fresh thinking

Discovering two sides of Cincinnati

Munni Trivedi, 18th December 2018

For some reason when I thought of Cincinnati I had mental images of flapper dancers and big 1930’s floppy felt hats. That was before I had the chance to visit.

I had the opportunity to pitch to a prospective client - a large design consultancy that works with brands that line your kitchen cupboards. Their office oozed creative style and carefully curated minimalism. I came away feeling great, having discussed the nitty gritty of product design with like-minded professionals. Buoyed by my meeting, I decided to take a walk. I love strolling around a new place. I find my bearings by heading to a local coffee house and people watching.

‘Cincy’, as it’s affectionately known, straddles the northern and southern states of the USA. You fly in to Kentucky but arrive in Ohio. For 187 years it has been home to P&G and as a result many large and small design and brand agencies have grown up in the shadow of the consumer goods giant. It’s a thriving hub of creativity and tech. A handful of skyscrapers dominates the central skyline. The pastel houses are reminiscent of ‘old Tara’.

The city went through a beautification programme in 2004 when artists were invited to create murals on the city’s walls. Since then each neighbourhood has had a facelift of giant proportions. Each corner you turn throws a gigantic fresco at you. Vibrant artworks show the range of industries in the area from brewing to toy manufacture. From Grofers’ almost 3-dimensional aubergines and peppers to the tributes to James Brown and local peanut seller Mr Tarbell who sold peanuts dressed in top hat and tails. You can’t help but smile at so much energy and quirky creativity in one place.

The pitch went well. We won the client. Over the past 18 months I’ve visited three more times. In doing so I’ve discovered another side to Cincy. Its roads are calm and quiet, compared with those of my adopted home of Mumbai, so I’m emboldened to walk instead of hiding in a car. And by doing so I’m forced to confront the fact that round the corner from the glass and steel offices of design agencies there is a growing population of homeless people. Cincy is also ‘home’ to a large number of street dwellers, many in wheelchairs. A homeless woman walked in as I nursed my cappuccino on a cold autumn morning. She sat next to me and beat her card sign - forced to resort to aggressive tactics to get my attention so she could eat.

America’s poverty has different root causes to the hardships that confront me every day in India. But the end result is the same: a massive divide between the haves and the have-nots where rich and diverse creativity rubs shoulders with the poor on every corner.

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