By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WASHINGTON - A delegation from Cincinnati collected a "most livable community" award for the region Tuesday - an award given not despite the racial unrest that made headlines three years ago, but because of it.
Partners for Livable Communities, a non-profit group "working to restore and renew America's communities," named Cincinnati one of the nation's 30 most-livable communities because "they are an underdog," said Irene Garnett, a program director with the group.
ON THE LIST
On the livable list
Calif.: Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Ventura
Fla.: Jacksonville, St. Petersburg
Ky. : Louisville
Mich.: Grand Rapids, Marquette County, Traverse City
Minn.: St. Paul
Mo.: Kansas City
N.C.: Charlotte, Winston-Salem
Tenn.: Memphis/Shelby County
Texas: Fort Worth
Va.: Richmond, Roanoke
Wash.: Tacoma/Pierce County
"They are not getting recognized for all the great things that are going on in their city," she said. National headlines about riots obscure "that there's a thriving art scene, and that the city is doing great things to attract high tech, and that they're working really closely with their surrounding counties and states to have a regional agenda that is attracting people to live, work, play and invest in the city.
"Nobody knows about those things because everybody only reads the headlines about the bad things," she said.
The organization grants these designations just once every decade, and Cincinnati hasn't won since the first award in the 1970s.
The most-recent round of awards defined livability "based on creativity and the ability to prepare for the new economy," the group said. That emphasizes a thriving central city, good neighborhoods, diversity and regional cooperation.
Michael Fisher, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, led a delegation of 13 chosen to reflect the things emphasized in the award.
Gary Toebben of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was there for regionalism, Victoria Morgan of the Cincinnati Ballet was there for the arts, Dr. Jane Henney of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center was there for the new economy, and DeAsa Brown of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky African-American Chamber of Commerce was there for diversity. Jean-Robert de Cavel, owner of two downtown restaurants, lent an international flavor to the group.
Charlotte Otto, global external affairs officer of the Procter & Gamble Co., said the award might make the region feel better about itself.
"For a long time, I think our community has had an inferiority complex," she said. The award "is going to help us buck up a bit and take some pride in what is one of the jewel communities to live in."
Nick Vehr, the Cincinnati chamber's vice president of economic development, said the fact that the award comes from "an objective third party" gives it weight.
"This is a validation of our community's commitment to hard work, commitment to each other, a commitment to the future," he said. "To get this stamp of approval from people who look at cities all over America should be reaffirming for everybody who toils every day to make our city better."
Brown, of the African-American chamber, said the award acknowledges the progress in small steps. But, she said, the award shouldn't signal that the region is over its racial problems.
"If it does, that's the wrong attitude to have, because we're not 'there' until we're all there," she said. "This is only one step up on the ladder that we're climbing to get wherever 'there' ends up being."
Jamal Muashsher, a P&G executive involved in Give Back Cincinnati, a group of more than 1,500 young professionals, agrees. The award "means the hard work everybody is putting in is paying off," he said.
"Are we where we need to be? Probably not, but the hard work is getting us there."
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