The Contradiction of Nostalgia-Based Redevelopment (an excerpt)

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I am currently writing a longer piece about race and class in OTR, focusing on the last 15 or so years, but this history is irrelevant without an adequate backdrop, because much of what is occurring now is being done in the name of a problematic nostalgia for a golden age of more than 100 years ago. The following excerpt is an early draft discussion of Michael D Morgan’s recent book, “Over-the-Rhine: When Beer was King.”

For decades, a forward looking people’s movement has existed in Over-the-Rhine but in only ten years, the reactionary organizations (e.g 3CDC, Downtown Cincinnati Inc., etc) of change have turned their backs on meaningful dialogue, looking back over 100 years to a golden era, forgetting other portions of our history which included racist riots and, if the rumors are true, the origin of the “Jim Crow” character. In policy and rhetoric, 3CDC chooses to look back and does so with blinders, ignoring material conditions in the past and present. They claim the problem is crime and blight while refusing to look toward the root cause of those conditions: built-in inequality in an apparently color-blind, gender-blind and class-blind system.

A recent history of this golden era is indicative of the problematic nature of the nostalgia-based redevelopment. This nostalgia has usurped the Cincinnati area’s position as home to an important abolitionist heritage including Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Lane Seminary–interest in underground beer stores have overtaken interest in the underground railroad. While this is nevertheless an interesting history, telling these stories in isolation is part of the process of an ethnic cleansing of the OTR’s past. We need to look back only ten, twenty or thirty years to hear stories of black struggle or triumph, while the golden age was some 100 years ago.

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