Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

No Reservations Cleveland by Richey Piiparinen

There is a new video out marketing Cleveland and a new slogan: “Downtown Cleveland: It’s here”. Now, I struggle with critiquing it. One the one hand, I get its energy and optimism: the energy in Downtown is palpable, real—there is a bit of a youth movement to the core—and hence the compilation of images, sounds, and narratives that are trying to capitalize and communicate what is going down.

On the other hand, I see it as another missed opportunity. The message reads blasé. Tastes like a spoon of new car smell. In fact it could be about anywhere—Nashville, Cincinnati, Tampa, etc.; that is, instead of exposing what Cleveland really is and what’s unique about it, it’s distinctiveness as an attraction is buried in amenity-driven microphone-ing that screams we have sports teams and a casino and restaurants and the yet-spoiled exuberance of the young. But when you think about Cleveland—I mean honestly think about Cleveland: about its guts and soul and heart and people—is this the kind of stuff that comes to mind?

Of course not. So why do it?

Firstly, it speaks to a larger method of city revitalization that has been running America for some time. Here, the creative classification method entails imposing a rather homogenous, universal cool over a given city topography. Glitz, glamor, glass condos, and sports heroes. Bike paths and food trucks. Millennium Park Jr.’s. Etc. But with this whitewashing comes the chipping away at Cleveland’s Rust Belt soul. And it is this soul, mind you, that is a real attraction. After all, what is so hot about going everywhere when you can go somewhere?

And yes: Cleveland is a somewhere and has a something. This thing is part cultural, part aesthetic, part historical, and part a consequence of having to go on in the face of adversity. It is part wit, part ironic, part self-deprecating, but also part stand your ground in the defense of where you came from. And it’s all real, not ephemeral: our distinctiveness arising less from donning another city’s success than stripping naked and showing our nuts and bolts. Our warts. Our knuckles and heart.

Secondly, and this speaks to the marketing machine in general, but outfits that produce messaging at this level just cannot get beyond the culture of the boardroom from which the message emerges. Corporatism repels risk. And this not only relates to branding professionals but also to the customers seeking the brand. It’s like everyone knows their audience and their audience is everyone. It’s all about that one type we want, they say, and we want thousands of them. It is a safe strategy, riskless. But Cleveland doesn’t need safe. Playing it conservative has just kept us secure in our knowledge that we are always revitalizing. Instead, step outside, show your face to the world, as branding is and always has been about differentiation. But to do that you need to be aware and secure in knowing what makes you different.

It is alright. People will like you. And if they don’t, so be it. The coolest will. Said Anthony Bourdain in his “No Reservations: Cleveland” trip:

I think that troubled cities often tragically misinterpret what’s coolest about themselves. They scramble for cure-alls, something that will “attract business”, always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival. They miss their biggest, best and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character. Few people go to New Orleans because it’s a “normal” city — or a “perfect” or “safe” one. They go because it’s crazy, borderline dysfunctional, permissive, shabby, alcoholic and bat shit crazy — and because it looks like nowhere else. Cleveland is one of my favorite cities. I don’t arrive there with a smile on my face every time because of the Cleveland Philharmonic.

Update: A friend commented to me that authenticity and grit can’t be marketed. Well, check this new video out from Memphis. They got it. I get a feel for who they are. And it makes me want to check the city out.

This post originally appeared in Rust Belt Chic on November 1, 2012.

Topics: Civic Branding, Urban Culture
Cities: Cleveland

48 Responses to “No Reservations Cleveland by Richey Piiparinen”

  1. George Mattei says:

    I also note that Memphis’ clip is much shorter. They don’t try to cram every detail in-just selling their brand.

  2. Brett says:

    I didn’t know anything about Memphis. Now I know they had to come back from … something.

  3. George says:

    It’s hard to market cities like Cleveland because, like most rust belt cities, Cleveland has no raison d’etre (as we love to say). Sure, the young, creative class has done a great job turning select sections of lucky rust belt cities into urban playgrounds, but is it really THAT exciting or original, especially as such cities continue to shrink? How do you market that in a unique way? “It’s here” has that “live/work/play” sterility to it, but perhaps that’s unavoidable.

    When Cleveland was at the top of its game, it was because it HAD to exist. You had to put the factories on the water, you couldn’t outsource, and your average person had to live close to where they worked. What people made defined the city’s character.

    Now? The revitalization of Cleveland largely depends on the fickle whims of young, college educated people and their culinary and computer wizardry – the same as all the other rust belters. And I can’t help but wonder, how long can such people entertain themselves with slumming it in hallowed out urban cores? Or what do they do when it’s time for Johnny or Sally to go school? Where is the necessary progress in public schools and city services in the tragically unhip neighborhoods?

    If the revitalization was real – if cities like Cleveland and Detroit were actually GROWING in population and size again instead of contracting – then these commercials would probably have more legs, because advertisers could sell something that’s real instead of some image dreamed up by the people living in lofts downtown.

  4. Tee says:

    I’m torned by the first video. Although I can appreciate people being positive about my city, Downtown is still only a really small part of the city and region. The whole thing comes across as sterile. I also agree that it was too long.

    “…History is made, not by worrying what you don’t have, but by taking care of business with what you do.”

    Every city, especially those in the Midwest and Rust Belt, need to learn and internalize that quote!” It says more about the attitude of the people better than generic YPs saying “Dowtown Cleveland” 200 times.

  5. Richey Piiparinen says:

    George, to say that Cleveland has no reason to be and that it’s future depends on the fickle whims of the Creative Class is to not understand the situation. Cleveland has a remarkable history of innovation and development, way before the culture of start-ups and artisan cheese, and it has a history and currency related to human capital development. Not only is the metro a player on the national scene, the Cleveland diaspora is huge, with ex-Clevelanders spread out across the globe doing great work. Believe it or not, many of these potential boomerangers are still attached to their home. To Cleveland culture. And they are looking to come back as the Sun Belt and Global City dreams crumble around them. Marketing that attraction to potential returnees is big. So is developing your city brand for the people of Cleveland, not for the saviors of the Creative Class. That is a myth. See Portland.

  6. MetroCard11 says:

    So, what should Cleveland’s tag line be then?

    “Cleveland…We’ll Pop a Cap in Yo’ Ass with a Smile”

  7. George says:

    I don’t think a history of industrial innovation and development means much in today’s America. Industry seems to be a zero-sum game for the most part. The knowledge sector, as we all know, is where it’s really at in this country.

    Cleveland’s only real strength in this scenario is that it already has a decent amount of people and infrastructure in place. If it’s young, college-educated workers can be convinced that Cleveland is cool and that the cost of business is low enough/then profit potential is high enough, then it can compete. But surely you must be able to see how tenuous of a position that is. Aren’t Detroit, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and etc. in the same boat, trying to offer the same things?

    I really want cities like Cleveland to thrive. But for that to happen, we have to convince mainstream America that urban living is desirable and perhaps even necessary in the long-term. As it is, I just see a few pockets getting gentrified in each city while the rest of the city continues to decay and depopulate.

  8. Matthew Hall says:

    Columbus and Indy couldn’t hope to offer the cultural life of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis. They offer ample parking and jobs; not much else. They are the places for people who don’t care about anything else. What makes the last four different from each other is one thing. What makes them different from post-war strip mall metros like Columbus and Indy is another.

  9. Ziggy says:

    “Strip mall metros.”


  10. George says:

    I live in Detroit, and recently took a trip to Columbus, and let me tell you – Detroit would kill to have some of the intact historic neighborhoods and parks you find in Columbus. Really. German Village in Columbus is a rust belt wonder! Look it up.

    Although the urban core of both Columbus and Indy might be on the smaller side, I find those cores no less authentic or cultured/uncultured.

  11. Matthew Hall says:

    Detroit would. Cincinnatians look at the same “intact neighboorhoods” and ask where the neighborhood is. Everything is relative.

  12. George says:

    The more I think about, the more I realize that probably the biggest problem I have with all this is that the creative class will never bring millions of jobs into the country to like industry did. So while the discretionary income creatives bring can revitalize the dining, shopping, and entertainment scenes of a few neighborhoods, it’ll never save the city as a whole.

    That gives videos like the one posted above a hollow feeling – all the resources diverted into downtown and near downtown amounts to something of a Pyrrhic victory, as rampant disinvestment continues unabated throughout most the rest of the city.

  13. George Mattei says:

    Columbus and Indy aren’t Rust Belt metros. They are located in Rust Belt areas, but that doesn’t mean that they are Rust Belt-ers. Their physical and economic profiles are more like southern or western metros.

    I also would argue that while Columbus and Indy have very different urban experiences, they don’t necessarily have a worse cultural life.

    I would like to see someone do an analysis of what I would call the “Civic Fauna” of cities, almost like a Walkscore of amenities. I would like to break them down into two categories-“Macro-Fauna” and “Micro-Fauna”. Macro-fauna would be big civic assets-pro sports, major art institutions, etc. These would be less tied to location, because they are anchors in their own right (i.e. having a suburban arena wouldn’t hurt the score that much). Microfauna would be more granular-the number and quality of restaurants & bars (especially independents that provide a unique experience), parks, etc. Having these located in walkable, urban neighborhoods would increase the “Micro-Fauna score” so to speak, since the experience would be cumulative.

    My sense is that Columbus and Indy, while they look very similar, actually have very different Civic Fauna profiles. Although I don’t know Indy THAT well, I think it’s obvious that it has very good Macro-Fauna for a city its size. I don’t know much about its Micro-Fauna, although I imagine it’s probably appropriate for a Midwest metro if its size.

    Columbus doesn’t have near the Macro-Fauna that Indy has. However, in my experience its Micro-Fauna is actually surprisingly strong for a mid-sized Midwest “strip mall metro” as Matt deems it. I attribute that mostly to the presence of Ohio State and strong funding for family-oriented amenities like parks.

    Cincinnati is the other metro I know best in the area. It definitely has better Macro-Fauna then Columbus, but I would argue that the Mirco-Fauna experience is better in Columbus. Additionally Cincinnati has a very different physical landscape-which is much more impressive than Columbus, which also matters.

  14. George Mattei says:

    P.S. anyone have an idea of how to do such an analysis? I’m not much of a stats guy or a computer geek, but I imagine that you could take data in Google Maps and fairly easily do a coarse analysis of the Civic Fauna of a metro.

  15. Matthew Hall says:

    Cincinnati’s parks and restaurant scene are unquestionable superior in every way to those in Columbus. Columbus is an ‘easy-in, easy-out’ place with jobs. That is what it has to offer; accessiblity and affordability. Obviously valuable things, but let’s not pretend it has any other reason for existing, like a river, deep cultural roots, or a distintive collection of corporation headquarters and R&D.

  16. George says:

    In 1930, Columbus had a population of 290,000. Cincinnati had a population of 450,000 and was booming as early as the mid-1800s, while it wasn’t until the onset of the 19th century that Columbus really got going. Obviously, that’s why Cincinnati has more of a big city feel, and more old money institutions. However, in terms of real GDP, Columbus and Cincinnati are about equal nowadays. Plus, get this: Columbus has TWO rivers, although I’ll admit that neither truly compares to the Ohio River.

    Now food wise, Columbus might not be the top dog in the state, but it’s no slouch either. Soul food, haute deli cuisine, upscale restaurants – you can get all that in Columbus.

    Parks? I’ve never seen a city with more authentically urban parks – the parks are basically perfectly preserved replicas of the typical 1930s park, right down to the iron gateways.

    And, oh yeah, Columbus has 5 Fortune 500 companies, along with Ohio State University. Sure, none of those companies are at P&G’s level, but that’s still a big deal.

    But, fine, I’ll admit – Cincinnati still has a slight edge overall. However, I don’t think the gap between the two is all that big.

  17. Richey Piiparinen says:

    @ George
    “That gives videos like the one posted above a hollow feeling – all the resources diverted into downtown and near downtown amounts to something of a Pyrrhic victory, as rampant disinvestment continues unabated throughout most the rest of the city.”

    That much we can definitely agree on.

  18. Matthew Hall says:

    George, you need to travel more. The ‘gap’ between Cincinnati and Columbus is about 18% by population and 13% by Gross Metropolitan Product.

  19. Josh says:

    @Matthew: What happened to you in Columbus that gave you such a vendetta?

    As far as the original post goes, I think the difficulty in balancing marketing your cities identity to the outside world cannot be over stated. It would seem to me that Cleveland (and most cities for that matter) needs to balance their marketing between cultivating the deep rooted culture combined with the amenities that realistically people, especially young people and travelers really do want.

    The biggest difficulties occur, in my mind anyway, when your cities best attributes are things that tend to be thought of as cliche. Innovative, smart, big city with small town feel, ect.

    To me like Cleveland and Cinci have obvious features that can be easily marketed when talented people are doing the job. Think the Detroit Chrysler commercial or Pittsburgh Levi commercial. These advertisements are extremely compelling. Add a bit more civic pride to those and you have your own tourism ad.

    Its other metros that intrigue me more. How is it that you market a Cbus or an Indy ect. Its easier to capture grit and grime on camera than innovation or comfort or things of a more subtle nature. These attributes are often are at the heart of the culture of the up and coming breed of heartland capitals. I’m not sure what the answer is but knowing the question is half the battle.

  20. Matthew Hall says:

    Nothing happened. That is the point. Try as I might Columbus had nothing to offer me but a job. I need to live, but that isn’t enough on its own. So I left and found a job and a life in Cincinnati.

  21. dash says:

    what I noticed about the Cleveland video was how white is was. Not a lot of flavor. A couple black women and no latinos and no asians. Lots of blonde chicks.

  22. George Mattei says:

    We all know that Matt doesn’t like Columbus, and I’m not going to get sucked into another online argument about it!

    However, that’s why I was interested in trying to weigh the Civic Density of cities. Everyone has an opinion, but it would be interesting to see what the data shows. It would help clarify debates such as this.

  23. Matthew Hall says:

    I’m not alone. None of the people I got to know in Columbus still lives there. I never met a native columbuser in my 4 years there either. Not one. All that transience says it all, for me. Easy come, easy go. That is Columbus.

  24. Kamagra says:

    ceurpvscbopqijmf, Free kamagra, XphpDeg, [url=]Kamagra[/url], ImtfKql, Buy kamagra, QYrKlkb.

  25. uyrjrvscbopqijmf, Red online casino, LmHypML, [url=]Online Casino[/url], EAGuIKZ, Online casino slot gambling, AeygzFY.

  26. nsmybvscbopqijmf, Casino, AKgcMxX, [url=]Casino travel[/url], XWusyXs, Online casino wagering, VcQfHoj.

  27. EJ says:

    There certainly seems to be enough culture in Columbus to go around, and the arts and creative scene there continues to thrive and expand throughout the city’s core districts. But if you must have grit then I guess maybe you wouldn’t find it as appealing as Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, all of which have been to hell and back more than once and show it. Maybe Columbus hasn’t done itself a whole lot of favors in this regard since the city does have a tendency to tear down its landmark structures over 20 years old, the latest casualty being the Delphi plant on the far west side where they built the new casino. The result is a city that looks all shiny and postmodern new, but lacks a structural legacy that would give it that certain Rust Belt chic vibe, depth and character. Indianapolis and Columbus seem very similar in this regard.

  28. EJ says:

    I do agree with the temporary/transient vibe assessment of Columbus though. It does seem to permeate more than just the city’s attitude towards preserving its structural heritage. In my experience as well, if you didn’t grow up there and don’t manage to develop deep attachments to someone or something already pinned down there, you’re bound to move on after a few years time which I did too. It’s almost like the city is a transition point for people on their way to figuring out what they really want to do and become in life. Right now though, they seem to be drawing in more people than they are losing. Wonder if that trend will hold up over time?

  29. Matthew Hall says:

    One man’s irritating “grit” is another man’s humanity, vitality, diversity, and life.

  30. Matthew Hall says:

    People talk about ‘starter’ homes, ‘starter’ jobs, and rather cynically, ‘starter’ wives. Or at least they used to before the great collapse. I think of columbus as a starter town. It is where many get their start. That is a fine thing, but it works against having other opportunities that those who have established themselves want and support.

    Remember, New York collapsed in the 1970s and had to beg for federal loans. Remeber “Escape from New York” and “Fort Apache: The Bronx”? That was NYC’s image. Now it is the capital of the world. The two are not coincidental. New York is endlessly fascinating BECAUSE of its past problems, not despite them. The same is true for all the interesting places in the world. Rome was not built in a day, but Phoenix was and it shows. It is the most uninteresting and awful place I have ever been.

  31. Josh says:

    Maybe you were missing out on the “grit” in Columbus because many of our historic urban neighborhoods have already been gentrified which will almost inevitably happen to the neighborhoods worth preserving in Cincinnati and other cities across the country. The grittiest in Columbus are off the beaten path. Have many historic buildings been torn down? Yes, especially in Downtown proper, but many of the best historic neighborhoods are either fully gentrified or well on their way. I’m not sure this is such a terrible thing as this allows for modern development to take place in the future. I personally would rather have a feel of London (mixed modern with historical) than say Boston.

    I can see how Columbus has a starter town feel to some. Matt, I’m guessing that your time here was spent at Ohio State. Its not that difficult to surmise that most OSU students, or college students not in the Tier 1 cities of the US do not plan on staying in the city where they went to college. But how many young people today plan on moving far away from the place where they grew up? I’d venture to guess quite a few. The “I just want to get out of…” sentiment permeates young people especially with such increased mobility today. The mobility mentality is especially true in those people who have already left their home therefore any newcomers to a city will automatically be inclined to leave again if necessary.

    Since Columbus is a growing city (population wise) and Cincinnati is basically a stagnant city (population wise) you are more likely to encounter people who are mobile or transient in Columbus (if this hypothesis is correct).This is probably especially true in anything associated with the University. Even a place like NYC is highly transient in nature. I’d say less so in Columbus because immigration is oftentimes from other areas of Ohio or the Midwest.

    I’d venture to guess that Aaron and other urbanists would say that this adds to the city rather than detracts from it. NYC is a great city because of its diversity, because of the constant influx of new blood, of new cultures, of new ideas. Because the best and the brightest go there to try out their ideas and leave if they fail. In a way I think Columbus serves this purpose in Ohio. Its more of a place of potential and opportunity. From Aaron’s comments on another message board I hope to see a Columbus article soon.

    Moving back to the articles topic, I said earlier that Cleveland needs better videographers. They need to capture the grit and grime and turn it into a compelling piece that encourages people to come and take part in the rebuilding of a great American city. I still think thats true, but there comes a point where they will need something more than that. Much like every other trend ruin porn will someday be out of vogue and hipsterdom will be succeeded by something else. So perhaps they need to start the next trend instead of follow it.

  32. costanza says:

    “Remember, New York collapsed in the 1970s and had to beg for federal loans. Remeber “Escape from New York” and “Fort Apache: The Bronx”? That was NYC’s image. Now it is the capital of the world. The two are not coincidental. New York is endlessly fascinating BECAUSE of its past problems, not despite them. The same is true for all the interesting places in the world. Rome was not built in a day, but Phoenix was and it shows. It is the most uninteresting and awful place I have ever been.”

    Wow, very good stuff!

  33. Matthew Hall says:

    1. Grit isn’t dirt or disorder, it’s complexity and character.

    2. Columbus’ population grew by 13.9% since 2000, Cincinnati’s grew by 6% since 2000, and Cleveland’s shrank by 3.3% since 2000:

    3. Cincinnati has added more jobs than Columbus in the last 3 years:

    4. I don’t know if mobility is increasing today, but if the only people who want to be in a place are the people you have less experience of that place rather than more you should think twice about living there.

  34. Josh says:

    1. History is great, but living in the past isn’t. I want my children to see architecture from my lifetime alongside that of the past.

    2. Columbus’ Metro population is growing faster, has a higher density by either traditional or weighted measure (you should check this data out, its set up very nicely

    3.Lower unemployment rate, if we’re throwing around statistics

    4. My point was that Columbus or any city with a high population of students cannot expect all of those students to remain after graduation. Because of the population growth its obvious that some do.

    5. My point is not to win any argument but is to prevent you from bashing a city based on a bias anecdotal experience. More people are moving to Columbus and staying than any other metro in Ohio and more than most in the Midwest.

    6. If the 3Cs could embrace each others strengths rather than fight over differences we’d all be better off. This is especially true in a state with a large urban population that has a decidedly anti-urban state government.

  35. Matthew Hall says:

    1. We all live in the present, just in different ones. No one and no place lives in the past anymore than anyone else. The Cincinnati area is filled with distinctive architecture, old and new.

    2. Density can be considered on many scales and I don’t really know what people mean when they mention density, but I do know that Columbus’ metropolitan product is not growing as quickly either per capita or overall as Cincinnati’s. This map shows both along with other world metros: Just put your cursor on the dot representing each metro. Cleveland is there, too.

    3. Unemployment doesn’t count those not looking, such as students, or no longer present in any given metro. If you leave a metro you won’t be part of the unemployment calculation. Non-farm wage and salary numbers are a much better guide to actual job growth or decline. You can look here by metro for the last ten years:

    4.Does columbus have a higher population of students?

    5. Moving and staying are two completely different things. It is very difficult to establish how many who move to a metro are staying in that metro. Aaron has posted some data using w-4 forms that help to establish where people are moving by metro. I haven’t been able to find it after a quick search though.

    6. Ohio is a swing state because its regions are very different. What works in one place often doesn’t work in another. This is because of the distinct histories and economies of different places. This is why we have state and local govn’t in the first place. If everything worked equally well everywhere it would be hard to justify our federal system and human beings would be even distributed instead of concentrated in certain places. Cincinnati has far more to learn from its sister cities of of Pittsburgh, Louisville, and St. Louis that share its history and current economic and social patterns than from Columbus or Cleveland that don’t. Quite frankly the 3Cs are in competition with each other, not cooperation. What is good for one will primarily not be good for the others. Public or private investment received in one metro is then unavailable for investment in the others.

  36. Matthew, never forget, Cincinnati also has many racists, old and young (and is home to the nation’s most recent major race riot). Frankly it may be the single most racist city I’ve visited. And a slew of other serious deficiencies. Yes, Cincinnati has many amazing assets – I’m on record as stating its the best collection of any city its size – but many equally terrible problems. If Cincinnati were so amazing, it would be like San Francisco, but clearly there’s a reason it has been a relatively stagnant region for a very long time.

  37. Matthew Hall says:

    Aaron, your need to dismiss Cincinnati so completely is shocking and the issue here, not Cincinnati itself. Racists pay taxes, buy property, and start businesses. They become doctors, engineers, and create jobs. Is this a political/cultural forum or a forum about metro economies? Compared to Philly or Baltimore Cincinnati is downright neighborly. I have NEVER been to either the city of brotherly love or charm city and not witnessed fistfights, muggings, group shoplifting, random vandalism, and verbal assaults, racist and otherwise. All the likes of which I have never seen in my more than a decade in Cincinnati.

    Again and again posters here and elsewhere use every trick they can think of to single out Cincinnati so they don’t have to take it seriously. The race card is just another of those tricks. They suggest that Cincinnati’s attempts to promote itself are somehow uniquely dishonest and that the equivalent PR efforts of other metros are somehow fundamentally different. This is just bullying by people in other metros who see Cincinnati as an easy target. I’m just reminding them that it isn’t. Cincinnati has been doing fabulously well compared to Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, moderately better than St. Louis, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh on many measures in recent years and has even bested some of the big boys on employment. Cincinnati is in the running and not somehow exceptionally dysfunctional as you suggest. We’re all playing the same economic development game, we just have different cards. There are no clear winning hands here either and the game will never be over. Don’t try and push one of the players out just because you don’t happen to like him.

  38. EJ says:

    “If the 3Cs could embrace each others strengths rather than fight over differences we’d all be better off. This is especially true in a state with a large urban population that has a decidedly anti-urban state government.”

    This is the one thing I don’t get about Ohio, and I have lived here all my life. You would think between the urban centers of Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Canton and Youngstown, and even smaller cities like Mansfield, Lima, Springfield and Zanesville that they would have all come together to field a pro-urban coalition of candidates for state offices that would have state government under virtual lock and key control in favor of urban issues and causes. To date, however, no one has even attempted to mount a concerted effort to overturn constitutional provisions and amendments that entrenched the balance of power in rural areas.

    The closest Ohio came in recent times to a sort of urban coalition was a few meetings between the mayors of Akron, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati and Columbus during the mid-2000s to talk about their commonly shared economic issues and concerns. But nothing serious has since followed it. You would think something as big as the proposed 3Cs rail project would have gotten at least the mayors of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland behind it, partcularly when a then Gov-elect Kasich decided it wasn’t worth HIS while, but nope, not even a peep out of them. It’s somewhat rare to even have a mayor of a major city in this state pursue and win the governorship, which is surprising. Strickland and Kasich were both congressmen before becoming governor and neither had served as mayor of a major city, which might explain Kasich’s lack of awareness about urban administration and needs (he also lives and works in Columbus’ suburb of Westerville). Voinovich was the the last Ohio governor (1991-1998) to have previously served as mayor (of Cleveland).

    At least the mayor’s meet-up of the previous decade suggests the potential for cross-state collaboration between the major cities. For a number of reasons, however, this seems unlikely to happen again in the near future. For one thing, that group of six was once entirely Democratic, but the mayors of Toledo and Dayton are both currently independents. Also, Cincinnati’s Mayor Mallory seems to be moving onto other things, while Cleveland’s Mayor Jackson doesn’t ever seem to stray too far from his city limits. Columbus’ Mayor Coleman has made some overtures about running for higher office in the past, but his now ex-wife’s drunken antics derailed his 2006 bid. For 2014, about the closest thing to a big city mayor that has been mulling over making a bid for the governorship is Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.

  39. Dan Wolf says:

    Good gentlemen; I grew up in both Cincinnati and Cbus and both are good cities. They are very different. As has been suggested they fullfill their roles. And I would add they can add to their porfolio what they believe their clienteles desire. Competition between the two cities (and all cities) should be in terms of pursuing excellence in their respective areas of strengths.( And developing new strenghts). Strengths in economics and business, cultural institutions, educational institutions, parks and museums, neighborhood revitalizations, sports, distribution network, transportation systems, etc.
    Friendship among our cities may contribute to a more collaborative approach to advance the State of Ohio as an advanced manufacturing and higher education region with the rest of the developed world. You know; “strength in numbers” as a region. Maybe we can keep the competition on the sports playing fields and rankings etc and devote energies to helping other cities of the midwest advance their specializations.I believe many urbanist economic development histories bring this out from the 19th century and early 20th century.Example #1: Detroit and the cities of the eastern midwest making sub-assemblies for auto plants in Detroit. example #2: Chicago and the mfg and selling of farm equipment of all types and the plants in midwest cities.
    America is an advanced manufacturing champion. We will sell more abroad if we present a unified and highly integrated mfg model to the rest of the world. And we are embracing our gritty beginnings that we are known for in Mfg. This leads to finance and distribution. All of which brings back a clean “grit” and prowess in Mfg. Has Pittsburgh lost something important about itself by totally renouncing the steel industry in terms of mfg? Pittsburgh was once closely connected to Cleveland and Youngstown and as such they were very credible to the nation and the world.
    I appreciate Cinti greatly for its many legacy assets. Matthew,I really appreciate you telling everyone what a great city Cinti is; but what value is there in being critical of another city (Columbus) in the region? And why should others be critical of Cinti for a 2001 race riot; that the city is actually better for now?
    Armies don’t win with that attitude and corporate boards don’t succeed with that attitude. Humility and mutual respect with regard to other cities across America is wisdom.
    I hope that we can again be that “city shinning on a hill”. Thine Alabaster cities gleam…(hopefully with more humanity and unity).

  40. EJ says:

    I think there is something substantial to be said for a city’s social openness, both perceived and real, or the lack thereof. Cincinnati in both reputation and personal experience (for me) is quite a stuffy, reserved and repressed place (in more ways than one), which I think is unfortunate, because despite its considerable assets (economic and cultural) and its resources, it still remains a racially, ethnically, sexually and socially divided place to a considerable degree in 2012. Certainly, it doesn’t feel warm and welcoming of outsiders and of diversity, not even on a superficial level. You can go into the region and probably find your way around it and come out in one piece alright, but if you weren’t born there white and straight, and you think that is cool, you stand a pretty good chance of getting “roughed up” in some form or another at some point for being not the ideal. What’s bad is that it usually isn’t overt. You can be a gay or interracial couple and be denied a lease on an apartment or condo. That kind of racist ignorance is unacceptable in a globalizing 21st century world, but that’s Cincinnati, and they don’t seem too ashamed of it so far.

    Columbus is just the opposite, a place that genuinely embraces racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity, and non-native outsiders, and seems quite proud of itself for this fact. The city doesn’t have the deep economic and cultural resources of Cincinnati, or the rich industrial legacy and Eds and Meds of a Cleveland or Pittsburgh. But being a place where people can go to be themselves and find other, like-minded individuals who are accepting of human diversity is itself a major urban asset in the 21st century.

  41. EJ says:

    Don’t get me wrong; I have gone to Cincy the same way I have gone to Columbus. I went in with an open mind. That open mindedness has been reflected back to me in all but one case that I can recall in Columbus. In Cincy, I have met some open-minded folks, but too many more who aren’t. It makes a difference.

  42. David Holmes says:

    Interesting (and somewhat heated) discussion regarding the relative merits of Columbus versus Cleveland versus Cincinnati. I think all cities in the Midwest have a big chip on their shoulders, some more so than others. I think this is due in part to the positive attributes of these cities being vastly underappreciated (whether the discussion is focused on Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, St. Louis, etc.). One idea that has occurred to me lately is that part of the problem for cities in the Midwest is that even if they do something truly remarkable, it will be ignored or dismissed. A good example is Milwaukee’s Summerfest which is promoted (and I believe accurately) as the world’s largest music festival . Not only is Summerfest large, but it is held on its own 75-acre lakefront festival grounds that may be the nicest facility of its kind in the U.S. I remember reading a story in the New York Times two years ago on the summer’s top music festivals and being surprised to see no mention of Summerfest. Why would this not even deserve a mention in the NY Times list? My theory is that to a journalist in New York City, it is impossible to conceive that Milwaukee could truly produce such an event. If billed as the world’s largest festival, it could only be some type of gimmick or trickery, or huckster accounting. Why is it impossible to believe that Milwaukee (or any similar sized city in the Midwest) could just truly get something right, get it better than anywhere else in the U.S., and have done it in a completely authentic, homegrown, and completely world class way? I don’t know the answer, but I think this is part of what cities in the Midwest are up against. Even if these cities do something extraordinary and better than any place in the U.S., it still will be ignored or dismissed.
    Another example in Wisconsin over the past year were the protests in Madison, which were truly something extraordinary in scale on significance, as well as something authentic and deeply rooted in a long history of Wisconsin and Midwestern progressivism. The crowds that gathered in the middle of winter dwarfed the largest Tea Party protest as well as the largest Occupy Wall Street movement protests. Although covered extensively on MSNBC, they were largely ignored by the mainstream media. Again, even when truly extraordinary things of national significance, and rooted in Midwest culture, occur in the Midwest, they are ignored or dismissed by other parts of the U.S.
    So to summarize, two key points:
    • There are extraordinary things happening here in the Midwest
    • No one else in the U.S. wants to recognize or acknowledge these, and this is part of why fans of Midwest cities have perpetual chips on their shoulders. But I think the challenge is really far greater than fans of these cities realize. It isn’t a matter of if we do this fantastic thing, we will finally get respect. No we won’t. If the evidence doesn’t fit with other people’s bias’s it will just continue to be ignored or dismissed.

  43. Matthew, I’m not picking on Cincinnati. You are the one who posts a non-stop stream of comments about how great Cincy is compared to other cities. I just feel compelled to point out that for every one of those legitimate good points about Cincy, there are offsetting unique bad ones.

    Had an interesting conversation in Indy in October. Some folks were noting that Indy likes to beat itself up whereas in Cincinnati the city “is in love with its own story.” That may be the ultimate problem in Cincinnati – it’s a place where its own residents have such an unquestioning sense of inherent superiority they’ve lost all sense of perspective.

  44. Dan Wolf says:

    Aaron I don’t believe the hometown folks in Cincy have a superiority complex.Probably a frustration factor which David ably described about all metro midwesterners with regard to their respective beloved cities. I believe Cincy folks are content and actually appreciative of the legacy they have been handed. They know its value and are a little frustrated with being ignored; again as David just explained. Gentlemen, is it not a good thing for native city folks of the region to love their respective native city? Without this affection there would be little will to continue to improve their cities. I thought that is one of the great goals of the Urbanophile. Thank you Aaron.
    I am not encouragaing arrogance however toward any city.

  45. Dan Wolf says:

    Aaron, one more thought. I thought that you teach in your consulting that a part of branding a city is knowing and telling well its STORY. I agree heartily with that. Cincy is in love with its true “story” and thus the folks of Cincy are, I believe, content and happy about this. It is a good base to build from for future innovations,expansions and improvements.

  46. Dan, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your story, but a) Cincinnatians I’ve talked to seem to really discount any weaknesses of their city and b) as you can tell from Matthew’s posts, they like to look down on regional places like Indy and Columbus, which is completely unnecessary if they were really secure in their own city.

  47. Matthew Hall says:

    “Matthew, never forget, Cincinnati also has many racists, old and young (and is home to the nation’s most recent major race riot). Frankly it may be the single most racist city I’ve visited. And a slew of other serious deficiencies”

    If this isn’t criticism, I don’t know what is.

  48. Matthew Hall says:

    One man’s ‘openmindedness’ is another’s indifference and disinsterest. If people can’t be bothered to care about something, that something won’t exist at some point. This is true for places, people, or institutions.

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.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures