Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Washington Park Redevelopment: NOTE, The "Gentrification War" is over!

Washington Park was a place of progress. Many do not realize it was the site of the 1888 Centennial Exposition and there were buildings on that site. The area around it was developing fast. New homes and buildings being built everywhere. Over the Rhine was the place to be. Cincinnati was celebratory in its forward thinking. The belief that anything was possible that all could be achieved. Cincinnati was far more prosperous than any city in the midwest. It was the center of commerce, the center of wealth.

OTR ever since, has always been an area of transition or change. It became the center of the German American community and was that for many years until times changed and the wealthy left their mansions on Dayton street and headed for the "new upscale' neighborhoods of Avondale, Westwood and Walnut Hills. The shopkeepers stayed and provided needed services to the continual influx of new immigrants. The inclines and trolley caused the dispersal of the German community up into the hills of Fairmount, Price Hill, Clifton and Mt Auburn The canal was drained, the folly of the subway, which, had it actually been completed and used, OTR might have been different and never needed redevelopment to the level it does now.
When the depression came, OTR saw a new population, very poor, uneducated Appalachians who had come from the south desperately seeking work. OTR made a slow steady decline through the 1930's to the 1950's.
In the 1960's and 1970's OTR began a change again this time to a large African American Community, by the late 1980's early 1990's OTR saw some "Urban Pioneering" mostly white preservationists who saw the "potential' in OTR and its architecture. By the late 1990's there was "optimism" that OTR was turning around.

The riots changed that. There is no doubt there were issues between the Black community and CPD, they are well documented. Had the community not rioted, CPD would have implemented change ( probably by court order) and OTR might look more like New Orleans today. A multicultural diverse community with a jazz and blues vibe. But that didn't happen and the city reacted by 'dispersing' what they viewed as a "problem" across the city and they largely 'emptied' OTR of anyone they had governmental control of via the housing vouchers. The few that were left either were too poor, not a part of the welfare system or owned their house and were 'stuck' there. The riots evaporated any interest in OTR and those who were pioneering left for Pendleton and Mt Adams and places where they at least 'had a chance". Findlay Market battered and bruised hung on however. 3CDC to their credit went where no one else would go. It was not easy going, credit to where credit is due to 3CDC. Other developers followed and we are where we are today and Washington Park is at the center of the city's move to move the area forward.

Today OTR is at that 'difficult' transition stage. I saw this happen in Indianapolis and Louisville up close and I followed this in other major cities over the last decade or so where I've worked as a restoration consultant.

Cincinnati is just late to the prom so to speak, thanks to the riots. The area, however is turning around and the Washington Park redevelopment means the "gentrification war" is over.
The Washington Park plan is a plan that looks to the future of the neighborhood and where it will be in 5-10 years Not where it is now or was even a 2-3 years ago.

The park plan, although I'm sure 3cdc and the city will deny it, eliminates some "attractive nuisances" the basketball courts and the pool which brings in people who do not live near the park or likely wont be living anywhere near OTR within a decade. Dog parks and performance lawns? A clear nod to the upscale moving in.

The demographic is REALLY about to change. Change is hard and although everyone would like to think that OTR will be the multicultural, multi diverse "CumBahYa", lets all get along in peace and harmony neighborhood, the "Real World" reality is different. The riots changed all that and that 'community' is largely gone. It is a community that could have had input into OTR's future. But the few that are left do not have the clout to bring things to the table. The deed is done the die is cast, OTR is turning around and the poor, the addicted, the prostitutes, the gang bangers and the homeless will have no place at the table of a prosperous OTR. Those that think they will are kidding themselves. Sure 1 maybe 2 homeless drop in centers will cling on but I doubt they are in OTR in a decade. It Cincinnati follows the pattern that has taken place in every city that has turned around. The homeless, and the shelters/social service groups are headed for the near older burbs in the townships.

OTR will be upscale, up market, mostly white, middle-upper middle class, professional people, because, given the expense of restoration, the only people who can afford to be there will be that demographic. It will never be a German Enclave, it wont be a poor white Appalachian slum, it will no longer be a African American Ghetto, it will be something new and different but the architecture that makes OTR what it is will be there. In my opinion that's the one good thing because it ultimately means the buildings will be restored and occupied. It was almost too late!

Change is hard, neighborhood turnaround is hard, some people win , unfortunately some lose. I would love to have seen a New Orleans style OTR, full of jazz and blues, interesting mom and pop shops, antiques, art galleries and a good mix of 'affordable and upscale'.

I think, I fear, OTR is going to be a land of Starbucks, Seattle Best, IKEA clones, trendy boutiques selling overpriced crap and 50's era blond furniture and Bars and restaurant chains. While it will be "Disneyland" for 20 somethings living in HGTV lofts it won't be community.

That in itself is ironic , the 20 somethings who champion OTR turnaround will find themselves soon "priced out" of OTR too. You may be able to afford a 150K condo on 40-50K a year but you can't afford a 500K condo. Note to 20 somethings: Smart money is buying in lower Price Hill on Neave and the cross streets which will be the next "Georgetown" and there probably wont be a 3CDC entity over there because its too small an area.

OTR may not EVER be neighborhood in the true sense of the word ever again. It will be a "place", a destination, another area where people move every 3-5 years and you wont know your neighbors name. People won't grow up and die there, their homes won't be passed down. OTR will not be a place of continuity like a Charleston SC. Most likely just another "neo hip, urban upscale, wasteland' you see all over the US now where the 20 somethings sit around in a Starbucks and will 'text' each other about how "suburban' OTR is and they need to find a 'cool place". "All those baby strollers and golden retrievers , people in suits and all those SUV's and traffic. Man how the " Urban vibe ' is gone."

Sad because I expect much more of OTR, but I will take what I can get because its better than looking like Detroit!

1 comment:

Quimbob said...

Excellent book on the topic is ZL Miller's Changing Plans for America's Inner Cities: Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine and twentieth-century urbanism. Appears to be out of print but it should be at the library.