12 things to watch in 2012

I’ve never been in the business of predictions. Stories that already exist have kept me busy my entire writing life. But this year, as managing editor of Soapbox, I get a special treat—to pen a list of what to look out for in the city’s growth and development, and energy, in the year ahead.

Following in the well-heeled footsteps of former editor Sean Rhiney is no mean feat. His 2011 prognostications proved prescient when new blood infused City Council last fall.

So for 2012, I’m taking a slightly different approach, proffering a Top 12 for 2012 list that mixes events with controversies, dreams with inevitabilities. But this list is, like all of these kinds of collections, subjective at best and in no particular order. I want to read your thoughts about them, and your ideas about what needs to be added. We’ve made it easy to comment below stories using Facebook—so please read, share and join the conversation!

1.    World Choir Games open downtown on the Fourth of July and run through closing ceremonies July 14. Listed as a “big event” for 2012 by the Chicago Tribune, the Games have picked up steam as choir numbers continue to climb and new sponsors sign on. Look for the addition of Barefoot Proximity to add a cutting edge to the marketing of the biannual Games, which have never been held in America before now. Also, Rookwood Pottery re-enters the world stage with its Choir Games’ trophy design.

2.    Officials break ground for the streetcar! Despite excruciating fits and starts, this year will mark the groundbreaking for Cincinnati’s streetcar, which received a heartening infusion of nearly $11 million of federal funding last fall.

3.    Venture for America makes Cincinnati one of its inaugural destination cities this year, promising an infusion of Ivy League talent for local start-ups. With support from Soapbox’s Chief Instigator and a constant source of inspiration, Eric Avner, look for this valuable venture to add fuel to an already fired-up local innovation machine.

4.    Washington Park reopens in June, two acres bigger than before. Week by week, we can see the progress, including a new parking garage and plenty of bells and whistles. Some are hi-tech (a music app that educates and entertains) and some just plain fun (a new, expanded playground). The restoration of this historic and expansive city gathering spot is a major step for Over-the-Rhine, its residents and visitors alike.

5.    Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park continues to take shape adjacent to the Banks downtown. Look for the opening of the Moerlein Lager House early in the year as the waterfront space makes a nod to the region’s past with new brews and a mural that features multiple local beer barons, all in a space targeted for LEED-certification.

6.    CEOs for Cities visits Cincinnati for its spring conference. Don’t know about this super-charged “civic lab for urban leaders”? Well, get acquainted. Led by former Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, CEOs for Cities brings together leaders from around the country with one goal: strengthening America by strengthening its cities. While the meeting is not open to the public, the May 17-18 events will be Cincinnati’s chance to shine among the ranks of the country’s most forward-thinking urban leaders.

7.    New Cincinnati City Councilmembers change the local political landscape. The majority of City Council is now African-American. And Democratic. The city has its first openly gay Councilmember in Chris Seelbach. And three of the nine members—Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Yvette Simpson—ran for Council for the first time last fall. After serving on Council from 2003-2005, Christopher Smitherman is back at City Hall, and will also continue to serve as Cincinnati NAACP president. Watch to see how and if the new Council, elected with a clear progressive mandate, helps the city move forward.

8.    A new mayor takes office in 2013, setting the stage for even more changes in city government. With term limits keeping Mark Mallory off the ballot, who will be vying for public approval and be ready to take the helm as our next city leader?

9.    Mercer Commons promises more groundbreaking in Over-the-Rhine this year. The Cincinnati Planning Commission approved the latest changes to the $54 million project last month, despite pushback from the city’s Historic Preservation Board. The three-acre site marks the largest mixed-use redevelopment and new construction project to-date in the city’s most treasured historic neighborhood. Watch for progress here to continue to make news beyond city limits.

10.    New leadership in major local arts organizations will include a new artistic director at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the region’s Tony-winning theater, and, most likely, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The leaders chosen to chart the future for these major institutions will shape our city’s cultural offerings, and potential, for decades.

11.    Few of us at Soapbox imagined that a story we published about the battle over renovations at the Anna Louise Inn downtown would rank as one of our most viewed pages. My theory? The future of our city, and its core, depends on progressive development and a healthy respect for diversity and its many forms. When that respect is threatened, when one definition of progress narrows opportunities for our long-time neighbors, we ask questions. Lots of questions. Follow the suit filed by Western Southern against the city and the non-profit as well as the residents’ federal discrimination lawsuit against Western Southern as they continue this year.

12.    Moving our conversations forward on Soapbox, Facebook and beyond. This year, we’ll be asking more of you, our loyal readers, as we keep showing and telling about what’s next and what’s new (and what’s just plain cool) in Cincinnati. It’s easy to like, share and start (or join) conversations about our stories online via Facebook. We continue to look to you for inspiration, encouragement and feedback. In future issues, look for even more calls to action and opportunities to share ideas, hopes and ambitions.

OK, so now I understand why these lists are addicting. I haven't even mentioned the continued work on reviving the miraculous Emery Theatre, ramped-up innovation education at Northern Kentucky University, UC and Xavier, and the impact of presidential politics on the Queen CIty. But for now, I'll stop with 12.

Happy New Year!
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