CNU Salons article highlights misconceptions about Cincinnati’s urban core

Cincinnatians who spend much time in the city’s urban core know there’s a big disconnect between popular opinion and reality.

I’ll witness massive crowds of people enjoying amenities such as Washington Park, Smale Riverfront Park, and Fountain Square; or visiting the restaurants in Over-the-Rhine that often require hour-long waits on weekends; or filling up the unique music venues, bars and clubs on Main Street. Then in other parts of town I will hear people claim that there is “nothing to do in Cincinnati.” These people seem to be completely unaware of the slew of things happening throughout the city, but then go on to claim Downtown is unsafe.

Washington Park panorama by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

The problem is not aided by the fact that many of our city’s media outlets are schizophrenic in their coverage. Earlier this summer, for example, several of our local television affiliates produced stories about how much progress has been made in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.

WCPO produced From Ghost Town to Night-on-the-Town, and 700 WLW’s Bill Cunningham provided a three-minute outburst of positivity where he described a night out in Over-the-Rhine and concluded that he should “spend less of [his] time crapping all over the city of Cincinnati and more time experiencing it.”

And yet those same media outlets are quick to publish sensational stories that label these neighborhoods “dangerous” without providing any analysis of actual statistics to support their claims.

Fortunately, Cincinnati has seen a tremendous amount of positive coverage recently on a national scale. The New York Times highlighted Cincinnati’s new riverfront, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer highlighted Cincinnati as a travel destination and provided a full weekend itinerary. Travel website Lonely Planet named Cincinnati as one of the Top 10 US travel destinations for 2012 for the amenities offered in the center city, and just last week, Next American City called Washington Park the tipping point that ensures continuing success in the improving Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

For these reasons, it is especially unfortunate that a self-proclaimed urbanist would publish a blog entry on the Congress for the New Urbanism’s (CNU) website that only furthers many of these misconceptions.

Written by University of Cincinnati Urban Planning student Katie Poppel, the article is part of an ongoing series of guests posts intended to cover “the latest news, developments and initiatives occurring in cities and towns where CNU members live and work.”

The focus of this particular article intends to criticize Cincinnati’s modern streetcar project. And while the debate is welcome, the article relies on inaccurate information and misleading generalizations.

Poppel says, “it’s very hard for me to accept that the streetcar is really what Cincinnatians want.” She dismisses votes of support of the project in 2009 (Issue 9) and 2011 (Issue 48), and the election of a pro-streetcar mayor and six pro-streetcar city council members.

Ground is broken on the Cincinnati Streetcar as a crowd of supporters looks on. Photo by 5chw4r7z.

She claims that uninformed voters may have been confused by Issue 48’s ballot language. While the language was certainly misleading, she fails to mention that the language was written by the anti-transit group who placed the referendum onto the ballot.

Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes (COAST) crafted the language and was proposing a charter amendment to ban any work by the city on any rail transit for the next decade. Voting “yes” would have approved the ban and therefore halt the streetcar project. Contrary to popular belief, the City was not involved in creating the ballot language.

In Poppel’s article, she went on to hedge her bets against the streetcar project, by claiming the transit project will not spur as much economic development as the City, private industry, and academic reports are projecting. However, she claims that low-income residents will not benefit from the new “high-end boutiques and specialty restaurants” opening along the route. This common tactic has often been used by transit opponents to frame such investments as a lose-lose proposition.

Another claim made by Poppel is that Over-the-Rhine is “the most deteriorated and crime-ridden region within Cincinnati.” While the claim is attention grabbing, it is supported by no evidence or facts. Furthermore, she fails to note that crime has been dropping in the neighborhood, and that a reduction in crime is typically associated with more “eyes on the street” that come from more residents and businesses, and fewer vacant buildings and darkened alleyways, in the neighborhood.

By overlooking the details of Issue 48, failing to mention Issue 9, and repeating outdated misconceptions about Over-the-Rhine, it seems Poppel only has surface-level knowledge of all of these issues.

CNU notes that they “welcome a healthy back-and-forth between different points of view,” and that opinions posted in CNU Salons and in comments are those of their respective authors, not of CNU. Unfortunately, CNU only publishes opinion pieces authored by dues-paying CNU members, so we decided to use our own platform to respond. For those reading this response that would like to respond directly to CNU, you can do so by leaving a comment on the original article, or by tweeting at CNU @NewUrbanism.

  • a cursory search on Facebook reveals that Miss Poppel is from Springboro and is currently living in Amsterdam. not sure why she got tapped to write about a city she clearly hasn’t bothered experiencing or learning much about.

    • Well a similar search on me last year would have turned up that I was living in Seoul. With that said, I don’t think the author meant to cause harm with her story, but rather that she has a different perception about how these things happened over the past decade.

      What gives me pause is that the CNU allowed the article to be published without any review (even allowing grammatical errors to be published alongside factual misstatements).

      The bottom line is that claims made in published articles must be substantiated by unbiased reports, or they must be clearly identified as statements made by a primary source. This was not the case with this author. She made claims and then cited them as fact simply because she said so. The readers should get to see the evidence.

  • It’s a class/ethnicity issue. People use the issue of downtown/otr to express their class and ethnic sense of identity. Middle and working class people identify downtown/otr as failed and dangerous BECAUSE it is popular and successful with professional class people and the most powerful businesses in the region. In the past (and some degree still) their did so to distinquish themselves from the poor blacks and appalachians who lived there. Their very identity REQUIRES them to be against downtown, otr and other central areas. This is very personal stuff and won’t be overcome by any sort of discussion or call for unity or cooperation. We just have to accept it, wave goodbye to them, and build a professional class city center. They just don’t have the skills, money, or values that would allow them to be part of such a place anyway.

  • This article highlights two issues: few students in the DAAP planning program have been involved in the political events surrounding the streetcar issue since it began in 2007. This was a perfect training ground for them to observe obstructionist tactics — instead they will head out into the workforce and get blindsided by similar people in other cities.

    Also, in rereading her article, I’m suspicious that someone from COAST was either interviewed or fed her misinformation. I don’t doubt in the least that they will if they haven’t already try to find young people to do their dirty work on the internet. They have their way with radio, TV, and The Cincinnati Enquirer, but they are beaten back every time when they attempt something on the web.

  • Don’t blame CNU. They are not a blog and are comparable to APA. That’s why they put a disclaimer when they typically don’t.

    • The disclaimer at the top of the article was not added until they started getting bombarded with comments and tweets about the article. I agree that they should publish articles from a variety of viewpoints, but I also think that they should held responsible for hosting an article with so many grammatical and factual errors.

    • Please note the disclaimer appears in the footer of every page on

    • Please note the disclaimer appears in the footer of every page on

  • Please see Katie Poppel’s response piece, “Cincinnati and the Streetcar: Part II,” live now at

  • Please see Katie Poppel’s response piece, “Cincinnati and the Streetcar: Part II” live now at