Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Cincinnati: A Midwest Conundrum

I recently had the privilege of spending a couple of days in Cincinnati. As always, I was completely blown away by all the great things this city has. There is simply not a city in the Midwest apart from Chicago that has anything near the great assets of Cincy. It is an embarrassment of riches.

Yet, I’m always befuddled as well as I puzzle a great conundrum: if Cincinnati is so great, how come it isn’t the San Francisco of the Midwest instead of a typical, modestly stagnated Midwestern city? I don’t profess to have the answers, but it just goes to show that having one of the country’s greatest collection of urban assets does nothing for you by itself.

What is so great about Cincinnati? Let’s list some of the things:

  • The fabulous geography. Cincinnati sits along the picturesque Ohio River (an asset in its own right), and is built in a very hilly area. This leads to a great urban geography, and stunning views. For example, here’s a shot of the Ohio River as seen from Mt. Adams.

Incidentally, the spot where this was taken from is only 10 minutes from the heart of downtown. I did not have the opportunity to take that many pictures, but I did snap a few of Mt. Adams, which is one of Cincinnati’s many wonderful neighborhoods. I’ll have more from there below.

  • Spectacular, dense urban neighborhoods with wonderful architecture. Cincinnati was the Queen City of the Midwest when Chicago was little more than a trading post. It ruled the riverboat era just as Chicago ruled the railroad one. Because Cincinnati was a large city even in the 1830’s, it was built in a very dense style, with a lot of very unique 19th century architecture that is of a style very different from the a typical Midwest city. Pretty much all over the city you’ll find extremely urban corridors that in some respects are denser than Chicago. Parts of Cincy actually remind me of Brooklyn. I don’t have a lot of examples to show, but here are a couple. First, Cincinnati’s City Hall:

That one could be in many Midwestern cities, but check out these houses from Mt. Adams:

With the hills, and houses like those, hopefully you can see why I made the San Francisco analogy.

  • Innovative new architecture. Cincinnati is famously conservative, but has embraced modern architecture with a vengeance. The University of Cincinnati is loading its campus up with buildings by the world’s top architects, including people like Michael Graves. Covington, Kentucky just erected a tower by Daniel Libeskind. And the Contemporary Art Center was designed by Zaha Hadid. Here is that structure:

  • The patchwork quilt of towns. Unlike the model of Columbus, which had a central city annex far out into the suburban reaches, Cincinnati remained a fairly small city geographically, surrounded by a patchwork quilt of small suburbs. Now some cite the downsides of this and in fact lay some of Cincy’s problems at the feet of this municipal fragmentation. But it definitely has the positive of having created a ton of quaint little towns, each with their own unique character and identity. Here, for example, is Montgomery.

  • Top notch cultural institutions. Because Cincinnati was a big city early, its moneyed classes were able to endow great regional institutions such as the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I can’t think of a similar sized city in America with this collection of top rank institutions.
  • Many major corporate headquarters. I don’t know how many Fortune 500 HQ’s are in Cincinnati, but it is a lot and more than any comparable city I know. And these aren’t legacy headquarters of shrinking industrial companies from a bygone era. These are companies that have largely figured out how to compete in the modern world. We’re talking Procter and Gamble, by far the largest consumer goods company in the world, and the most successful. This company is too big and so strong it seems inconceivable it could ever go out of business or be acquired, unlike corporate champions in most places. Kroger came away standing from a bruising battle with Wal-Mart to emerge as America’s largest grocery chain. Toyota’s North American headquarters is in the area. There are many other major companies around as well.
  • A genuine regional culture. Much like a European town, Cincy has managed to hold onto various aspects of its local culture and not end up totally homogenized into Generica like most of the rest of the Midwest. Most famously there is Cincinnati style chili. But there are other interesting things, like Cincinnati Bell telephone, an independent regional Bell affiliate that somehow never got swept up into ownership by AT&T, and a local independent third political party called the Charter Party.
  • Major regional assets. Because of its status as the largest regional city and its top location between major regional population centers, Cincy has many regional assets other cities can only dream of, including a Delta airline hub with non-stop flights to places like Paris, the Kings Island amusement park, and an IKEA store.

But with all of this, something is clearly missing. Cincinnati did not escape the problems of other Rust Belt cities. What’s more, it has continued to be a growth laggard, far trailing the nation and the Midwestern growth leaders like Minneapolis and Columbus. Where Cincinnati was once markedly larger than places like Indianapolis and Columbus, the gap has narrowed significantly. Cincinnati continues to show below US average population growth, net outmigration, very low levels of international migration and percentages of foreign born population. The city of Cincinnati has lost significant population, and Hamilton County’s population as a whole has been in steep decline.

Drive around Cincinnati and you’ll notice that much of the great architecture is in a shocking state of disrepair. While the buildings weren’t wholesale cleared as part of the botched urban renewal movement, the city still has a sort of bombed out feel in many places. In almost any direction from downtown you quickly transition to very poor, crime ridden, almost 100% black neighborhoods. I don’t have stats on segregation, but Cincy to me has the feel of an almost totally segregated city. I looked closely for a single white person in large tracts of the city and didn’t see one. Notably, Cincinnati has been famous for poor race relations, and there was a high profile race riot back in 2001.

As I often do, I was listening to local radio as I drove around, in this case 700 WLW, “the nation’s station”. (This is another incredible Cincinnati story – read the history on WLW sometime). One of their talk show hosts was a typical right wing firebrand named Bill Cunningham. What I found most notable about him was how he spent about a one hour segment bashing the black community and the ethics and morals of black Cincinnati. There was apparently one of those all too common urban tragedies that occurred when a young mother of four was shot and killed in front of her children and dozens of witnesses at someplace called the Fay Apartments (which sounds like a locally notorious housing project). No one came forward to identify the shooter. Now that’s certainly bad behavior to say the least, and in no way justifiable. But this guy’s race baiting was just over the top and caller after caller dialed in to say how the dysfunctional the black community was. It is clear that there are still major, major race relations problems in Cincinnati.

Cunningham also boasted of how he had “moved to Kenwood” so he rarely had to set foot in the city, something he was quite thankful for. I’ve seen this same sentiment voiced multiple times in articles and comments in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Cincy also appears to have a serious city-suburb divide.

Cunningham also had a guest that talked about how to protect your children from pornography, which reminded me that Cincy was the place that famously tried to shut out an art exhibit by Robert Mapplethorpe. And where until quite recently one could not even purchase a Playboy magazine. Influential citizens such as billionaire Carl Linder are very active in various decency campaigns.

I can’t say what role these things have played in stagnating Cincinnati. And in a sense, relative decline has been ongoing since the end of the river era and the beginning of the railroad one. Because of geography, Cincinnati, unlike St. Louis, never had a chance to become America’s rail hub. So it certainly can’t be blamed for that. Still, it is interesting me that such an incredible place hasn’t experienced one of America’s great urban renaissances. I believe the potential is still there, albeit latent at the moment.

It just goes to show that what I said in my pecha kucha presentation was true: cities are about people, not just buildings. All the great geography, architecture, etc. in the world isn’t a sufficient condition to create a thriving, dynamic city.

Here are a few more pictures of Mt. Adams. Be sure to spend some time walking around here if you visit Cincinnati. Many of the other great urban neighborhoods are best seen by car.

The city as seen from Mt. Adams.

I also spent some time checking out the northern suburbs. Like most cities, Cincinnati has seen a major suburban boom. With much of Hamilton County “full”, development has moved to the collar counties for much the same reason as other places: cheap land, lower taxes, lower crime, better schools. Many of these counties are now getting pretty large in their own right, with Butler County at 358,000, Warren County at 203,390, and Clermont County at 193,000. Northern Kentucky is also a major growth area, and is home to a large number of riverfront attractions, urban neighborhoods, significant modern office space, and the Cincinnati airport. This is the most thriving part of the state of Kentucky.

Cincinnati follows a traditional US urban development pattern, with the north more affluent than the south. It’s east-west development follows the river currents rather than the prevailing winds, however, with the east more prosperous than the west. While the suburban areas have been thriving, the areas I visited in Butler and Warren County were not particularly impressive. Butler County was an established industrial county in its own right, and so has its own share of older urban/suburban decay problems. But what I particularly noticed was a lack of most of the hallmarks of neo-suburban American development. I’m sure I probably missed some examples, but I did not see one New Urbanist development, not one lifestyle center, and only one roundabout. While there were some quaint towns with charming historic districts, the newer development seemed much more in line with the early 90’s than the mid-00’s. The most advanced town in terms of neo-suburban development was Mason in Warren County, the home of King’s Island.

Here are a few pictures. First, downtown Hamilton, the Butler County seat.

A historic streetscape in Lebanon, in Warren County.

Lastly, a lovely landscaped parkway in Mason. I think this is Mason-Montgomery Road, a main arterial in the area.

For those who do not live there, I would strongly encourage a visit to Cincinnati. It has plenty to see for a long weekend, whether you are a hip, urban couple or a family with kids. For anyone who is trying to understand the challenge of the Midwestern American city, this is a very important example to consider. Cincinnati is an outlier in many respects. In fact, Richard Longworth doesn’t even count it as Midwestern in his recent book. But often it is the outlier cases that best help us see things from new perspectives.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Historic Preservation, Regionalism, Talent Attraction, Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Cincinnati

46 Responses to “Cincinnati: A Midwest Conundrum”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice post. I spent a day in Cincy a few months ago for the first time, and was struck by the differences between it and Indy. Your analysis explains why some of these differences exist.


    PS–First-time commenter (and social science prof) here; I enjoy the blog and have learned a lot from it.

  2. Jason says:

    There could be another reason why Cincinnati stagnates:

    “Chicago sounds rough to the maker of verse.
    One comfort we have: Cincinnati sounds worse.”

    –Oliver Wendell Holmes

  3. The Urbanophile says:

    Dave – really appreciate the nice comment. Thanks for reading and participating. Please tell all your colleagues and students about the blog! :)

  4. John M says:

    Great post. I’ve discussed this with some people over the last year or so. I think one could make the argument that while Indianapolis, at least in terms of natural beauty, makes more with less. I’m not sure there is a city in the country that does less with more than Cincinnati. As you note, it is a breathtakingly beautiful city, but there are high-potential neighborhoods near downtown with beautiful housing stock(not just in the city, but in Covington and Newport as well) that are in disrepair. I don’t say that to be critical of Cincinnatians, as you note many of these things are structural.

    As for the comments of Bill Cunningham, every city has such folks. In certain cities (most notoriously Detroit), that becomes the dominant view about the central city. Hopefully Cincinnari won’t go that direction–it probably has enough resources that it won’t.

  5. thundermutt says:

    I visited Cincinnati frequently in the first few years I lived in Indianapolis. I would not consider the city “midwestern” at all. It is more like an older Eastern city in look and feel.

  6. UncleRando says:

    As a Cincinnati resident I must say that yes, Cincinnati does have an abundance of beautiful architecture…much of which needs some attention.

    Things are changing and Cincinnati is seeing the affects of the urban renaissance that is occuring in this nation. With that said, it is a Midwestern city by the way things operate…and 3%-6% growth (good by Midwestern standards) just isn’t enough to dramatically rehab all of these structures.

    The city neighborhoods are strong with the exception of a small handful. Places like Mt. Adams, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Clifton, Northside, Oakley, Columbia Tusculum, etc are what make Cincy special. Those neighborhoods continue to stay strong and grow their success to neighboring communities. Additionally you have neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine rapidly changing from what used to be the worst area of town…to what could very soon be one of the best. For more info on some of the changes going on in OTR go to

  7. Anonymous says:

    Cincy is truely a gem in the midwest and I share your enthusiam about the city. I also have wondered why cities such as Indianapolis and Columbus (both “inland” cities with no waterfront to speak of) have completely out-performed Cincy in the past 25 years. There was a time when Cincy was the “queen” of our region, yet it can be argued that Indianapolis has snatched that title from Cincy. Hopefully leaders there can get past jurisdictional issues and focus on the region as a whole.

  8. UncleRando says:

    ^The question you pose is a complicated one that has multiple layers in its answer. But yes both Cbus and Indy have outperformed Cincinnati over the past 25 years, but at the same time those are completely different cities that saw their growth in different time periods, they’re state capitals, have little to no geography making urban projects more expensive, and quite honestly have had better political leadership at both local and regional levels.

    This and much, much more has played a major role. But I don’t foresee any Midwestern city taking on the Queen City role that Cincy left behind. The “Paris of the West” was up there with the world cities at one point, and had arts/culture/entertainment and what not that was comparable to the best in the world (i.e. Paris). For all that Indy has done well…this status will never be reached by anyone again.

  9. Mordant says:

    Great, thoughtful post. I enjoyed it tremendously. However, this bit caught my attention:

    “regional assets other cities can only dream of, including a Delta airline hub with non-stop flights to places like Paris”

    That’s one asset I’d prefer Indy do without, at least as long I’m paying for my own airline tickets. Speaking for myself, the prestige and (occasional) convenience that attends non-stops to international destinations isn’t outweighed by the sky-high airfares to more ordinary destinations that go with hub dominance by a single carrier.

  10. Paul Wilham says:

    Enjoyed your post on Cncinnati. I actually plan on moving there from Indianpolis. I am a historic restoration consultant and having worked in Historic areas in downtown here for years. Indy downtown is “pretty much complete” For me though, I think Cincinnati has a much more Urban feel than Indinapolis. I live in a downtown neighorhood and its really like living in suburbia now. There is no “edge” to the neighborhood. Cinncinnati reminds me of the old days of Indy, when the restoraion movement was in its early stages. I personally am looking forward to my move to Over-the-Rhine and being a real Urban Pioneer again. Unlike indianpolis that bulldozed most of its downtown neighborhoods, Cincinnati still has theirs. I’ll miss Indy, but I think I will enjoy the challenges there more.

  11. Russell Smith says:

    Thanks for your honest assessment of Cincinnati. I’ve linked to it in my weblog Our Ohio Now:

  12. Loving life elsewhere says:

    Having lived in Cincinnati, I can give you a little perspective. For one thing, the riot you refer to happened in 2001. Racism is a huge problem. And you will find more poverty among blacks there than a majority of other cities.

    The conservatism, ultra-right wing BS, Cunningham, pretty much speaks for most residents. They will feel the necessity of proclaiming within minutes of meeting them, “I’m a Christian.”

    You may wish to read an important report, findings of studies, that discusses the fact that Cincinnati is not governed but ruled and these are players that will forever keep creatives moving on as quickly as possible.

    The city and area is extremely polluted. Toxic. They are just now getting around to the idea of recycling!!

    I never lived anywhere so disappointing, heartbreaking, in my life, and that’s after entering with anticipation and passionate excitement.

    Other people have written about their visits there and remarked that there was little to do (bad sports and drinking, notwithstanding) that the streets were empty, and racked over the coals by a certain small little minority of bloggers who are constantly trying to say downtown is “changing” and so exciting. One such blogger told this visitor, “You just came on the wrong weekend!” Ha, ha, ha! Sorry, but give me a city like any other city worth living in that makes it difficult for me to choose what to do from its offerings.

    The city is sick. It has been sick for a long time and I don’t know that it will get well.

  13. UncleRando says:

    ^If it sounds extreme and unlikely, it probably is…

    The facts are that Cincinnati is experiencing the urban renaissance seen in many cities across the nation. Evidence for this is the rising population in both Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, the Westend, and the Nky river communities. Crime has also dropped significantly, Cincinnati Public Schools are being used as a national model for sucess (take Lou Dobbs’ word for it, not mine).

    Last year alone Downtown saw 26 new businesses (retail, restaurants, etc) open, over 100 new/renovated residential units came online, and investments totaled over $110M in renovation projects not counting over $243M in total development projects. From 2003 to 2011, the CBD total population is projected to more than double (to 13,000+) based on consumption trends, development projects, and is based on an average 1.5 people per dwelling unit. Currently there is a 94% occupancy rate for apartments in the CBD area.

    These are facts and everything I have stated can be backed up with imperical data. Feel free to criticize my fair city all you’d like, just be sure to brings factual arguments to the table otherwise I’ll tear holes through your argument like it’s my job.

    If you would like the citations and supporting evidence for all my claims (and much more) feel free to email me, and I’ll be more than happy to set the record straight.

  14. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for all the comments.

    Loving life elsewhere is typical of the city hating tone that seems to emanate from a various places in the Cincinnati area. I’ve never understood the source of this, but it is troubling.

    Thanks for the info on downtown Cincy, Rando.

    Paul, best of luck in Cincinnati.

    I should note that while this blog does focus a lot on Indy, I do try to cover all Midwest metros over 1 million. It’s really about the future of the Midwestern city, told through the example of Indianapolis and elsewhere, focused on transportation and urban planning. I hope there is thought provoking material here that will appeal to folks throughout the Midwest and beyond.

    Also, the Urbanophile is for sale to the highest bidder, provided you meet my reserve price. Cincinnati can always put in its bid!

  15. CityKin says:

    Loving Life Elsewhere;
    As a long time Cincy resident, methinks you exaggerate a bit regarding the Christianity proclamations.

    Cincinnati has a long racial discrimination history going back to Margaret Garner (google it) and beyond, which we are trying to deal with to mixed results. The shock jock unfortunately plays to the disconnected white suburbanites, but he is reviled in town. With our nearly 50% AA population, the city’s racial dynamic is totally different than Indy or Columbus, or wherever it is you moved to. I am here in OTR trying to make a difference, and so are many others.

    Urbanophile walked in Mt. Adams, but recommended driving through the black neighborhoods, such as my home, OTR. Next time try walking around down here. We aren’t as scary as we look.

    By the way, you are getting some Cincy commentors, I think because I linked to you post. Love your site.

  16. The Urbanophile says:

    citykin, thanks for the comments and for linking to this post.

    I actually have walked around OTR. In fact, You should see some of the photos I took there and in some other areas from the early 90’s (if I ever get around to having them scanned in) which look like I was walking around in a war zone.

    While I enjoy edgier places, many people do not, however. While most places in the daytime are probably safe to be, including OTR, I would hesitate to recommend it to someone who isn’t a hard core urbanite.

    Here’s a story for you. One of my buddies grew up in NKY and he claims that he and his friends always used to buy their liquor in OTR because the stores didn’t care if you 16 or 61, as long as you had money. This may be typical BS, but I liked it anyway.

  17. Donna says:

    I love visiting Cincy; I take my high school Architecture program kids there to see the Zaha museum and the mind-blowing collection of starchitect buildings at UCincy.

    While downtown Cincy doesn’t feel quite 24/7 occupied – I’ve had trouble finding a place for lunch on the weekend in the central district near the CAC – it feels far more forward-looking than downtown Indy. Yes, the geography has a lot to do with how lovely the downtown is: Indy has no “big thing” downtown, except the manmade landmarks of the stadiums.

    Over the Rhine is a more authentic, in both the good and bad aspects of that attribution, urban neighborhood than anything I’ve seen in Indy. The bones are there for a truly amazing inner city neighborhood, a la Brooklyn or Queen Village in Philly. Last time there I ate brunch at Kaldi’s and felt like I had come home. I’ve never had that kind of experience in Indy, ever.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I also enjoyed reading your post but I have a slight disagreement with you on at least one issue. That is you are postulating that Indianapolis is a “better” city simply because it is growing at a faster rate than Cincinati.

    The last time I was in Indy it was to attend the 500. That was a few years back, so maybe you can help me out here. Has that vast area around the track. You know, the place that has been shown on several eposodes of “COPS”. Has it become any less of an urban wasteland?

  19. thundermutt says:


    The “vast area around the track” isn’t an “urban wasteland”. It’s parking for the 250,000 people who come to races and suburban backyards and shopping strips. The track is almost 5 miles west of downtown in an area that has (for 100 years) been an industrial suburb. Think Norwood, only with jobs and tax base.

    Too bad you missed seeing the tall buildings and museums and stadia downtown. They’re pretty urban.

  20. Loving life elsewhere says:

    @CityKin: Just how are you trying to make a difference in OTR? Having a drink inside your place looking out the window commenting on the people getting their high on in the street below, notwithstanding that is? No, but I mean seriously. What are you doing in OTR to make a difference? Anyhow, I know about the racism. I wasn’t comparing it to the few select cities you are. I’m calling it out as a huge problem in comparison to cities everywhere. Then there’s the police. In fact, there’s so much more.

  21. Kevin LeMaster says:

    loving life elsewhere:”@CityKin: Just how are you trying to make a difference in OTR?”

    Well, for one thing, he lives there….

    (BTW, loved the post, Urbanophile.)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Well, I can’t agree with your statement that Cincinnati is less of a rail hub than St. Louis. The Queensgate yard just west of downtown is huge. Also, St. Louis strikes me as being less associated with rail than cities like Chicago, Atlanta, or Houston.

    Racism in Cincy is no less of a problem than it is in other cities that are largely populated by native black and white populations and have been far less effected by the post Cold War rise in international immigration. While many of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are largely self-segregated, the exist in small pockets. Wealthy white neighborhoods often exist in immediate proximity to poorer black neighborhoods. The problem of hypersegregation, perfect examples of which are the South Side of Chicago, the South Central/Compton/Watts area of L.A., or Southwest Atlanta doesn’t exist in Cincinnati, much to the City’s benefit.

  23. David says:

    Great post. OTR is its own special place, but I’d actually point to Avondale as the next great neighborhood for those truly serious about urban regeneration. North Avondale held on, but there are massive diamonds in rock all around Avondale proper that put anything in OTR to shame. It was built as a middle and upper class neighborhood in contrast to the working class neighborhoods with regenerative potential like OTR and you could throw in parts of Price Hill and Northside into that group.

    As to Bill Cunningham, he never really lived in the city. He grew up in one of those small post-war suburbs on the NE side of town (Deer Park). One of his big shows when he was on at night with sex toy salesladies.

  24. Heidi says:

    I moved to Cincinnati 8 years ago from a small town south of Cleveland, and I really like your description. The riots were in 2001, which was just after I moved and I don’t know how the climate of racism was then, but since its been very, very tense in the more urban neighborhoods. Any Cincinnati residents who don’t think we have a race problem just illustrate the major problem- no one wants to take ownership, and all sides need to own up to what they do wrong. And as a white person in Ciny, I gotta say that I think we have more to apologize for than the other side. I lived in Price Hill which was horribly segregated, depending on if you live north or south of Glenway. The Cincinnati Public Schools are horrible, although they do provide a full scholarship tuition to any of their graduates who attend the university. Anyways, it is a great city that can definitely get better, most people in the city actually hate Bill Cunningham, it has great arts and it does need structural as well as racial healing. I think it is a midwestern city in many rights, but moving from near Cleveland I actually think its a border line southern city. And I love the Bengals!

  25. wished it was nicer in Cincy but... says:

    Cincinnati’s downtown has SO much potential. It could be a midwest San Francisco. Too bad it’ll never happen. The only saving chance downtown has is if young professionals/gays buy up OTR and gentrify it. unfortunately the area is so historically conservative (google “Cincinnati Article XII”, an anti-gay protection amendment that thankfully was repealed in ’04) i can’t imagine gays or young professionals have any reason to stay, so this isn’t going to happen.
    Don’t expect the whites in their suburban/small town neighborhoods to do anything but bash “the city” ala Bill Cunningham. The city is diseased, and it is sad.

  26. Anonymous says:

    What would make young professionals stay? I don’t know, walking distance to multiple Fortune 500 company HQ’s? Major sports? Jaw dropping architecture?

    My wife and I are 25 & 24, college degrees, both in grad school, and we live across the creek in Bellevue, KY (great urban river town) and wish we had moved to OTR instead. SO much potential & space – it’s largely vacant.

    3CDC is a company setup by the city to rehab downtown & specifically OTR. The renniasance is officially happening and its just getting started.

  27. RehabOrDie says:

    I’ve been complaining about Cincinnati’s lack of vision for 25 years. So much potential. So livable. So pretty. Such architecture. And now, finally, they’re doing a few of the things that I thought were no brainers in 86 when I moved back from Chicago.

    Finally, I gave up a few years ago and moved just across the river to Covington.

    It’s actually a real city! People live and work here. They’re on the streets. Gay folk are welcome. Brown skinned folks live next to white skinned folks, comfortably. Fantastic restaurants in walking distance. A city government that really tries to do the right thing. GREAT bricks and sticks all over the place.

    If you haven’t really looked closely at Covington (and perhaps the rest of the NKy Riviera ), you really should. I was impressed enough, I bought a house from the city and am renovating it.

    Note: My wife and I can live anywhere in the world. We work online. We chose this community freely and without limitation.

  28. Phillip White says:

    As someone who has resided in Cincinnati for over 25 years, I actually must agree whole-heartedly with “Loving life elsewhere.”

    Race relations remain quite strained in Cincinnati, the city remains as conservative as ever (investigate recent moves by public figures to control the types of advertisements running in left-leaning newspaper CityBeat), public transportation remains non-existent, and progress on the Bank’s Project is continuously stalling. The city is not bike friendly. The city is not YP friendly.

    It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Cincinnati has a lot of potential. The race riots were actually 2001 and really destroyed downtown. You nailed race relations as a major problem.

    Its a tough situation to deal with when your city is destroyed by its own citizens, but since 2004, it seems like Cincinnati has been heading in the right direction. Businesses have popped up again in downtown and younger people are hanging out there again.

  30. a cricketer says:

    Downtown Cincinnati died when The Maisonette closed its doors in 2005. Now where will the Presidents eat when they visit Cincinnati? Downtown’s hopes now hinge on often delayed Banks project that, because of all the delays, is now a very bland shell of its former self (first dreamed up in 1999). I just hope it doesn’t go the way of Cincinnati’s subway system.

  31. Randy Simes says:

    Downtown Cincinnati has seen 40 new restaurants open since 2005, the residential population has increased, the office occupancy rates are some of the best of any downtown in the Midwest, crime has decreased considerably, a new skyscraper is currently under construction, The Banks is also under construction, and a streetcar system is in the works. Even the adjacent neighborhood Over-the-Rhine is experiencing a revitalization never before imagined as new businesses, residents and investment flow into the neighborhood.

    To see some of the revitalization efforts under way in OTR check out Or just go check out Downtown Cincinnati any time you want as it is bustling with activity night/day 7 nights a week. Fountain Square’s revitalization has sent investment reverberating out more than most anticipated.

    It’s unfortunate that this post’s comments have turned into an opportunity for some to spew inaccurate negative information about Cincinnati and its urban core.

  32. Randy Simes says:


    Covington is its own city, but in all reality it is a neighborhood of Cincinnati. Both Covington and Newport are part of Cincinnati’s center city and urban core.

  33. a cricketer says:

    Randy, no one is spewing inaccuracies. There is a difference between real progress and potential.

    How many 5 star restaurants are there in downtown Cincinnati? None.

    Why did The Banks developers change plans for Phase One from residential condos to commercial hotels? Because they can't count on people moving downtown, which means they can't make money. The majority of people that I know in Cincinnati would rather go to Newport, KY on a Friday night than Over-the-Rhine. Newport on the Levee opened in 2001. Cincinnati just broke ground on the Banks project in 2008. That's a pretty big head start. Plus, the NAACP is already trying to stop the streetcar plans.

    I think what Western & Southern has done with its corner of downtown is great. I think Cincinnati's museums are awesome. But our city still has a lot of progress to make; I am not satisfied with untapped potential.

  34. Randy Simes says:

    ^Actually phase 1 of The Banks shifted the focus from condos to apartments. This change is reflective of the overall collapse of the housing market and the difficulty there is securing financing. People are moving Downtown as evident by 90+% occupancy rates for downtown apartments and by the strongest selling condo/home community in the region (Gateway Quarter in OTR is averaging a sale a week).

    The Maisonette closed down due to internal problems and their chef leaving who has since started a number of downtown restaurants and wine bars. Jean Robert at Pigalls will soon be 5 star, but I’m not sure how indicative that is of a quality downtown.

  35. Mike Doyle says:

    An odd thing has happened with my site and Cincinnati (involving your site, too). Four months ago, after my first ever trip to the Queen City, I sat down and wrote an epic post about the place–a real social and cultural analysis based on my detailed interactions with people there. It was essentially a frank and qualified love letter. I invite you to read it here.

    Point is, yesterday, a leading Cincinnati blogger whom I follow on Twitter (and who follows me back) came to read the article and (besides realizing he knew one of the cast of characters) decided that, along with this 2008 post of yours on visiting Cincinnati, it was must-read for Cincinnati bloggers. All day yesterday and continuing today, my article and I am willing to bet yours have been making the rounds of the Cincy blogosphere. I have had almost 1,000 people come to my site from Cincy blogs that have talked about the post.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts about what I wrote. I warn you, Indiana and Indianapolis feature as minor characters in the post, and what I wrote back then is not flattering. (I noted that I liked downtown but that it was too small and dowdy for a city of Indy’s size, and complained about the chore of traveling through Indianapolis to get from Illinois to Ohio). I ask your forgiveness for that–I’d love to spend some time in Indy and set some deeper thoughts down about the place sometime.

    I think your Cincinnati post was very incisive, especially regarding how the best, sometimes most eye-popping architecture, is to be found in a dilapidated state in a decaying neighborhood. And that racist radio show you heard? I sadly can so see that happening there. I wonder whether some people there just have their minds and hearts on auto-pilot regarding that stuff. The majority of locals I met would look on a show like that with disdain, I’m glad to report. (But not all of them).

    At any rate, I find it very positive that the Midwestern blogging community takes this much interest in the state of our cities. I wish there were a way for us to help our concern translate in a wider public concern. Maybe we should create a Midwestern city blogger group? I’d be very, very up for that. (I waited for awhile to see if Kyle Ezell in Ohio was going to go down that road, but it never happened).

    Be well for now, off to meditate and trudge in the snow :-)

  36. Anonymous says:

    How many 5 star restaurants????

    Who really cares about what is, in many respects, an outdated musty marketing artifact generated by Mobil. The Maisonette’s time had come and gone…the owners tried to shake down the city for $$ to convince them to stay, threatening to relocate to the burbs if the $$ didn’t come. Well, guess what? They never reopened in the burbs. The intersection of 6th and Walnut, where the Maisonette was previously located, has, since the Maisonette closed, seen the opening of Oceanaire (Morton’s for seafood), Nada (locally owned casual yet upscale gourmet Mexican), Cadillac Ranch (enormous bar/estaurant, big young bar crowd) and Bootsy Ruby’s (spectacular locally owned tapas/sushi restaurant with big bar scene).

    The Maisonette couldn’t make a go of it on that block? Good riddance and step aside. Their closing had more to do with living on faded past glory than anything else. Kudos to the city for refusing the shakedown efforts of the Comisar family.

    More kudos to former Maisonette chef Jean Robert, who puts his saute pan where his mouth is, and has opened up a string of excellent and fun restaurants in and around the CBD. Pigall’s is a high-end restaurant superior in many respects to the Maisonette (and the neighboring Twist Lounge is like something out of a trendy SF or Chicago scene), Bistro JeanRo is consistently excellent bistro food, Lavomatic, my fave new restaurant/wine bar, located in the Gateway Quarter of OTR, and Cafe Greenup and Chalk, Food Wine, two more excellent venues almost next door to each other in Covington (they are also an easy walk over the Roebling from downtown)–all fairly new restaurants from JR.

    I’ll take that in a trade for a 5Star any day.

  37. Anonymous says:

    “Top notch cultural institutions. Because Cincinnati was a big city early, its moneyed classes were able to endow great regional institutions such as the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I can’t think of a similar sized city in America with this collection of top rank institutions.”

    I agree that Cincinnati is a nice surprise, especially if you didnt have much in the way of expectations to begin with. But the obvious exception to the above is Cleveland (for the very reasons listed). The calliber of the institutions(and endowments)there dont get any better no matter what size the city. A notch above Cincinnati. But I agree Cincinnati has alot to offer.

  38. says:

    I must say I have an appreciation for the vast collection of architecture, art institutions, and beauty the city offers. Cincinnati was once a boom town. Almost every city has its hay day. I will say that there are only a few things the city needs in order to bring people back to the city center and reclaim the “Queen City” title.

    1. Learn to appreciate different cultures and races.
    2. Build great public schools in the poorest neighborhoods in order to bring hard working families back to the city.
    3. Give jobs to the over the rhine residents in order to restore the german village and architecture to its former glory.

    I have seen Venice before I die, fell in love in Paris, and currently reside in Naples. My heart is in Cincinnati and wish to spend my final days in appreciation of what it will become.

  39. Josh Henderson says:

    “Ha, ha, ha! Sorry, but give me a city like any other city worth living in…”

    I’m from Salt Lake City- believe me, depending on the weekend you’d have to try pretty hard to find something fun to do other than go to a bar. It’s still a city well worth living in. We make our own fun. :)

  40. T. Madwulf says:

    I grew up in Cincinnati and watched as N. Ky improved its nightlife and built up the area, utilizing its riverfront while Cincinnati remained stagnant, giving into the demands of that asshat Paul Brown, destroyed a popular and historic landmark and replaced it with that hideous monolith of a stadium. I left as the race riots made the rest of downtown impossible to utilize. Now when I visit the places I used to love, they’re rundown or closed. It’s sad. I’m glad I’ve left.

  41. Randy Simes says:

    ^Sounds like you haven’t been to Cincinnati in a while. There are more clubs, bars, restaurants and activity during all times of the day and week than there has been in some time. Downtown Cincinnati is really progressing quite nicely and Over-the-Rhine is redefining itself as more of a sustainable neighborhood with residents, local shops and businesses.

    If you would like, I could show you all the great things that have happened and I feel convinced that your opinion will be slightly different than the one you just shared above. Cheers.

  42. Anonymous says:

    As a lifelong Cincinnatian now living in the NKY suburbs, I think your analysis was very fair. This is definitely a curious town. But, that’s what makes it interesting.

    However, I don’t know WHERE you got the notion that, “until recently you couldn’t buy a Playboy Magazine.” That is absoolutely false. During my college days decades ago, I was buying Playboy and Penthouse on a regular basis at a bookstore in Western Hills, the conservative side of town. In fact, Cincinnati was home to a Playboy Club in the 70s on 7th Street near the current Aronoff Center, (Not far from where Larry Flynt had his infamous Hustler Club).

  43. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 8:05 – You might be right. I have to confess that I based that on only the testimony of my college roommate, who hailed from the west side, who quite possibly was exaggerating for effect.

  44. Ron Tunning says:

    Loved reading your post and the subsequent comments.

    Cincinnati is an anomaly with tremendous assets offset by equally significant liabilities.

    I’ve often described Cincinnati as the northern-most southern city, the southern-most northern city, the eastern-most western city and the western-most eastern city.

    It really is all of the above, and reflects those characteristics, not only as regards race, but also economic opportunity and growth.

    What has most hampered Cincinnati over the past fifty years is its steadfast belief in its own public relations. It has always harbored a certain arrogance about its quality of life, its culture, and its economic stability, not realizing that those advantages are not nearly as pronounced as they once were.

  45. Katy says:

    How much difference a year makes.

    Cincinnati Rocks.

    Northside’s Community Urban Redevelopment are spear heading LEED redevelopment on a grass roots scale, by building LEED certified homes and redeveloping existing structures to LEED standards!

    OTR, and the Gateway are on the up:

    Also, many people would be upset if we based the entire country off of what idiots like Limbaugh and Hannity say; why be irresponsible and paint a picture that the majority of Cincinnatians think Cunningham is more than a mouth breathing moron?

  46. david says:

    Great post. I guess that's why we're talking about it more than a year later. I live in Cincinnati, though have also lived in Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit and NYC, so I think I come to this with a pretty good perspective.
    This IS a conservative place. But there is a vocal and active progressive community, as well. It's probably more of a struggle for them than in Ann Arbor or Madison. But they are heard. And they have an impact. Not enough for me, personally. But it is definitely a force.
    A couple of corrections &clarifications to some of the earlier – much earlier – comments.
    First, the city of Cincinnati is NOT a newcomer to curbside recycling. It's been going since 1989, making the city a fairly early adopter.
    Also, with regard to the Mapplethorpe trial. Naysayers and Cincinnati-bashers love to cite the trial as an example of the city's arch-conservatism. The thing they neglect to point out is that the jury, of whom only two had ever been to a museum before, declared that the museum and its director were NOT GUILTY of pandering to obscenity. The jury members believed that they and others were capable of making their own decisions.
    The prosecutor – now the county sheriff – is a backward-thinking fearmonger, in my opinion. But the public, as personified by the jury, declined to follow his lead.
    Far from being a shameful moment, I think it is one to be quite proud of. If only my fellow liberals would work on their memories.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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