Staff Picks

Learn about our picks for everything from the best DIY transit to the best sandbox in town. These great Cincinnati urban living picks were chosen by our staff of street-savvy and bus-riding writers.

Best Bet for Downtown


mart new nonprofit

Bridging Broadway

aims to be the connector between the new Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati at Broadway Commons and surrounding neighborhoods, nearby businesses and other organizations. They’ve already held sessions to get feedback from lots of different people about what the casino might mean to the city, and more are planned. They’ll be creating more mechanisms to hear how this new enterprise — a gigantic presence on the eastern edge of Downtown that used to be a sea of asphalt parking lots — can make a positive impact on the city and the region. The city of Cincinnati is looking for Bridging Broadway to be the pipeline to greater insights so we’re not gambling on the future. (Rick Pender)

Best Hope to Market Cincinnati as a Contemporary City
Look, no one’s saying half the city is going to ride Cincinnati’s streetcars to work or that they’ll magically turn Cincinnati into Portland, Ore. (we’d need several more decades of transportation planning and a large number of hippies to do that). But studies have shown — and cool people believe — that the streetcar will spur economic development along the route, create jobs and help revitalize one of Cincinnati’s most historic neighborhoods. And also, young people will like it.

Best Architectural Bling Downtown
Some think it looks like a crown on the Queen City, others liken it to a gigantic penis. Wherever you stand, the 41-story Great American Tower — which has earned a precertified Gold LEED status — is a snazzy addition to the downtown skyline. 301 E. Fourth St., Downtown,

Best Support Group on Two Wheels
Queen City Bike has emerged as a force of nature among the local cycling community. The bike information Web site has become a hub (get it?) for the local bike community and maintains a bike news blog complete with events as well as stories on bike advocacy and legislation that affects local riders. As if that weren’t enough, QCB also helps organize themed rides, mechanical workshops and Bike Month events every May. Ride on! 513-675-2143,

Best Railroad Raising Money for a Cause
Located at the Columbia Sussexx building in Crestview Hills, Ky., the Columbia Sussexx Richwood Tahoe Railroad offers charitable organizations a vehicle to support their fundraising events. The train rides are open to the public and proceeds for the day go to a scheduled charitable organization. 740 Centre View Blvd., Crestview Hills, 859-578-1100,

Best Illuminating Restoration


ormer movie theater/current concert venue and events house

20th Century Theatre

on Dec. 1, 2010 turned on the lights of its giant, rooftop sign after 30 years in the dark. The beaming red tower gives one of Oakley’s most-recognizable landmarks a more stately presence and adds greatly to the aesthetics of the refurbished Oakley Square. The theater first opened on Aug. 1, 1941. Cinema designer Fred W. Strizel crafted Cincinnati’s first air-conditioned and fire-proof theater using Neoclassical Moderne Style. 3021 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-731-8000, (Mike Breen)

Best Sandbox in Town
Construction for an underground parking garage is underway on the north end of Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park, creating what now resembles a gigantic dirt pit. Cincinnati’s second-oldest public park is expected to expand by two acres by late spring 2012. Renovations will include a play area, dog park, water features, event plaza and a performance stage. Between Race and Elm streets and 12th and 14th streets, Over-the-Rhine,

Best Annual Festival (Literally) On the River
Centered on and around the Ohio River, Paddlefest is the largest canoe/kayak event in the Midwest, featuring natural scenery and more than 2,000 paddlers in addition to festival staples like live music, vendors and grub. 2011 marks the 10th anniversary for Paddlefest, which is slated for June 23-25. Coney Island, 6201 Kellogg Ave., Anderson Twp.,

Best Experiment to Reach Across Boundaries
Rockwern Academy (the Jewish community day school) and the El-Sewedy International Academy of Cincinnati, headquartered at the Greater Cincinnati Islamic Center, recently initiated a Jewish/Islamic Pen Pal Program with their respective fifth grades, culminating in a get-together and performance at the Martin Luther King Day program at Music Hall. Let’s hope this continues and goes through high school, college and beyond. Rockewern Academy, 8401 Montgomery Road, Kenwood. 513-984-3787,; El-Sewedy International Academy, 8094 Plantation Drive, West Chester, 513-755-0169,

Best Way to Go Bowl-ing
The Clay Alliance at Baker-Hunt Foundation in Covington presents Empty Bowls, an annual event to benefit organizations such as FreeStore Foodbank. Pick out a one-of-a-kind bowl by Clay Alliance potters, fill it up with your favorite soup and enjoy dinner with live entertainment, clay demonstrations, a silent auction and more. 513-459-0807,

Best Public-Art Project
First of all — God, does Cincinnati ever need a high-profile, high-quality public-art program! Thus, a huge salute to Shinji Turner-Yamamoto for pointing the way with his “Hanging Garden” installation at Holy Cross Church (sponsored by Contemporary Arts Center), which last fall graced the interior of Mount Adams’ old Holy Cross Church. It was beautiful on the face of it, but gained in meaning — about art, nature, religion and the life process itself — as you studied it. Can we please get an organization such as New York’s Public Art Fund dedicated to sponsoring more temporary public-art installations like this year-round?

Best Place to Become an Artist
Founded in 1973, School for the Creative & Performing Arts is the first school to combine college-prep academics with a full range of arts studies. The program has been used as a model for schools across the country. Over the years, SCPA has produced big name performers including Sarah Jessica Parker, Carmen Electra and three-fourths of 98 Degrees, to name a few. SCPA moved to the Erich Kunzel Center for Arts and Education on Central Parkway in August 2010, making it arguably the best addition to OTR in years. 108 W. Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine, 513-363-8000,

Best DIY Transit
MoBo Bicycle Co-op, now in its fourth year, is the do-it-yourself headquarters for Cincinnati cyclists. Hundreds of local bike enthusiasts get together, work on their rides and learn from one another. You can build up or maintain your own bike if you have one or build one from the ground up if you don’t. The project is a cooperative, so no one person is in charge and it’s everyone’s responsibility to help out. 1415 Knowlton Ave., Northside,

Best Neighborhood Lift
The Clifton Cultural Arts Center recently installed an elevator in its historic building, which began life in 1906 as a public school. With building codes now satisfied, the center can begin utilizing the third-floor auditorium, which will allow for expanded classes, workshops and performances. 3711 Clifton Ave., Clifton, 513-497-2860,

Best Response to, “Take a Hike!”
If you’re ever having a day when you’re bored and can’t figure out what to do, Sharon Woods has you covered. The 730-acre paradise is the city’s top green space and offers an astounding array of activities including a fishing and boating lake, a hike/bike trail, a parcourse fitness trail and golf course. There are also indoor, outdoor and wet playgrounds for kids a rugged trail that sidles up to a scenic gorge. 11450 Lebanon Road, Sharonville, 513-521-PARK.

Best OTR Jewel
The Sarah Center, headquartered at St. Francis Seraph Church in Over-the-Rhine, teaches neighborhood women to make jewelry, which they then sell at Findlay Market, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and other locations, as well as a Spring Boutique Sale in April. 1618 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-651-1532,

Best Garage “Band”
Local Biodiesel Fuel-Makers Ollie Kroner and Joe Marunowski use leftover cooking oil to make biodiesel fuel in a low-profile Northside garage. The two collect oil waste from local restaurants and events like Taste of Cincinnati, filter out food particles and mix in a chemical catalyst to produce up to 45-gallon batches of green fuel.

Best Crafty Way to Shop for Christmas
The Crafty Supermarket Holiday Show packed the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in November with shoppers looking to pick up indie crafts like hand-crafted clothes, artwork and other DIY gift items. Don’t feel like waiting around for this fun, grassroots event? The Crafty Supermarket Spring Show takes place May 7.

Best Interfaithiness
Cincinnati’s Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) brings together more than 90 different congregations from around the Tristate. It’s one of the few places where the core of ecumenical ideology — that we’re all supposed to help others, no matter if we’re Christians, Jews or Muslims — hits the ground running. IHN provided temporary housing for 130 families in 2010 by sheltering them in houses of worship. 513-471-1100,