What Does It Mean to Believe in Cincinnati?

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My husband and I used to disappear on Monday nights, following a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. With our son, the lone high school holdout, able to stay at home by himself, we would leave the comfy confines of our Loveland home make the half hour trip to “Believe in Cincinnati.”

We didn’t know what that phrase meant at the time. My husband had mostly been texting and messaging with some city citizens who were organizing around the political dismantling of the streetcar project and we knew one thing. That would be the worst thing to happen to Cincinnati since Mark Twain’s unverified quote about everything coming here twenty years late.

As soon to be stakeholders in the city of Cincinnati, we asked ourselves many times, were we investing in the our property because of the streetcar. We honestly answered, No.

We invested in our property because we were investing in a city. We were investing what was becoming a burgeoning arts community. We were investing in the history of Over-the-Rhine and the promise that the community could transform itself to become as diverse as we have all hoped. Daily this transformation plays out, but like anything else, if it is not put into practice we lose the muscle and might to reach out.

We showed up at meetings in homes, churches, coffee shops, and city streets. We marched and testified before council. We posted on Facebook and blogs and emails and twitters. We abandoned our son that fall/winter for the sake of something larger than us and his schoolwork. Something that perhaps he, or his peers, won’t appreciate for quite some time.

Somewhere along the way, we made friends and acquaintances that shared the same vision for togetherness and adhering to a democratic process. It is wise and fair to say, we all came together for various reasons, and stayed for the people.

What strikes me now, two years later, is how those we met put their beliefs into action. Some have invested in vacant property further north of Liberty. Some have founded non-profits for the youth of OTR to become future leaders. Some have gone to open coffee houses, branding agencies.

Others have become spokespersons for all of Ohio to transition to a light-rail based transportation system., while coaching and fundraising for the inner city’s last little league team.

Some have continued their quirky blogs and photo posts to document what works and doesn’t work in the Legoland we call a city. Some are leading our most treasured assets like the Mercantile Library. Some organized trips to Portland to find out what works, what doesn’t and came home to apply those same principles. Some moved further into their work in tying the positive impact of arts to the health of any community.

Some employed dozens upon dozens of contractors who worked through the cold and thaw. While their names won’t be on the streetcar, they will point to that project as their legacy.

Some acted as city councilpersons, others took a role in the OTR council. Some work to tutor neighborhood students, and discuss the Bengals only AFTER the homework is complete.

Some just hang out on the corners to get to know their neighbors, organize Halloween trick-or-treat events for the children, or are genuinely trying to understand the long-term effects of poverty and why affordable housing matters. Some will be eating Thanksgiving dinner with neighbors they could not have imagined a year ago.

And some came to believe just how much one voice matters.

The media and attention from the mayor’s proclamation to shut down the streetcar worked in the favor of those who believe. The mayor’s controversial statements served to galvanize ordinary citizens who imagined a future that perhaps that mayor could not see.

The stories are endless of what it means to Believe in Cincinnati. But wasn’t just about the streetcar. Anyone paying attention knew this. It wasn’t about investment dollars or politics or procedures. It was about people who saw an opportunity for Cincinnati to be ‘greater than.’ Those are my kind of people to believe in.

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