A Gentrification Carol

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On Monday, Carol, a feature film starring Cate Blanchett. will shoot a scene in Over-the-Rhine. The neighborhood is a stand in for 1950’s New York, where the film is set. Carol is the latest film to shoot in and around Cincinnati, three years ago, George Clooney directed and starred in The Ides of March, and much like Ides, Carol is getting a lot of coverage in the press. But what the press ignore, and what Carol represents, at least during its filming in OTR, is a rewriting of the history of the neighborhood to suit the ideology of gentrification.

As with the actual removal of people from Over-the-Rhine, here we get a removal of the neighborhood’s history. In the story told by gentry, there is a tendency to downplay or forget large sections of the history of the neighborhood. What is striking is that the history that is ignored is that which is most relevant to its current condition, notably, the history of a black and appalachian diaspora which populated the neighborhood starting in the second half of the twentieth century. One of the most egregious cases of this comes from Michael D Morgan, who wrote Over-the-Rhine: When Beer was King. The book centers the history of OTR on its apparent hey-day in the late 19th century, when it was populated primarily by beer-loving German immigrants and their descendants. At the end of the book, published in 2010, Morgan imagines an Over-the-Rhine of the future that rekindles the spirit of these early residents. A neighborhood of beer halls, and culture and a sometimes oppressed ethnic minority. But of the period from 1950 on, Morgan has only this to say: “waves of appalachian migration in the mid-1900s dramatically changed Over-the-Rhine and so did a shift in racial composition that occurred in the latter part of the twentieth century…. these stories are as compelling as the story of the neighborhood’s original era, but they are of the place that had become obsolete (153).”

He reduces sixty years of history into a few sentences. While Morgan writes at length about several anti-german riots in the mid 1800’s he ignores black uprisings in the later era, he even seems afraid to use the word “black” to describe the later “shift” he speaks of. While he writes of the development of Music Hall, with its origins in the beergardens, he ignores the creation of Elementz and OTR’s role in the incubation of many rappers today. This is a deliberate move meant to serve the interests of himself among the rest of the gentry in Over-the-Rhine. The only relevant history is that which serves the monied. The neighborhood they wish to create has no relevance to the long-term residents, so the stories that are told are stories that don’t involve them, that don’t even call them by name.

The crew of Carol will turn the corner of 12th and Vine into a 1950’s Brooklyn, removing non-period signage and replacing it, temporarily, with props that are more appropriate for the desired setting. But Carol’s temporary transformation has the backdrop of a permanent removal of the feel of the neighborhood. One block north of the shooting, some three dozen households are being removed from their building at 1305 Walnut to make way for 3CDC’s next project to turn the low cost apartments into another set of condos or market rate apartments. One block West, the stretch of Vine street has been renamed “The Gateway Quarter” to better suite the block’s branding to a new group of people living, working and shopping in the area. One block East, Japps (“since 1879″) is home to mixologists who infuse cocktails at inflated prices. And a block south, central parkway serves as a reminder of who is all for: the people in the skyscrapers. Developers, bankers, capitalists.

Originally published in Streetvibes.