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Cover Story: Hot Cities, Cool Cities, Ice Cold Cities

(Putting a face on the 'creative class')

By Jessica Turner · November 10th, 2004 · Cover Story
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When CityBeat Editor John Fox tracked down a handful of Cincinnati deportees two years ago ("Why We Left Cincinnati," issue of Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2002), he touched on something we'd been hearing but not fully realized: When young people's dreams take flight, they're prepared to flee.

Of course this notion wasn't a new concept to urban development guru Richard Florida, as he so aptly pointed out in June 2002 at the University of Cincinnati. Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which would become the bible of urban planners, not only received international attention but generated local buzz as well thanks to CityBeat reporter Doug Trapp ("Cool Is Money," issue of June 20-26, 2002). Once the "creative class" -- young, mobile professionals -- phenomenon was brought to light, the local media were all over it.

Trapp reported that Cincinnati isn't exactly the most creative-friendly city, mostly due to its homophobia and close-mindedness. Fox's subjects -- six graduates from UC's College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP) now living in one of America's officially "cool" cities, Portland, Ore. -- elaborated on the reasons they left and why most of them weren't planning to return.

"Cincinnati is like when you were in high school and the teachers put on a party for you but you knew it was cheesy," said Tony Tapay, one of the expatriates.

Their reasons for loving Portland were similar: the bustling urban core that stays active on nights and weekends; mixed-income housing; a vibrant arts and music scene; light rail (the MAX) and other transportation options like biking and walking; diversity and open-midedness; and the "urban growth boundary" that keeps suburban sprawl in check.

"They actually took out a highway here years ago that ran along the riverfront," said Tommie Lucas, a 2001 DAAP grad. "Now it's almost all one big park. The whole city is pedestrian-friendly. There's much less pollution here. They have well-maintained skateboard parks. They even have skate lanes on streets. Can you believe that?"

Fox wrote, "Tapay says that, from what he gathers from longtime Portland residents, the city was much smaller just 15 years ago and has grown organically, fueled by a few leaders with vision. Its success has bred more success and a civic willingness to take risks."

But not all of the young people who left -- Cincinnati lost 10 percent of its total population in the '90s -- stayed gone. One state-hopping music writer who returned -- to raise a family, which CityBeat discovered seems to be one of the only reasons people do come back, if at all -- was Cincinnati Enquirer Arts & Entertainment Editor Gil Kaufman.

"So is this Cincinnati's destiny?" Fox wrote. "Is our next marketing campaign aimed at young professionals going to feature the slogan 'Cincinnati: Come Home and Have Your Babies?' As it stands now, that approach might be as effective as any."

"My wife and I have talked a lot about our future, and we haven't ruled out Cincinnati," Lucas said. "People in Cincinnati seem to be working on the problems there, and it has potential."

Had this issue gone unnoticed, we would've never seen the barrage of local media coverage (Google "creative class + Cincinnati" and you'll find about 113,000 results). The light rail measure probably still would've failed, but groups like The Urbanists, Cincinnati Tomorrow and the Chamber of Commerce's Cincy YPs, whose missions echo Florida's sentiments on building a cooler city, might not exist.

Maybe we still wouldn't have heard of management consultant Peter Block or of those "urban lofts" popping up everywhere downtown these days. Social events might not have taken the place of organized meetings for YPs. And we probably wouldn't hear labels like "YPs" and "creative class" a bazillion times a day.

Maybe more of us wouldn't have gotten the idea to move to a "hotter" city. Maybe we would still be referred to as a generation rather than a class. Impact, indeed.

Despite the bastardization of "creative class" and "YP," the attention spawned good efforts. Whether the Queen City's being named this year one of the 30 "Most Livable" cities by Partners for Livable Communities (but 44th out of 50 for singles, according to Forbes) or seventh on Esquire magazine's top 10 list of "Cities That Rock" had anything to do with these organizations is anyone's guess, but it's nice to wonder. The arts scene seems to have exploded in the past couple of years as well. Coincidence?

The CityBeat stories had an impact on their subjects as well. When forced to re-evaluate geographic value, Evan Eagle, who moved back from Portland to raise a family, saw hope. "There's great architecture here, and Over-the-Rhine has lots of possibilities," he said. "But we need to reduce the one-person/one-car mentality here. Cincinnati just has a ways to go. Portland was so pedestrian-friendly. It was enjoyable just to walk in downtown Portland. We used to go down to the river downtown and just sit. We don't do that here."

A ways to go for sure. Now let's get moving. ©

 
 
 
 

 

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