Wednesday, June 17, 2009

expressing cincinnati's personality

drew wrote an awesome, very thought provoking post recently on why cincinnati has a hard time attracting and keeping non-natives in the area. i'm so behind in my google reader posts that i just caught up on his blog today.

drew's theory is that cities that are very successful at attracting people to move and stay there do so through some kind of unique vibe or personality, which people want to experience. drew thinks you can't just take what other cities have and try to copy it here, you have to figure out what is unique to your city and then work on promoting that. he thinks that cincinnati's unique personality is in its amazing historical architecture.

i think drew is on to something here and so do the many commenters on the post. the other day i got off exit 5 off of 75 and drove along mitchell avenue towards o'bryonville. has anyone ever done that drive? it's the border between north avondale and st. bernard and the houses are ridiculous. huge, sprawling mansions. but they are mostly falling apart. i have never seen anything like it. crazy huge brick homes, shady trees, rolling lawns... all in some state of shabby disrepair. i could not stop staring. how could these amazing houses be so poorly cared for?

the reason is the same as what drew is talking about... people just don't appreciate the city, and without new people coming into the area and staying, there is no dynamic energy (and no money) to change and keep things moving.

maya left several comments which brought up a number of issues. some of the things she is thinking about:
  • does she love cincinnati more than cincinnati loves her? and if so what does that mean?
  • is it a good thing or a bad thing that we have so much capacity to discover and create here in cincinnati?
  • why is there such terrible media coverage of all the awesome art, music, and creative projects going on in cincinnati, and how can that be improved?
  • why is so much of the effort to promote cincinnati driven by corporate interests, and how does that affect the overall success of the effort?
a lot of the issues that drew, maya, and other commenters bring up connect with the questions and issues we think about over here at cincinnati imports. the whole "loving cincinnati more than it loves you" thing is something that i feel a lot. i like and appreciate so many aspects of the city. yet after three years of living here, i still feel that i would not even be missed if i left.

i think a major part of the reason why it is so hard to feel like the city cares about you is because it is so hard to feel like the people who make up the city care about you. a lot of this, in my opinion, goes back to the whole insular cincinnati attitude, embodied everywhere you look (garrison keillor's cincinnati opening monologue, anonymous's tired refrain of "go back to michigan," the fear people have of going to the west side, etc.). cincinnati's identity is so deeply rooted in its history and traditions, and its citizens' identities are so entrenched in who they know and what they are used to, that it is extremely difficult to really become a part of cincinnati if you have no connections here. and then you are left feeling like the city really does not care about you.

i am constantly challenged by living in cincinnati in ways that i have never experienced in other cities. living in new york was very difficult for me, but the reason there was simple: at the end of the day, i just did not want to be a new yorker and in fact did everything i could to avoid ever being thought of as one. however, i really would like to be a cincinnatian and i devote a lot of time, energy, and effort to getting to know and appreciating the city. i feel like i do everything i can to be a part of it here and still i can't break past these invisible walls of whose parents know who and who went to high school with who.

drew says, in the comments on the post, "I think there are many here who care more about the city than the city cares about them. Why should we have to try so hard? Shouldn't it be easier?" i agree with drew. i do think it should be easier. but i think i know why it isn't. it will never be any easier until somehow people start opening their minds and their hearts to new people. by that i mean no more relying solely on high school and family networks for professional and social connections as an adult. people need to reach beyond that. i don't know how that will happen though. but i am trying to do what i can.

i've spent so much time on the first question that now i don't want to bore you by rambling about the others. so leave your thoughts in the comments. i am very interested to hear what you guys have to say.


VisuaLingual said...

You may find this discussion on my blog, from over a year ago, interesting as it dovetails with some of the sentiments you [and Drew] have expressed.

On a completely different, but not unrelated, note, I hope you'll be able to check out the OTR/Gateway Summer Celebration this Saturday. I helped to organize it and we'll have a booth there, and I think it's a perfect example of the sort of grassroots event that is perhaps easier to get off the ground here than elsewhere. Now, whether it's successful, we'll have to wait and see.

liz said...

i will be there, i am excited! i am hoping to get there by about 3 so i will see you then. it should be a great event, and i hope other cincinnati imports readers will be able to make it as well.

D R E W said...

thanks for the thoughtful response to my original blog post!

one reason that so many neighborhoods have fallen in to disrepair is because of native cincinnatians' reluctance to leave the city and see what other cities have and don't have. if they'd open their eyes they'd see we have something most other cities don't... a huge stock of historic buildings, truly regional restaurants and businesses (graeter's, cincy bell), distinct and homey neighborhoods many with intact business districts, a fairly decent downtown compared to other midwestern cities. many of the local politicians are also natives, so that's not helping either.

the challenge is then up to non-natives coming in and saying, "wow, do you know what you have here?! let's fix it up and make it something special." then we have a big influx of new attitudes, perspectives and ideas. natives would slowly figure it out and then city changes for the better.

how do we attract these new people who want to renovate and live in a historic home and be part of the mid-west's largest DIY project? i don't know. the city isn't going to do it, so it has to be grassroots, i feel.

as far as "loving the city more than it loves you"... i think you hit the nail on the head. i think it has a lot to do with native's reluctance to change. they already have their social circle and family, so why invite anyone else in. in other words, why care about your surroundings, whether it's physical or social. thus, those who love the city are standing off to the side shrugging their shoulders not getting any feedback or mention.

i do what i can, when i can, to make a difference. most of my friends aren't natives. and the ones who are lived someplace else for many years before returning. so, i guess i don't have to deal with the "invisible walls" that you mentioned.

what's the answer? i don't know. it's good, at least, that we are having this conversation, not only about attracting new people to the city, but also saving our amazing architecture.

(i am having a booth at the otr festival this weekend. stop by and say hello!)

D R E W said...

oh, i also forgot to mention...

last weekend i spoke with a native texan who now lives in cincinnati about how amazing the city is and how its marketing effort sucks. she said people would move here in hoards if they only knew about it. i agree.

what to do, what to do...

Alex said...

I have new housemate/tenet, Chu Ri, moving from Portland who is a little scarred about leaving the Northwest and moving back to Ohio. She did her medical school at OSH, and while she liked her time there, it was still school. Now she's going to be even busier for the next year pursuing her Bone Marrow Transplant super fellowship at CCHMC and maybe building a life for herself.

In order to help her with the transition, I've been in contact with her asking about what interests her and what I can find for her here in Cincinnati. Looking through several different paper (CinWeekly and The Enquirer) I've been able to clip 6-10 different articles that match her interests from dating life, to YP events, to foodie events, to berry picking. I'm hoping with better media coverage of the region, we'll able to attract more people to our corner of Ohio.

In response to the 4 questions: Yes, I love Cincinnati more then it does me, but it is learning how to love me better.

I think it's great that we have to opportunity to make changes and carve out niches in our community and makes it all the more welcoming.

The media coverage still believes that "if it bleeds, it leads," which has been and still is a terrible way of promoting the area. Topics such as the OTR 5K (this Saturday!), Findley Market with longer/better hours, Norwood Community Garden, and the Opera's in town would be much better and brighter topics to cover.

Corporate investors have the funds gathered up to promote advertising and want to attract business to help further their business. Web blogs such as Cincinnati Imports does the same (attracting clients and those interested in YP events from out of towners) but with limited funds it makes distribution that much more of a challenge. The articles that Liz and the rest of the CI gang has been in, has really helped to spread the word.

theboilover said...

Being an import from DC and having lived here for two years, I have met a lot of people from outside the area that (like me) have grown pretty fond of Cincinnati. Living and working in OTR and downtown has been a great experience. My friends from college who live in WC/Fairfield are just now recognizing how cool this part of town is. It's the imports job to show the natives that the city is what we make it.

My site will be up shortly, I feel like I need a blog before I can break into the imports group =)

And the summer celebration was a blast! VL I love your stuff! I think that OTR building map would be an awesome t-shirt.

VisuaLingual said...

Thank you, theboilover! We've got ideas for t-shirts, so hopefully you'll see some soon!

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be rude, but as a native, I have to wonder: why should we care? I'm all for bringing new people in and picking this city up. I love the idea of moving forward and bringing change, and celebrating what we have, and I do think that the imports are what we need? But all we hear about from this blog and others is how we Natives are doing it wrong. You move in, start criticizing, and tell us how we could do it better, just like [insert city or state here] that it's constantly being compared to, even as you say, "oh, it has its own charm. How quaint."

I constantly hear the charges of racism and elitism on this blog, and in others, but yet I can't help but think how similar the methods used here are to a white person trying to tell a black community what it's doing wrong, or a rich person telling a poor one all about how they should really do improvements to their neighborhoods. In the meantime, the rich or up and coming "gentrify" or push the poor people out with rising costs.

Maybe, just maybe, we don't reach out to others or across neighborhoods because we've learned when to leave damn well alone?

Everyone has been here 3 years or 4 years, and it seems like everyone has come here reluctantly in the first place. Maybe we won't miss you because we read your reluctance and your criticism in your attitude rather than any dislike of outsiders. Maybe we don't like you all because you have made very little effort to truly get to know or like us.

liz said...

anon, i can stick with you until that last sentence. if you have been reading this blog at all (or even if you read the entirety of just this post), you would know that many of us have made very serious, concerted efforts to get to know and like cincinnatians, and despite those efforts, we have not been able to get past being acquaintances with most people.

here's an example. when i moved to new york, it was too far away for me to go home for thanksgiving. luckily, several of my new friends (who were native new yorkers, and who i had only known for 3 months) invited me to their places to celebrate. same with other holidays.

i've been in cincinnati for over three years, know many native cincinnatians much better than i ever knew my new york friends, and i have never been invited to spend a holiday with a native cincinnati family, even if those people know i don't have anywhere else to go.

i don't agree with all of what you said in your post, but until i got to the end i thought it was at least worth thinking and having a discussion about. but with your statement that i have not made an effort, you lost me.

Anonymous said...


Fair enough, and perhaps that statement was presumptuous of me. I do agree with you that there is a lot of difficulty in getting to know people around here. Hell, I have a hard time with it myself, even with having a group of friends that I've had since grade school and high school. I guess where I see and feel the offense is in the continuous way that many (not the people running this blog specifically, but in the comments and overall feel of it) continue to say things like, "the NATIVES don't know how well they have it" and other such things.

Honestly, I think the discussions are good -- which is what brought me to this blog in the first place. But at the same time, I can't help but continue to feel a bit like a Native American when the early Europeans came, and a lot of that can be attributed to the types of things Drew says in the comments here. We don't want massive hoards of newcomers, maybe, and that somewhat has to do with a distrust of outsiders, but also because like it or not, we like what we have. Maybe our reluctance to embrace all the changes that Drew and others keep discussing comes from the fact that we DO appreciate what we have, and we choose to utilize it our way, not based on what some perhaps well-meaning, but misguided newcomer thinks is the way.

It smacks of imperialism, if such a thing could occur in one's own country. And that's perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but really, think about the similarities: John Smith landing and then telling the Native "savages" they don't know what they have, they're using the land wrong, when they could be farming and setting up things this way and that and so forth...

Yeah. If you come to us talking about how we should change things, Natives will shut you out because we already have a perception of how outsiders see us, even if you specifically don't. Call it a chip on our collective shoulders, call it learning from experience, but from personal experience, the times I lived outside this city, I cringed as soon as someone reacted to my saying I was from this area.

See the problem is that, despite all efforts to be friendly, or to integrate, there is still an overwhelming distinction, which is evident in the use of "Native" vs. "Import." As long as the distinction is there, you're still planting your flag as an outsider status, and if you seem to have one foot already out the door (Will Cincinnati miss me when I leave?) then we're not going to invest much time or energy. If y'all want to be accepted, then just be one of us.

liz said...

but why do we have to "be one of you?" that is what i, and others, don't understand.

the problem for me is twofold. first, i don't understand what i am doing wrong, and why i am not "one of you." what is different about me, other than that i am not "from" here? how do i change myself to be like you?

the other problem for me is, why are there certain characteristics that anyone has to have to be accepted? when i lived in new york, nobody cared where i was from. native new yorkers were interested (or not) in getting to know me based solely on my personality, interests, opinions, etc. it had nothing to do with whether i was "like them" or not.

so my questions are:
1. how do we be one of you?
2. why do we have to?
3. why not accept people who are not one of you?

(thanks for your thoughtful responses by the way, this is a great conversation)

Anonymous said...

Hey Liz,

blogger ate my reply, and I went long (extremely long) so I went to my own blog to sort of continue the discussion. It's here.

It has been an awesome discussion, too, and I'm learning quite a bit from it.