Sunday, July 21, 2002


Why city is in such a mess

        My friend T. (not her real name) was waiting for me at First Watch in Rookwood Pavilion. “Don't you wonder how many deals are being done here this morning?” she said in greeting. Actually, I had been wondering if I was going to get a gigantic omelet or a gigantic pancake. But I didn't want to lose her respect, so I nodded, looking around at all the white men.

        I need to be more observant.

        We sat down, and I ordered something gigantic. She ordered only coffee. She is hatefully thin. Do you suppose this is a coincidence? I am trying to be observant, looking for clues.

The media did it

        “What's wrong with us?” she asked.

        Well, I am opinionated and mouthy, I replied, and you probably should stop wearing pink cowboy boots to formal functions.

        “No,” she said, “I mean our city. Why are we in such a mess?”

        Maybe it's the media, I answered. USA Today wrote a story this month about Cincinnati's soaring crime, and Mayor Charlie Luken said, “There are plenty of other cities in our position.” The Chamber of Commerce's Nick Vehr (formerly of the Embarrassing and Wasteful Committee to Chase the Olympics) explained that they are “picking on” us.

        “But crime has increased here,” she said.

        That's not the point, I told her. Don't they have better things to write about, like for instance our big, gorgeous pots of flowers? Speaking of the urban landscape, I said, one of my favorite colleagues asked me to stop by and look at a blighted building in her neighborhood. And, in fact, I received two other complaints from distraught people I don't even know. So this must be serious.

        “Is it rats?” she said. “Because I hate rats.”

        No, it's more of a maintenance issue, I told her.

        “It's that building in Bond Hill, isn't it?” she said. I knew the one she meant. Sewage in the basement. Asbestos. More than 600 families may be forced to evacuate from Huntington Meadows. But the building I mean is a flower shop, not housing.

        No, I told T., pausing dramatically. Someone is defacing a nice street in Hyde Park with a color that can only be described as Barney purple.

        “That sounds great,” she said. “One of those things I like to call an "urban surprise. Artistic.' ”

        You should know by now, I told her, that people here don't like surprises. Besides, it doesn't fit in with the other buildings on the street. It stands out, looks different.

        “And that's bad?” T. asked.

        You bet it is, I told her. We didn't get where we are today by letting people splash color all over the place. And we made ourselves crystal clear, artist-wise, years ago during the Mapplethorpe situation.

        But I told her to drive down Observatory Avenue and look before she made up her mind. Unfortunately, she dawdled over her coffee and was too late. The flower shop agreed to change the color to something more appropriate.


        But anyway, T. and I just can't understand why our city is in such a mess. But I am determined to try to be more observant, looking for clues.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.



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