The Power of Words

I thought it would make a pretty good story. Six DAAP graduates move to Portland, Ore. -- some knowing each other, some not, some with jobs in hand, some unemployed. They find nirvana in the Northw

Nov 21, 2002 at 2:06 pm

I thought it would make a pretty good story. Six DAAP graduates move to Portland, Ore. — some knowing each other, some not, some with jobs in hand, some unemployed. They find nirvana in the Northwest.

I ask them two questions: Why did you leave Cincinnati, and would you ever come back? They tell me why Portland is exactly the kind of city they want to live in and why Cincinnati isn't.

They become my own little focus group about what's wrong with our (and their) hometown. They put names and faces to the "creative class," urban development guru Richard Florida's designation of young professionals who shun "cold" cities like Cincinnati for "hot" cities like Portland.

I put the resulting story, Why We Left Cincinnati, on the cover of the Oct. 31-Nov. 6 issue, right before the elections. I hope readers will see that Cincinnati — with progressive candidates and issues on the Nov. 5 ballot — has in its hands the power to change, much as Portland did at some point in its past.

Portland remade its core beliefs, which helped remake its image, which helped attract young Cincinnatians practically sight unseen.

Cincinnati, with the same kind of vision and leadership and luck, could do the same thing.

Of course, such optimistic thoughts were dashed on Nov. 5. But a funny thing happened on the way to having the shit kicked out of me on Election Day — people really responded to "Why We Left Cincinnati."

Ex-Cincinnatians wrote from far-off places to say the story helped validate their moves. Locals wrote to say Cincinnati has to get its act together before more creative young people leave. A Portland native wrote to say his hometown had once been a hellhole, too, so there was hope for Cincinnati.

Some readers said "good riddance" to the DAAP grads who bailed. Some said the story was too negative and that CityBeat should write instead about those who stay here to fight the good fight. (They must not read the paper every week.) One person blamed me personally for the defeat of Issue 2, the city school bond levy, because the story was so bleak.

I've been printing the feedback the last few weeks, including this issue (see Letters). And it keeps coming.

The volume of letters and the thoughtfulness contained in most of them is encouraging. People say I've hit a nerve with this story, offered a point of view they'd been thinking about themselves. Maybe it'll make a difference, some say.

Progressive-minded people here are feeling pretty lonely these days, especially after the shellacking on Election Day. All four of the big issues CityBeat endorsed — county sales tax for public transit, new city school construction, campaign finance reform of city elections and breaking the Republican Party's 40-year stranglehold on county government — went down hard.

Once the finger-pointing and blaming is finished, we're left to wonder, "What now?" Some will conclude the odds are too great and give up, moving to more tolerant, interesting places like Portland. That's their right, and we wish them well.

The rest of us will stay and live our lives. We'll get over the election losses, and we'll rededicate ourselves to the notion that Cincinnati can move forward, can be a better city, can become the tolerant, interesting place we want it to be.

We'll realize again that the progressive issues we've fought for are, in fact, doable. We'll find better ways to carry the message to voters. We'll dump our obstructionist leaders and find ones with vision and courage.

Cincinnati sits on a precipice right now. Young creative professionals stream out of the city for greener pastures, while those left behind feel very alone. A beacon for young creatives here, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, downsizes due to a severe financial crunch. A city built on creative planning, Portland, offers hope to Cincinnati, which schemes to kill off its planning department.

On the other hand, the next few days offer the kind of big-city attractions Portland would die for. Columnist Dan Savage, poet Sarah Jones and singer/songwriter Steve Earle come to town. The Bible: The Complete Word of God and Lebensraum are on local stages. And the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards bring together 600-700 local music and theater supporters for a wild night.

Meanwhile, Loveland residents stand up for their rights. Local lawyers are interested in DNA testing to help Death Row inmates. And Cincinnati City Council explores adopting a livable wage law.

Life goes on. And life is what you make it.

I have no pride of authorship of "Why We Left Cincinnati." It's the words of six DAAP graduates who moved to Portland.

Their words would make a great recruiting brochure for Portland, but they'd make a better roadmap for our own political and business leaders. Let's see if Cincinnati City Hall latches on before the Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau.