There are few more compelling or storied neighborhoods in Cincinnati than Over The Rhine.
I say this from experience because I spent a year in The Queen City as a college undergraduate. The neighborhood I lived in bordered Over The Rhine and one of me and my friends’ favorite things to do on a sunny afternoon was drive through the hills and valleys and deeper into the city.
Over The Rhine was the first stop and the neighborhood always made me check my locks, hold my breath and duck down in my seat. It was crime-ridden and desperately poor and my white-collar Columbus eyes had never seen anything like it.
There would be toddlers unattended in the streets and makeshift memorials on telephone poles. The most startling image was a public art project near a park on Vine Street. Someone had painted larger-than-life children at play in vivid color on a brick wall. And then someone else had come along and spray painted each child’s face a ghostly white.
When I was in school there it was 2001 and 2002. And just before I arrived, there had been race riots that originated in Over The Rhine stemming from claims of police brutality. Shortly after, I heard the NAACP was boycotting the city because conditions in this neighborhood were considered worse than post-Civil-War Alabama.
I am, some might say, an admirer of rough neighborhoods. And I would say Over The Rhine was surely one of the roughest neighborhoods in the Mid-West. The movie Traffic was filmed there and my appraisal is that it was pretty accurate in its portrayal of the neighborhood as a major drug marketplace.
I figured it was a symptom of Cincinnati’s famously conservative edge. So I was surprised to hear recently that developers had started building high-end condos in the neighborhood. But maybe I shouldn’t have been.
I haven’t been back in years, but it looks like things have really started to turn around in Over The Rhine. From what I read, a tremendously successful urban renewal effort has taken root here, with $93 million (correct me if I’m wrong) invested in the neighborhood since 2006.
A little background: like many of our rougher neighborhoods, Over The Rhine is one of Cincinnati’s oldest. It was founded by German immigrants–hence the name–prior to 1850. It is known for its 19th Century Italianate architecture.
The whole neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s. That’s the thing about Cincinnati, it’s a grand old city. One of the striking things about it, is the views from the rolling hills of the beginnings of Appalachia sloping down into the Ohio River. It always makes me think of Old Jim and Huckleberry Finn.
Today, the neighborhood is home to many artists and young professionals, although it remains ethnically diverse, reports say. And targeted police efforts have led to a marked reduction in crime. Check it out …
I really never thought I would see this happen. And I used to think what a disgrace this neighborhood was, so close to Cincinnati’s beautiful downtown. All I can say is, way to go Cincinnati and thank you to Kevin Lemaster of Building Cincinnati for donating the photos, who has also provided shots of some of the city’s other beautiful neighborhoods.
Next up is Prospect Hill …
Note: submissions are rolling in for The Big Urban Photography Project. We have had volunteers step forward from Erie, Pennsylvania, Midland, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio. It looks like this thing is going to live up to its name. I’m thinking, book deal!