Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rust Belt Cincinnati

Recently, downtown Cincinnati took a step backwards. However, the city looks relatively healthy compared to Ohio's other urban centers:

Cincinnati's downtown has advantages over those of many other midsize and large Ohio cities.

On a recent weekday afternoon, it had the look and feel of the bustling central business district that has vanished in most cities across America.

Office workers dashed into Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue for last-minute gifts. Car horns honked. Sidewalks were filled with people.

Downtown is home to six of the area's nine Fortune 500 companies: Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy's, Fifth Third Bancorp, insurer Western & Southern Financial Group, and Chiquita Brands International. That is more than any other Ohio city.

Cincinnati isn't resting on its laurels and the post-9/11 economic climate has reined in the optimism. The looming problem is the growing disparity between the have and have-not neighborhoods. How much of the region will enjoy gains in prosperity?

The shrinking city challenge is more than staving off rapid urban decline. Most metros have at least a few thriving areas. In the Rust Belt, the bad outweighs the good. The assets of top-notch research universities seem, thus far, incapable of generously spreading economic development to the places most in need. Spillovers are notoriously hyperlocal. My concern is that the revitalization of any downtown will leave the rest of the city behind.

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