Cheerleaders don’t change the world

This dog can do better!

Some of you didn’t appreciate my blog post on the state of Cincinnati dining yesterday, which is great. I enjoy a good discussion — and I love a heated argument (which has frustrated many a boyfriend, but that’s a story for a later date.) Bring on the counterpoints! I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’m always right or even coherent.

Except on this one little point.

One of the critics of the blog knocked the snarky tone of it (thanks!) and said that while she could waste time finding the bad in everything:

“I’d prefer to focus on the good!”

That’s a lovely sentiment, I suppose, but no. I don’t think that’s right. Focusing on the good is a naive practice, one that leads people to stay stupid things like “Hitler was actually brilliant, ya know,” and “But, but…can’t we remember Joe Paterno for being a great coach, instead?”

If everyone focused on the good, Steve Jobs would have ignored the user unfriendliness of clunky PCs because “at least they kind of work!” Actually, would PCs exist? Would computers still be the size of houses? Would there even be computers? Would cars have been invented? Would we be wearing clothes?!

See where I’m going with this?

Let’s talk about Cincinnati, a city that historically has “focused on the good” — and become the butt of jokes for it. Even people who can’t find the city on a map have read what Mark Twain once posted on Facebook: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times.”

Focusing on the good means that people worship sports teams even during a losing season, because “at least they didn’t lose them all!” Focusing on the good caused a bunch of probably well-intentioned people to battle the streetcar — because Metro is “good enough.” Focusing on the good is why we angrily defend ourselves against criticism from national media rather than whipping out a mirror and asking why a writer might say: “It’s not in the nature of stoic Cincinnatians to boast, which is fortunate, really, for they have meager pickings to boast about.”

I say we forget about focusing on the good and work on what’s bad. Be coaches rather than cheerleaders, advocates rather than observers. And this means that when you get a bland piece of meat, you don’t pay $100 and rave about the mashed potatoes. You demand that the chef do better. Because he can — and if you make him, he will.


25 Replies to “Cheerleaders don’t change the world”

  1. To be fair, the criticism of the streetcars isn’t because “Metro is good enough” – it’s because rather than be cheerleaders for the idea, we question the necessity, cost, the practicality, the value… In fact, I think the primary focus of the anti-street car sentiment is exactly your closing point: We demand that the city hall can do better in finding ways to improve this city. Because they can — and if you make them, they will.

  2. Fair enough, Joe. That makes sense. What do anti-streetcar folks suggest as a better (more cost-effective, practical, what have you) way of improving Downtown/OTR? I’m hoping no one is comfortable with the way things are.

  3. Who wants to read a “where NOT to eat” blog?

    I think you’re conflating professional writers, who are forced to crank out content regardless of restaurant quality, and we amateurs, who have the freedom to write only about the places we are genuinely recommending.

    I agree with your point in the former case, and disagree in the latter.

    1. But…if you eat somewhere and the food/service/whatever is terrible, isn’t that worth writing about? Do you only eat at places where you know you’ll like the food? If someone’s going to drop some seriously money on a (bad) meal, isn’t it better to tell them not to waste their money?

      1. Nope. We delete the pictures we took and move on.

        There is a non-negligible amount of time and effort that goes into processing the photos and composing the text. They already took our money and gave us crappy food. They don’t get to steal our personal time too.

        The most time I’d waste is the time it takes to click a one-star button on Yelp or Urbanspoon.

  4. You’re dead on. Same thing happens in St. Louis. And god forbid if you weren’t born here that you dare criticize the shrinking metropolis and point out the fact the city hasn’t been relevant for 100 years. It’s a Midwest thing, I guess. Unless you are willing to look at and debate the things that can be improved, nothing will ever get better. Midwestern cities have to stop acting like being an uncritical Pollyanna somehow will attract jobs, investment and improvement.

  5. Great point, except Mark Twain never said that. It’s apocryphal. Get right before you get high and mighty so that the plebes don’t have such an easy time picking apart your argument. And furthermore, WHO DEY!!!

  6. Cincinnati isn’t being criticized by the national media. It’s being criticized by you because you blew a bunch of money on some food that wasn’t good enough for you and you want to whine about it. Except, you can’t just speak your piece about the meal and be done with it, you make it an indictment of the entire city and all the people who live there. Then you ask them to join you in whining about one other so you’re not the only one. It gives you cover. No, you go about whining and I’ll enjoy my city. This idea that you can improve other people by complaining about them is delusional. But you admitted to being incoherent, so there’s that.

  7. Lori,

    I support your position to a certain point.

    The world’s cities need cheerleaders, as long as they identify themselves as such. Writers who masquerade as “journalists”, ignoring faults while over-hyping the victories do nothing to advance the City, the restaurant, the bar, or whatever the hell it is they’re promoting. Pure cheerleaders are easy to identify, and their advice should always be taken with a lick of salt.

    Then there are people who have nothing but bad things to say about EVERYTHING…the anti-cheerleaders. These are the people who think that by continuously criticizing, they will somehow affect change. I’ve often fought with these types of people. They never see anything good. Good luck building anything but a small, bitter following.

    In other words, you’re a journalist, no matter what you’re doing right now, whether it be ingesting Lucky Charms, thinking about your jobs and friends throughout the Midwest, or criticizing restaurants. You know the people who have an agenda. You can easily read bullshit (I hope).


  8. Well I’m glad somebody got a response from the head writer here. I once asked in a comment to one of your blogs why, exactly, Cincinnati NEEDED streetcars and never got a response, which is typical, considering I’ve asked multiple different people about it and never get a good reason.

    I can tell you countless reasons why we don’t need it, such as the money could be spent on other things that we DO need, like keeping the fire departments from shutting down, keeping our racist bigot police officers on the streets, keeping schools from shutting down or firing teachers or canceling bus services for the kids, but nobody has ever been able to tell me why we need streetcars. I keep hearing why everybody WANTS streetcars, because apparently it will spice up the place, but nobody ever says why we NEED them, which we don’t.

    Do you know how long it takes to walk from one end of Downtown to the other? Almost as fast as it would take to catch a bus and ride it. We don’t live in a huge city here. It’s not LA or San Francisco, it’s Cincinnati. Metro is always complaining that they’re running out of money because not a lot of people use them. Well, if one system of public transportation isn’t being utilized fully, then why do we need another?

    Just to spruce up the place. You can paint rust whatever color you want, it’s still rust. Fix what’s really wrong and then worry about adding the nice, just for kicks extras.

    Oh, and where are these streetcars going to go? On the Downtown streets that are never not under construction and always full of traffic? That’s great, the people here don’t know how to drive as it is. Throw in streetcars and we’re guaranteed to have accidents galore. Streetcars alone will keep me from going Downtown just because of that alone. The traffic already sucks, now it’s going to be worse.

    Are these hover streetcars? Will they be floating 20 feet above the streets? I’ll go for that, but still think the money could go to better places other than things we don’t actually need right now.

    I know this isn’t exactly the topic you blogged about and I’m sorry to post such a long response, but seriously, why do we NEED streetcars?

    1. OK, here goes.

      1) We don’t NEED a streetcar. For that matter, we also don’t need skyscrapers or sports stadiums or riverfront development. But people who neglect their city core become witness to the decay of their city core (ever been to Detroit)? So let’s just drop the NEED.

      2) The money can’t be used for other things. Not the money earmarked for transportation, anyway. You can shake your fist at that system, but that’s another argument entirely.

      3) Ever walk from Second Street to Findlay Market? Could you do it every day? In the snow? With a bunch of bags? With your grandma? As fast as a bus? Really?

      4) This isn’t “painting rust,” but an attempt to knock out the rust and replace it with something new. The streetcar isn’t about sending you to places you don’t want to go to. It’s about providing businesses a reason to come here. It’s proactive development.

      5) I’ve lived downtown nearly six years and don’t see the construction you complain about. HOWEVER, this point is my biggest beef with the current streetcar route. It doesn’t go far enough. It SHOULD go to UC. Hell, it should go to the airport. Streetcar opponents helped shrink the route to a fraction of what it could be, and as a result, it could end up being a failure.

      6) If it is a failure, that would suck. But Cincinnati’s lack of dreaming has led it to fall behind the cities we now compare ourselves to when we say, “We’re no XX, but…” We need to be less afraid to fail.

      Come on, man. It’s an idea. I think it’s a great one, you think it isn’t. One of us will be right. But I’d rather live in a city that looked toward the future rather than merely complain about the present.

  9. Very nice points, and I thank you for giving me something to work with.

    First, no, we don’t need stadiums either, but a raw deal is a raw deal. The voters are getting manipulated into voting for things, and that isn’t right. The fact that a majority of people in the city have constantly voted down the streetcar made those for the streetcar upset, so this time around they worded the Issue so poorly that those thinking they were voting against it actually voted for it.

    Yeah, that’s the kind of city that I trust. Manipulate what people are voting for so that those pushing for the Issue get what they want instead of listening to what the voters want.

    How about instead of manipulating the voters, they work with the public transportation system we already have and get more ground covered that way? Was that not glamorous enough? Was Metro spoken with before the idea for the streetcars came about? I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.

    I agree with you that we need to be less afraid to fail and we should look to the future. It was horrible that we didn’t get the casinos here in the first place and it was horrible that we allowed the levy to go to Newport instead of Cincinnati. Yes, we are always behind the times here, but that doesn’t mean every idea that comes along should be gone with just because we need to fix things up.

    If it’s all about bringing in new business, that’s understandable, except that the reason businesses don’t move here could have something to do with the fact that the reputation our city has sucks, when it comes to small businesses and how they do here. Crime levels, the way the police treat people who aren’t white, BOYCOTTS, racism, OTR’s history with crime, blah blah blah. Our reputation sucks and THAT needs to change before anything will help us. We have been moving in the right direction with that, for the most part and I’m glad for that, but it still isn’t where it could be. Finger’s crossed.

    You may have lived here for six years, but I’ve lived here my entire life. I worked downtown for four years. There’s always some place downtown that has some sort of construction going on and traffic always suffers because there’s not a lot of room down there for anything. Every time I’ve been downtown aside from going to work, my entire life, I’ve come across some sort of lane changes or redirections because of the construction. Every time. It happens, things need to be fixed, but what will happen when streets need to be worked on habitually? Streetcars being rerouted (if that will be possible) or just shut down until the work is finished. A city full of one way streets doesn’t help either.

    If they’re going to be on tracks like most streetcars instead of independent vehicles, then they’ll only be able to go where their tracks take them. How will the idiot drivers of this city fare against them when they have to change lanes? Sure cars getting into wrecks are bad, but when a streetcar is in an accident, how much will that screw up?

    I see your points (finally I got some) but I still don’t like the bad that can come with them verses the good that we can only speculate about. Granted the bad is just speculation as well, but right now it’s all up in the air. The bottom line is, over and over again the tax payers said they did NOT want them, but those in charge confused the voters to get what they wanted and that is completely messed up. I can’t trust anything that came about because of a lie. How many of those “improvements” downtown have come about because the voters were manipulated or confused? The smoking ban is just one of them.

    For instance, if you were to have sex with a guy who claimed he was wearing a condom, but then it turned out he lied just to be able to have sex with you and you have a kid because of it, wouldn’t you be just slightly pissed?

    1. Wait, what? TWICE voters have shot down measures aiming to block streetcar progress — in 2009 and in 2011. If they “got confused” twice, well, maybe they’re getting what they deserve.

      One-way streets help direct the flow of traffic. Lots of cities have them. Drivers adapt. Just as they will to the streetcar. Will accidents happen? Sure. They always do, no matter what’s on the road.

      I LOVE the smoking ban.

      1. Okay, ONCE voters shot down having streetcars, but this past election streetcars were voted in. The Enquirer posted a story about how many people who voted no on the issue thought that it meant no streetcars because the issue was worded badly. They didn’t get confused twice, they were confused once, which is all it takes. You do know we’re getting streetcars, right? Because it wasn’t voted down in 2011. The option to stop streetcars was voted down, not the option to get them.

      2. You’re reading me wrong. Voters NEVER shot down the streetcar. The Enquirer hates the streetcar. They didn’t interview everyone who voted. We’re getting a streetcar and it’s great.

  10. Oh, and aside from blowing up your blog here with my unneeded ranting, and back to the original point, I’d have to agree with you that speaking the truth is better than sugar coating everything. I wish I could find a report I read a few years ago where it said people would more likely speak with someone who said movies were bad to get advice on what to see than those who thought every movie was good. You get more truth that way. Keep telling it like it is. Personally I’d rather hear that something sucks instead of how everything is great all the time.

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