When steamboats ruled the water, Cincinnati was queen. Prior to 1850, the river—and the canal system built off of it—made the city a significant center of commerce. But when industry chose railway over waterway, New York laid its lines to Chicago, and our city’s preeminence faded. The trains did come to town, and we have our Hall of Justice icon to prove it, but new trade routes had already been established and, well, we’d missed the ride. Something we’d repeat sub terra, too: In the early 1900s, construction began to replace the canals with subways, but a change in the political machine, a ballooning price tag, and, ultimately, the Great Depression kept the half-built tunnels empty.
Topography played its role, too. The hills made for a dense, urban basin; bravery, wealth, and finally the inclines taking life out and up. But as the automobile became all, the relationship reversed and transportation instead controlled the landscape: highways plowed through neighborhoods within the city limits—and took much of the population far out from it.