Cincinnati: A Love, Love, Hate Relationship

This guest post by Greg Meckstroth originally appeared on urbanOut.

Oh Cincinnati, Oh. How I love, love, hate you. Before moving to Indianapolis I spent 2 years living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the neighborhood of Clifton. During this time I gained a true appreciation for what the city is and all the quirks that exist there. What I concluded is that there is a lot to love about the City, but also some things to hate…but more love than hate. Culturally, physically, and emotionally, Cincinnati is an amazingly unique place with a provincial attitude completely different than any other Midwest counterpart. With these oddities and attitudes comes certain social down sides that gives the City a bad reputation and why it ultimately isn’t a creative class destination. Below, I list the positives and negatives of Cincinnati.

Here is why I love, love Cincinnati:

  • Identity: The region has a unique, provincial culture not found anywhere else. Whether it’s the food (Skyline Chili, Dewey’s, Graeter’s to name a few), the government, or the institutions, Cincinnati seems to have retained its sense-of-self in ways other Midwest cities have not. People in the area don’t consider themselves from Ohio, but instead just from Cincinnati. Cincinnati is its own city-state.
  • Local: Locally owned businesses seem to thrive in Cincinnati. While other Midwest towns have become ‘Chain City USA’s’, Cincinnati celebrates their local businesses and builds community around them. What I find interesting about downtown Cincinnati’s renaissance is the number of locally owned establishments fueling the rebirth. Unlike other towns, Cincinnati isn’t marking their downtown’s success by which chains it does and does not have.
  • Community: The sense of community pride in the City is strong. More often than not, people who live in Cincinnati love Cincinnati. Also, since the City is so neighborhood focused, each having it’s own flavor and sense-of-place, people latch on to their respective communities, keep up on current events, and actively voice concerns. More so than other places, Cincinnati citizens definitely care about their community.
  • Density: Cincinnati is structurally America’s oldest inland City and thus developed before the car and in extremely dense fashions similar to East Coast cities. Plus, the City’s hills constrained development, making the neighborhoods even denser (Cincinnati was the densest City in the United States outside of New York for quite some time).
  • Geography: Cincinnati’s hilly geography allowed each neighborhood to develop separately, each with their own business district and each in different forms. On top of this, the hilly, river valley geography provides great views and interesting urban landscapes and juxtapositions.
  • Architecture: The City’s core features the Midwest’s best collection of 19th Century architecture as well as innovative new architecture (hello The Ascent and Contemporary Arts Center).

So enough gushing about how great the City is, because with this love, love comes the ‘hate’:

  • Cliques: Because of the provincial culture, Cincinnati seems closed off to outsiders and their respective ideas. Newcomer’s often describe Cincinnati as ‘cliquey’ and find it difficult to fit in to social circles.
  • Close-minded: The City has a negative reputation with being open to minorities, namely the gay and lesbian population and African-Americans. As a gay man living in the City, I feel this stereotype applies more to the surrounding suburbs than the liberal leaning City, but it nonetheless is a perception problem the reigon has to deal with.
  • Status-quo: While other parts of the country progress on certain issues, Cincinnati seems to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. If something is proven successful time and time again, Cincinnati will come on board, and probably when other places like New York and San Francisco have already moved on to the next big thing. Thus, the City seems comfortable with the status quo, and progress happens slowly here.

There are plenty of other things to both love and hate about Cincinnati, but my analysis is limited to the region’s provincialism and unique culture. I have to say that I have seen great progress in Cincinnati over the past few years, with current leadership and community activism geared towards ending the status quo, ridding the City of this ‘hate’ I speak of, and moving forward in positive ways. With this progress comes the question: if Cincinnati continues to open itself to other ideas and virtues, can it hold onto its uniqueness?

In general, can a City continue celebrating it’s uniqueness while opening up to the outside? I think the obvious answer is ‘yes’, a City can do this and there are plenty of examples. But unfortunately, there are also examples that point to the contrary. So as Cincinnati moves forward it must be aware of this give and take and find the proper balance in becoming a bigger and better 21st Century City.

For as long as I can remember, I have had this love, love, hate relationship with Cincinnati. However, my ideas are not new and have been examined before. Check out this post by the Urbanophile for a similar take on Cincinnati.

Greg Meckstroth holds a Geography degree from the Ohio State University along with a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally-ranked School of Planning. Greg currently works as a planner with an urban design firm in Indianapolis.
  • alex

    I came from a very big european city. I find the city of cincinnati very provincial.. even the way they look at you when you speak with accent ( suspicious, making me feel like I’m an alien from another galaxy). Stuck here because of my family but there was no single day when I was not dreaming of living in N.Y, L.A Chicago or some other big industrially and culturally developed city. .. with lots of night life, lots of stuff going on.. I feel suffocated here. Like a fish in a very small cup 🙁 Very frustrating. thanks for reading.

  • Jason

    This is really an Appalacian city in Kentucky that happens to be on the north side of the OHIO river. There’s a reason Cincinnati is not well known and is considered to be obscure across the USA. Good history, architecture, but it’s best days are long behind it.