I was in Cincinnati for 36 hours on Friday and Saturday. Back in the day, my band used to play there a lot, and we were asked to play a festival. A lesser blogger might use this space to shill for his artsy fartsy rock-n-roll enterprise, but I would never cheapen the Q in that way. For sake of argument, let's just say the group's name rhymes with Gabe the True Lox.
I had a chance to walk all around the downtown area, and bear witness to the much-trumpeted renaissance of the historically significant Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The story of OTR is painfully familiar...city expands; needs immigrant labor to expand (in this case German); immigrants assimilate and become middle-class; fearing integration whites flee for the suburbs; urban poor community suffers social breakdown; neighborhood becomes drug-laden, crime-ridden and run-down; after many years the children and grandchildren of some of those first immigrants move back to town; gentrification takes hold in earnest...this is true of countless cities and neighborhoods across the country. In fact, two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Philadelphia, and a very Harlem/Bed-Stuy kinda gentrification thing has happened in West Philly...hell, Brownstoner has a whole section devoted to West Philly, an odd thing if you haven't been there to see it in action.
But you know the deal. I ain't saying nothing new. I've seen the G.D. (gentrification dance) many, many times in NYC...and I've only been here 20 years!
But I did have an epiphany of sorts. Awhile back I posted about Reuven Lifkind, the guy in Senator Eric Adams office. He and I were talking about how just a few bad apples spoil a whole block - drug dealers, gang members, junkies, Lutherans etc... He said that what you have to do is make life difficult for troublemakers and they move somewhere else. I concurred...let 'em go where they're tolerated. Hmmm.
But that's the problem isn't it? By making my problem someone else's problem I really haven't "solved" anything. Drug dealers are here on my street partly because they're not tolerated someplace else!
After my trip to OTR Cincinnati, some THINGS felt important for me to ponder, as I internalize what I've learned. Like:
Thing One: After living on Clarkson Ave for more than 7 years, I feel very attached to my neighborhood AND its problems. And I don't like people from other places making uninformed statements about this here "Other Side of the Park." But I should have some compassion...those people were me once. I was notorious for my strong opinions about things I had only heard rumors about. (Like the City school system. As if I'd ever been to a NYC public school, met a teacher OR a kid who went to one. As a matter of fact, despite all the belly aching by politicians, there's some damn good education being delivered here, though you gotta be an edumacated consumer.)
Thing Two: During the 1990s, OTR saw a grass-roots rebirth take place. It was happening slowly, and there was a sense that it was also happening organically. One landlord sold, a brave outsider bought. People started to take notice, and that G.D. started to happen. Yes, the poorest residents started to get displaced, but it was building by building, and for the law-abiding, section 8 housing was available elsewhere. Actually quite a bit of it was available, and some of those neighborhoods, while less conveniently located, were safer and more amenable to families. Not perfect, but the G.D. was somewhat sane.
Thing Three: Just a few months before 9/11, a scared Cinci cop shot a kid - and his name just happened to be mine - Timothy Thomas. This was the last straw for OTR residents, who responded first with loud protests, and then the worst urban riots (or uprising if you prefer) since L.A. in '92. The G.D. was over, and even longtime black residents got the hell out of Dodge, leaving half the neighborhood abandoned.
Thing Four: The city of Cincinnati reacted to this "opportunity" by creating 3CDC, a non-profit funded by the City's elite. Its Board is a who's who in Porkopolis (they actually used to call it that, referring to its hog industry). I'll spare you the details and cut to the chase - 3CDC acts like a government (though it's not accountable to voters), buying up land, deciding who can develop, and most importantly, making sure that gentrification takes hold to stay - and in the "right" way. And guess what? When you put that kind of muscle behind the G.D., you get results - fast and furious. That's what I saw on display this weekend. Even an old drinkin' buddy got a bunch of tax breaks to open up a snazzy, um, Brooklyn style bar.
Thing Five: This here photo isn't of OTR. It's that building at the intersection of Rutland and Flatbush.
Care to dance?
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.