Finding Your Soul in the City

"Find your soul in the city" was a catchphrase that locally based cool clothing purveyors, Nati Evolvement, included on one of their first creations. When Colin Groth and Michael Palmer started the online clothing company, the message was simple: quit complaining, find what inspires you and love where you live.

Recently their 'soul' mantra found its way onto the wall of Park + Vine in a mural painted by Amanda Checco that owner Dan Korman commissioned for his new Main Street location. As you've read in these pages, Korman was one of the first entrepreneurs to set up shop in the Gateway Quarter in OTR, and he remains a veritable poster boy for embracing the best in your city - hometown born, Chicago and New York nurtured, and boomeranged back, bringing the green revolution to the Queen City masses in the form of his green 'general store' - a first for Cincinnati. 

Korman isn't alone though. During the two years that I've managed Soapbox, we've met hundreds of inspired individuals, each motivated by their own soulful slice of the city. Take Sierra Laumer and Leah Heisel Grande, who started forkheartknife - a tiny storefront restaurant/catering business that took the city by storm and became a beloved community fixture in the process. Their inspiration was the bitter loss of Laumer's sister, and the notion that life is short, do what you love NOW. Another budding restauranteur we wrote about, Darren Phan, is a UC grad and Vietnamese immigrant whose Clifton restaurant Cilantro serves as a gateway for thousands of students, faculty and Cliftonites into Phan's family home spun cuisine.

Then there are transplants like Baoku Moses, a Nigerian musician who settled in Cincinnati and became a fixture on the local music scene, starting an Afro Pop band amongst the sea of cooler than thou indie rockers and organizing the popular Unity Jams that bent genres and stereotypes along the way.  Or how about Giovanny Mira, a Columbian native via New York who wanted to be a part of the transformation of a neighborhood that reminded him of NYC so he and his partner, Andy Worley, opened a men's fashion store in OTR  Also from New York and Indiana, respectively, Maya Drozdz and Michael Stout are the couple behind VisuaLingual, who together fashion intricate designs and popular 'seed bombs' that reflect their inspired vision of the victorian architecture in Over-the-Rhine where they headquarter their design and fabrication shop.

Then there are others with big ideas that we like to call the 'do-ers' - those who took inspiration from their city to make things happen. Folks like Candace Klein, who started micro-lending Bad Girls Ventures to make it easier for local women-owned businesses to succeed, or event promoter Rome Ntukogu whose love for the city is manifested in the unique, quirky events he stages like the OTR Final Friday Skate or Loft Series art and music co-ops. And what about Joe Sprengard, an attorney by day who harnessed the talent of UC researchers as the foundation for a company that garners national attention for its developments in nanotechnology? Of course I can't forget my good friend Bill Donabedian, who's having another go at making Cincinnati more than a blip on the national music radar with the Bunbury Music Festival.

And it's not just people. Sometimes we've found a bit of soul in our sense of place, in the buildings and neighborhoods that make up our city. Whether it's celebrating our hillside homes' million dollar views (at Midwest prices), our architectural gems embodied in the ubiquitous vacant churches that have been transformed into recording studios, event spaces, and offices, or a neighborhood finding new life by embracing its rich musical history with an innovative community and university partnership.

We've also been at the forefront of important issues that cut to the very heart of our city's economic, physical, and holistic growth. City building, economic development, and transportation concerns are important to all urban cities, and we made them a priority in our virtual pages. We've examined issues near and dear to my heart, including the continued preservation of our historic assets through traditional and innovative new methods, and boldly pronounced that one of our communities has the capacity to be the "greenest neighborhood in America".  Transportation has been the hot button issue for a decade, and Soapdish columnist and urban afficianado Casey Coston might be the most fervent, eloquent and accurate journalist covering the battle to bring the streetcar back to Cincinnati.  And never forgetting how important your voice is, we've invited each of you to examine our local food ecosystem, celebrate urban pioneers, and discuss the importance of philanthropy through our Soapbox speaker series, a terrific partnership with the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville.

Of course it's all just words without the important contributions of our Managing Photographer, Scott Beseler. It's Scott's wonderfully detailed, slightly twisted, and always original mastheads that offer the first impression many of our readers have of Soapbox, and for that matter, of Cincinnati. Scott has never had to write a word for Soapbox but his photos speak volumes.

We've also celebrated milestones with our readers as well.  For example, this week's issue is Soapbox's 166th. In February 2010 we celebrated our two year mark with our 100th issue, wherein columnist Casey Coston reflected on how the little online magazine that almost started life as "ThreeWayMedia" changed the narative about our city, one issue at a time. I'm proud to have been a part of that zeitgeist.

I'd like to say I found my soul in the city many years ago before I joined Soapbox, when I fell madly in love with our neighborhoods and the people who make things 'happen.'  I, too, was once a transplant like many of our readers - an educated professional who was supposed to leave the city for greener pastures. If anything has reaffirmed my conviction that I'm in the right place, it's the stories we have published the past two years that have made me want to rush out and open a business, paint a mural, or construct a green building from the ground up. Cooler heads prevailed, and instead I'm heading to the job of a lifetime at my alma mater, Xavier University, coincidentally the reason I came to Cincinnati twenty years ago.

As I move on, Publisher Dacia Snider and I are excited to announce terrific new leadership for Soapbox. Elissa Yancey, who currently serves as Soapbox's For Good editor, will take over the reigns as our new Managing Editor. In addition to her new role at Soapbox, Elissa also teaches and serves as assistant director of the journalism program at the University of Cincinnati. A veteran of many national and regional publications, Elissa spent six years as an editor at Cincinnati Magazine. We're fortunate to have her, and I have no doubts she'll take Soapbox to new heights.

We're also proud to announce that Matt Cunningham, our current Development News Editor and longstanding feature story contributor, has been promoted to Associate Editor. Matt will now have editorial responsibility for both the Development and Innovation & Job News sections. Along with covering regional development news, Matt covers tech, medical and science topics for other national publications such as Air & Space Magazine and Matt's enthusiasm for our city, and talented way of covering it, make me excited about the future of Soap. I wish Elissa and Matt much success, along with the rest of our immensely talented staff, contributors and supporters. 

I can't wait to join the rest of my fellow readers eager for the next, great issue of Soapbox.
Photography by Scott Beseler.
Amanda Checco's mural in Park Vine, photo by Lauren Justice
Dan Korman
The hillsides of Cincinnati
Baoku Moses
Giovanny Mira and Andy Worley
Seed Bombs
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