Gentrification and the Library.

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These remarks were prepared for a meeting on the “future of our libraries” which was held on March 26 2017.

My name is Ben and I’m a member of Socialist Alternative and the Our Library Our Decision coalition.

When I spoke in August my task was to place the closure and sale of the north building in the context of various other public spaces that had been leased or sold in the last period of redevelopment–like Fountain Square, Washington Park, Music hall–and I acknowledged that the city, 3cdc and redevelopers have been quite successful in reshaping these places for their own profiteering, sometimes even in the face of resistance.

So it was a huge surprise and a victory that is far too rare for us to have beat back the attempt to sell the North building.

What I want to do today is advance a political argument that covers three topics mainly

  1. What factors would lead to things like the sale of the North Building
  2. How we averted that sale, at least for now
  3. And what we’re up against in our movement’s future, both at the library specifically and generally against development profiteers

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Public Boards and The Limits of Representation

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This was written on behalf of the Our library Our Decision Coalition and was originally meant to run in a print publication in late February. That fell through, so I post it here instead.

Who exactly do our “public” boards represent? Recent articles by CityBeat and WCPO draw attention to a study suggesting that appointed boards governing public entities in Cincinnati come from backgrounds very different from the populations they serve. According to CityBeat, the study shows that board members “are more likely to be white, wealthy and men than Cincinnati’s overall population.” In the Our Library, Our Decision! (OLOD) campaign to stop the sale of the library North Building and change the toxic work environment there, we have seen how the board of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (PLCH) matches the study’s findings. In fact, we have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that PLCH’s board is made up of predominantly white, affluent individuals whose ties to corporate power are often at odds with the interests of the rest of us.

What both articles miss is the affiliation of members of these boards (and their families) to the upper echelons of corporate power in Cincinnati. The inequality in our city and county creates divisions that prevent working people—the vast majority of us—from serving on these boards, owing to either a lack of opportunity or a lack of resources. On the other hand, our county’s richest residents and their families often have the extra time and professional development imperatives to serve on these boards. In the case of PLCH, board members boast personal or immediate family connections to the boards of 3CDC, CBRE, Fifth Third Bank, Cincinnati Bell, GE, Graydon Head, KMK, Taft, and Kroger. There are other ties to large charities, at least one prison oversight board, and private schools.

In spite of what they say publicly about civic-minded, philanthropic intentions, people don’t serve on these boards out of the goodness of their hearts. As former Cincinnati resident and Democratic Socialists of America activist Dan La Botz wrote in his landmark study Who Rules Cincinnati?, “[N]eighborhoods have been starved of economic resources, the corporations, their alliances, and their friends in government have directed hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown and riverfront projects intended to secure corporate investments and to generate profits.”

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