that culturally and geographically straddles the Midwest
, and the south
, sprawling across several mountains and valleys in an incredibly humid basin formed by the Ohio
, Little Miami, and Great Miami rivers.
Cincinnati began as small riverside settlements shortly after the American Revolution, one of which was Losantiville, meaning 'city opposite the mouth of the river,' the river in this case being the Licking River, a small tributary of the Ohio on the Kentucky side. The name was shortly thereafter changed to Cincinnati, named after a Revolutionary War veterans' society of the same name, which itself was inspired by the Roman Consul Cincinnatus, who left his military position with honor and returned to a simple life.
The city grew through frontier industries such as river transportation and meat packing to be the largest city west of the Appalachians by the mid 19th century, and one of the largest cities in America by the turn of the 20th. As an early center of meat packing, it earned the 19th century nickname 'porkopolis.' Industry later shifted to things such as soap making with the success of Proctor & Gamble. It was home to the tallest building in the world outside of New York for several years, and a major suspension bridge, the Roebling Suspension Bridge, built by John Roebling and his son Washington, who later designed the Brooklyn Bridge. The population boom was fueled by migrants from rural areas, blacks from the south, and immigrants from Bavaria, whose combination of being German and Catholic would leave its conservative legacy on the city ever since. There was also a small but nationally influential Jewish community. At this point development was concentrated in the Ohio River basin with the wealthy living on a few of the near hills.
The city then began a long and continuous decline in prominence. Heavy industry passed the city by and plans for a subway were nixed. In the 30s the city finally got a huge art deco train station, just in time for the decline of the railroads. After the second world war, a ridiculously large swath of the city was torn down to make way for freeways, including most of its historic core. Suburbanization commenced and the population halved. The city and region were not Midwestern enough to be a bastion of 50s Americana, and not Southern enough to enjoy any subsequent 'sunbelt' boom. The Cincinnati area also underwent a major ethnographic transformation as it received immigration from rural Kentucky and Appalachian portions of Ohio, and lost many other residents to other parts of the country. In this era, though, several local institutions were founded, notably Skyline Chili, with its bizarre Greek influenced take on this southwestern dish.
In the 70s Cincinnati was a bit of a swingin' place, was home to such notorious characters as Larry Flint of Hustler, and Jerry Springer of talk show fame, who was elected mayor even after it was revealed he bounced a check to a prostitute. Subsequently, under notorious Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis the region became synonymous with conservative repression, which included the obscenity trial of a museum director for showcasing the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. The 80s and early 90s saw a continuation of urban decay and the rise of gang activity, but neither of these were on the terrible scale of many other American cities of the era. The downtown commercial core was left largely in tact and the airport grew to be one of the busiest in America, as did King's Island, the gigantic amusement park on the northeastern outskirts of the region.
Currently the city of Cincinnati itself is enjoying a bit of a renaissance as several older core urban neighborhoods are enjoying ongoing revitalization. Restaurants and shops are springing up with regularity, and nightlife, which was previously nonexistent is coming into its own. There is perpetual talk of a light rail system, which would reverse 50 years of automobile hegemony, and of late bike racks have begun to appear on the front of select Metro buses, although an adult riding a bicycle in Cincinnati still has the power to blow minds.
Racial segregation is by street rather than by neighborhood as in most other American cities. While Cincinnati avoided 60s race riots of the scale that many other cities endured, the spring of 2001 saw rioting and looting in response to the death at the hands of police of an unarmed black suspect.
Surrounding and including the city has grown a huge swath of suburban sprawl covering about 10 counties of Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana. The region is known for its cultural conservatism and devotion to High School and professional sports. The latter has resulted in one of the worst and most corrupt urban planning mis-steps in history (see here). Of late the Cincinnati area has become somewhat more diverse with immigration from the Far East and the Indian Subcontinent.
The Cincinnati region has several unique linguistic quirks. Among them are the tendency to say "Please" when requesting that somebody repeat something, and referring to Green Peppers as 'Mangoes.'