Cincinnati Equinox Pride Parade and Festival This Weekend

Equinox CincinnatiDowntown Cincinnati’s tag line “Life Happens Here” has never seemed more appropriate than this coming weekend, July 2-4, when the fabulous Equinox Cincinnati: Pride 2010 parade and festival takes place on 5th Street and Fountain Square. Pride is an all-weekend, annual festivity that gives the Greater Cincinnati LGBT community and allies a chance to come together and celebrate their individuality as well as diversity in general.

This year’s event is seen as a major turning point for the Cincinnati LGBT community, as Pride will once again be held downtown for the first time since 1995. For the past ten years, the parade and festival has been held in the gay-friendly neighborhood of Northside, but after the Cincinnati Gay Chamber of Commerce took over the event this past year, the powers that be decided a better fit for the parade and festival was Downtown, a place that can properly showcase the increasingly visual and centralized gay Cincinnati community.

This move is seen as a positive turn of events by many Pride supporters, including Brian Reynolds, President of Cincinnati Men’s Chorus.

“Cincinnati Pride really did outgrow tiny Hoffner Park in Northside several years ago. And as much as I enjoy Northside and how much it has to offer, it just makes sense to me that Pride would move at this point from a neighborhood to someplace more central,” Reynolds explained.

He also believes moving Pride downtown has bigger implications beyond solving space issues in Hoffner Park, noting “This change has the potential to make the gay community and this event more visible than it has ever been, and visibility is the key to what we all want – acceptance.”

With its new location comes the new time frame of July 2nd-4th. Cincinnati Pride is typically held in the last weekend of June but was pushed back to the first week of July because most downtown hotel rooms were booked for a convention. The switch seems to have worked out for the better, as it coincides with the holiday weekend and no longer competes with other regional prides, like the hugely popular Chicago and Columbus Pride events. With the new time frame set, organizers expect the event to draw a large number of out-of-towners and help build on past successes, as last year’s Pride drew upwards of 20,000 people.

Downtown leaders and businesses were quick to show support for Pride and its date change. Pride flags can be seen along 5th Street – the Pride parade route, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. has included Equinox in its marketing campaigns, and numerous billboards around town advertising the festival. With all these changes and the support of the downtown community, there is an aura of excitement and energy around this year’s Pride.

As Reynolds explains, “With Pride this year falling on the Independence Day holiday, with the relocation, and with an entirely new team organizing the event — the Gay Chamber of Commerce — I have no idea what to expect. But I can’t wait to experience it and hope it continues to grow after this inaugural year.”

This year’s Pride events are bigger and better than ever. Below is a summary of the major events that can be enjoyed by anyone. Check out the Cincinnati Equinox Pride website for additional details.

  • Equinox Kickoff Happy Hour – Tonic on Fourth – Friday, July 2nd, 5-7pm
  • Bud Light Equinox Pub Crawl – Friday, July 2nd, 9pm-3am. 3 shuttles, 15 stops, 19 bars. Various locations.
  • Equinox Ball – Duke Energy Center, Saturday July 3rd, 10pm-2am.
  • Pride Parade and Festival – 5th Street and Fountain Square, Sunday, July 4th, 11am – 9:30pm
  • Numerous entertainment options, including performances by Deborah Cox
  • P&G Fireworks on the Square – Fountain Square, Sunday, July 4th, 9pm.

Greg Meckstroth, editor for UrbanOut, 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 an urban designer with an planning and design firm in Indianapolis.

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.

The Pedestrianization Acceleration of Cincinnati

If anyone has had the experience of traveling throughout Europe, you may have noticed a predominant feature in their center cities not found in typical American cities: pedestrian only thoroughfares. Many of these thin ‘streets’ have been around for decades, as European’s slowly took back their medieval centers and placed pedestrian access and connectivity in the forefront. Places like Paris, Copenhagen and Amsterdam have all created such places in their center cities, and, coupled with modern transit systems, have formed vibrant, provocative, and eclectic urban places.

Venizelou Square in Iraklion, Greece (photo by Randy A. Simes)

On a recent trip to Crete (known to be conservative by European standards) I again noticed an abundance of pedestrian only streets. After talking to a few locals, it was brought to my attention that many of these pedestrian thoroughfares were relatively new to the large city of Iraklion, and that they had finally come on board to the notion of pedestrianizing their center city, following western and northern European standards. This got me thinking; if even the most conservative western European places are completely pedestrianizing their center cities, it’s only a matter of time before the United States does the same.

Actually, the United States is already beginning to come on board with this trend, proven with the recent news that New York City has been experimenting with pedestrian only plazas in Times Square and Herald Square. Even Indianapolis, Indiana has started a significant road diet, as seen in their downtown Cultural Trail, where road lanes are slowly disappearing and making way for multi-use, pedestrian/bike facility zones.

Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail (photo from Indy Cultural Trail)

These trends indicate American’s are warming up to the idea of pedestrian only thoroughfares and ‘pedestrian malls’ in their downtown’s, an idea initially rejected by American’s in the 1960’s and 70’s. In 2009, America is continually becoming an urban-oriented society and our cities need to start planning for a pedestrian acceleration that I believe will occur in our urban centers.

Cincinnati needs to understand this and start planning for the future to stay competitive in attracting the creative class. Luckily for Cincinnati, the city already has an amazing built environment suitable for pedestrian-only thoroughfares and malls; found in amazing Over-the-Rhine. A number of the neighborhood’s streets, especially the east-west routes, are thin, intimate, and well connected, making them ideal for pedestrian only access.

So what can we do now to get ready for the pedestrianization acceleration that will eventually dominate the American urban landscape? In the immediate term, we can choke down car-centric streets like Liberty and Central, increasing sidewalk widths, adding bicycle lanes, and decreasing vehicular speeds. In the long term, we need to develop a strong multi-modal transportation system for the city.

Not surprisingly, pedestrian only zones cannot withstand themselves without being supported by a modern, multi-modal transportation system. You simply cannot expect people to live in a car free environment if they do not have attractive public transportation options. If Over-the-Rhine is ever going to become pedestrianized, we must promote modern transportation options such as the Cincinnati Streetcar. If Cincinnati doesn’t offer these options, good luck keeping up with the impending pedestrianization acceleration and good luck attracting the creative class! Please don’t rely on luck for a successful Cincinnati, please vote NO on Issue 9 on November 3rd.

Greg Meckstroth holds a Geography degree from the Ohio State University along with a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati. Greg currently works as a planner with an urban design firm in Indianapolis.

Strong Gay Communities Are an Important Part of a Healthy Urban Core

On Tuesday, September 15, the Democrat controlled Ohio House approved the Equal Housing and Employment Act (HB 176) that bans housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill passed with a 56-39 vote margin and now moves to the GOP controlled Senate, where passage is less likely.

As of today, twenty states and the District of Columbia have similar laws in effect and 12 states currently offer full housing and employment protection for the LGBT community. If this legislation passes, Ohio will become the 13th state to offer full protection for the LGBT community against such discrimination, putting Ohio on the forefront of fighting for gay rights. This will send a message to the LGBT community in Ohio and across the country that Ohio is a welcoming and an open-minded place that promotes strong gay communities.

I personally believe having a strong gay community is a key part of having a strong urban core and that this legislation is irrevocably tied to the health of Cincinnati’s core. When you look at cities in North America with vibrant cores, they tend to have successful, happy LGBT communities as well. This occurs because we gays are an urban bunch, often pioneering urban development, forming a niche in the city, and claiming a space of our own. These ‘gayborhoods’ become identifiable with the LGBT community and a sense of pride is taken to ensure they are maintained. Chicago has their Boystown, San Francisco has The Castro, and New York has…well…Manhattan. These places are thriving urban neighborhoods, act as ethnic enclaves for their respective cities, and are a key part of a diverse, vibrant urban core.

If Cincinnati and other Ohio cities want to have diverse, active, and interesting urban cores, Ohioans must embrace the LGBT community and allow them to maintain or establish a successful niche. If this legislation passes, Ohio will take steps towards achieving that goal and if it does not, my community will continue to feel like second class citizens and look elsewhere to live; our fabulous urban lifestyles in tow.

Cincinnati needs a strong gay community for a more vibrant, diverse, eclectic urban core. This is one of many reasons that I support the passage of HB 176 and urge the Ohio Senate to pass the bill as soon as possible.

Guest editorial written by Greg Meckstroth. Photography by Scott Beseler.