News Opinion

Recognizing cultural diversity key to Cincinnati’s future

[This week Zachary Schunn submitted the following guest editorial to UrbanCincy. If you would like to share your thoughts or opinions on a given topic, please send them to – Randy.]

“Where did you go to high school?”

Undoubtedly, if you have spent any length of time in Cincinnati someone has asked you this question. And if you grew up in the area, you have likely asked it of someone else.

Some people may ask this question as a way to reminisce about simpler times. But more often than not, the question is a means of categorizing someone. Is this person from the more industrial west side, or the more developed east side? Is this person accustomed to urban or suburban living? Is he/she from a religious family? A wealthy family?

This means of categorization seems innocent enough. Using a simple question to help learn more about a person is a valuable tool. Additional questions can be asked to glean greater insights into how that person’s native neighborhood helped shape his/her personality and upbringing. However, this categorization by neighborhoods often results from and further perpetuates the stereotypes that exist with certain area neighborhoods. And, perhaps worst of all, it makes an outsider new to the area feel even more like an outsider when the follow-up to the above question is, “Oh, you’re not from Cincinnati, are you?”

Of course, in a larger sense there is nothing wrong with identifying area neighborhoods by the noticeable differences between physical layout, architecture, culture, and/or demographics. The problem that seems to occur all too often in Cincinnati, though, is that these identification techniques are used to spread negative stereotypes about places and their inhabitants. While residents of a neighborhood may feel a certain pride towards that location, commonly this pride brings them to the belief that they are better than anyone else from an “inferior” neighborhood.

Am I exaggerating? Think of some of the stereotypes you may have heard. West Chester residents are spoiled. Those from Mason, or Anderson Township, or some other suburb do not really value Cincinnati’s urban core. Hyde Park residents are rich snobs. Northsiders are either all homosexuals or all yuppies and drug addicts. Over-the-Rhine is only full of poor blacks and newly-borne “hipsters” ignorant of the area’s history. And I’m not even going to touch on what I’ve heard people say about Northern Kentuckians.

Let’s stop right there. I’ll admit: I did not grow up in Cincinnati, so I am somewhat less in-tune to the stereotypes. Even so, I have caught on quickly that residents like to pit themselves against one another.

This is not a rare phenomenon. But, let’s compare this occurrence to another city for a minute: New York City, most specifically the borough of Manhattan. Anyone who visits this city for a brief time will quickly make a very interesting observation. Though New York City is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the world, its neighborhoods are still highly segregated. A visitor knows when he/she is in Harlem, Little Italy, El Barrio, Chinatown, or Greenwich Village. However, this segregation is used to celebrate the individual cultures that make up the city. Unique foods and shops align the streets of such neighborhoods. Festivals highlight the positives of each neighborhood, while negative stereotypes do not comprise everyday conversations to the extent that they do in Cincinnati.

Of course, Cincinnati can never compare in size or diversity to New York City. However, the concept of celebrating individual neighborhoods is still a valid concept that should be more aggressively pursued in order to erase the negative stereotypes that dominate conversations and create positive ones for the city.

The easiest way to change attitudes is to better recognize and honor the cultural history and diversity of the city. This can be achieved through “marketing” campaigns (tourist pamphlets, road signs, etc.), cultural centers, and/or special events and festivals. Such is already done extensively to celebrate the city’s strong German heritage. One cannot claim that the city has failed in this respect.

However, what about the other cultural and ethnic segments? The strong Irish-American heritage seems largely ignored, save for a pub here or there. There are large Greek and Jewish populations in the city that get little recognition. Though there is a small Italian festival in Cheviot every year, otherwise most other European immigrant classes and their importance to the city’s history are shunned. Further, what about the growing classes of Asian and Latino residents? Uptown boasts large segments of both eastern Asian (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.) and Indian residents. Surely, the mixture of Asian and Indian restaurants in the Clifton and CUF areas helps to represent these groups of people. But would it not be a terrific goal to begin some cultural event that further honors these newcomers and welcomes them as Cincinnati residents rather than regarding them as outsiders?

Ethnicity is just one demographic variable that defines citizens and shapes differences between people in an area. Cultural values can also shape neighborhoods. For example, the underground art and music scenes in Cincinnati are phenomenal, and are well represented by downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Northside, and—to a lesser extent—Mt. Adams. These and other neighborhoods should continue to capitalize on this strength, and develop “niches” for different art and music scenes in different neighborhoods.

On another note, the city’s complex history is part of what makes it great. But why is the most historical focus placed upon downtown and Over-the-Rhine? What about the great history of residences in Corryville, Mt. Auburn, or Walnut Hills? What about the unfortunate demolition that occurred due to interstate construction in the West End and Mt. Adams? Could this not be better emphasized as a way to both celebrate the neighborhoods’ history and call for a more optimistic and respectful future?

Other cultural differences exist between neighborhoods that could be further highlighted and/or expanded. On a positive note, the LGBT community has managed to highlight Northside (as well as Clifton, to a lesser extent) as an open and accepting community. Is there any reason why this openness, not just to the LGBT community but to diverse groups of people in general, could not occur in other neighborhoods? Further, what about the strong sense of ecology that is shown in some neighborhoods that could positively spread to others? For example, why isn’t there more of an interest in or draw to Price Hill’s Ecovillage? Cincinnati’s great park system has been written about extensively, but why do certain neighborhoods not do more to utilize these parks? For instance, some neighborhood parks at the peaks of “hills” offer some astounding views of Cincinnati. Also, more specifically, some parks such as Burnet Woods in Uptown seem underutilized, and it is unfathomable why Cincinnati does not better vocalize Mt. Airy Forest’s great hiking trails.

I have already listed a plethora of examples of missed opportunities to more positively portray the citizens, places, and events within area neighborhoods. Surely, there are many more. But the larger point is this: if the cultural diversity, great history, and interesting landmarks already exist in neighborhoods, it does not take massive development or great political upheavals to make people love the city; it only takes a change in attitude. So, instead of bickering over which area high schools are best, or why east-siders are better than west-siders, or why the young/old/liberal/conservative/rich/poor/white/black/[name your stereotype] people of the city are “ruining” everything, let’s focus instead of what makes any city great: its variety and diversity.

For in reality, as much as many of us (myself included) wish for this or that development, change, etc., we all know deep down that despite its “flaws” (whatever each of us individually considers such flaws to be), Cincinnati is a great city with a lot to offer. Thus, by better recognizing and marketing what is great about the different neighborhoods in our city, we can begin to change what is often an overall negative attitude into a positive one. A positive attitude should draw new residents into the city, and help them feel accepted and wanted, thus helping our city grow and prosper like any great city should.

Consciously and sub-consciously, shouldn’t this be what we are all striving towards?

At least until football season starts again. Then everyone can go back to arguing about which area high school is best.

Zachary Schunn is a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Architecture program at the University of Cincinnati, and is currently completing the Master of Business Administraion program at UC, with a concentration in Real Estate Development. He has a growing interest and expertise in sustainable urban architecture and development, and is committed to seeing its growth in Cincinnati.

News Opinion

Cincinnati Brain Drain: Neil Clingerman

For those of you who don’t already know, over the last 10 to 20 years a large part of one of Cincinnati’s most historic neighborhoods has been lost. Back when I was in college, around 2005 or so, block after block of old houses were destroyed around the University of Cincinnati in order to develop new housing for students and young professionals. One of the hardest hit areas was Corryville, where literally about every other morning I’d be woken up by the high pitched sounds of construction equipment tearing through layer after layer of solidly built brick.

At that point in time Cincinnati was at a low point: the riots were still fresh in everyone’s memory, crime was way up, many cool places had shutdown due to “slowed business” and anyone who was young was jaded about what Cincinnati had to offer to those of us not enamored of living the suburban lifestyle.

These demolitions are what made me the most bitter about the city. When I was a kid, I lived in Warren County, and visited both Dayton and Cincinnati with my parents. Dayton was never a draw for me – it kind of felt just like many other older towns I also visited, like Columbus, or Indianapolis.

Cincinnati was different. I loved the city; it felt like a visualization of how a “big city” was always presented as in popular media, with its many densely built brick townhouses and apartments, and it felt like the place I could go to escape the overly manicured, sterile and cold humdrum of suburbia.

When presented with an option of what university I wanted to go to, part of my decision was based upon living in Cincinnati because of its character and urbanity. These demolitions took away that character and replaced it with something I could find in the suburb I grew up in. As a result I wanted very badly to leave and I did in 2007 after graduating. I felt as though Cincinnati had no future as it was throwing away its best asset, its built environment.

In talking with people down in Cincinnati about the city, over and over again I got the same opinion; “This place sucks”, “Cincinnati is no fun”, “This place doesn’t have anything to offer me as a young person”. When I presented to people how beautiful the architecture was they’d respond with a shrug. One person I knew even proposed turning OTR into a giant parking lot.

All of this negativity made me feel like I was powerless to make a difference against the march of redevelopment that was being lead by developers like Uptown Properties to turn Corryville from a classy but somewhat run down urban neighborhood, into a suburban-like wasteland of student apartment complexes and the occasional “fast casual restaurant”.

Fast forward a few years later. I’ve traveled to almost all of the great cities in the US, and now live in one of them; Chicago. While Chicago is great, I kept wanting to find a neighborhood that was like a restored Over-the-Rhine or Corryville. While there are places that come close, nothing really has the classic grandeur of those neighborhoods in Cincinnati. Traveling to the East Coast was a different story. I was met with large areas in famous cities like Boston and New York City that felt like larger and more lively versions of what I left behind in southwest Ohio.

Recently I decided use to Google StreetView to see how many US cities actually had the kind of built form and character Cincinnati had. Upon doing this, I found a lot more “Indianapolises” than “Cincinnatis”. I came to the conclusion that almost all the other cities that had Cincinnati’s level of urban character were nationally known places; Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, and parts of Brooklyn.

I found out that Cincinnati was in the same league as major tourist destinations that drew tourists and residents alike to them for their beautiful old buildings. The question I began to ask was, why is Cincinnati not part of the party? Why is Cincinnati not thought of in the national consciousness at least at the level of Savannah as a place to go to be immersed in an old beautiful urban environment?

I felt that the answer was that Cincinnatians don’t care enough about their amazing assets to really use then to their full potential, and that the nonchalant way that Corryville was being demolished block by block was a symptom of one of the city’s biggest ills.

More recently, I’ve noticed an increased awareness and interest in Cincinnati’s history. With this increased awareness I took a few tours of OTR when I was in town, and realized just how important Cincinnati was in its heyday. This renewed interest in Cincinnati’s history, combined with a growing preservationist movement, made me passionate to work towards righting the wrongs that were committed against my old neighborhood in Cincinnati – Corryville.

It is up to city council, the city manager, and the mayor to fix the regulations currently in place that allow our historic buildings to be torn down at such an alarming rate. Ensuring that these wrongs that are being committed against the urban assets that could make Cincinnati a nationally known city, be stopped dead in their tracks.

If you show your support towards preservation and against demolitions, Cincinnati would be in a far better position to sell itself as one of the most beautiful places in the Midwest. If developers like Uptown Properties continue to get their way, Cincinnati will be a fading memory, a once grand proud city, dying away, slowly being turned into a wasteland of failed projects and failed dreams- a place that is no longer unique or culturally significant on a national scale.

Last weekend, I was talking with friends about how our generation handles civic duty. In this discussion, I brought up the activism I’ve been working on for preservation in Cincinnati. A waitress in her 20s or early 30s, paused and asked me to provide more detail. She then told me that she used to live in Cincinnati and was shocked anyone down there actually believed in how amazing the city’s built environment was and how it could be used to the city’s advantage.

She had felt that the attitude in Cincinnati was one of destroying it all, and was afraid that rumors she had heard of Over-the-Rhine being completely demolished would come true. She finally felt that if the city and its citizens actually cared about what made Cincinnati great, then maybe people like me and her wouldn’t be chased away from it. It was an interesting random encounter I had up in Chicago that made an excellent point. Cincinnati is losing population, enough people don’t like living there that they want to leave. The question that should be asked instead is what can Cincinnati do to make itself draw people again? The answer lies in part in preservation of its best asset: its historic architecture.

Here I am in Chicago. I could very easily not care about Cincinnati anymore as I don’t live there. Yet, Cincinnati is so unique as a city that it should do everything in its power to preserve that uniqueness. This uniqueness makes it not only an issue of local significance but of national significance too, as neglect of its high quality old buildings will cause this country to lose one of its greatest treasures.

The city council meeting earlier this week was exactly about this kind of issue. It’s about preserving the beauty of Cincinnati so that everyone in this country can enjoy it and consider living in it, and so that people who live in and around Cincinnati can be proud of it’s grand old buildings like the ones slated for demolition in Corryville as a hallmark feature of their great city.

Neil Clingerman is a 27-year-old IT professional working in the Financial Industry who lives in Chicago, but never fully took his heart away from Cincinnati. He was born and raised in southwest Ohio, and moved to Chicago after graduating from college in 2007 at the University of Cincinnati with a BBA in Information Systems. He describes himself as someone who is passionate about many different subjects including history, cities, politics and culture.

Development News Opinion Politics Transportation

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.
News Opinion Politics

Cincinnati plans multi-million dollar surveillance camera system

The City of Cincinnati, in combination with the Uptown Consortium, has announced that 14 new high-tech surveillance cameras will be installed in various locations throughout Downtown (8) and Uptown (6). The cameras are being touted by local officials and community leaders as being a 21st Century crime fighting tool that should make Cincinnati a safer place.

The $19,000/piece cameras are not going to stop at this initial installation, that is expected to be fully operational within the coming months, as officials will have another dozen installed throughout East Price Hill and Westwood along Glenway Avenue by summer. An additional 12 to 15 cameras will be installed to monitor bridges, piers and waterways. Two years from now, officials hope to have 50 to 60 cameras installed across the city in other neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, College Hill and Northside in addition to those in Downtown, Westwood, East Price Hill, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Corryville and Clifton.

Public safety officials often proclaim that these types of cameras have the ability to deter crime and make neighborhoods safer, when in fact they don’t. Cameras simply move criminal activity around much like citronella candles keep bugs away from your backyard barbecue.

The cameras were paid for by a $2 million federal grant, but what about the ongoing maintenance? Who is going to watch the live video stream, or will someone? Who is going to review the tapes? What will be reviewed? What about archiving…how long, how much, where, and who manages it? What is the City going to actually do with all this information?

It would seem to be logical to assume that the primary use, for the cameras, will be for building cases against those who have already committed crimes. So, once again, how is this making the city safer? Instead it would seem that the cameras would just make prosecution more effective in some cases. But at the same time, I would imagine the criminals will be smart enough to see the bright white and prominently branded cameras and move their operations just outside the cone of view.

So then what, do we install more cameras…cameras on every street corner? Who will pay for that kind of an operation, and are Cincinnatians accepting of this Big Brother kind of a move? In New York they are in the process of installing some 3,000 cameras that will be fully operational by 2010. The costs of New York’s system is pegged at $90 million with a $25 million surveillance center in the project’s first phase in lower Manhattan.

The London Evening Standard just reported that even with London’s impressive array of more than 10,000 CCTV cameras, the most expansive system of its kind anywhere, that roughly 80 percent of crimes go unsolved. The $334+ million system not only is not solving the core issues surrounding the need for individuals to result to criminal behavior, but the system is not even showing effectiveness in the one area it is suppose to shine.

This approach to crime fighting seems to be a reactionary way to manage complex criminal behavior. More money should be spent on identifying the causes behind individuals resulting to criminal behavior, and how to address that. Instead what we’re doing is spending $2 million on a project that at best will put more non-violent criminals behind bars or at least through our legal system, and at worst, become cumbersome to manage and prove ineffective much like London’s advanced Big Brother system.

Business Development News Opinion

New Signature Tower Needed??

There has been some discussion recently over the need (or lack thereof) for a new signature tower in Cincinnati. Queen City Square II offers that potential with it’s signature style architecture and size. It would be the new tallest in Cincinnati, and would have a new/fresh look that isn’t all too prevalent in Midwestern cities. But the question still exists…does Cincinnati need a new signature tower…or for that matter does Cincinnati even have a signature tower/landmark.

I would argue that Cincinnati does have a signature tower in Carew, but whether it is a landmark feature is another question. I would say that outside of the world of people who are interested in Cincinnati and/or city history that very few people know the history of the beautiful Art Deco skyscraper. You could also argue that Union Terminal is landmark-esque for Cincinnati, but the same holds true for it with the average joe.

So, does Cincinnati need a new signature tower…well I’ll answer with yet another question. What is the signature tower in Portland, OR…San Diego, CA…Boston, MA…Miami, FL or Washington, DC? Now sure, some of these places have their landmark buildings (most notably DC), but they don’t really have signature towers. What makes Paris, London, Madrid, or Rome so special? They all lack the skyscrapers that are prevalent in American cities, but they have great built environments and pedestrian friendly amenities.

Proposed Queen City Square II

Cincinnati is special in the same way…sure it doesn’t have the skyscrapers like new boomtowns of Atlanta, Miami, Houston, or Dallas. But it has a built environment that those cities will never be able to duplicate. Over-the-Rhine is a landmark for Cincinnati, so is Union Terminal, Carew Tower, Central Trust Tower, Roebling Suspension Bridge, and one could even argue Columbia Tusculum.

Now don’t get me wrong…I’m not opposed to another stylish skyscraper downtown, but I don’t think that Cincinnati needs it by any stretch of the imagination. Often times skyscrapers actually hurt that all important street-life that you hope to create in an urban environment. I say go for it, but don’t go out of your way to accomplish building these skyscrapers. They are pretty…but like a book, the quality of a city should not be judged by its cover.