Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati: a model of revitalization? or exclusionary gentrification?

If you’re interested in issues related to neighborhood revitalization and concerned about some of the downsides of gentrification, you should read the recent Politico piece by Colin Woodard about Cincinnati’s 362-acre Over-the-Rhine neighborhood: How Cincinnati Salvaged the Nation’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood.

The piece generally speaks glowingly of the dramatic new investment in the historic, long-struggling neighborhood, but the optimism is tempered occasionally with cautions about displacement of black residents and the loss of identity that can result from gentrification.

The efforts are being driven by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), a 501(c)3 privately funded non-profit that has been working aggressively to develop properties in the large historic neighborhood. We don’t have anything like 3CDC in Savannah, but maybe we should?

Perhaps a non-profit entity — one with a much broader mission than the current SDRA or the HSF’s revolving fund — could effectively preserve historic properties in Savannah’s economic development corridors, guarantee that new development provides sufficient affordable housing, make purchases for government needs, and generally implement a coherent vision of neighborhood revitalization.

Check out the 3CDC staff page for a sense of the organization’s scale, and check out their current projects to see examples of adaptive reuse, preservation, and new construction.

Also, before you get too deep into the piece, you should note that Over-the-Rhine was still majority black as of the 2010 census, which showed about 4,400 black residents and 1,600 white residents. In 2000, however, census data show about 1,500 white residents and 5,900 black residents.

What caused the decline in black residents? Given the slight rise in the white population, this certainly isn’t a case of one-for-one racial displacement.

For what it’s worth, we’ve seen similar trends in the Metropolitan Neighborhood in Savannah over the last couple of decades. I’ve written about the trends multiple times. It seems that as the neighborhood continued to decline, primarily because of street-level crime and blight, the number of black residents fell dramatically, while at the same time new residents — mostly white, many newcomers to the city — began trickling in. That trickle has accelerated at this point, and there seems no stopping it.

Anyway, here’s the opening of the Politico piece, which you really need to read if you’re interested in these subjects. And read the comments too, which represent a wide variety of takes on the current state of Over-the-Rhine.

Freed from ordinary political constraints and focused on its task of reversing central Cincinnati’s slide, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.—better known as 3CDC—has invested or leveraged more than half a billion dollars into Over-the-Rhine, buying and rescuing 131 historic buildings and building 48 new ones, while maintaining subsidized housing, rehabilitating parks and driving out criminals with cameras, better lighting, liquor store closings and the development of vacant lots. In the process, it has earned the ire of longtime residents and homeless advocates, who say their desires, suggestions and dreams for the neighborhood—until recently 80 percent African-American—are seldom consulted and rarely implemented. “They use a lot of buzzwords and give the appearance of being warm and fuzzy, but without really having the interest to make it something real and true,” says neighborhood activist Jai Washington.

The only thing unreal about it, say officials, are the results.