Cincinnati - What are you going to do about it?

I’ve got this good friend I don’t get to see nearly as much as I’d like, but when we both find the time, we head to Milton's, our favorite bar on Prospect Hill and unload whatever demons are taunting our better angels. Our gatherings are always convivial and follow two rules by which we try to abide. The first is that I am allowed to rant on any topic of my choosing and my friend promises to listen. If I want advice, he will offer it. If I want only to rage against the man, woman or the machine, he agrees to listen without judgment. In return, I do the same for him.

The second rule is that neither one of us is allowed to come back to the bar with the same rant until we take some action against the root of our complaint. It sounds simple enough: if you can raise holy hell on a subject, then it stands to reason you have a solution in mind and can put it to work. That raising holy hell part? That’s my favorite. It feels so good every time, especially when you get on a thick, passionate and slightly-tipsy roll about how things aren’t like they used to be or are exactly the way they used to be or what a horrid little city we’re living in and if only “they” were more like “us.”

But then there’s that second rule that says, “Okay, I hear you. So what are you going to do about it?” 

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Did you know there were crickets in Over-the-Rhine?

Perspective from high horses and bar stools, it turns out, really isn’t as clear as one would believe. The realization that I don’t know as much as I think I do is a pretty solid buzz kill. Apparently, actually doing something about our government, our schools or the state of our city and country takes a lot more effort than just grousing about it.

Thinking about this, I turned to a psychologist friend here in Cincinnati and asked for a diagnosis. “It could stem from some deep-seated self-esteem issues,” was his dry response. Sometimes professional friends can be annoying. He went on to suggest that maybe Cincinnati itself might suffer from the same neurosis.

Can a city have a self-image issue? Could it be we’re like that awkward couple you see at dinner parties -- nice enough to get invited, but obsessed with worry that they’re not cool enough to hang with the other guests, so they spend the whole time whining that no one really likes them until the other guests finally believe it? But why is this Cincinnati’s case? If you look around there really is a lot to be proud of: a rich, captivating history, major arts and cultural institutions, professional sports teams, copious business interests, a great location with abundant natural resources, fantastic cost of living, a commitment to family and heritage and most importantly, a desire to be better than we are.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our audacity.

Okay, I hear you, but what are you going to do about it?

I’m not sure when it happened but I’m convinced we can find our audacity again. Last week I received an email from Joan Kaup, who recently ran for Cincinnati City Council. Her email signature line included the question: “What great thing have you said about Cincinnati today?” Not every issue our region faces can be solved with positive thinking, but I have to believe that might be a far better place to start than where we’ve been coming from.

Okay, I hear you, but what are you going to do about it?

Build a Soapbox.

The passion that drives the staff of this new weekly experiment is the desire to find the innovative, the hip, the inspirational, the quirky and the positive that make up this city of ours. Cincinnati is a community of delicious tensions -- a city of risk-takers and a city of critics. We praise innovation but worry about too much change happening too quickly. We value development and expertise but are quick to mock insincerity and celebrity. We look to magazines to rate us but rise up in righteous anger against anyone who talks trash about the ‘Nati. We are political, but too polite to talk about it at the dinner table. We are east and west; north of the river and south of the river; urban, suburban and exurban. We are upper, middle and lower; gay and straight; black and white and Asian and Hispanic and Indian and African; and a mosaic of traditions and cultures too rich to list, and yet our conversations about diversity never creep past our geography or zip codes. We are all these things and so much more than a rant on a bar stool. So climb up on this Soapbox of ours and take a look around. We exist to tell the story of a city in sustained transformation. Our goal is to have you seeing Cincinnati differently. And if we don’t, you’re always welcome to rant, but when you’re through don’t be surprised to hear us say, “I hear you, but what are you going to do about it?”

Milton's Tavern on Prospect Hill

Tyler Davidson Fountain on the Square

Stand on your SoapBox

Photography by Scott Beseler