Saturday, January 10th, 2009
“Despite my pre-trip trepidation to travel to the land of the abandoned subway, as it turned out, Cincinnati is cool. And don’t you know, ex-New Yorker and current Downtown Chicagoan that I am, I half-expect to turn into a pillar of salt for saying so. I had been jonesing for a break from blogging before the end of summer, so when Cincinnati Jamie asked if I wanted to ride shotgun on a weekend trip back home to check on his Queen City condo, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t expect more than a few quiet days in a quaint backwater, a plate of chili, and some gratuitous references (on my part) to WKRP… I admit it. Cincinnati blew me away.”
You may recall me saying of Midwest cities and Indy that they have two problems in luring people there: getting on the list, and closing the deal after a visit. As you can see from the Chicago Carless entry, Cincy has horrible brand headwinds to fight. But it most assuredly does not have the same problems that other cities do in making a great first impression. Like New York and San Francisco, Cincy actually does hit you in the face with how cool it is on the cab ride into the airport, as you experierence a fantastic skyline vista on the way. Plus all the old, dense architecture, the geography, etc. Partially perhaps because expectations are so low, Cincinnati does a great job of wowing visitors. I always leave impressed. The challenge for Cincy could possibly be the reverse as for Indy. The quality of the built environment might inflate expectations of how cool living there might be to the point of setting people up for disappointment later. Nevertheless, this is a huge asset for Cincinnati and something the city can really leverage to great effect. If Cincy’s growth ever ignited again, this environment is like gasoline sloshing around on the floor ready to turn that growth fire into a raging inferno. It is easy to envision how Cincinnati could turn into a really special Midwest success story, if it overcomes its challenges and gets on the right path.
One other thing. It was again interesting reading that someone else had the same experience I did where racial remarks that would be considered completely unacceptable elsewhere were stated out in the open in Cincinnati. This is a major, major problem with the city. Given what I know of the place, I’d have to put better race relations as by far top priority for that city. This problem will sabotage everything else they do if not addressed.
For Indy readers, Mike Doyle of Chicago Carless recently contributed here in my posting about the city’s brand. Remember what I said about the physical appearance of the city? Well, Mike stopped briefly in downtown Indy on his way back from Cincy. After waxing poetic about how much he liked Cincinnati, here is what he had to say about Naptown.
“We finally did make that stop in Indy, too. Downtown there was certainly monumental, but small given the size of the surrounding city. I couldn’t help thinking of Milwaukee, another Midwestern burg with a downtown curiously unimpressive for a place of its size. (After several hundred more miles of boring Hoosier farmland, I also couldn’t help thinking God put Indiana on the map to make people appreciate Illinois and Ohio better).”
The problem of the poor physical appearance and quality of space in Indianapolis is a five alarm fire, but the community doesn’t even smell the smoke. Making a serious effort to start addressing this is absolutely critical to the city’s future success. Imagine a guy like Mike Doyle, a New York native living in Chicago, with two equivalent job offers in his hand, one in Cincinnati, the other in Indianapolis. Which one do you imagine he might pick? Indy is fighting with one hand tied behind its back.
On another topic, I was reminded this week of another statement someone made about Indy. He’d moved here from a top tier coastal city and often is around the city’s elite at various functions. He was annoyed at how often those people whisper and snipe to each other about how bad Indy is compared to Chicago or New York or where ever. He said he wants to just tell these people, “Some of us chose to live here.” Remember what I said about most of the haters being natives? It reminds me of these dysfunctional corporate cultures you sometimes see where people spend their days complaining to co-workers about how horrible the company is. That sort of thing is toxic and corrosive. I won’t claim this is unique to Indy. It appears to be a near universal affliction among smaller cities. But it has similar negative effects.
I sometimes ask people who think Indy is worse than City X, “Why not move there?” Price isn’t the object. My brother, a graphic designer and actor, two famously low paying professions, was able to make the move from Indy to Chicago to pursue his acting career. New York City might be financially out of reach, but there are many cool places that aren’t. I think it’s a totally legitimate question to consider.
Now obviously I have my complaints too, as with the poor physical appearance of the city. But I’m optimistic that this is like being a teenage boy with braces and bad acne. With proper treatment and a little time, I think the city can grow up to be a stallion who’s in like Flynn with the ladies so to speak. I don’t think people need to be rah-rah all the time. But constant carping about how bad things are a la the Indy Star message boards is a morale killer for a city just as it is at a company. The city’s not perfect by any means, but it’s got a lot good doing for it. And like Richard Stallman said of free software vs. proprietary software. “The question with free software isn’t ‘When will this feature be done?’ but ‘How can I help get it done quicker?'” Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
David Hoppe over at Nuvo weighs in on the airport art controversy. “This level of institutional risk aversion goes a long way toward explaining why it is Indianapolis has yet to really invest in a landmark work of public art worthy of the name. It’s not because of the money such a piece might cost, but because of the lack of confidence the people with money in this town have in their own taste and judgement when it comes to anything aesthetic Therefore, when someone — anyone — complains about a piece of public art ala Wolin’s photograph, alarm bells ring, panic buttons are pushed. That’s because the powers that be here keep confusing art and advertising. As far as they’re concerned, Wolin’s work of documentary art isn’t an expression to be experienced, weighed and responded to (yes, the person who complained was certainly within their rights to take umbrage), but a promotional statement intended to persuade.”
Clearly, part of the aim of the airport art program was to telegraph messages. There is a promotional aspect to it and I don’t object to that. But as it turned out, the message the airport delivered ended up being different from what they intended. Wise words from Hoppe.
More on talent and mobility from Jim Russell at New Geography. “The rub is that greater investment in your human capital will make your young adults more likely to leave. This is the mobility paradox. Regional workforce development has the unintended effect of increasing out-migration.” Lots more good stuff in there.
Here’s an interesting chart showing the price to rent ratio for various cities.
America’s museums are making major budget cuts to deal with shrinking endowments.
An interesting article on using the heat from roads to warm up water or even generate electricity.
A video series called “Perils for Pedestrians“. The episode I linked is about pedestrian access to bridges. This is certainly of relevance in Kansas City, where there is a controversy of MoDOT’s decision not to include any pedestrian or bike access on the new Paseo bridge.
Cincinnati. The Enquirer has a great interactive section about CVG airport.
Columbus. The city is asking for light rail money from the stimulus.
Detroit. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Motown Records. Detroit has long been one of the creative epicenters of music in the United States. Motown Records is the centerpiece of that.
Speaking of public art, next year George Rickey is the featured artist in the downtown public art program.
INDOT releases its statewide transit study. Warning: It’s 430 pages!
CICP wants to make the state a center of clean technology. The race to do this is getting quite crowded as many states are trying to get a piece of this action, just like life sciences.
St. Louis. Good news from the St. Louis Symphony, which actually saw ticket sales and revenues go up in December.