Today I walked around the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati and boy what a difference a few years makes. I remember coming out here in 2010 just when development was starting to happen. And before that, I actually studied this neighborhood when I was getting a certificate in urban redevelopment at Upenn. I knew what was coming. I knew what change would mean. I scoffed at the professor when he talked about the benefits or revitalization. I asked him, “Who benefits?”. His reply, “the residents, of course” and I laughed and said, they will probably not be there. And given their current economic condition, they won’t be able to afford the new fancy shops that open or the brand new condos made from the shells of dilapidated buildings. I’ve seen this before. Hell, I’m living through it right now in Brooklyn. Neighborhood change. Revitalization. Smart growth. Livability. All of these things usually lead to displacement. It’s simple. The private market dictates the housing patterns. People with economic means have housing choice – they can choose to live in whatever neighborhood their bank account can support. Those without means, well…they are relegated to forgotten places. Neighborhoods where the banks won’t go. Places in the city deemed ugly (until it’s not) and desolate. In homes landlords and property owners refuse to invest in so they can keep rents reasonable and profits high. And when the market turns they sell or jack up rents after finally making well overdue improvements.
This photo isn’t of the change, but I’m certain in a year or two these two shops won’t be there. The change will inch upward and gobble everything in its sight. Over the Rhine is already different today and it will be gone tomorrow. I’m conflicted here. I understand the need for redevelopment and investment. I understand that some change is good. I just don’t know when it ever actually helps the people that lived through the tough times. In the 1950s and 1960s we had “white flight” – the migration of the white middle class to the suburbs away from urban core neighborhoods and away from blacks. Banks “redlined” these neighborhoods and refused to lend or invest in them. Over the next 40 years most of these neighborhoods across the country severely declined. There are a host of reasons for the neglect, but what’s important to note is that they were all forgotten. Now today we have a new movement, I’ll call it “white might”. It’s when mostly whites use their economic standing and purchasing power to invest in and change the socioeconomic makeup of the neighborhood. I’m going to have to blog a bit more about this issue at a later time or under a different blog. This is new thinking for me and I need to work through all of nuances a bit more. But today, It’s something that I am seeing in Cincinnati. It’s something I saw in Pittsburgh. It’s something I’m experiencing in Brooklyn.
And it’s something I am questioning.