Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Downtown Cincinnati on the Rise

I just got back from the CEOs for Cities spring meeting in Cincinnati. It was the first time I got to spend any time there in a couple of years. But even in that short span of time in a bad economy, downtown Cincinnati and Over the Rhine have really boomed in a way that was beyond even what I expected. Reputedly there are still over 500 vacant buildings in OTR, so everything isn’t great, but I noticed a lot more vitality in the central area than even a short time ago.

Even the local TV news has picked up on this. Here’s a segment WCPO did on what’s happening downtown. (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here). It’s a good story, but the way the anchors approach the story tells you a lot about what smaller city downtowns have to put up with.

h/t Randy Simes

Topics: Urban Culture
Cities: Cincinnati

28 Responses to “Downtown Cincinnati on the Rise”

  1. adam. says:

    I really think we are doing things as good or better as anywhere in the country right now and it is crazy the degree to which so many people outside of our city center refuse to understand.

    Also, that was my friend featured during the choir segment!

  2. Quimbob says:

    Glad you enjoyed your visit. And a clip of Tonya O’Rourke is always nice. But per that video, here’s some of the viewer comments:

    “There is nothing here that would attract anyone to visit….nothing.”

    “They don’t report crime in OTR because it’s too common an occurance”

    “your lucky to come out of downtown without getting shot. I wouldn’t take my dog downtown let alone my FAMILY!!!”

    “Only a fool would subject themself and/or their family to the ghetto of OTR. AVOID OTR!”

    “Yeah – you can run in to a lot of people downtown. The pan handlers and the thugs that will beat you up and take your possessions.”

    “Did 3CDC pay WCPO for this full-page advertizement?”

    “Of course you can find a large crowd in OTR…… they are typically hanging out on street corners and front steps, usually up to no good.”

  3. Todd says:

    The city has improved immensely in the last decade. In a recent trip, I too was shocked to see how the downtown is now full of activity. While, I commend the city for the upward momentum, I still would not go near OTR after dark. There are race issues that are still unresolved and hopefully as the city keeps improving, the city will eventually feel safe.

  4. Jord says:

    Todd, it’s a good thing a lot of people do not feel the way you do about Over-the-Rhine after dark, or there would not be such a thriving restaurant and nightlife scene.

    I’ll be in Cincinnati this coming weekend, and I’m looking forward to seeing more progress. I haven’t lived there since graduating from UC in 2004, but I try to make it back at least once a year. Each time I return, there is a great deal of progress, seemingly accelerating. It’s like night and day compared to 8 years ago.

  5. OTR blog says:

    What’s most remarkable about the transformation in Over-the-Rhine (and the basin in general) is the exponential rate of growth.

    In the last year, Vine Street in OTR has become the city’s hottest restaurant corridor – and all media outlets agree. The streetcar has broken ground, Washington’s $50+ million renovation and expansion is ready to open, and the largest 3CDC project to date, Mercer Commons, breaks ground in the next month or so – all of this development all within a couple blocks of each other.

    Three more high-quality restaurants led by established chefs and entrepreneurs are ready to open in the next six months (Hapa-Asian/Hawaiian, Japanese sushi bar w/beer garden, and The Anchor-otr a seafood restaurant and oyster bar. All this in addition to new offices for law firms and architects, bike shops, a startup accelerator, ad agencies, live music pubs, dry cleaners, and high end and vintage fashion boutiques.

    Look it up on facebook for more info:

  6. Liz says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!
    I moved to Cincinnati seven years ago and never really intended to stay. But I met my husband here and fell in love with this place. We met in OTR, married at our church downtown, had our first apartment in OTR, work in and around downtown, bought our first house in OTR, and are raising our family here. We may not be lifelong residents, but we’re staying put for now.

    It’s a great time to be in Cincinnati and I’m proud to have invested so much time, energy, and money in seeing this neighborhood succeed.

  7. Rob says:

    What a great change! I came to Cincy for business every year in the 1990s, and only got to experience an office park on the beltway where our client was located. It was so depressing. To get lunch, you had to drive to a strip mall that was across the “street” but too dangerous and far to get there. I don’t think there were any sidewalks or crosswalks.

    The folks who worked in the office park talked about “Downtown,” but never seemed to go there.

  8. Brett says:

    I lived in Cincinnati for a couple of years in the 80’s. I always thought there was huge potential in Over-the-Rhine. One of the professors in the planning department at UC said that OTR was hopeless. He said the buildings were so deteriorated that it would never be financially viable to renovate them. I’m so glad he was wrong. From a built environment standpoint, Cincinnati has the potential to be the best city in Ohio. I need to go back for a visit!

  9. The amount of positive change that has taken place in Cincinnati’s urban core is truly impressive. There are scores of new businesses, thousands of new residents, thousands of new jobs, new parks, new transit options, new art, new cultural institutions, and the list just keeps getting longer.

    With that said, you’re absolutely right Aaron. Over-the-Rhine, while much improved, still has a lot of work to do. There isn’t reason to be fearful going there, but there are still a lot of vacant buildings that need to be restored and repopulated. This will happen in time, and based on the trend of the past five years, it will probably happen sooner than we all think.

  10. the urban politician says:

    Aaron, not to get picky, but you said:

    “but the way the anchors approach the story tells you a lot about what smaller city downtowns have to put up with.”

    ^ What do you mean by this? I did not pick up any sort of snide town or such from the anchors when I watched the video

  11. anonymous says:

    This is just my two cents, but when I watched the anchors it seemed as if they were suburbanites talking to other suburbanites about a foreign place. Even if their comments were laudatory, it still seemed as if there was a gap in identification between them and the city.

  12. Matthew hall says:

    And ironically, they did so in a building on the edge of downtown with a view of it.
    Quimbob, those are the old-timers who haven’t left the home, trailer, or institution they live in for years or the semi-skilled middle class folks who don’t have the skills or income to take advantage of what Cincinnati increasingly has to offer. And, of course, not one is a legal resident of Cincinnati. Frankly, getting them out of the way physically and politically is a big part of why cincinnati’s central neighborhoods are doing better. They were holding Cincinnati back with their moderate incomes but high demand for services, and rightwing reactionary politics. They react the way they do because they don’t like to be reminded of how irrelevant they are to the economic prospects of their own home town.

  13. CityBeautiful21 says:

    Anonymous nailed it. The “we sent someone to downtown” line is almost like a group of mid-twentieth century anthropologists talking about a strange, mysterious tribe that they’ve recently discovered, that somehow seems to be thriving despite their unusual ways!

    TV news doesn’t do depth, nuance, or detail generally, and local TV news is even worse because the caliber of reporter isn’t as strong on subject matter. But the pictures are nice and the interviews convey true, encouraging, first-person statements about the good things happening in Cincy. Definitely makes me want to visit.

    For those making it happen in Cincy, nice job, and keep up the good work, no matter how strange your local tv station finds your efforts.

  14. Eric says:

    Cincinnati has the narrow streets, architecture, and institutions to be a great city. Based on these factors, I think it’s the third best city in the Midwest to Chicago and Minneapolis. You really can’t find the building stock/architecture, pride for living IN the city, and amenities that Cincinnati has in any other Midwestern city other than these.

  15. Jake says:

    I’m coming to Cincy for my first time for a conference in November and I’ll be really looking forward to walking the streets of downtown and OTR.

    Even if the news anchors were treating downtown as a foreign place, maybe this represents the first awkward teething moments of the region coming to view the area in a new and different light.

    It did seem a little weird, though, that every single person that the reporter spoke to was white.

  16. @TUP, I think the others basically already said it. It wasn’t that the anchors were negative, but they had a sort of “golly” attitude, as if downtown Cincinnati were some weird and foreign place and not the urban core of the actual region they live in.

  17. the urban politician says:

    I hate to break it to you all, but for most Americans (especially midwesterners), “downtown” really is a foreign place, even in larger cities like Cincy.

    Americans have been cut off from downtown for so long that I’m not surprised by this attitude.

  18. Alex Pearlstein says:

    Seemed like a broadcast from an out of town station. Hilarious.

  19. Matthew hall says:

    Do you really hate to break it to us, urban politician?

  20. Tee says:

    “…the semi-skilled middle class folks who don’t have the skills or income to take advantage of what Cincinnati increasingly has to offer.”

    “They were holding Cincinnati back with their moderate incomes…”

    “they don’t like to be reminded of how irrelevant they are to the economic prospects of their own home town.”

    I’m sorry Mr. Hall, but I don’t see these as good things. Downtowns shouldn’t just be playgrounds for wealthy professionals, but useful for all it’s residents.

    Central cities need to find space for all their people, not just the super-elites, since they’re supposed to be representative of the best of what the metro has to offer for it’s citizens.

    The last line is especially troubling because having large numbers of people feeling irrelevant and powerless in their own city can be a recipe for disaster.

    In regards to the actual news story, I’m not suprised people would speak like that about their cities. In large metros, it happens.

    But it is cool to see people beginning to appreciate Cincy’s efforts be better.

  21. the urban politician says:


    Yes, I indeed do ‘hate to break it to you all’. And I say this because I can’t stand the American attitude towards cities. In fact, I find it laughable.

    Unfortunately, if cities want to attract the average American, they need to get into the minds of the average American. And the average American really has spent practically none of their life in an urban environment. It’s beyond just ignorance–it is the complete lack of acknowledgement. Watching TV, going to the mall, and eating at the local Red Lobster is the totality of life for a vast chunk of American society.

  22. I look forward to the day when local media reports on things happening downtown without the “gee whiz, people are going Downtown now” attitude. The progress that’s already been made will have to continue for a long time for this to happen.

  23. Jenny K says:

    As a resident, it’s frustrating to hear extremes on both sides – NO, Over-the-Rhine isn’t particularly scary or dangerous, but at the same time, NO, Over-the-Rhine isn’t being besieged by rich white people.

    The part of OTR that everyone is falling all over themselves about is approximately TWO blocks long… walk one block over to Walnut Street and you can get your fill of low income families living in subsidized housing. They’re doing just fine. The art students who live across the street are doing just fine. The entry level hipsters like me who pay 500-800$ a month in rent on Main Street are doing just fine… and so are the cool kids who paid for an expensive condo. We’re all in this together.

    The beauty of this neighborhood comes from its diversity. I’m very glad there are organizations like the Emanuel Center, Mercy Housing and OTR Community Housing that are focused on people who need help.

    Do we have to keep equating poor with scary?

  24. Wad says:

    @The Urban Politician, it’s even more bleak than that.

    The “average” American archetype uses Disney as the reference point to which they weigh all experience. Disney has went far beyond a mere successful business model and managed to rewire humans’ own senses, thought processes and expectations.

    Because Disney was able to synthesize and refine what humans had created on their own, it found the synthetic formula and convinced people that the Disney Way must be the natural order of things from here on out.

    Francis Fukuyama penned a famous essay two decades ago, “The End of History,” to mark the collapse of Soviet communism. He said the event proves that liberal democracy has defeated its primary competitive ideology and there are no more battles to fight. In the same way, Disney’s success marks the End of Experience.

    Because Disney can romanticize any time and place, can deliver on its experiences cosistently and in an orderly fashion, and can always make customers feel good and never make them feel bad, it means people must insist upon this in all of their experiences outside the Disney bubble.

  25. Chris Barnett says:

    The end of experience, and the rise of “experience”. Wad, I assume you’re familiar with “The Experience Economy” by Pine and Gilmore.

    That’s what Aaron hints at with his TV comment: the story is packaged and sold, as if to show “see, you can get what you want in The City”.

  26. Matthew Hall says:

    Tee, I’m not talking about people who are in the city of cincinnati now, I’m talking about people who used to be. They left because their ideological campaign against change of any kind no matter what become too difficult to maintain within the city limits. Think of it as a failed marriage. Each side is genuinely better off apart, but there are two sides. There are people who are fighting for change in Cincinnati. It isn’t Detroit. When everyone but those who wanted to fight for change left Detroit there was no one left. When the same happened in Cincinnati there were many people left; many of them the wealthiest and most powerful people in the region.

    Urbanpolitician, Cincinnati may be unusual, but many people who live far from downtown cincinnati and its other central areas are in fact familiar with Downtown’s offerings and regularly attend the plays, concerts, games, street festivals, restaurants, night clubs, etc of downtown. Downtown cincinnati didn’t ‘hold onto’ its region’s attention by trying to make itself into a faux new urban development. It did it by offering the real thing. If you don’t think genuine urbanism can appeal to americans why are you posting on a site called URBANophile?

  27. Wad says:

    @Chris, I’ve never heard of “The Experience Economy” until you mentioned it. I read the Wikipedia entry and Amazon blurb on it and it sounds like they are advocates for it.

    This, along with Kasarda’s Aerotropolis, is a disturbing vision of the future. Both represent visions of a conscientious totalitarianism.

  28. OTR blog says:

    The most remarkable about-face came this week when none other than conservative talk radio show host Bill Cunningham gushed about how pleasant Over-the-Rhine is now. The three minutes of audio is available with full text here:

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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