Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County. The municipality is located north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border. The population within city limits was 333,336 in 2008, making it the state's third largest city. In 2008, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area had a population of 2,155,137 making it the largest MSA in Ohio, and the 24th most populous in the United States. Residents of Cincinnati are called Cincinnatians.
Cincinnati is considered to have been the first American boomtown in the heart of the country in the early nineteenth century to rival the larger coastal cities in size and wealth. As the first major inland city in the country, it is sometimes thought of as the first purely American city, lacking the heavy European influence that was present on the east coast. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, Cincinnati's growth had slowed considerably, and the city was surpassed in population by many other inland cities...
Cincinnati is also known for having one of the larger collections of nineteenth-century Italianate architecture in the U.S., primarily concentrated just north of Downtown in an area known as Over-the-Rhine. Over-the-Rhine is one of the largest historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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How did I end up Cincinnati?
I grew up in the near southwest suburbs of Chicago, in a small city called Palos Heights. I am a bonafide Midwesterner, with the first eighteen years of my life contained within the southern half of the Chicagoland area, and summers spent between our family's small lake cottage in southwestern Michigan and a camp in the northwoods of Wisconsin. Until I was about sixteen years old and allowed brief day trips downtown with my brothers or friends, my experience of real urban life was limited to school field trips, visits with friends who lived nearer to the city, and the occasional family drive downtown.
I attended college at a small university in Elgin, IL, a city 40 miles west of Chicago and ten times the size of my hometown. Elgin is not exactly a booming metropolis, but it's a city nonetheless. With it's official population hovering around 100,000, off the record are the (I'm guessing) thousands of illegal immigrants and hundreds of homeless that live there. The city, at the time I lived there, was almost a Little Mexico, with just as many signs in Spanish as there are were English, and Cinco de Mayo was a hell of a party in town.
The summer before our senior year of college, two friends and I moved into a small loft on Chicago St. My bedroom was extremely cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and we could hear everything our downstairs neighbor did (and smell every drug he smoked). We were on the third floor, two stories above a tattoo shop, nextdoor to the YWCA, two doors from the public parking garage (where we parked), and a few blocks from the public library. Our favorite bar--The Gasthaus--was three blocks away, my bank was on the corner, Akina's was a few blocks away if we wanted Thai food, and so was Al's Cafe (for sandwiches and milkshakes). We walked down to Cafe Magdelina for wine and creme brulee, and I rode my bike to the grocery store (where half the signs were in Spanish) for groceries. I bought fresh cookies at one of the local Mexican bakeries and I shopped for gifts at Keeney's--the old-school sporting goods store with a treasure trove of vintage goods in the basement. I worked at a local coffee shop and rode my bike to summer classes. I took the train--from the station on the river--to Chicago.
Elgin may not be a booming metropolis, but I loved it there.
After growing up in a neighborhood where the more urban areas 10 miles away were considered "dangerous," Elgin liberated me of my suburban bias. I experienced what much of the rest of the world experiences--loud streets, street parking, public transportation, homeless neighbors, etc.
In the summer of 2005, in an effort to sustain a oft-wavering relationship (that ultimately failed), I moved to Cincinnati. My first apartment was a tiny, 2-room, studio in the back of a house. In the unit next door lived another local musician. I had a separate entrance with a little patio and a plum tree outside my window. I slept on a loft built into the corner of the living room, and survived the misery of my first hot, humid Cincinnati summer without A/C. The apartment was in the Northside neighborhood of the city and I lived a block off of the main street, where I could find just about anything I needed--veggies, beer, ice cream, breakfast, an indie flick, records, or vintage clothes. I think the only thing Northside doesn't have is a full-service grocery store, but one of the best ones in the city is only a 5 minute drive away.
After a year in Northside, I moved to Norwood to live with some friends in the same neighborhood as our church community. I lived there--without the amenities of a hip, urban life but surrounded by the same urban blight--for almost two years.
Then I got myself married and moved to Over-the-Rhine.
My husband and I are now almost a year and a half into our marriage and almost 8 months into parenthood. We rent a large loft apartment north of Liberty St., in a part of OTR that hasn't yet been gifted with the development that our neighbors below Liberty have. In the next year, we hope to purchase our first house. For now, we invest a lot of time and energy in improving our apartment in whatever ways we can, for as little as we can, so that the hostility of the neighborhood doesn't seep into our home.
The city is a difficult place to live.
I am the first to admit this.
My husband and I sometimes dream of a rural homestead, a place where our family can have some privacy, peace & quiet, and be surrounding by natural spaces instead of concrete. And we often admit to each other that the suburbs have a certain charm--clean sidewalks, backyards, and friendly neighbors. But we have, at least for the time being, committed to living as near downtown as possible. We believe that the city needs families and that families need each other, so we've put ourselves in a position to be a part of a renaissance that calls families back to our urban core. I can't guarantee how long our time in Cincinnati will last, but for the time I'm here, I have chosen to dive head-first into my new hometown.
I want to share the wonderful things I've discovered about my city and the life that cities in general offer. Maybe I can paint a picture of city living the way it's supposed to be--vibrant, creative, friendly, and POSSIBLE--so that someday, I can call you my neighbor.
Thanks for reading!