Best Of 2020

Cincinnati was long blessed by the long presence of — and now mourns the absence of — former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Marian Spencer, who passed away in 2019, and former federal judge and civil rights leader Nathaniel Jones, who we lost in early 2020.Spencer, who lived in Avondale, passed away last July. But her legacy will remain — concretely in the form of a section of Walnut Street downtown the city renamed in her honor in 2016 and in a wider sense through myriad contributions she made to civil rights in Cincinnati. The granddaughter of a former slave, Spencer traced her lineage back to African-American, Native American and Scottish ancestors. She came to Cincinnati with her twin sister Mildred in 1938 to attend the University of Cincinnati and stayed after marrying Donald Spencer. She received her degree in English in 1942 and had two children: Donald Jr. and Edward Spencer. It was her children’s desire to swim at Coney Island that sparked Spencer’s first big integration effort. In 1952, she organized two dozen other women to push for the desegregation of the Cincinnati water park, which at the time did not admit black people. Spencer, already heavily involved in her community, went on to become a Cincinnati City Council member and sit on the University of Cincinnati board of trustees. Internationally known civil rights advocate and Cincinnati-based former federal judge Jones died this January at the age of 93. Locally, Jones was a mentor to a number of Cincinnati political heavyweights, from Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper to Mayor John Cranley to former Cincinnati City Council member and current Democracy for America CEO Yvette Simpson. Jones’ career featured many highlights and acts of courage. During his stint with the NAACP starting in 1969, Jones worked to desegregate public schools across the nation, leading to some harrowing experiences with racial violence. Later, in 1993, Jones traveled to South Africa as an observer for the country’s first democratic elections.

City Life
Illustration: Taylor Speed


Best Addition to Cincinnati’s Historic Union Terminal
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

In 2015, Hamilton County voters approved a levy to fund the massive undertaking of saving Cincinnati’s historic Union Terminal, and three years later, in November 2018, it reopened to visitors. Today, the Cincinnati Museum Center remains in the iconic building and a new occupant — the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center — has moved into a prominent spot in the terminal’s concourse mezzanine, formerly home to the Cincinnati History Library and Archives. Founded in 2000 by Holocaust survivors and their families, the Holocaust & Humanity Center’s small museum and educational programs were previously located inside Kenwood’s Rockwern Academy, a Jewish community school. The new center now has roughly three times more exhibition space than it had previously, and the location is especially poignant given that Holocaust survivors arriving after World War II got their first taste of the city when they entered Union Terminal. That history — plus countless others — is preserved thanks to the renovation. Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Ave., Queensgate, cincymuseum.org; holocaustandhumanity.org.

2. Current at the Banks

3. 1010 on the Rhine

2. Fischer Homes       

3. Zicka Homes

2. Music Hall              

3. Cincinnati Art Museum

Best Building Impersonation of a ’70s T-Shirt Graphic
Photo: Kailtyn Handel

One day, there was just an empty field. Then, seemingly overnight, Rhinegeist’s new Camp Washington facility was present along Spring Grove Avenue looking for all the world like a racing-striped vintage motorcycle gasoline tank, one of those really rad three-quarter-sleeve T-shirts your dad used to wear while working on his Ford Grenada and drinking PBR, or well, like a can of Rhinegeist. Fitting. The dark blue building with the red, orange and yellow stripes is a warehouse and brewing facility for the bustling brewery, but despite its shiny newness, it fills us with a strange sense of nostalgia.

For years, Greater Cincinnati has suffered due to a bus system it has outgrown and crumbling roads and bridges. But there is a possibility to help remedy both of those issues: a ballot initiative called Issue 7 that would raise the county’s sales tax by .8 percent to increase bus frequency, add new routes and make some popular routes run 24 hours a day. Three-quarters of the estimated $130 million a year the 25-year levy would raise would go to bus service, while another quarter would go to infrastructure improvements throughout the region that benefit public transit in some way. According to the ballot language, none of the money could be used for Cincinnati’s streetcar. Should voters approve the levy, the .3 portion of the city’s earnings tax that pays for buses would be eliminated, per a citywide ballot issue that voters gave the OK by a wide margin. That would mean those who work in Cincinnati would pay $50 million less in taxes. The bus system badly needs more funding. It faced a $5.8 million budget deficit last year and needs many millions of dollars in investment to become better-functioning and connect more Greater Cincinnati residents to jobs and studies local officials say. The levy has drawn bipartisan support from progressive groups, noted conservatives and Cincinnati’s business community. If it passes, it could mark a new age for public transit in Greater Cincinnati.

2. Clifton                    

3. Over-the-Rhine      

2. Rose Lavelle           

3. Todd Portune         

4. Thane Maynard

5. Molly Wellmann

6. Bootsy Collins

7. Marty Brennaman

8. Bob Herzog

9. Tamaya Dennard

10. Pete Rose

Learning how to be yourself can be hard when you’re young. It’s especially difficult when you’re navigating questions about your gender identity. Last year, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit called Transform launched in the back room of Nancy Dawson’s makeup boutique BRIDEface to make that process a little easier for area transgender and non-binary youth ages 6 to 18 by opening up a free clothing closet. With the shop growing, the group started looking for a stand-alone location, and in early January, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to get there. Making the drive all the more poignant — and painful — is the fact that Dawson has terminal cancer. Transform has gotten a few big boosts from some big names along the way. Dawson’s husband Matt Zoller Seitz (a film and TV journalist) included information on the fundraiser in a tweet that was a part of his thread about Dawson’s diagnosis. Soon after, Seth Meyers, who hosts NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, shared the tweet and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, recorded a video promoting the fundraiser. “I think what you’re doing with Transform is incredible,” Miranda said in the video. “I think you’re going to change Cincinnati. I think it’s really laudable.” Transform, transformcincy.org.