Gentrification is not an “Experiment”

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On Monday, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a story about Republic street, focusing on the divisive elements of the changing social makeup of OTR. Last fall, I wrote about the same location, more or less, focusing on the northern half block bounded by Vine, Republic, 12th and 13th.

The article is interesting, and goes into more detail that I was able to, being constrained somewhat by a requirement in the assignment to base the presentation I gave (the notes of which the piece was adapted from) on quiet observation of the space in the spirit of Bill Cronin’s “place paper” assignment. (Incidentally, this is the second time Bill Cronin has been impactful in my life: in 2011 he blew the lid off ALEC’s role in the anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere. When the right-wing backlash to his research exploded, a few of us in Cincinnati organized the first protest against ALEC, after which we were leaked all of the organization’s model legislation–leading to an expose in The Nation and other liberal media outlets).

The Enquirer’s story radically diverges from mine in what it draws out of the space. By claiming the street, along with the rest of the neighborhood, is an “experiment,” it conveys a sense that it’s premature to make conclusions about the course and future of gentrification in the area. “This is the type of street where the city could lose its soul,” the article states. It goes on to explore about the divisions between old residents and new ones, but misses the mark when it ignores the reality of the separation. While the new residents interviewed wax poetically about the changes occurring, the story neglects both the ideological role it has played in the transformation, especially in the obfuscation of the workings of gentrification (probably somewhat due to the presence of the paper’s editor on the board of 3CDC, the corporation overseeing the redevelopment), and the fact that Republic street is an anomaly in the neighborhood south of Liberty street, one of the last places where there are large developments of affordable housing still in existence.

The language is equaling troubling; here’s how the story summarizes the immigrant history of the neighborhood: “It is a street of beginnings. It is where German immigrants first arrived. It is where the Appalachians unpacked their bags when they moved to the city. It is where poor blacks came to replace them both.” In other words, Germans built the space, Appalachians stopped off for a stay in the vacant neighborhood, but blacks actively replaced them. There is a subtle hint of the language of dispossession, necessary for understanding the history of the neighborhood, no doubt, but it implies that blacks were the agents of that dispossession.

But we can see the more recent, arguably more relevant black history being overwritten. As I noted in my earlier piece, the remaking of this space included the bulldozing and paving over the memorial to Timothy Thomas in the alley where he was shot, while a plaque commemorating the de-Germanification hangs on a pole just 100 feet away.

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The residents of the affordable housing on the block tell a different tale. Antoinette Jones, highlights the divide and draws attention to what the Enquirer misses about gentrification even while it’s right in front of them. “She said the restaurants and bars on Vine can sound and feel like an amusement park dropped into her neighborhood. “You see them coming out and they’re having their fun,” Jones said. “Where’s our fun at?”” While the fate of Republic is apparently is still being determined, this is not the case for any of the other North-South streets running parallel. With the pending relocation of the Drop Inn Center to Queensgate, with the Washington Park renovation and 3CDC’s move from Elm to Walnut, renting out their old office space to startups and restaurants, the blocks west are all but gentrified. And none of that compares to the scale and effectiveness of the transformation from apparent slum to high price playground of Vine and Main streets, and seeping into the cracks (Walnut and Clay) between. We know what gentrification leads to. We can analyze the data before our very eyes. Capital has won, poor people have lost.

But I don’t know that we should expect republic to be much different than anywhere else. The clashing divisions written about in the story are today really shades of what they once were, and, perhaps, are more farcical proof of diversity than the reality of such divisions. Two blocks east of Republic illustrate this best, perhaps, with 3CDC’s new offices on the corner of Walnut and 12th opening up just across the corner from the offices of the Homeless Coalition, the most advanced social service agency in the neighborhood, both in terms of the radical nature of the staff and their willingness to challenge the powers behind gentrification (pick up any copy of streetvibes to understand this). Now they are to be permanent neighbors. But bubbling beneath the surface is the contradictions of the neighborhood as a microcosm of society, these two organizations are diametrically opposed and dialectically intertwined; one grows out of the other, just as the poverty of the residents in the section 8 housing on Republic flows from the wealth of their neighbors living in condos one building over. This diversity can’t be permanent. Nothing is.

Soapbox hosts Screening of “Condemned”

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keithhighscansKeith LaMar has been on death row for 20 years. He spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement and has little contact with the world outside his cell. He is facing capital punishment for a crime he did not commit. LaMar is among the 5 prisoners sentenced to death after the Lucasville prison uprising in 1993, one of the largest prison rebellions in history. Like the other 5 prisoners, LaMar’s refusal to cooperate with state prosecutors and correctional officials, whose actions prior to the uprising escalated tension to the breaking point, led him to be singled out, given an unfair trial and convicted on unsupported witness testimony.

On Monday, “Condemned,” a film about LaMar’s case, was screened at Soapbox Books & Zines, a lending library in Northside. The documentary made by local filmmaker Barbara Wolf examines the flimsy evidence against LaMar and exposes an array of misconduct before, during and after his trial. For example, LaMar was convicted of a murder during the uprising that another person admitted to in earlier testimony. The state swept the admission under the rug in return for that individual’s cooperation. In another instance, a witness first testified that he didn’t know who LaMar was and that LaMar wasn’t active in the uprising, then later testified that he saw LaMar leading an apparent death squad that killed 5 inmates. The defense were never provided with any information about the dubious testimonies, a violation of LaMar’s constitutional rights.

LaMar’s is now in limbo. In November, a hearing of oral arguments was held in the 6th district court in Cincinnati to determine whether Keith will get a new trial in light of all the misconduct 20 years ago. By all accounts, the hearing went well, but LaMar was barred from attending to defend himself, the latest in decades of injustice. It may be as late as spring 2016 before a ruling is made. The hope is that LaMar’s original conviction will be thrown out, and the state will not attempt to retry allowing him to finally walk free.

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Uses and Users in The Gated District

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Written as the final to a urban sustainability class I took in my spare time this fall. I republished it with slight modifications here.

It’s not just us keeping them apart. It’s everyone in Besźel and everyone in UI Qoma. Every minute, every day. We’re only the last ditch: it’s everyone in the cities who does most of the work. It works because you don’t blink.-China Mieville, The City & The City.

The buildings, parking lots and alleys in the northern half of the block between Cincinnati’s Republic and Vine, 12th and 13th streets, offer a unique perspective to look into issues of race, class and the way that we understand and talk about history in a changing urban environment. It’s not an uncommon block in the neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine (OTR): on the Vine street side, a row of three and four story buildings with storefronts below and housing above sit adorned with the vestiges of their Italianate style. On the Republic side, a single housing development is all that’s left of what were probably similar buildings all constructed in the late 1800’s.

This is the heart of the Gateway Quarter, the ideological entry point into a revitalizing OTR. This is OTR with all its romantic heritage of german, beer loving, culture. On the corner of Vine and 13th, the Lackman, named after the brewer who paid for the building over 120 years ago sits with its big open doors welcoming crowds into the cramped bar. Lackman’s operation would be sold to Hudepohl, a mainstay of Cincinnati brewing history, in the 1930’s, but today the bar harkens back to the turn of the 20th century, even using the old winged-L logo.

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The Struggle Against Racism Continues

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A meeting will occur on Thursday December 18th, at Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship, 2324 May St. in Mt Auburn at 6:00 PM, unfortunately too late for readers of streetvibes. And a teach-in organized by local activists on Saturday, December 20th, in the Main  Library Room 3A at 11:00AM.

On Saturday tens–maybe hundreds–of thousands demonstrated across the United States in the National Day of Resistance against the racist police state. The protests were only the latest in a movement that has been steadily growing since 17 year old Mike Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, just outside St. Louis, this August. Courageous residents of Ferguson have taken to the streets almost every day, standing up to heavy policing in their neighborhood to fight against systemic racism which is embedded in the core of our society. When Wilson was let off without an indictment in November, and just a week later, when the New York police officer who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold wasn’t indicted either, regular protests have occurred in every major city in the country. Some have called this a new civil rights movement, while others have gone even further, suggesting these actions are revolutionary in nature.

Locally, a grassroots group of organizers, loosely organized as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign, called a solidarity protest, at least the 4th action since the night after the Mike Brown decision. Cincinnati and Ohio’s place in this movement is incredibly complicated–13 years ago, when Timothy Thomas was killed by Officer Roach, angry protesters took to the streets for a week in the largest uprising since the Rodney King uprising in LA in 1992. The protests came after 15 black men had been killed by police over the course of the previous several years. Though the police and city claim to have made changes, these are aesthetic only–today, some 3 or 4 blacks are killed each year by cops locally, and the feverish public relations work of the powerful institutions tends to be effective in sleepy Cincinnati. But a new movement forming as part of the national cause hopefully points in a new direction in the fight for liberation.

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