Sunday, June 6th, 2010
Cincinnati can be incredibly surprising to people who don’t know much about it. Cincinnati was the Queen City of the Midwest when Chicago was a small village. And it has an incredible legacy from that day. Cincinnati simply has the greatest collection of assets of any city its size in America. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Yet Cincinnati has not been a strong economic performer in some time. It’s not doing poorly, but it isn’t great either. I examined Cincinnati in one of my signature overview posts a couple years ago called “A Midwest Conundrum” that goes into detail on Cincy’s assets and challenges. I highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it.
This is a follow-up of sorts. My last article didn’t give nearly enough photos to do justice to Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. I was there for a presentation recently, and was fortunate enough to have UrbanCincy’s Randy Simes give me a tour. The result is this photo-centric post. You can view all of the photos in this post as a Flickr set. I also have another Flick set with even more Cincinnati photos that didn’t make the post. With that, let’s kick off our neighborhood tour.
Over the Rhine
Wendell Cox said Over the Rhine “may be the nation’s most important historical district” awaiting redevelopment.
OTR is a near-downtown neighborhood located north of what was once a small canal (dubbed “the Rhine” by Cincinnati’s heavily German inhabitants), now filled in with abandoned tunnels from a never opened subway and six lane Central Parkway. It is exceptionally dense, with tons of incredible architecture that leans heavily to the Italianate style.
Here’s a shot looking down Vine St., which, along with Main St., is one of the two principal north-south corridors through the area.
The south end of OTR was recently named the Gateway Quarter, to signify it as a focus of redevelopment efforts by a corporate led group with the awkward name of 3CDC. In the bottom left of the photo above is Park and Vine, an upscale green general store in the area. There’s also a swanky and delicious restaurant called Senate that I was fortunate enough to eat at. And there are many condo developments in the area.
As with most similar sized cities, these are at fairly high price points and the aggregate number of new residents is still fairly low (probably the low hundreds).
Also like many such districts around the country, the city has targeted this as an arts district. Here’s one theater:
Redevelopment in OTR has not been without its tensions and setbacks. This was touted as an up and coming neighborhood in the 90′s, when its identity was as an entertainment district. As with Cleveland’s Flats, it basically crashed. Also, OTR has been heavily black for quite some time, and city-sponsored redevelopment in the area has created some tensions. In 2001, a police killing of an unarmed black youth touched off four days of riots centered in OTR, earning Cincinnati the dubious distinction of having the most significant racial disturbance in the US after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. However, race relations in OTR seem much improved this time around.
One reason is that there are still such an incredible number of vacant and boarded up buildings that few development projects have resulted in displacement.
The number of buildings like this in OTR and Cincinnati generally is depressingly large. Here’s another one, complete with 3CDC signage. The facade appears to have had work done on it.
And still more. I think you get the gist of why Cox described OTR this way. The potential in these vacant structures is incredible.
Nearby is Findlay Market, the oldest continuously operating public market in Ohio.
It doesn’t look like it in this picture, but the place was doing decent business on the Thursday afternoon I took this. And reputedly the place is mobbed on weekends.
But it’s time to move on. Cincinnati residents are justifiably proud of OTR, but almost to a point where you might think it is the only thing they’ve got going on. It’s a constant chorus of “Over the Rhine, Over the Rhine, Over the Rhine…..” But there are at least 10-15 other neighborhoods in Cincinnati that most cities would kill to have.
Northside is the neighborhood Greg Meckstroth called the “gayborhood minus the gays.” It’s one of Cincy’s premier hipster districts.
I was there early Friday morning before the stores opened, which explains some of the empty streets. Here’s a mural by Shepard Fairey:
Here’s a crazy one. As you can see, someone at the city cared enough to make this Taco Bell/KFC combo front the street and also mandated brick construction – but allowed (required?) them to have a gigantic parking lot and a drive through. A clearly subpar development that didn’t have to be like this in a reasonably prosperous district.
Clifton might be the most complete neighborhood commercial district in the city. It has not only coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, but also a grocery store, a drug store, and as you can see here, even a library branch. It pretty much has everything you need to take care of your daily needs.
Here are a couple of restaurants:
There is even an old movie theater still showing films:
If “Mother” is the recent Korean version by Joon-ho Bong, it even shows good films, Iron Man 2 notwithstanding.
University of Cincinnati
Clifton is basically where the University of Cincinnati is located. One interesting thing about the campus recently is that they hired a number of well-known contemporary architects to design their new buildings. Here’s one by UC alum Michael Graves:
Somewhat oddly, UC spent untold millions on fabulous buildings, then put this sign at their main entrance:
There has to be a better answer than this.
DeSales Corner was once a rival to downtown Cincinnati, as the major buildings there will attest. It isn’t often that you see seven story buildings in neighborhood commercial districts. This is like some of Chicago’s more intense districts, like Uptown or Wicker Park.
Like OTR, despite the excellent architecture, many of the buildings in this shot are vacant, albeit in reasonable condition:
There is still new development, however:
Hyde Park Square
When I visited this place, only one word came to mind: money.
It’s a bit difficult to photograph, because there is a huge park in the median of the street, giving an almost courthouse square effect, hence the name:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour. Even though this is a long post already, there is a lot more where this came from. Be sure to check out the rest of the photos online. And I’d recommend a visit to Cincinnati for yourself to see in person what it has to offer and what is going on there. It is a city that really exceeds expectations, often in dramatic form.
More on Cincinnati
A Midwest Conundrum
Cincinnati Is Cool – by Mike Doyle at his blog CHICAGO CARLESS
Agenda 360 – a review of Cincinnati’s regional strategy
Water Works and the Commonwealth – a look at Cincinnati’s proposed water works transaction