EDITORIAL: Dîner en Blanc – A Social Experiment

The Question: Would a couple pay $70 to attend an event where they do all of the work? The answer was yes for the 1,750 attendees of Cincinnati’s Dîner en Blanc, hosted two weekends ago in Washington Park.

Originating in 1988 in Paris, France, organizer François Pasquier invited friends to a dinner party. According to the Dîner en Blanc website, “So many wished to attend that he asked them to convene at Bois de Boulogne dressed in white, so as to be recognizable to one another.”

The dinner was a hit and more friends wanted to attend the following year, which created the concept of Dîner en Blanc. In 2009, Pasquier’s son, Aymeric, brought the tradition to North America with his partner, Sandy Safi.

Cincinnati Diner en Blanc
Nearly 2,000 people gathered in Washington Park two weekends ago, wearing all white, and paid $70 for the right to join in on a dinner where they prepared their own food and brought their own tableware. Photograph by 5chw4r7z.

Somewhere in those 20 years, Pasquier’s idea turned into a lofty for-profit venture. In addition to paying a $35 per person, guests of Dîner en Blanc are required to bring their own three course meal, plates, stemware, table settings, table linens, chairs, and a square table of specific dimensions, all of course, in the color white.

Attendees at Cincinnati’s second such event packed these items into their car, drove to a group meeting place, such as Kenwood Towne Center, and then loaded everything onto a bus that delivered them to a secret location. This year it was Washington Park where the haul was unloaded and set up by the guests themselves in 90 degree weather, all while dressed in their finest white attire.

First time guest, Bob Schwartz, offered this commentary, “The event is basically every party you’ve ever been to, except you’re dressed up and it’s a total pain getting there and leaving.”

Dîner en Blanc group leaders explain the high ticket price covers bus transportation to the location, permits, and other costs associated with the experience.

Park rental fees for a private event in the bandstand area are $2,500, with no need for a liquor permit as one is held by park management.To shuttle half of the 1,750 attendees, 18 charter buses were needed at$650 each. While still an expensive party to host, organizers spent roughly $25,000 on entertainment and fixed costs while earning $61,250 from admission sales.

Where does the remaining money go? Not to a charity. The  Dîner en Blanc FAQ states:

Is the Diner en Blanc associated wit a humanitarian or social cause?
What makes the Diner en Blanc so popular is that it’s a “distinct” evening. There are no sponsors, no political or ideological agendas. Le Diner en Blanc is simply a friendly gathering whose sole purpose is to experience a magical evening, in good company, in an environment which is both unusual and extraordinary.

True, it was an unusual gathering. Several Cincinnatians found the “distinct” evening to lack the one thing its description touts: class.

For two years, Dîner en Blanc has been hosted in areas struggling with issues of gentrification. Last year’s rendezvous took place in Lytle Park across from Anna Louise Inn, an affordable housing complex for women, which lost a long conflict with developers who want to convert the building into a hotel.

While the new Washington Park has been embraced by the community, critics remind that low-income, minority residents continue to feel isolated from the growth in Over-the-Rhine. Susan Jackson was concerned that the location created an inappropriate perception.

“I’m not sure white people should wear all white and gather in secret,” she commented after observing a predominantly Caucasian turnout at the event. Local blogger Carla Streeter agrees. She expressed her distaste for Dîner en Blanc by donating the price of admission to the Drop Inn Center, an organization that provides services to the homeless population.

Cincinnati is not the only city raising issue with Dîner en Blanc. Best of New Orleans ranted about the overpriced concept, while attendees in San Francisco complained of their rainy, frigid experience held in a dog park. None of this compares to the outrage in Singapore, where event organizers banned guests from bringing local delicacies, stating that these foods “were not in line with the image of Dîner en Blanc.”

Despite the negative imagery, costly tickets, and necessary labor, the mystery continues as to why excitement builds for Dîner en Blanc. Consider the appeal targeting a specific audience: suburbanites who lack spontaneous social exchanges due to the sprawl of their auto-dependent neighborhood. City dwellers are more likely to have daily personable interactions and access to unique entertainment based on their walkable environment. Taking part in a communal feast with friends sitting next to strangers in a public Downtown setting is a lure for those seeking an experience exclusive to city living.

The question remains: has society reached a point of urban dystopia where people find it acceptable to pay organizers for a face-to-face interaction? For now, word-of-mouth continues to reveal the dark side of Dîner en Blanc.

“If I want to have a picnic, I can do that any time, any day. My friends and I can dress up in all white and wave a napkin to our hearts’ content on our own,” described guest Naoko M. “You’re paying to feel like you’re in some exclusive group, a group of a few hundred people.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the correct price of the event.


    I actually really liked this article, particularly the portion where you put together some well researched numbers, but you lost me at this part:

    “Consider the appeal targeting a specific audience: suburbanites who lack
    spontaneous social exchanges due to the sprawl of their auto-dependent
    neighborhood. City dwellers are more likely to have daily personable
    interactions and access to unique entertainment based on their walkable
    environment. Taking part in a communal feast with friends sitting next
    to strangers in a public Downtown setting is a lure for those seeking an
    experience exclusive to city living.”

    Do you have any evidence that most of the attendees were suburbanites? As someone who did not attend I would have guessed just the opposite –that most of the attendees were residents of the city of Cincinnati, or even areas very near downtown. I am wondering if you can provide some more context as to how you arrived at the conclusion that this event caters to residents of local suburbs? I am not saying you are wrong, I only want to know if there are some facts that led you to this conclusion.

    • Christopher St Pierre

      To say the numbers were well researched is completely nuts. The assumption is that the only cost was space rental and buses is crazy. Also I love that the writer couldn’t even be bothered to read all of bob schwarz post where he said he enjoyed the event. Quotes out of context, bad assumptions about costs, is uc becoming the enquirer?

    • zschmiez

      Well, what other costs are there? administration maybe (sign-up handling payments).

      Feel bad for the folks who live downtown, drove to Kenwood, only to be driven back downtown…

    • Christopher St Pierre

      Administration costs, licensing fees from the original organizers, several bands, dj, equipment rental, permitting, police security presence, etcetera, etc, etc. not saying it wasn’t profitable, but the numbers in the article are hardly well researched.

      People got to choose departure location, so very few downtown residents chose kenwood, they chose the downtown departure locations.

    • OTR4EVER

      I take back my comment then. Having not known about multiple departure locations, bands and djs, among other things. Now I can assume Kenwood as a location was cherry picked to fit the anti-suburban narrative.

    • matimal

      one man’s “anti-suburban” is another’s “pro-urban.”

    • I procrastinated too long and the downtown pickup points sold out, that one of the reasons we ended up in Kenwood. Ms 5chww4r7z and all our stuff went home with a friend after the event and I bused it back to Kenwood for the car.

    • matimal


    • The suburbanite reference is one theory to consider and contribute to discussion on other theories about the popularity of Dîner en Blanc. This particular idea was inspired by Robert Putnam’s research highlighted in Bowling Alone, which discusses the decline of organic, in-person social interactions since the growth of suburban lifestyles in the 1950s.


    • Jon Harmon

      I would say it was nearly half City residents.

  • Clint Watson

    The author didn’t even get the price of the tickets right. They weren’t $70 per person. They were $35 per person and you bought them in pairs. This is also not a for-profit venture. Where is the author even getting these numbers on costs? This article should be taken down and researched more thoroughly.

    • John Yung

      Thank you for pointing that out Clint. We have corrected the ticket prices.

  • Mark Christol

    I find all the Klan references amusing. When I first heard of this, I immediately thought Vodou.

    They frequently wear all white, have communal dinners & sometimes take off their clothes & ritually bathe in mountain streams.


  • A couple of points I should address since my statement was taken out of context. I had a really good time, but if you haven’t gone don’t feel like you’re missing anything. Here’s the thing, I end up at a lot of events and this one just happens to fall into the highly currated end of the spectrum like those Yelp events that are basically cattle calls. But thats me, these two things are easy for the average person to attend.
    One thing I keep hearing is its white people in white clothes. There was a large African American presence at Diner en Blanc as well as many other groups.

    I do agree with the fact that there was a large presence of people attending who weren’t from the city, but the problem is there is no way they got an authentic look at the city.
    Whether you thing this event is dumb or not is like anything else, if you hate sports its easy to stand back and lob stones at people paying $100+ for Bengals tickets.

    • The Sports ticket reference hits it right on the head in this context!! People will pay for things they want to do and they want to see. This would be one of them. It just entertains me that this is written by someone who did NOT attend the event. Also the numbers are still wrong. It’s $29 a person after the first year. As to the “white people” comment above, I’d say only about 60-65% was white people followed by a large African-American chunk and then quite a few Asian and Indian presence, much like the demographic of Cincinnati itself.

      And as someone else mentioned there were many location pick up points to cater to Greater Cincy; Kenwood, Mariemont, Downtown, Fields Ertle, Columbia Tusculum, Clifton, and even Northern Kentucky. To further clarify facts (which this article has very few of) the location is not always downtown. It’s just happened to work out that way the past 2 years. And the parks were picked for the specific reason that 1. There was no other event going on there. 2. The location was easy to get to. 3. it worked from a logistics standpoint. 4. It allowed that many people and a liquor license to be procured. Notice not one of these is because of any underlying gentrification reasons. It’s not like it was in the courtyard of the projects for crying out loud. That statement could be used for anything! Is the City Flea throwing it in peoples faces who can’t afford to buy their wares because its held in Washington Park? I mean that’s as asinine a comment as the one in the article!

      It just amuses me that all the negativity towards this event is from people who did not go. I haven’t heard a single negative thing to this scale from people who went. and over 95% of the people who attended last year attended this year again, so really it couldn’t have possibly been all that bad…

    • I’m not sure the sports ticket reference is a good comparison. Sports events are scheduled far in advance, have a set venue, and are well publiized with public ticketing locations. This is not remotely true for Diner En Blanc.

      As a result, only people “in the know” are aware of the details. So if you’re not one of those people, or lucky enough for them to include you in their exclusive plans, then you’re left out and never even had the chance to consider attending like you would a sporting event.

    • But why not another park? Why not Fountain Square, Smale Riverfront Park, Eden Park, Bellevue Beach Park, or any other number of accessible public places?

      From the pictures I viewed from the event, from friends who attended, the Enquirer, and on the Diner En Blanc Cincinnati website, I’d argue that 60-65% of attendees being Caucasian is a conservative estimate. Still, it is an estimate agreeing that Diner En Blanc was predominantely attended by this demographic.

      City Flea, Music Hall, and sporting events are not an equal comparison. These three examples are advertised in advance at a specific location with public ticketing. Diner En Blanc invitations are exclusive to past attendees and their invited guests. As Randy mentioned, if you are not within a certain social circle, you will not have an opportunity to attend the event.

      Additionally, all three examples are public events. City Flea is free to browse and enjoy live music; you have the option to buy something but it is not required. Music Hall and sporting events provide national level entertainment inside a large facility on a reoccurring basis. In contrast, Diner En Blanc happens once a year as a private event, using a space with a one time location rental and permit fee.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      This is a public, rentable space. Give me a break. This was not a KKK meeting. These people have every right to be there. OTR residents should be happy these suburbanites came down to spend money in their neighborhood, rather than criticizing them for using a public space.

    • Jon Harmon

      For MidPoint half of the park was fenced off and had a high cost. For the AVP half of the park was fenced off and had a high cost. This event even allowed anyone who wanted to to wander through. There’s no difference then a large wedding renting the park. Parks are rentable.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Midpoint though has the midway which is free for all in the neighborhood to check out – they are still giving back to the community.

  • matimal

    Why must EVERYTHING be a battle in Cincinnati? If you don’t like it, don’t go. Why are people who defend the right of drugged and emotionally troubled people to gather in public so bothered by the desire of these people to freely associate with each other in a public park?

    • I don’t think Paige was trying to make this into a “battle” or say that the event shouldn’t exist. I agree with the following points that she made:

      (1.) It’s bizarre that you have to provide all of your own tables, chairs, and food for this event, after paying for a ticket. Why not just charge more for tickets and provide those things?

      (2.) It’s bizarre that the proceeds don’t benefit anything, especially since they have been held in Washington Park and Lytle Park.

      But there’s nothing wrong with people having a theme party, just ‘cuz they want to. I’m just not really interested in attending this event in its current form. Maybe I would be more compelled to attend if the changed those two things.

    • matimal

      Its all part of the diversity of life in Cincinnati that we should be encouraging even if we aren’t participating. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I can see no legitimate reason for criticizing such an event. None. Whether you individual choose to attend is another matter entirely.

    • Clint Watson

      And I don’t even understand why getting suburbanites down to Washington Park is somehow a bad thing? Isn’t the idea to expose more people to the urban core. I guarantee it was the first visit to Wash Park since it was redeveloped for many people at Diner en Blanc. We should be glad that they were able to see the progress and redevelopment of the park, the lighting, the scene in front of Music Hall.

    • Clint Watson

      They aren’t making proceeds. Paige’s inaccurate numbers above double whatever revenue they collected from DEB because she didn’t get the ticket prices right. And then she leaves out costs. This article is atrocious on a number of levels and should be removed for the credibility of Urban Cincy. If you want to write an opinion piece on an event, fine, but get facts correct. Moreover, it’s a picnic. There is no requirement to bring a 3-course meal (another inaccuracy). People pay more money to eat in the restaurants surrounding OTR.

    • The error regarding ticket prices was a misunderstanding that there was not a fee for being bussed to the event in addition to the price of admission. The article has since been corrected and reflects the accurate amount per ticket. Diner en Blanc organizers are benefiting from $36,417, with only 40% of the revenue going towards event expenses.

      And no, guests are not required to bring their own three course meal; they can also opt to purchase a catered picnic basket from Eat Well or Orchids for an additional $60-$100.

      While people can spend their own money however they please, costs of the event become a discussion point when revenue far surpasses the expenses guests are told their ticket prices are covering.

    • Jon Harmon

      Have any of your numbers been confirmed with event organizers? What company did you get the $650 quote per vehicle from? Was it the same company they used?

    • Jenny Kessler

      Yet this event is held in cities all over the world with very few complaints. Are we world-class enough to have a D-e-B in CIncinnati, or so small town that we deride it? Can’t have it both ways.

      I think as Americans we also make a bigger to-do out of the thing than they might in other countries. In other countries, there’s less income inequality, and so perhaps the cost isn’t as big of a barrier.

    • I think the reason there’s so much passionate, negative feedback on this editorial is that some of our readers expect UrbanCincy to be pro-EVERYTHING that happens in the urban core. One of our team members had some criticisms of this event and shared them in this editorial.

      Above, commenter matimal said, “I can see no legitimate reason for criticizing such an event. None.”

      But I think it is perfectly healthy to have criticisms of cultural events being held in the city. Just like how you’re allowed to criticize the architecture of new buildings going up in the city, even if it’s really none of your business because you don’t own it, live there, or work there. And I don’t think it makes Cincinnati “small town” in any way to have such criticisms.

    • Jenny Kessler

      Debate and criticism is fine, but I expect better research from this publication. It is not hard to find people to talk to that could give you not only actual cost numbers, but who could be benefiting, and even insight into the site location. Instead it is sweeping claims and generalizations, with a healthy dose of implied scorn for those participating. Comes off like sour grapes instead of journalism.

    • This was an opinion piece, and I think that was made pretty clear by the inclusion of “EDITORIAL” at the beginning of the story’s title.

    • Jon Harmon

      Just to be clear, Editorial would imply it is the opinion of Urban Cincy as a whole. Opinion would imply it is the opinion of one writer. Periodicals post both, Editorials where it is the position of the paper, and Opinion when a columnist or guest writes their own opinion.

    • For print newspapers, an “editorial” is an opinion piece written by a member of the editorial board, published unsigned, and is said to represent the paper’s position on an issue; while an “op-ed” is written by a named author.

      However, UrbanCincy is not a print newspaper. Nothing that we publish is unsigned. Each post is signed by an individual writer. In addition to publishing opinion pieces written by our team members, we also publish opinion pieces written by guests, such the recent piece from city council candidate Greg Landsman. We sometimes label these as an “editorial” to clarify that they are opinion pieces. If we were sticking to newspaper lingo, perhaps it would make more sense to call these an “op-ed”, however I’m not sure that term makes any sense for a non-print publication.

    • Allie Harsacky

      Also, just because someone wasn’t in attendance doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to have an opinion.

    • matimal

      yes, the goal is to have more things happen in central locations. urbanism is about inclusion, not exclusion. that’s the game of suburbia.

    • I don’t think this has anything to do with being “world class” enough or not. In fact, I think being critical of your own city makes you more world class. I’m sure we’ve all spoken with a critical New Yorker, Londoner or Parisian in our days.

      The event actually seems like it is fun for those who participate. My main problem is its choice of venue.

    • Jon Harmon

      there are $400k condos surrounding washington park. If i’m poor, a 4 hour party in my park is less upsetting than the restaurants that do not let me enter (do not deny this doesn’t happen incredibly often) and the new $400k condos opening. Why would a public party that was $35 be more offensive to a homeless person than restaurants that don’t allow them to use the restrooms and have menus that no homeless person can afford. There is some strange hypocrisy on here on this subject.

    • Symbols in society are important. Washington Park has long served as that in Cincinnati. And for most of Cincinnati’s modern history Washington Park was a refuge for the poor.

      To host a quasi-secretive (only through the Internet would one know and only at the last minute would one know the location), expensive, Parisian-inspired event in that very same park seems to strike a couple of obvious symbolic chords. If you don’t see that, then fine, but there are many people who do.

    • matimal

      The symbols are the challenges to overcome, not the solution to cincinnati’s problems. They ARE the problems. I don’t think there are many who care about this the way you and Paige apparently do. Some cities truly are in need of unifying symbols. Such as Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston, etc. Sunbelt cities where everyone is from somewhere else and no one shares any experience but sitting in their cars in traffic. Cincinnati is the opposite of those cities. Cincinnati isn’t unloved, its loved to death. Cincinnati’s problem isn’t a lack of unifying symbols, it that people are willing to turn EVERYTHING into a symbol, such as streetcars. Streetcars have become a unifying symbol for many Cincinnatians. That’s cincinnati’s problem.

    • Symbols are universal and have nothing to do with Cincinnati in particular. We, as humans, do this. Significant places, things and people become symbols for something larger than what they are. Sometimes they are symbols for good, sometimes they are symbols for bad. But nevertheless, we have symbols in our lives.

      Having lived in Atlanta I can tell you that Five Points is a symbol. I-825 is a symbol. North Fulton County is a symbol. Every place has scores of these people, places and things that represent something bigger than what they are.

      I do think you’re on to something though. I think that Cincinnati tends to be far too provincial and that lends itself to placing importance on otherwise minor things. With that said, if it weren’t for the civil unrest of 2001 that led to perhaps Cincinnati’s lowest point in its history in 2003 I’m not sure we would have the OTR we have today. That low point allowed Cincinnati to realize a lot of things it was doing wrong. The city was able to fix or work toward fixing many of those things as a result. I would not call that minor or insignificant.

      I don’t think merely celebrating all of our successes, or perceived victories, is a recipe for success. Actually, I think it tends to reinforce the beliefs many hold true without actually pushing the community forward. That, I believe, is Cincinnati’s problem.

    • matimal

      Symbols are not universal. They are socially constructed. Symbols mean what people decide they mean and different people decide that the same object means different things to them. Black is the traditional color of mourning in the West and white is the traditional color of mourning in the East. Washington Park means one thing to a recent arrival to Cincinnati, another to a recent arrival to OTR from Lebanon, and a third thing to someone whose spend years of their life enjoying its lawns and benches. We nee all of those people to find their own meaning in it, whatever Washington Park and OTR mean to them. That is the secret to success, not denouncing groups who don’t share our symbolic understandings.

      We cannot assume that major changes wouldn’t have happened without the riots. OTR is changing because of larger changes to the globalizing economy more than anything Cincinnatians have done. It might have happened differently without the riots and 3cdc, but similar things are happening in most American cities. If there was ever a place that does NOT only celebrate its successes, Cincinnati is it. You’ll never have to go looking for cincinnatians who’ll point out its failings. Don’t you worry about that.

    • Yes, that’s my point exactly. Symbols are socially constructed, but they exist everywhere. They’re not unique to Cincinnati.

      Washington Park means different things to different people. But hosting an event that embodies all of the changes that have happened in the years post riots, in a park that was the refuge for the poor for generations pre-riots, seems okay by itself. But when combined with all of the other things we know I just found it a bit inappropriate.

      I have no problem with Diner En Blanc. I just didn’t like their choice of venue this year. I’m not sure what’s so difficult to understand about that.

    • matimal

      OHHHHH. You should have said so. Still, some places are far more symbolically rich than others. From my years living in Columbus, Ohio, I would say there is far less overall symbolic significance for Columbusers in Columbus than for Cincinnatians in Cincinnati. That’s why Columbus can change more quickly, few care and most see less symbolic meaning in their surroundings. It’s also why its so transient. To leave Columbus is to sacrifice far less ‘symbolic meaning’ than for someone leaving Cincinnati.

    • Jon Harmon

      MidPointMusicFestival fences off half the park and charges the same admission (and you have to buy your own drinks, etc.). Is that insensitive to the poor who use the park as a refuge? fencing off the park for a private event targeted primarily at young white people who grew up in the suburbs and moved downtown?

  • Chris Anderson

    You had me until the third last paragraph. This in particular is risible: “Taking part in a communal feast with friends sitting next to strangers
    in a public Downtown setting is a lure for those seeking an experience
    exclusive to city living” I have that every time I go to a restaurant, i.e. 3-4 times a week.

  • John Yung

    While the cost of admission is roughly the same as a purchasing a ticket to a rock concert, the experience is an attempt to make something ordinary, like a picnic, seem special and extra-ordinary. I get that. I don’t think the point of this editorial is to debate whether or not we should have these kinds of events. Cincinnati is a city where plenty of great things can happen and should happen.

    Diner en Blanc Cincinnati, which has only been around for two years, choose to host both its events in public spaces immediately adjacent to social service agencies which have had contentious histories within the city. Last year, as the Ann Louis Inn was losing its legal battle, patrons of the diner dined in nearby Lytle Park. This year, it was hosted at Washington Park as plans are in the works to relocate the notorious Drop Inn Center. This can be taken a few different ways. On one hand, it is great to have events where these kinds of events can happen with people of all races, classes and creeds can co-exist. On the other, is this really co-existence or exclusion by class? Does an exclusive, semi-private event such as DIner en Blanc create a socio-economic division between rich and poor?

    As Over-the-Rhine and downtown continue to transition into desirable places, desirability often demands and increase in prices. This is market forces. If left to reach its logical conclusion, one day OTR could be a place where only the rich can afford to live. This is a larger debate that I think an event such as Diner en Blanc only marginally touches on.

    One consideration for event organizers would be to go the extra mile and maybe charge a little extra and donate the proceeds to a good cause. Many people are for having a good time, and I think kicking in a few extra bucks for something worthwhile could be an added incentive.

    There are plenty of opportunities for shared experiences in the urban core and these include all sorts of people from all different backgrounds. This is not an urban vs suburban debate, this is an opportunity for consideration of what kind of city we want Cincinnati to become. Compare this to Luminocity where over 35,000 people gathered in exactly the same spot to share in an experience that was completely free. Can these kinds of events co-exist in Cincinnati? Of course. But we have to remember that the value of the experience is not tied to the cost of admission.

    • Clint Watson

      Do you make this same argument about people spending gobs of money to hear classical music in Music Hall? On almost every weekend, you can see (mostly) old rich people spending at least $35 per person as they are dressed in formal wear right down the street from people too poor to buy their own food, let alone pay money to hear classical music.

      The fact is that we have two beautiful parks that are near social agencies. Would you really prefer that all the supposed rich Diner en Blanc attendees have another event in Ault Park, cordoned off from the ills of the city? Why not appreciate that the city is a mixing pot and a nice event was held in Washington Park. Some suburbanites were probably exposed to Wash Park for the first time.

      Diner en Blanc was a single event. People came, they ate, they had a great time, and they cleaned everything up before departing. I would caution making more out of its social significance in the grand scheme of things.

      I don’t have a problem with the questions that you’ve posed here. I think they can be discussed responsibly. But statements in the article such as this seem a bit much: “The question remains: has society reached a point of urban dystopia where people find it acceptable to pay organizers for a face-to-face interaction? For now, word-of-mouth continues to reveal the dark side of Dîner en Blanc.” Word of mouth continues to reveal the dark side of Diner en Blanc? Opinionated hyperbole much? Paying organizers for face-to-face interaction. Ever bought a ticket to a party?

    • Non-downtown city resident

      Exactly. The same argument against Diner en Blanc could be made to say Cincinnati EATS should not have events at any OtR restaurants because they are near social service agencies whose clients can’t afford, and actually also probably haven’t heard of, Cincinnati EATS. Which is, of course, a ridiculous argument

    • John Yung

      Yeah but Cincinnati EATS donates to charity, or at least the webpage says it does.

    • Jon Harmon

      Just because something is for charity doesn’t make it amazing. I could have a fancy event in washington park, charge $100 and donate 10% to a horrible charity. That doesn’t make it great. What do you have to say about Zula or The Anchor. They are across the park from the Drop Inn Center and next door to OTRCH. But virtually no OTRCH resident or Drop Inn Center resident would be able to enter. They can’t afford it, and the restrooms are not for public use. This- they should have gone somewhere else- argument is a false argument. What about near the zoo? Well the Zoo is bordering Avondale, the second poorest community in CIncinnati. Additionally, Lytle Park is surrounded by $400k condos and an expensive hotel. A $35 a person picnic is surely less offensive than being poor and living next to a $400k condo building with a million penthouse. Let’s put things in perspective please.

    • John Yung

      I think you’re confusing the difference between permanent uses and temporary events. Music Hall has been there long before places like the Drop Inn Center decided to locate in the neighborhood. DeB, obviously came after. Maybe the event is getting criticism for adding a layer of exclusivity to a neighborhood that is becoming rapidly more exclusive?

  • There is some good discussion here, but I’d like to share a couple thoughts:

    1) No matter the racial or socioeconomic breakdown of thos in attendance, which from first-hand accounts was mostly white and mostly affluent, an event isn’t really part of a community unless the community members feel like they were a part of it in some way. That doesnt mean they needed to attend, but at least be aware of it. Otherwise, this is something that happened to someone.

    2) There are plenty of venue options around the city that could host this event. Why Lytle Park? Why Washington Park? They’re great center city locales, but the timing for both events in both locations was poor to say the least.

    The event seems fun and unique, and the small group that attends seems to really be into it, which is great. You’ll probably never see me there, though, as I never have and probably never will wear an entirely white suit.

    • matimal

      Why was the timing poor? Why on earth would urbanists such as yourself do anything other than welcome signs of yet greater interest in central locations? It’s not my cup of tea either, but I’m at a loss to understand what on earth was wrong with this. It even generated money for the park board through fees and parking.

    • Yes, those are all good things. But the fact that the event was held directly across the street from a social service agency that is being relocated, essentially for no other reason than to relocate a certain element from the area, and has yet to reach conclusion seems in poor taste.

      It seems in further poor taste given the historical importance of Washington Park in the debate over social services and the rights of the poor in Cincinnati. To hold the event so soon after those discussions were at their peak seems to be both in poor taste and timing.

      Now had the event donated money to social service agencies, which isn’t in the spirit of Diner En Blanc, or gone out of their way to include poor residents from the immediate surroundings then it could have been a real positive.

    • matimal

      That’s life in a successful city. If Cincinnati can’t handle these different sets of interests, it will fail. Successful cities don’t get hung up on such things. They don’t mourn change, they engage it. They don’t think of the city as their personal property. They accept cities are for all, not just those who want to lay some special historical claim on them.

    • I am not now, nor have I ever been the person, to make that argument. In fact, I agree with you entirely that cities change and are dynamic places that need to be embraced for such. But I also think that quickly sweeping underlying social issues under the rug is probably not a good idea. And an event as grandiose as this seems to only spike the football in the face of those that are being asked to move.

    • matimal

      Whose being asked to move, other than the shelters? Very little actual “displacement” has occurred in OTR.

    • Displacement is not limited to moving people. It also includes making new development unaffordable for low income residents. A quantitative example is the displacement that occurred at Anna Louise Inn, located by Lytle Park.

      PLAN Cincinnati calls for 1,200 units of affordable housing in the Central Business District; it currently has 120 units. After Anna Louise Inn moves to Mt. Auburn, the Central Business District will have only 30 units of affordable housing.

    • matimal

      “Displacement is not limited to moving people.” Yes it is. You mean exclusion. You can’t displace those who aren’t there. You mean exclusion. You are opposed to excluding people from living in places just because they can’t afford to live there.

    • matimal

      Cincinnati isn’t a country. It can’t expect to take on all aspects of society that happen to be within its borders. It has to work with what and who it has. Utopian visions of city-wide peace and harmony are the just the other side of the “Cincinnati is the next Detroit” coin. Realism and acceptance of diversity. Those are the secrets to success. Symbolism and ethnic and class identity politics lead to Detroit.

    • Jon Harmon

      Randy- There are $1 million condos across the street from Anna Louise Inn. Surely, you are equally upset with those as you are with this event.

    • If Lytle Park was located two blocks from where an unarmed young black man was fatally shot, which then led to the largest civil unrest in America since the Rodney King Riots as a result of the police office getting off, then yes maybe I would be.

      In fact, I find it a bit unnerving that there are 300,000 condos overlooking the very alley where Timothy Thomas was shot to death.

      Yes, I am glad OTR is turning around. Yes, I am glad the historic architecture is being preserved. Yes, I am glad Cincinnati’s city center is being repopulated. But, I am not thrilled that much of this seems to simply be sweeping a significant piece of recent history under the rug.

      Much of the recent progress in OTR has been walking a fine line…and there are points that the line is crossed. An event such as Diner En Blanc being held in Washington Park of all places is one of those points where the line was crossed. The location. The symbolism. The history. The disparity. It all just seemed wrong. And this is coming, admittedly, from a guy who didn’t attend Diner En Blanc, but did follow all of this stuff closely and lived in Cincinnati through the summer of 2001 and the months/years leading up to it.

    • I’ve stayed away from this post. But I must say… when I talk to a lot of my friends who grew up in Cincinnati but moved away, they always bring up 2001 as the reason why they won’t come within 5 miles of downtown/OTR. Randy, you have been one of the biggest advocates of inner Cincinnati, even after you moved away. To read you succumb to “remember the riots” dialogue is obviously very, very disheartening.

      Yes, the riots should be remembered. But the re-opened Washington Park is a point of pride not just for the city but the whole region. It’s been written up in many national publications. Are you saying it should have been left run-down because of what happened two blocks from there? Are you saying a bad history should prevent a positive future?

      The ill effects of gentrification are a legitimate concern that need to be addressed. Which is why I’ve often wondered why it’s so infrequently written about on this blog. But events like this don’t contribute to that; they only open people’s eyes to the gentrification that’s already occurred. And to read comments from the same people who’ve been pushing “develop, develop, develop” for years… who frequent the restaurants and bars meant to serve this new, wealthier clientele… that say one event geared towards the well-to-do is ruining the neighborhood? Sorry, but it comes across like the pot calling the kettle black.

    • I’m saying none of those things, Zachary.

    • OK, well then I apologize… was in a hurry and read the comments quickly. What’s being said? That a line was crossed? The largest argument against this event was its supposedly exclusivity, when, if I understand correctly, the event was not at all exclusive. You could sign up online and I remember seeing posts all over Facebook about it. And I have yet to see any outcry from anywhere except here on this blog. Again, if the issue at hand is the sensitivity of past history and the recent gentrification, there are adequate ways to address that (low-income housing requirements, historical monuments, education, social service venues, etc., etc.). Complaining about a picnic? I don’t know. I guess I’m just confused what all the uproar is about.

    • I can tell you that Paige and myself are not the only ones that thought this event in this location was in poor taste. If you can’t remotely understand why, then fine. I can’t remotely understand why other can’t see the inappropriateness.

    • matimal

      Successful cities can handle people expressing their hurt feelings. If Cincinnati isn’t bigger than the judgement of a handful of long-time observers and residents on ONE evening in ONE park, it doesn’t deserve to succeed.

    • Jon Harmon

      “If Lytle Park was located two blocks from where an unarmed young black man was fatally shot, which then led to the largest civil unrest in America since the Rodney King Riots as a result of the police office getting off, then yes maybe I would be.” – Randy A. Simes

      This is saying because of the riots, this event should not have taken place in washington park.

    • Guest

      You are literally using the same argument that opposes all other development in OTR. You can’t pick and choose where to apply that argument. Also, that event was 12 years ago. Twelve. There are now $250k condos on the spot where he was shot. Is that insensitive?

    • Jon Harmon

      You are literally using the same argument that opposes all other development in OTR. You can’t pick and choose where to apply that argument. Also, that event was 12 years ago. Did that shooting have anything to do with the park? There are now $250k condos on the spot where he was shot. There’s not even a plaque. Was that development project insensitive?

    • Jon Harmon

      Additionally, Bakersfield holds a massive Cinco de Mayo party that often involved many suburbanites and other young professionals with more income than anyone in OTRCH housing or the Drop Inn Center. They drink, eat, and you have to buy a ticket to get in. They hold it in the parking lot that touches the property where Timothy Thomas was shot. Is that insensitive? The answer is no.

    • The issue is economic morality, for both attendees and members of the surrounding neighborhood.

      Guests of Diner En Blanc should not be misled by organizers advertising that the event is not-for-profit when only 40% of the admissions revenue is used for expenses.

      An exclusive event that celebrates court society creates a negative impression when it is held in areas with ongoing debates about the displacement of people from a lower socioeconomic status.

    • matimal

      What on earth are “economic morality” and “court society”? This was a bunch of people socializing in a public park. You are looking for trouble. Thankfully Cincinnati is not as divided as it was and you’ll have a harder time finding it now than in the past. Very few people have been “displaced” from OTR. Most rehabbed buildings were unoccupied previously. Cincinnati has the cheapest housing costs of any metro over 2 million in the U.S. This is less of an issue here than anywhere in America.

    • According to the Diner en Blanc website, court society is what the event is celebrating.

      “Le Dîner en Blanc recalls the elegance and glamour of court society, and
      diners engage one another knowing they are taking part in a truly
      magical event.”

      Historically, this term refers to a monarchy, where the court was comprised of people associated with royalty by by relation, employment, or socially. Courts existed for political reasons, as well as for lavish parties and entertainment.

      Yes, it is bizarre that this is the theme of Diner en Blanc. Of all the ways to describe an elegant picnic, why compare it to a court society? The event being advertised as such, then twice being held in areas debating over rights of the poor creates a negative perception of an otherwise unique and eccentric event. While this may not have been the organizers’ intention in selecting the locations, it is something that should be considered when planning future events.

    • matimal

      “Considered” by whom? You? Organizers? City council? the park board? Everyone within a I mile radius? Everyone in Cincinnati? Should only things that are acceptable to everyone occur in Washington Park? in any park? I couldn’t care less what the goals of the organization are. It’s a park, there are rules, they followed them. There is no issue here. Why do you care? What are public parks for, in your view? What fundamental issue do you have with the park boards actions? Are you opposed to park permits for ethical reasons? Who should and shouldn’t get park permits? Is your complaint about the organization or the Cincinnati Park Board?

      Are you afraid this group will attempt to foist a monarchy on Cincinnati?Everything is potentially political. There is no such thing as a politically neutral action. That’s life in the big city. Does this justify exclusion of all events from public parks?

      Where is this debate you keep talking about? You’re it as far as I can tell.

  • Brad

    Have lived next to Washington Park for about a year now and was shocked about how this group left the state of the park. Numerous wine glasses lay broken on sidewalks (some right next to the playground). Baloons left in trees. If this group was suppose to have class and respect, it certainly didn’t show in their cleanup effort.

  • Would enjoy input on the following from our readers who attended the event:

    1.) When you purchased your Diner En Blanc ticket, did you have the impression that the entire price was to cover event expenses, such as permits, rental fees, and entertainment? If so, what are your thoughts on 60% of the revenue going to the organizers?

    2.) With only 40% of revenue being used for event expenses, do you feel that guests should receive more for their ticket purchase, such as having tables, chairs, and place settings provided by the organizers?

    3.) Knowing that 60% of the revenue is compensating the organizers, should a portion of the proceeds benefit a charity?

    4.) While attending either the Washington Park or Lytle Park event: Did you consider Diner En Blanc’s exclusivity to make an impression of court society in an area struggling with the displacement of people within a lower socioeconomic status? Why or why not?

    • Jenny Kessler

      Did you actually talk with an organizer of the event to confirm that people are pocketing this money? I am almost completely certain that the locals who organize do so as volunteers.

      I chatted with a friend of mine who helped organize the event, and she said that costs for the event actually ran closer to 50k.

      According to her, some of the costs were:
      -Park rental (which is pricier than I thought it would be)
      -Liquor license
      -Security detail from CPD for 5 people for 8 hours
      -The sound people, the lighting people, the set up/tear down/trash clean up people
      -The buses- which unfortunately you have to rent for the entire evening, even though they’re not used for very much of it- and those babies are ridiculously expensive (like over a grand a piece) and this year we had 30 of them
      – Entertainment
      -DEB event requirements- balloons, sparklers, signs for table/bus leaders
      -DEB franchise fees
      -Paypal fees

      Last year they ended up short a few thousand dollars. This year they hoped to have enough to put a down payment for next year’s space.

      When my group was walking to our meetup spot, we passed by the park. It looked like a wedding reception. Should no one have weddings in public parks since they are exclusive?

      I hoped that we would go somewhere out of downtown, but by the time it was all said and done, I was happy it was in Washington Park – a place I spend a lot of my time in already. It was magical, and I don’t regret or feel bad for the money or effort I spent in participating. Stop shaming me.

      I wish that some money went to charity. This article is over the top, and honestly sounds like when people whine about new bars or restaurants opening that they personally don’t enjoy. There is already SO much divisiveness in this city. Why add to it?

    • Clint Watson

      Well put. If Urban Cincy was going to run this article/editorial, it should have at least reached out to the DEB folks to try to get a better handle on revenue, costs, and why certain decisions were made.

      Additionally, there were a slew of “city-slickers” (anti-Masonites) at the event as well.

    • These are some excellent points. I did not account for franchise fees. How much are those?

    • Jenny Kessler

      I recommend contacting Drew Mackenzie or Kate and Bill Baumann, who I’m sure would be able to answer your questions and give accurate numbers.

    • Thelonius

      Can we drop the whole notion that only people in “the city” have face to face interaction? When we talk about urban neighborhoods being walkable, it is generally in reference to the mix of uses, that facilitates walking from your residence to a commercial use. 1) Cincinnati has some wonderful, old suburbs that are very walkable in this traditional sense. Mariemont, Wyoming, Glendale, many more… 2) There are many communities, both in the city and outside of it, that don’t fit the traditional definition of “walkable”, mostly due to the dominance of single use zoning, and yet random social interaction still occurs. People in these communities walk in their neighborhoods, go to parks, shop, and eat at restaurants just like urbanites do. In fact, some of the most diverse places in the region are in the suburbs.

      I think the main draw of Dinner En Blanc is that it is rare, somewhat shrouded in mystery (at least in terms of where it will be), and is simply out of the realm of the normal routine. It’s a chance to do something that only happens once a year, dress in clothes you would probably never wear otherwise, and just be in a special atmosphere. I don’t really think UrbanCincy should be concerned about the value guests received for their money. No one was forced to attend, and people should be allowed to spend their money however they want! I think Washington Park (and Lytle Park the year before) are fine choices for the event, and I am glad that the city and the Park Board were able to benefit from this! It could have been held at Green Acres in Indian Hill, or some other out of sight, wealthy enclave, but the fact that it was held in Washington Park just goes to show how vibrant and multi-faceted our core is becoming!

    • Non-downtown city resident

      I don’t see how a one-time event like Diner en Blanc is a part of the displacement of people of a lower socioeconomic status any more than the overall gentrification of downtown and OtR. I think all the development is great, but I am a middle-class lawyer and I am shocked at the costs of the new condos and the rents in OTR. I don’t see a lot of the longtime residents of OtR buying the condos 3CDC is building or eating at the new restaurants. Although there was more diversity, I also observed mostly white people and a heck of a lot of suburbanites at Lumenocity. Was that a bad thing too, albeit free?
      Is there such a thing as an event that APPEALS to everyone and is free and inclusive of everyone?

  • You may be right about the liquor permit, but I don’t believe Washington park serves Wine and Champagne. Please correct me if I’m wrong. But that normally is a 3rd and much costlier license to acquire, from someone with bar experience. As well there is a big difference between a selling license and BYOB license. There is no selling of alcohol here. Also again, you’re numbers are off. There were 28 buses. No idea where you get 18 from. But you’re numbers haven’t been right from the beginning so…

    Also Just the bandstand area is $2500. It took up more than that area. But I’ll play along. From your link the Civic Lawn is roughly the same area that DeB took over so that’s another $5000 on top of that. Plus the $80 bottles of champagne that was handed out… but if you really were going for truth here, you would have reached out to the organizers and gotten the real numbers instead of trying to make a grandiose claim even more

    • To my knowledge, 3CDC-managed properties permit beer, wine, and liquor. Since Diner En Blanc is BYOB, if a permit was required by the State of Ohio, it would cost $250. http://com.ohio.gov/liqr/permitClasses.aspx

      The need for 18 buses is estimated that half of the 1,750 guests were bussed to the event, half were pedestrians. A charter bus seats an average of 50 people.

      The $80 bottles of champagne were supplied by an event sponsor. If this was an out-of-pocket cost, the price of champagne alone would exceed revenue generated by ticket sales before paying for the rest of the event.

      Considering the additional expenses you mentioned for bus and Civic Lawn rental, this still only accounts for 60% of the admissions revenue.

  • Jenny Kessler

    Another perspective – from someone who, ya know… actually attended.


    • Dan

      I think this is really a bigger deal than the rest – I’m not sure how accurately you can sit and write intelligently or even accurately if you didn’t go to the event. Esp if you are going to sit and criticize it.

  • matimal

    Or you could have walked to the park, as I did.

  • Howard Chuck McEwen

    I think it’s safe to say two things about this event. 1. That much of the attraction of this event was its elitist cache. And 2. The choice of location was in extremely poor taste.

  • Mark Christol

    Paige, I don’t think you should expect an invitation next year…

    • Dan

      she didn’t even go this year.

  • You can pick apart the numbers all day long, which everyone here has, but the fact of the matter remains that an event with an elite name, secret invitation list, primarily white, primarily upper-income crowd came in a took over a public park that was once known for being the safe haven for Cincinnati’s homeless. This same park was the site where a homeless man was run over and killed by a police car while he was sleeping in the park. It is the same park that was a mere two blocks away from the deadly shooting of the unarmed Timothy Thomas, which subsequently led to the largest civil unrest in the United States since the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

    These tensions still exist today over the issue of gentrification of the neighborhood. All I’m saying is that it may be appropriate to have shown a bit more consideration for this before hosting such an event. To ignore all of that and simply say it is history is putting on blinders and doing us all a disservice.

    • matimal

      Celebrate the transformation! Maybe even urbanist advocates can get attached to a certain vision that obscures their view of reality. Just as suburbanites fetishize lawns, urbanists can fetishize those renderings of urban redevelopment filled with purposeful human figures of all skin colors striding confidently to their next deeply fulfilling appointment. We have to base our views on the world we actually live in, not an image we are trying to make real. OTR is changing because the larger economic forces of the globalizing economy are changing, not because Cincinnatians themselves suddenly discovered some magic secret to make those drawings come to life. OTR didn’t fail in the past due to a lack of sympathy and it won’t thrive because of it. It failed because of a lack of investment and it changed because of new investment. Cincinnati has to pay its way. Without an increased and sustained stream of income, nothing else in Cincinnati matters. Complaining about the very people who will help Cincinnati to do so is to complain about Cincinnati’s emerging future.

    • Jon Harmon

      Randy your argument MUST be applied to all restaurants and condos being built near Washington Park then. The hypocrisy on here is ridiculous.

  • Howard Chuck McEwen

    I think it’s safe to say two things about this event. 1. That much of the attraction of this event was its elitist cache. And 2. The choice of location was in extremely poor taste.

  • Brad McLaughlin

    Remember the article where Paige Malott thought Lumenocity was a white elitist invasion of Washington Park? No? Neither do I. I look forward to the article where Paige Malott thinks MidPoint should not be held at Washington Park because you know, Carla Streeter may not approve. Judging simply by Paige Malott’s picture and nothing else, I assume Mid Point is Paige-approved. (see what I did there?)

    Also, please let the local event organizers know what the Paige Magic Radius is for events held near social services. All I know is, thank goodness the homeless are free to browse the City Flea and look at $25 t-shirts and billiard ball wine stoppers.

    There is nothing, NOTHING secret about the damned thing. No secret circles, no secret handshakes. I forget what special social circle entitled me to attend. All I know is I simply signed up online last year, and I renewed it this year. I also forgot where I checked the race box…oh wait, there wasn’t one. The black woman I sat across close said she signed up online this year. No word on her secret social circle. There was, and is, plenty of opportunity for anyone wanting to go to sign up. If you don’t like it, don’t go. If you want to protest by donating money to a worthy cause, feel free.

    Having it in Washington Park is a sign of progress. We should be winning over converts.

    • If after all of the conversation in this comment section we can’t come to some sort of understanding that this event, while however good, may have also unnerved some people for a variety of reasons, then we have made no progress.

      Let’s please refrain from any such personal attacks. If you found the tone of this editorial offensive then I, as managing editor, sincerely apologize. Thanks for reading.

    • matimal

      OTR has unnerved various people of various backgrounds for decades. Why is THIS group at THIS time so troubling to her? I take it all as a sign of success for OTR. Still, the real stories of exclusion are to be found in Indian Hill, Madeira, Mason, Blue Ash, Hyde Park, etc. THERE is where Paige should be directing your sanctimonious indignation.

    • Brad McLaughlin

      See? It stings doesn’t it? An over the top, ridiculous, ill conceived attack on someone going about their business. That is the same sting I felt when I read that an event I attended was akin to a KKK gathering.

    • No it doesn’t sting, and no it’s not the same. The only comment that came close to implying the event was akin to a KKK rally was a quote from a woman about the event in general, not a particular person. The people in this comment section, meanwhile, have been directing their opinions of distaste squarely at Paige.

      I figured a large swath of people would not like the fact that this editorial was critical of the event. It seems as though people have become accustomed to nothing but praise and support for everything and anything that happens in the center city.

      While UrbanCincy often highlights the positive things taking place, we also look to shine a light on things that could be done better whether it be architecture/urban design, public policy or community events.

    • Jenny Kessler

      criticising is fine. criticising while making up numbers to justify the critique is where I personally take issue. reminds me of the time a marathon runner walked the streetcar route to judge how long it would take the average person.

      without bothering to dig deeper, one-sided, unsupported commentary falls flat.

  • Jon Harmon

    You left over a dozen City of Cincinnati locations off the list. Plus, Columbia-Tusculum is the City of Cincinnati. No less deserving of coming downtown than any other area.

  • Kyle Mackey

    Wow what an awful opinion piece. Paige why do you hate people who reside in the Suburbs?

    You know a ton of them have and will be moving into the city as empty nesters. I will grant you

    a mulligan, you are young, naive, but your rants are awful

  • Clint Watson

    I was at Midpoint all three nights and visited a bunch of venues. Diner en Blanc was more racially diverse than Midpoint. So let’s just call it a day.