Over-the-Rhine is like one of those curvy funhouse mirrors you encounter at a fair or on the boardwalk. With every different angle you look at it, a distorted image reflects a huge head or squished down legs. Move a few inches, and you see an entirely different you.
Cincinnati’s most iconic neighborhood looks different to just about everyone (see this issue’s “Over-the-Rhine Turns a Corner”). It’s home, and maybe has been for decades and generations. It’s where you grew up, but you got out as soon as you could. It’s where you attend the symphony or the opera or a play. It’s where wealthy developers are pushing out poor people.
It’s our own French Quarter, a historic residential neighborhood that stars in tourism campaigns. It’s a Disney-fied caricature of itself, with its authenticity being replaced by sanitized culture. Most of the public monuments—Music Hall, Memorial Hall, schools, parks, Findlay Market—have been renovated and upgraded for future generations. Its only true grocery store was closed and moved across Central Parkway.
Two memorable experiences of mine with Over-the-Rhine are similarly juxtaposed. During the unrest in 2001, I had a media pass to follow Cincinnati Police officers on patrol. One afternoon they formed a line along the south lanes of Central Parkway and faced OTR. It was eerily quiet. Teenage boys stood at the chain link fence at Vine Street and Central Parkway, where the Gateway garage is now, and stared back. The city’s message was clear: Do what you want for now in Over-the-Rhine, but don’t bring that downtown.
Eleven years later, I was at Washington Park’s reopening on a scorching July morning. As the fountains were turned on for the first time, a mounted police officer stopped his horse to have a drink, and a bunch of neighborhood kids gathered around to pet its head. A group of protesters put down their “Parks for everyone!” signs and cooled off in the water. Maybe, I thought, everyone can get along.
Both of those memories and all of the opinions expressed above—and many more—coexist in Over-the-Rhine. That’s why it’s a special place for each of us … and all of us.