New 'Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook' isn't your typical guide
On the very first page readers are warned "this book is wonderfully and purposefully neither cohesive or conclusive … to complicate your understanding of Cincinnati."
The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook, to be released Tuesday Dec. 6, definitely isn't your typical examination of Greater Cincinnati communities. It's not filled with tips about trendy places for coffee, craft beer or condos with great views of the city's seven hills. It's definitely not from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
Edited by Nick Swartsell — full disclosure here: Nick is a WVXU-FM colleague who's transitioning to news reporter from Cincinnati Edition assistant producer — the Guidebook consists of 36 essays from writers about the patch of the Queen City they call home.
Some of the writers will talk about the book on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition at noon Monday, Dec. 5. A different panel of Swartsell's contributors will be at abook launch talk 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the Mercantile Library.
"We tell you what it's like when you live in a neighborhood — not where you eat or take friends when they come to visit. It could be the history, or a location that makes it a living place," says Swartsell, a former CityBeat reporter who previously worked at Texas Observer, Texas Tribune and Dallas Morning News bureau in Washington, D.C. The Hamilton native and 2000 Edgewood High School graduate has lived in Mount Auburn most of the past eight years.
The opening chapter by author Michael Henson, "Over-The-Rhine: The Crossroads at Fourteenth and Vine," sets the tone by noting the nearby fatal shooting of teen Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati Police; the murder of musician Michael Bany after a Main Street gig; and death of homeless advocate Buddy Gray.
Henson notes how Appalachians and African Americans are being replaced in now trendy OTR with "a culturally diverse group of workers, artists, entrepreneurs and investors" whose income, interests and access to resources are vastly different from the people Henson met there 50 years ago.
"The new people bring their new hopes and energies to the neighborhood. But I wonder if they know anything about the hopes, energies and struggles of people of the other Over-the-Rhine," he writes.
The Guidebook goes from North Avondale to the West End and East Westwood; from College Hill to Covington, Clifton and Carthage; from Northside to Norwood and Newport; from Lockland to Ludlow; from Mount Washington to Mount Lookout and Mount Auburn; from Camp Washington to Camp Dennison; and a couple dozen places in between.
Dani McClain, the Cincinnati Hamilton County Public Library's writer in residence in 2020-21 and author of We Live For the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood, writes about the rich Black history of Camp Dennison, the former Civil War military camp nestled between Milford and Indian Hill.
"More white families have moved in as Black elders have sold their homes… Do they know this history? Do they care? … I grieve the disappearance of the weird hidden gem we used to be," she writes.
Swartsell is particularly proud he has a commentary in the book from the late Kathy Y. Wilson, his CityBeat colleague who died Nov. 22 at age 57.
"It was really important that I got her in the book. I've known her a long time. I edited a lot of her ("Your Negro Tour Guide") columns at CityBeat. We bonded over both being from Hamilton," he says.
Wilson's piece on her East Walnut Hills neighborhood complains "the nouveau riche pilgrims venturing into my neighborhood render me a foreigner. We longtime Black residents are outcasts… Bus routes instituted to serve the convenience of we strivers get sporadic or rerouted, or they disappear altogether. The working people living here for two, sometimes three generations, now walk farther to wait longer to pay more fare for our sole transportation. All in the name of progress and gentrification."
Like I said, The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook wasn't written by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
For ethical reasons, since he works at the station, Swartsell won't be part of the Cincinnati Edition show Monday. Scheduled to talk about the book are McClain, former Enquirer reporter Briana Rice and publisher Anne Trubeck from Belt Publishing.
He also hasn't placed himself on the Mercantile book launch panel. That group will include McClain, local historian and former University of Cincinnati spokesman Greg Hand; and poet Pauletta Hansel. (The Mercantile event is open to the public, although reservations are required.)
"It was hard enough to choose three or four people for the panels. Every essay was great, with their personal take on communities," he says.
"I felt like I was an administrator, not to take anything away from editors. My name is on the front of the book. That's more than enough for me.
The Cincinnati Neighborhood Guidebook is available from Belt Publishing or Amazon. The suburban Cleveland company has published Neighborhood Guidebooksfor Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Chicago; Anthology books for Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, Louisville, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and St. Louis; Stories of Ohio; and Midwest Architecture Journeys.