A Rankle in Time

There is something that makes us all agog about rankings.
About four to five years ago Cincinnati started making hay on a number of nationally ranked lists: #1 "Best Basketball Town," "Most Livable City," and #7 on Esquire’s list of "Cities that Rock" (as in roll) to name a few. In 2009, we’ve really been on a roll with rankings that include the #9 "Best Cities" courtesy of our friends at Outside magazine, #4 out of 10 "Top Cities for New Graduates" revealed by CNN, #4 "Most Affordable Place to Live," and #6 "Best City for Working Moms" - the latter two distinctions compliments of Forbes. These are heady times indeed.
Time and time again our region finds itself obsessed with rankings. Intuitively this isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, can’t we all agree on how great it is to be #1? That is, unless #1 is a website’s dig on our precious Over the Rhine as its "Most Dangerous Neighborhood." Or how about finding yourself at #11 on the "Most Obese Cities" list? First they tell us our neighborhoods are unsafe and now I look fat in these jeans? What’s next? How about slipping to #38? Not too bad, except when it’s the annual sucker punch from Forbes mocking the Queen city in its "Best Cities for Singles" rankings that bottom out at #40. And what happens when you slip further down the list? #85 "Best Places for Businesses and Careers." Now that smarts.
As a result, Cincinnati rightfully has a love/hate relationship with its rankings. With each new poll, ranking or list’s unveiling comes the requisite celebration, dissension, or skewering of our City in local coverage and resultant commentary. Of course what remains unsaid is that most rankings hit the street already relying on stale data or numbers - numbers that can essentially be skewed to confirm or deny an original pre determined hypothesis. What did you expect; after all, they are simply numbers. Lifeless, soulless, uninteresting numbers.
Soapbox humbly suggests that while numbers are great, and occasionally can even make for fun party games, they only tell half the story. In fact, they really don’t tell much of a story, at least not the stories we’ve been embracing.
Stories about Cincinnati’s green initiatives and burgeoning urban neighborhoods. Or how about Fountain Square’s 21st century resurgence as a major hot spot for live original music, dining, and festivals in downtown? Keep going through our back pages: Cincinnati Public Schools’ undervalued Montessori program free to our residents. Check. Revitalization of the Emery Theatre, or the thriving artist colony percolating along Main Street? It’s in there. These are stories with soul.

And we don’t just write about them, we let you tell your story directly to us in our weekly blogposts. Over 70 bloggers, including University Presidents, CEOs, artists, and ordinary folks like you and me, have shared their wit, wisdom, and conversations with us.  What we’ve discovered is something we all know with or without a list: We’re a talent rich area with exciting innovations and opportunities around every ranked or unranked corner. And what’s even better is we still have so much more to talk about together. And that’s something to get excited about whether you’re a firebrand or just plain fired up.

Perhaps one of the hottest recurring local conversations the past few weeks has been about the venerable old New York Times spending thirty six hours in our hometown. Consensus was the author largely got it right, leaving us with the ensuing discussion about what ELSE they could have done during their trip, or what was MISSED from their list of things to do. Not a bad list for each of us to be making. But the most important part of the big Apple’s take on the Queen city is it simply continues and enhances the Cincinnati conversation that is or will be on everyone’s lips. Nothing had to be ranked for that to happen.

So consider Soapbox an ongoing conversation today about why we’re all here, what keeps us here, and what we can share with each other and the world about what makes our region so great. You don’t have to make a list, but if you do, share it with someone you love and make the goal adding to it instead of taking things away. Or better yet, just write it in pencil.
And we’ll continue our Cincinnati conversations, highlighting civic and corporate talent, our terrific neighborhoods and those that inhabit them, cool events and small businesses that make our region so interesting, and of course the people with the innovative ideas that make our city hum. Sure we’re a region filled with challenges but finding great stories about our city and the talent and innovation within its borders certainly isn’t one of them.
And I’ll let you decide what you think about being #10 on Forbes’ "America’s Hardest Drinking Cities." After all, we do like to have a good time here no matter how hard you may rankle us.
Photography by Scott Beseler
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