Indianapolis-based Urbanophile recently posted an excellent and thought-provoking entry entitled Pecha Kucha: Urban Aphorisms. It’s essentially a transcript of a presentation he’d given outlining what makes a great city. I’m borrowing three of his aphorisms to help me articulate some of my thoughts on Cincinnati.
Given a choice between a real suburb, and a city trying to act like a suburb, people will choose the real suburb every time.
I don’t want downtown to start to resemble a suburban lifestyle center. Chain restaurants and other such amenities don’t make me feel like I’m in downtown Cincinnati. I want to see street vendors, performers, bicyclists, skaters, and more over all spontaneity downtown. I want to have unscripted experiences. This kind of loose street life may be threatening to some; to me, it’s an integral aspect of urban life. Kill that, and you may as well be hanging out at Kenwood Towne Centre instead of downtown.
As much as I appreciate the renovated Fountain Square and its focus on varied programming, I want to be able to go there not for an event but because every moment there is an event. I want to have more unpredictable experiences there.
Given a choice between a real big city, and a small city trying to act like a big city, people will choose the real big city every time.
I cringe when I hear of OTR’s potential to become “the Soho of the Midwest” or the comparisons between Cincinnati and Portland, OR. Soho is Soho because it’s Soho; these comparisons do us no favors. I don’t like Cincinnati because of its few big city-type amenities, or in spite of it being as small a city as it is; I like it because it’s Cincinnati, and what I appreciate most about it is its innate Cincinnati-ness. I don’t feel validated because we have a Trader Joe’s, Urban Outfitters and Rockbottom [not to knock them, but it's far more interesting that we have Jungle Jim's, Smitty's and hella chili parlors].
Cincinnati can only be a world class city by being a world class Cincinnati.
Goetta. Cicadas. Who dey. 20 cent payphones. Cincinnati chili. East Side versus West Side. “Where did you go to high school?” “Please?” “Paper or shopping?” I’ll even add Christian Moerlein’s OTR Ale to the list, although I’m not a beer drinker and think it tastes like sewage. When friends visit from out of town, my tour is almost entirely on foot and includes places like Tucker’s, Findlay Market, the Hustler store, Arnold’s, the Sign Museum, and now Grammer’s. I don’t know if that’s the best Cincinnati has to offer, but it’s certainly the Cincinnatiest, and that’s what I want to show off.
A couple of other examples… Cincinnati has a large number of public pools and, instead of seeing them as a surplus, let’s be a great city for swimmers, particularly young ones. Cincinnati also has a lot of public stairs. Instead of closing them, let’s maintain and promote them as a great way to get around, catch a unique glimpse of the city, and get some exercise. It’s frustrating to read about obesity in Ohio when I see two potential solutions that are already embedded in this city. As I’m not on the city’s payroll, I’m not worried about the financial logistics. To quote Tim Gunn, “Work it out.”
When I first moved here, friends reacted with a mixture of amazement and pity and comforted me with “Well, it’s only temporary.” Some have since visited and, while I don’t know that my plying them with goetta and sewage-tasting beer have sold them on Cincinnati, I think they’ve come to appreciate it for what it is and be happy for me and the life I’ve carved out for myself. As for me, I never expected this city to be anything other than what it is, so I’m happy with Cincinnati being the Cincinnatiest Cincinnati it can be.