Cincinnati’s Over The Rhine

There are few more compelling or storied neighborhoods in Cincinnati than Over The Rhine.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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Next up is Prospect Hill …

-AS

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!

6 Comments

Filed under The Big Urban Photography Project

6 responses to “Cincinnati’s Over The Rhine

  1. Eric

    Some of my first house visits with the union were in Over the Rhine in the summer of ’01 just after the riots. I too had seen nothing like it. The thing I remember were the crowds of guys that would be hanging out on every corner, all day long. Also, I would stop for lunch at Kendzie’s (I think that is the name of the restaurant/cafe/bar/bookstore) almost every day.

  2. Patricia

    I was a frequent business visitor to Cincinnati over twenty years and fell in love with the city. In 2007, needing an Eastern Time Zone location from which to work, I bought a live work space in Over-the-Rhine. It is a fabulous place to work and to be. Over-the-Rhine is full of charming shops and their shopkeepers, theatre, art, and fine dining. I only wsh I could spend more time there!

  3. Thank you for sharing my photos and your thoughts on my favorite neighborhood!

    OTR is fascinating to me because virtually every urban problem can be found there, virtually every urban issue or policy somehow applies there, and virtually every type of person can be found there.

    We’ve seen the neighborhood at its worst, but there’s a resurgence of committed people, entrepreneurship, and fresh ideas there. I always hate to use the phrase “on its way back”, but I really do feel like OTR has a great future.

    BTW…the first photo is of 12th and Vine, which just three or four years ago was a notorious drug drive-thru. Hundreds of police calls every year. Cars lined up down the block to get their fixes. Last year, the number of police calls to that corner could be counted on one hand.

    The second photo…I have an office in one of those live/work spaces. Don’t really care for the building, but a great location.

  4. Jason

    Thanks for your kind words about our wonderful city and its most historic neighborhood. As already mentioned there has really been an amazing transition in the neighborhood over the last few years. My wife and I live in the neighborhood now and absolutely love it.
    In case you haven’t heard the city is working very hard to get a streetcar system installed that would connect this neighborhood to both downtown and uptown allowing the regions 2 largest employment centers to be connected via rail transit. This would do wonders for not only Over the Rhine, but the entire region as a whole with all the new economic development, new citizens and increased tax revenue. However, Cincinnati has a lot of close-minded conservatives that typically try to block such efforts at progress, so its going to be a real struggle to get it done, but with the right support and positive press it could be a reality very soon. These sort of blogs help. Thanks!

  5. Shaheen

    Wow; looks nice!

    Is the Drop Inn Center still there? It is the largest homeless shelter in the state. It being there means a ton of homeless people hanging out in Washington Park.

    I know there was some talk of moving it back around 2002…. don’t know if anything resulted of that?

    It’s a tough issue, because it’s a resource that needs to be in the city. But it has gotten in the way of some urban redevolopment plans, I think..

    Shaheen

  6. Joseph Gorman

    The third picture is my Mulberry Views project, the first new housing on Mulberry Street since 1892. These five houses sold very quickly, and it’s been great having new folks on the streets active in community affairs. I have other hillside lots on Mulberry and Goethe Street to develop but find no cooperation or incentives with the City of Cincinnati. When I first lived on Mulberry in 1980 there were 110 houses on the street – today, there are 60! The hillside was populated with houses and people. The City seems to not appreciate the hillside asset – indeed, with it’s proposed Hillside View Corridor plan, it will further limit housing developers.

    This northern hillside historic district of Over-the-Rhine is at a stalemate. Until the City fixes streets, curbs, sidewalks, water and sewer lines, and crumbling retaining walls, it will be very difficult to build anything new there.

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