Love Letter to Cincinnati (#2)

Jane in Cincinnati (Mt. Adams neighborhood), 1999

Note: Read the first installment in this series.

After I graduated college, I packed up my 1985 Ford Thunderbird with all my belongings and drove to Cincinnati to start my job with F+W Publications.

I didn’t know anyone in the city except my boss, Greg. He served as my only anchor for many months, so much so that when I needed someone to drive me to the airport on Christmas Day, he was the only person I could ask. (He agreed and was even cheerful about it.)

My first year in Cincinnati, I lived in a furnished studio apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood, recommended to me as the safe part of town. To make up for that bad advice I was given, I now discourage newcomers from moving there if they have any adventure left in them at all. Hyde Park is where you live if you have a lot of money, like to run, and have decided against the suburbs.

During those early years, if anyone ever visited me, my procedure was the same: Show them Mt. Adams—a San Francisco-style neighborhood with views of the city (see photo above)—then do something on the river, e.g., go to Montgomery Inn or take a cruise on BB Riverboats.

Today, no one visits me, but when they do, I feel at a loss as to what to show them. It’s not that Cincinnati doesn’t have worthwhile things to see, but its riches are best discovered through daily living, not tourism. Yes, there’s an increasingly vibrant downtown, and we’ve got Fountain Square, but for me, the enjoyments come from being local. Perhaps I’m too well-traveled—and that undercuts my perception of Cincinnati’s wow-features—but unless you live here, you probably can’t appreciate the combination of (1) low cost of living (2) high-quality urban life and arts community and (3) dramatic absence of typical city annoyances (traffic, crowds, etc).

[Note: I might have to take back that entire paragraph. This past weekend saw the grand opening of Smale Riverfront Park. That, plus The Banks development, promise to dramatically reshape Cincinnati’s downtown. See all my photos here.]

Smale Riverfront park
Smale Riverfront Park

It took 10 years of working in Cincinnati for me to truly live in it. I moved to Over the Rhine (OTR), which is believed to be the largest urban historic district in the United States. It contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the country, and is an example of an intact 19th-century urban neighborhood.

OTR is the first neighborhood I’ve ever lived in where I’m not constantly getting in my car to leave it. All my favorite places—and many necessities—are within walking distance.

Unfortunately, the large bulk of my time in Cincinnati was grudgingly spent in Clifton, due to a longterm relationship with (and later marriage to) a UC doctoral student. Clifton is a sprawling university neighborhood, and even though I work there now and don’t mind it, the only fond memories I have of living in Clifton are my long-distance runs outside of it.

I wish I had more time to spend in OTR and downtown Cincinnati, to watch the continuing transformation of the neighborhood that may eventually become a big tourist destination. I think that’s beginning to happen (see Lonely Planet and New York Times), plus downtown resident population is up 12%. In case you’re curious, the video below gives you a good feel for my neighborhood + downtown.

I wonder if the magic will still be here when I return, and how it will feel to become an outsider.

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