I was going completely the wrong way, but it became a blessing as I wandered into Over-the-Rhine from the back side.

[The street on which I found myself. Not a soul to be seen, really. Lots of vacant lots, in between the beautiful old buildings. This could be Minneapolis, in a bizarro world.]

I found myself entering the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood somewhere near York Street north of Liberty, and of all the cities I’ve wandred in, I can say that I’ve never been more blown away by the beauty of the old buildings. This part of the country has huge amounts of in-tact turn of the century hosuing stock… row houses with Victorian elegance, woodwork, porticoes and cornices, brickwork and bay windows, porches and stoops. I’ve also never been more blown away by the decrepit conditions of the houses I saw, as I wandered for miles through the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. I was solicited by a nice lady on a Sunday morning, nobody was out and about, and I didn’t feel like it would have been very ethical to take many photos of this part of town.

But there’s no doubt that this part of the city has never seen a bulldozer. Considering the amount of time I spend in Minnesota mourning the loss of old places – Nicollet Park, the Metropolitan Building, old Dale Street – its absolutely amazing to me that this amount of old building stock survived intact in the United States.

[Findlay Market, a quite nice place to buy a canteloupe, or sit on the stoop. Unfortunately, its the only nice place to do such things in the entire Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, as far as I could tell.]

I wandered for quite a while until I happened across Findlay Market, one of the last remaining old covered markets in the US. Findlay Market forms the heart of Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine community, and is hands down the most interesting place I saw when I was in the city. (In fact, its exactly the kind of old covered market that was bulldozed to make a parking lot in Savannah, GA ... a move which is now being undone at great cost.) It's clearly, too, the focal point of the city's attempts to renovate this huge, sprawling preserved gem, and when I was there I found a health food store, and a few dozen people gearing up for what promised to be fruit and vegetable sales, food sales, and a host of other things...

[The beautiful old buildings extend to the old canal -- the Rhine -- where they quickly transform into 60s modernist office buildings.]

The buildings in the neighborhood, just any of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine, were gorgeous three story brownstones that wouldn't be out of place in San Francisco, and the entire experience would have been like going back in time and stepping into a postcard, if all the houses along the streets surrounding the market hadn't been boarded up. I've had similar experiences in places like Memphis or Baltimore, where small parts of the city are somewhat renovated and surrounded by bombed out houses... but I felt like the social and economic activity in Findlay Market was primarily oriented toward the community that lived there, if only because I didn't think anyone else in Cincinnati would have been willing to come down to the Over-the-Rhine and frequent the marketplace.

But walking from Findlay Market back to the downtown center, you pass through block after block after block of gorgeous Victorian building, with opulent detailing and boarded up windows. There are a few places that are making use of the first-floor commercial space, including a fabulous old bar and used bookstore on Main Street that had been restored and served me a morning coffee. But none of the buildings had any shops. Wikipedia's entry on Over-the-Rhine lists is declining population thus:

  • 1900: 44,475
  • 1960: 30,000
  • 1970: 15,025
  • 1980: 11,914
  • 1990: 9,572
  • 2000: 7,500
It's not hard to believe that the neighborhood had twice as many people living in it thirty years ago when you walk down its deserted sidewalks, but it does make you really really sad to think that this perfectly walkable, liveable, historic neighborhood in a vibrant American city, in a era when historic property is at an absolute premium, is going unused, its buildings just falling down. (There's a movement underfoot to build a streetcar through Over-the-Rhine, connecting downtown to the nearby University of Cincinnati. It's a great idea, and nowhere more needed than here, but like most grassroots streetcar movements, is going nowhere.)

Correction: The streetcar will be built, and will hopefully be running by 2011. Note that that is far sooner than the Twin Cities' University Avenue light rail, which has been on the books since the early 80s.

[Maybe its a coincidence, but Cincinnati has a Race Street, a "Jail Al", and a plaque dedicating the site of the first US Correctional Congress.]

(Don't get me wrong, there are people living in Over-the-Rhine, but I've gotten this far in this entry without mentioning Cincinnati's rather tragic history of race relations, and I 'd kind of like to keep the focus on the buildings. Here's a link to a video which I think reflects well the social conditions of the Over-the-Rhine, and its problems with relating to greater Cincinnati.)

If the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood were in Minneapolis, or Saint Paul, or San Francisco, it'd be one of the nicest, most interesting, most desirable addresses around. In Cincinnati, the very same neighborhood is languishing in a city that has spent all its investment capital on skyways and stadiums, leaving Over-the-Rhine to serve as an emblem of the tortured racial inequality that has marked America since its inception. It's why walking Cincinnati's streets you find the saddest sidewalks in America.

[Buildings like this are very hard to find in the United States of America.]

* The Westin Hotel Chain is also responsible for partially destroying one's experience of walkable, beautiful Savannah, GA. No doubt they promise pots of money to city councilmen...

** Saint Louis doesn't count.

*** The canal has a unbelievable, fascinatingly tragic story too.


VisuaLingual said...

A lot of your observations are inaccurate or downright incorrect, but not invalid as they are a visitor's perspective on Cincinnati. I'm a transplant to this city, living a pedestrian's life in Over-the-Rhine, so I of course disagree with your assessments. However, I think a lot of Cincinnati's charms are hidden beneath a dysfunctional, bland surface; I don't think this is a very accessible city, and I appreciate your outsider's perspective on its many problems, real or apparent.

Here are a few OTR-centered blogs that you may find to be of interest:

Cincinnati Revisited
Just for View
City Kin

Anonymous said...

Well aren't you smug?

Anonymous said...

People in Newport looking at Cincinnati from a "safe distance" SAFE? What is Cincinnati an wild hippo or something? WTF! ?

Anonymous said...

For someone who only visited Cincinnati for 3 days (for the best wedding EVER), I am so impressed with the extensive research you've done into Cincinnati history and architecture. I lived in Cincinnati for 17 years and I've always thought of Over-the-Rhine as a neighborhood you drive through very, very quickly. I will be sure to visit OTR on my next visit home and hopefully walk the streets and appreciate them the way you have.

I am really blown away with the thoroughness of your blog entry. I hope the Cincinnati City Council reads this and takes some of your ideas to heart.

I loved reading about my old hometown through your perspective. (Now I will forward this to everyone I know!)

hellogerard said...


This was truly a pleasure to read. Well-written, and beautiful, helpful pictures too. I think overall, you hit the nail right on the head, impressive for only a weekend stay. However, I want to make two points.

1) Fountain Square. The square is purposely not demarcated because many thought the previous square was too isolated from the street. With a "flatter" square, during festivals, they close off the streets, and the square effectively grows about a third in size. This is what they do for Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincinnati, etc.

2) Stadiums on the riverfront. I couldn't agree with you more about the riverfront. Several years ago, before the Reds ballpark was being built, they were considering building it on the eastern side of Over-The-Rhine. It was put to a ballot and voted down unfortunately. If it had been built in a neighborhood, the entire region might look different today! Instead it was built amidst nothing, surrounded by the river, concete, and more concrete.

Randy Simes said...

Thanks for the link, and I would like to give you some updates on a few things that you've mentioned.

1. The Banks (the mixed-use area inbetween the stadiums on the riverfront) will be breaking ground on April 2nd. The financing has been secured and things are ready to move forward on the $1B development which will include apartments, condominiums, shops, restaurants, office buildings and a 40-acre park directly on the riverfront. You can see the renderings here: http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=AB&Date=20070514&Category=NEWS01&ArtNo=705140802&Ref=PH&Params=Itemnr=1

2. The Cincinnati Streetcar has passed through the Finance Committee and also the City Council with majority votes. There will be one more vote needed, plus a couple of studies done...but all things are moving forward towards an opening day to passengers in 2Q 2011. You can find more information here: http://cincinnati-oh.gov/pages/-17762-/

3. The skyway system in Cincy is completely horrendous as you mentioned, but the City has made it a policy to abandon those skyways, and have actually torn down a number of them. The City has also adopted a policy of street-level shopping to get away from the mall concept in the center city. These transitions take time, but they are happening.

5. The riverfront is not as bad as you make it out. You visited easily the worst section of riverfront possible. If you would have gone a bit further you would have been in the midst of a massive riverfront park system that extends for miles including sculptures, trails, playgrounds, recreation, performance spaces and docks. Plus when the new Central Riverfront Park is completed in front of The Banks development...that riverfront park system will be extended all the way into Downtown. You can find more info on the CRP here: http://www.crpark.org/

6. Over-the-Rhine is in transition and there is currently a lot of debate about gentrification in the neighborhood. Hundreds of new housing units are coming on-line every year, two new arts schools have settled in, Washington Park is going to be expanded/improved, Main Street is getting businesses back, and the Cincinnati Streetcar offers all the opportunities in the world for this long-troubled neighborhood. For more info go here: http://gatewayquarter.com/

Sorry about the long post, just thought I would update you on some of the points you made that you should also find interesting. Nice coverage, and hopefully you'll come back to Cincy again...next time look me up and I'll show you where to go and what to see.

Jason said...

I too think that many of your observations are not only inaccurate, but overly pessimistic and negative. It is interesting to hear what an outsider thinks of our city after a short stay, but it really sounds as if you were biased before even writing this post. Perhaps the articles you read in wikipedia or elsewhere pushed you to be more negative than you would have been had you spent your time walking around town with some residents of the city who could have shown you around and answered all of your questions.
I'm not denying that some of your observations are correct. OTR is certainly an amazing place and it has been largely neglected by the city since the late 1940s when everyone ran for the suburbs. But, in recent years its slowly being turned around. You are right, a neighborhood like OTR in San Francisco or NY would be the most upscale, desirable parts of town. But, like many things in Cincinnati, it has taken people here a lot longer to realize that and start doing something about it. There is a large scale revitalization effort sweeping through the neighborhood now that is making huge steps towards restoring OTR. Additionally, the city is planning a streetcar system through the neighborhood that will connect downtown, OTR, and Uptown. This will also really turn things around for the better. Its just going to take time. Thanks for your post.
Check out my new blog about OTR if interested: www.somewhereovertherhine.blogspot.com

Bill Lindeke said...

Thanks for the info everyone. I never expected so many Cincinnatians to read this post!

The city is beautiful and has a ton of potential, that's for sure. I hope to visit more of it sometime soon, particularly the parts around the University and on the hills (which we have zero of here in Minnesota).

Some of the places I'd read about Cincinnati before going there were in William Cronon's wonderful book about Chicago, Nature's Metropolis, where he charts the industrial shift away from Cincinnati, Baltimore, New Orleans and Saint Louis that came with the birth of the railroad corridors, particularly running West out of New York City. According to Cronon, Cincinnati's was easily the #1 hog packing city until about 1860, when most of that industry shifted along rail lines. (The same thing happened in Minneapolis with flour milling, only a few decades later.)

I also quite like the book, The Urban Frontier: Pioneer Life in Early Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, and St. Louis, by Richard Wade. He is the one that describes Cincinnati's role as an early, emerging, midland boomtown in such detail.

As a far midwesterner, whose cities grew far later than did yours, I can only look at Cincinnati's intact beautiful buildings with envy and awe. (And sadness, of course.)

ThatDeborahGirl said...

Wow. Just wow.

The reason all those buildings are boarded up is because they've mostly been bought by an entity called 3CDC (the shill corporate arm of the Cincinnati City Council).

It wasn't 30 but almost 20, well 17 years ago, to be exact, when I lived downtown that the streets of Over-the-Rhine were filled - with black people.

When the internet became really big, OTR became the best place for internet access in Cincinnati due to it's sheer closeness to Cincinnati Bell. That was when white folks rediscovered Main Street and several dot.coms settled there as an acceptable place to be safe from black folks on every street from Walnut to Linn spanning from OTR west to the West End.

After the riots, even Main Street was no longer safe and the rest of Downtown was given up for lost. For a while, a lot of businesses solved that problem by simply relocating to Blue Ash (every corporate presence that used to be downtown is now in Blue Ash, even the Cincinnati Enquirer, the only awful newspaper Cincy has left doesn't even do it's main business actually IN Cincy anymore).

But as more black folks invaded Sharonville, Tri-County and Springdale and finally established even a corner in Blue Ash, white folks established a new epi-center in West Chester (Union Township).

As gas prices have risen though, even white folks on the better end of pay disparities can't afford to commute forever. The Urban Pioneers started their movement of displacing black folks from first, the West End and now Over-the-Rhine in the late 90's. All of the projects were torn down and replaced with Brownstone Condos starting at 80,000. All the black folks who jumped at the chance were given Section 8 vouchers or relocated to the West Side (much to the delight of East Siders who feel that they are much the betters of the working class West Side folks) and the result is that Price Hill, Western Hills and every used to be white or integrated community on the West Side is becoming thoroughly brown, poor and infested with slumlords who couldn't care less about providing black folks with decent housing.

Meanwhile, the displacement in the West End is nearly complete and the displacement in OTR has only begun.

While people go hungry, without decent or affordable housing and funding for black schools is debated, the best people can do for Cincinnati is build a Streetcar and oppose a new center to help the homeless.

If The Banks project is ever completed people won't even have to go as far as Hyde Park for groceries anymore. They'll finally put a brand spanking new Kroger or Meijer right on the river that white folks can feel comfortable going to (the Kroger in OTR is a blacks only proposition) and then white folks will move back downtown in droves and they'll have a lovely streetcar system to tote them around so they don't have to encounter blacks riding the city bus, The Metro.

Lovely city isn't it?

The Fashion Ninjas said...

In response to your post about Cincinnati, and in response to the comment I read just below it,
I think you described our sidewalks perfectly.
It's true, nothing makes me sadder to walk around in Brighton and West End, OTR, looking at all the vacant buildings and unused beautiful original properties all boarded up. I almost get happy by the abandoned properties because I want to buy them, but with our economic climate in Cincy currently, you're either very rich or very poor, and guess what; I live on McMicken Ave, West End. I need not say more.
"There are plenty of us with the dream, but those of us with vision in Cincinnati haven't the capital."
-Me; Cincy Harajuku Ninja

Anonymous said...

Sorry you had such a poor experience during your visit. I will say you did an amazing job of finding some of the worst areas and routes possible. I have lived in Cincinnati 10 years and have a totally different perspective. I live in the Mt. Adams neighborhood, on the east side of downtown. I live in a 125 yr old brownstone and walk to work everyday at the P&G headquarters to blasted in your post. I have 2 kids now and have contemplated moving to the suburbs, but can't get past the fact that we love being able to walk everywhere. My family and I walk to the Cincinnati Art Museam, 10+ resturants, taverns, convience store, park, playground, community swimming pool - all a short walk within our neighborhood and downtown. We also walk to Red's games as well.
Cincinnatians will be the first to agree that there are many areas for improvement. I think there is a tremendous amount of progress being made currently. But the next time you go to a new city, try talking to a local who can at least point you in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

You are right and you're horribly wrong. Like some of the other posters have stated---Over the Rhine is not a place where a lot of people like to hang out and just walk around. It has nice buildings and a bad reputation, but there are plenty of places in the city that have nice buildings and people. So the next time you visit, you should go to sawyer point to see the river and visit the other neighborhoods that make up the city. I also recommend that you read the Insider's Guide to Cincinnati so that you can understand how the different neighborhoods make up the city. Not everything is about the downtown area. That's where people work, most live up town from there.

Anonymous said...

ThatDeborahGirl is a perfect example of why people live uptown and don't bother to fix up the bad neighborhoods. Any more resentment coming from you and no one will bother to help.
White people and black people together are the only ways these areas will ever be restored to their former glory, but with such hatred between the races that ThatDeborahGirl obviously feeds, why would anyone bother?

Anonymous said...

I think the person responsible for writing the prior comment is missing the sarcasm in that DeborahGirl's earlier comment. I have lived in "Cincinasty' for the past five years, in a restored Victorian brownstone on the edge of Walnut Hills just up from lovely Eden Park. It’s a glorious building in a wonderful setting. It is also a very sketchy, edgy place to live. I have to say that Cincy is the most schizoid city I have ever lived in. The juxtaposition of poverty and wealth is astounding and occurs literally on a block by block basis. Moreover the crime and panhandling is both oppressive and omnipresent. I am an avid urban walker and it does not daunt me, even though the first year I lived in Cincy there were five homicides within a half mile of my residence and this summer, the number of murders seems to be again reaching record levels. Cincy truly is an architectural treasure trove in a wonderful topographic setting. It is also Gotham City in the true dark Batman sense and no Superman could ever change it into gleaming Metropolis. Try as it may, it will probably never get its act together and if it does, as Mark Twain said, it will be 20 years too late. I fear the Queen City will forever remain Cincinasty.

Tom Allen said...

"Correction: The streetcar will be built, and will hopefully be running by 2011."

Then again, have you heard of a group called COAST? They claim they are against spending and taxes, but are more interested in keeping the area in a 1950's mindset of pro-suburb, pro-car, anti-city. They are behind an initiative that would add to the city charter, requiring a vote on any rail transportation project. The vote on the charter would be this fall - if it passes, any additional rail project, regardless if it results in a tax increase or not, would require a vote.
We never have a vote on expensive highway projects, but because it's a rail project, it MUST be a waste!!

Anonymous said...

Very much enjoyed your post and acute observations. I was born in Cincinnati but then left after college in the 1980s due to both economic necessity and the very provincial nature of this city. Anything new is considered with suspicion and the old ways like black vs. white vs. Appalachains vs. Catholics vs. Jews, etc very much stymies progress even today so any energy the local government has caters to the things that locals think make Cincinnati "great"; tradition, sports teams, goetta, mediocre ice cream and bbq restaurants, and the neighborhood bars. (Only the Cincinnati chili really distinquishes itself.) As even those things start to become tiring, disintegrate or just grow older and more decrepid, blandness and familiarity is all that survives. It wasn't a bad place to grow up, I can still look up people that I went to school with 30 years ago, but life just kinda moves along with an apathetic yet kind of repressed angry tone. I was fortunate in that I was Catholic and thus kinda level two in the four level strata that characterized the city (and maybe still does). If they could somehow convince about 1000 monied and progressive types to remake the city, like you said, we would really have something with the building stock in place. But, perhaps the most disappointing thins is that a city right across the river, Newport, which was flat on its back in the 1980s after they finally cleaned up the gambling, prostitution and drug rackets now has restored a lot of their housing stock, etc. and already largely accomplished what Cincinnati is now making "plands" for.

Anonymous said...

Cincinnati doesn't get snow? Come on now, theres 10 inches on the ground right now and 8 more are coming this weekend! It snows every winter in Cincinnati. I probably got over 25 snow days when I was in school there. I love these comments where they say downtown is really doing great .. new lofts, apts, condos.... Ive been in almost all of the loft and condo buildings but what shocks me is they build all these but there are no plans for a really GOOD grocery store to be built. Its stupid! Live downtown but shop in the suburbs or visit the local downtown Kroger in DA HOOD! Choices choices.. hmmmm... The streetcar named "stick em up" If I hear one more word about this piece of crab being built. Lets take a street car and put it at Point A "crime infested area" and take it along a street "thats also crime infested" all the way downtown. First person who gets shot, mugged, robbed nobody will ever use that street car again. Over a hundred murders a year.. lets build a bigger JAIL with the streetcar money .. then when we clean the streets up we can think about stuff like that. I currently live in Naples Florida right now and Love it here but will be moving back to DA NATI for a few months before my next venture. I will be probably moving to Mt Adams.. that is about the only cool place in Cincinnati anymore unless of course you cross the river. Nice blog and take.. your about 90 percent correct on Cincy.

Randy Simes said...

I decided to re-read this post after taking a look at your shot at Cincinnati in a recent post of yours. What I find particularly interesting is your willingness to admit a lack of understanding or knowledge of Cincinnati.

At the very same time you do not hesitate to make very pointed and vicious remarks about the city and its people. I would love for you to take another visit to Cincinnati where you had more time for things outside of a couple lost wanderings and a wedding. I would be more than happy to show you the good and the bad, explain to you the history and future, and give you a comprehensive understanding of the city and its people. If at that point you want to refer to it in the same manner, feel free, but don't piss all over a place before you actually know what you're saying. Cheers.

Bill Lindeke said...

funny thing was that i actually liked the people, only that OTR made me really sad.

Bill Lindeke said...

not ripping on the people of cincinnati, but on US urban modernism: freeways next to rivers, identically imposing glass box office buildings, car-centric cities... these are sins not of Cincy in particular, but of Le Corbu USA business and planning orthodoxy for a good 50 years when we spent a fortune ruining our urban landscape. that's the stuff I can't stand, and have real trouble relating to.

other than that, it's definitely an ignorant first impression.

Randy Simes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy Simes said...

Well if you're interested in learning more about Cincinnati's riverfront that you so bemoaned in both this post and your most recent one, check out this fairly comprehensive op-ed I put together on the topic:


Or if you would like an update on that area of Over-the-Rhine you photographed, and commented on its abandonment, then check out this story:


And if that isn't enough for you, take a look at what all is being done by 3CDC in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (and of course, they only represent a portion of the work that is taking place).


For as many desolate looking photographs you have here, there are infinitely more photographs of the same locations highlighting their vibrancy. If you would like me to share those with you let me know.

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Roslyn said...

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the feedback. Cincinnati really offers many treasures that might be missed with a quick glance. It has amazing stair systems on many of her hillsides, mysterious brick alleyways, bridges, and neighborhood that stretch out from the downtown with more sidewalks and trails. This is really just the surface. You should have explored many of our urban parks. Harvey

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