It’s impossible to separate what happened in Washington Park on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4 from the economic revitalization Cincinnati has achieved in the past few years.
Four years ago, Over-the-Rhine was considered the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States.
Two years ago, the park was largely abandoned and seen as too dangerous by outside residents.
Today, it can house the Cincinnati Symphony for a glorious light show seen for free by more than 15,000 people on Saturday and more than 20,000 on Sunday.
LumenoCity’s organizers had been expecting a total crowd of 20,000 across both nights.
It’s easy to forget that until just recently Cincinnati’s population had been on the decline since the 1950s, plummeting from more than 500,000 back then to less than 300,000 now.
But that decline seems to be a trend of the past. Between 2010 and 2011, Cincinnati’s population only dropped by 0.2 percent — much lower than the roughly 1-percent average annual drop that the city experienced between 2000 and 2010. Demand for downtown residences is so high that the city and businesses can’t build and develop apartments quickly enough. Officials are now talking up lofty goals to increase Cincinnati’s population by 100,000 in the next decade.
Over-the-Rhine has been at the center of revitalization. The neighborhood earned its designation as the most dangerous in America in 2009 through a controversial analysis of the area’s crime stats. Today, Vine Street is filled with restaurants and activities that go well into the night — something that was seen as far too dangerous before.
The clearest sign of change can be found in the Cincinnati Police Department’s violent crime statistics: Between 2010 and 2012, violent crime in Cincinnati dropped by 15 percent. In the same time period, violent crime in District 1, which includes Over-the-Rhine, dropped by 21 percent.
Of course, politicians will line up to take credit for the revitalization. After all, it has happened mostly under Mayor Mark Mallory’s watch. But crediting any one person undermines the success of the many people who made this revitalization work. The truth is hundreds of city officials and business leaders, particularly through new private-public partnerships, have helped rebuild Over-the-Rhine into the successful business and residential ecosystem it is today.
That’s not to downplay the work that remains to be done. Crime statistics still show the rates of rape going up around the city, including District 1. Crime in Over-the-Rhine still lingers above city averages. Hundreds of buildings north of Liberty Street remain vacant and in dire need of restoration. With the city budget strapped for cash year after year, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the city can plentifully continue reinvigorating growth downtown and in the rest of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.
But the lessons of LumenoCity and other signs of progress are blatant: The naysayers were wrong. They doubted Fountain Square, The Banks and Washington Park, yet all of those pieces came together last weekend for a spectacular light show, Reds games and other activities that dotted downtown from the riverfront to Music Hall.
On the other hand, the lessons should encourage positive officials to continue pushing their optimistic visions. The past weekend proved it’s working. Cincinnati really is coming back.
Other News and Stuff
• Over-the-Rhine’s revitalization is so attractive that Cintrifuse, the startup incubator, is moving its offices to the neighborhood. City Council approved the construction of Cintrifuse’s new headquarters in Over-the-Rhine after the incubator explained it needed the permanent space to continue attracting businesses to the city, particularly lucrative tech startups. Councilman Chris Seelbach disputed using Focus 52 funds for the move because the city administration previously said those funds would go to non-Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods, but Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld says Cintrifuse’s services can attract businesses and impact neighborhoods all around the city.
• Early voting is now underway for Cincinnati’s mayoral primary election. The top two winners will go head-to-head in the Nov. 5 election. The candidates: Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who supports the streetcar and the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages; ex-Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat who opposes the streetcar and parking lease; Jim Berns, the Libertarian who attempted to withdraw from the race but changed his mind a day later; and Sandra “Queen” Noble, an eccentric Independent candidate who sent an F-bomb-laden email to debate organizers.
CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] or @germanrlopez