17 February 2011

Fish Out of Water

Monday was a bad day. I had a embarrassing episode in front of a historic review board. I had been helping a neighbor who bought a very small vacant building to rehab. He wanted to make some changes that were not very compatible with the historic nature of the building. I didn't really agree with his proposal, but he is a good friend, and I was helping him turn a vacant building into a home.

So, last fall, I did a quick drawing for him and he submitted it for permit. Online we could follow the process of the permit through the approval process, and in early November we were pleasantly surprised to see that the reviewer had approved the plans and that I wouldn't have to modify the drawing. But it turns out that he didn't even look at the plans so this approval was a mistake that would come back to bite us.

So Monday, months after construction started, my wimpy drawing ended up in front of a discriminating board. I was so embarrassed because I know better. But this was a minor addition on a minor building on a side street, and my friend knew what he wanted to do, so I drew it ...and the board rightly rejected it.

After the meeting, I dejectedly took a walk with my son around the blocks around our house and all the construction sites and vacant buildings. It was a beautiful sunny day, but there weren't that many people around because... well there just aren't that many people here anymore...at least around Washington Park, most of the buildings are vacant and/or under construction. And I had this overwhelming feeling that I was not in my neighborhood anymore, that a wave has washed over the hood and some of us fish are left flapping on the shore.

There was a time when I felt like I knew everyone and everything that happened here. Maybe it was also a time when I was more relevant to the neighborhood. We were doing things, saving buildings, and building a community. But now all that stuff we did seems so small and irrelevant under the wave of huge projects with big 3CDC budgets.

For example, I posted once about a small building that I helped rehab in the 1990's. It was a difficult project: condemned, no money, partially collapsed and a community that sometimes didn't seem to care. I and many others spent a good part of two years on this dinky little project, and at the end the mayor at the time, Dwight Tillery, did come and cut a ribbon. Woohee. Back then, it seemed like it was all a Sisyphean battle. If there were 500 vacant buildings, and each one took 2 years of work, and each month another one was demolished, well.. it just seemed impossible. It also seemed more crowded, and loud... and crazy.

At one time it seemed like not many other people were against demolition. I mean people and groups like the CPA, the OTR Foundation etc were against demolition, but they just couldn't make any headway and their voices seemed drowned out of a bigger political economic picture. But today there are lots of people fighting this fight, ....and 3CDC will rehab a dozen buildings like 1425 Elm in half a year. (They will also demolish a few, which is another story.)

So with feelings of irrelevance in my head, my son and I were climbing around the construction sites and collecting bits and pieces of trashed cell phones and soft bricks for a science project, and I noticed that these unfamiliar people were walking past us. They were youngish with tight pants, dress shoes, sunglasses and talking on their phones. 3CDC just moved into their new offices at 14th and Race, and it was 5pm and they were all leaving for the day. It seems like they just started rehabbing that building a few months ago, and already they are moved-in, fully furnished and staffed.

So here I am feeling a bit down, a bit out of place, when we came upon the Homeless Coalition's fliers that were posted all over and I felt sympathy for their weakness, their powerlessness in the face of this wave. I also felt stupid for being so self-centered in my feelings about the neighborhood. I mean, here I am, secure in my job and house, while others have neither....

But I'm not homeless, and I only had my injured pride to heal. So by Wenesday I was recovered and in a better mood. The sun was out and the hood seems so clean and fresh like spring. And my wife and I attended an event packed with dozens of friendly faces. I talked with others who also feel uncomfortable with some of the developments. It used to be that we would take any improvement, any rehab we could. Now we can be critical of the decisions being made by executives that none of us have even met like: why are they building so many parking lots and why does every storefront have to be bronze aluminum...

I say to myself, face it, neighborhoods do not stand still. They are either moving moving upward and getting more expensive, or they are getting cheaper and suffer disinvestment. Sometimes it may happen so slow that it is unnoticeable, and other times like now it will happen like a whirlwind and knock a lot of people over.

While the changes are happening, it it is an exciting mixed neighborhood. I am attracted to this mix, even one more on the poor side..., but I'm wondering how long it will be before this place has gone too far for me, or am I changing to fit the place?

I love Over-the-Rhine and I love downtown. But no one person owns it or designs it in his own image. The clash of intentions is part of what makes cities so interesting. Yes, I would prefer that development happen one building at a time, one quirky family at a time. But that is a hard way to save hundreds of large vacant and expensive buildings when one organization with all the political and corporate power can make it happen, and they can even make it look easy. Unfortunately they cannot do it right... kinda right yes, but not really right, with the character and passion that this unique place deserves.


Quimbob said...

You're getting old.

Dave said...

Sometimes when I fish I don't catch anything. But I always look forward to that next chance to fish because I might land the big one. Hang in there!

5chw4r7z said...

WOW Mike thats heavy.
You just need to change and adapt and I'm sure you will.

VisuaLingual said...

For a city with such a stagnant reputation, the changes in OTR have been coming like a steamroller. I know what you mean, though my perspective on, and relationship with this place is much shorter than yours.

Albert said...

It seems to me that 3CDC and the city have bent over backwards to accommodate ReStoc and their allies and successors. Tender Mercies has dug in permanently and is a significant presence. You might shed a tear for the families and the clueless old Appalachian immigrants who were elbowed out by operation Rehab and the removal of the Drop In Center and its large following to 12th Street.

Classicgrrl said...

Very good post articulating what many think but are afraid to say.
3CDC is a mixed bag and you are not the only person with mixed feelings regading them and their motive for changing OTR.

Anonymous said...

It's not the end of the world, just the beginning of a better one. There will still be people to help and neighbors to meet. Not every one will be a tight pants, cellphone stuck to face, clueless, characterless zombi. (I hope).
I live in the same type of neighborhood. The people keep changing as the buildings continue to deteriorate. About four of us have stayed in place (twenty five years at least now) the rest move in, move out, always changing. I would be so happy to see the houses here fixed up someday. Only two have been renovated in the last twenty five years. The entire street used to be so nice when first built in... early 1900's or so.
By now my hope for "someday" is very very faded. Your neighborhood is being renewed, cared for, looked after, invested in. You are lucky.

BTW... how did the building on the North edge of the Washington Park get away with cutting through the cornice and brick and putting in a roof deck??? It doesn't get more obviously wrong than that. It wasn't that long ago.

Anonymous said...

I think at some point it should all balance itself out. Look at the village in NYC east or west those neighborhoods started out as real low income housing for artists and immigrants and there's are a real mix there. Yes most places are expensive but a student can still afford a studio there or a share. I think maybe you've been living in OTR so long that you've become comfortable with it emptyness. Change is coming really fast I feel that it will only change faster with the park and Mercer Commons projects. It's about to get real busy up in our hood. I think it's exciting. I'm looking forward to it.

Loki said...

Amazing how many things you expressed sound like experiences I had back home in New Orleans.

After the levee failure (damage wrongly attributed to Hurricane Katrina) it seemed like anything that would get a neighbor back was good. It did not take long before speculators and corporations began to gobble up properties. Then it became a fight to preserve the character of our city neighborhoods.

Change is the only true constant, and it is often a painful one. Stay strong in your stance to preserve character while others focus on economy and development. You are NOT outmoded, you're merely realizing the the new pace ad flavor of change require that you readjust your stance.

Beautiful post!

prolix21 said...

this makes me think of the clip of Billy Walker (long time OTR resident) in the Rebirth of Over-the-Rhine video. He said

"no one has a claim on any neighborhood.it's everybody's neighborhood. it's anyones who wants to be there. it's anyones neighborhood, not yours, not theirs, it's everybody's."


earlier he talks about OTR being a ghetto and how really, nobody wanted it and how it's not a ghetto anymore.

ideally when the wave that is 3CDC is done i would hope this is a place for everyone and a place where we can all live and interact. one of the greatest things about OTR is it's history and diversity and I would hope that survives. it's an incredible neighborhood and it's part of why we bought a condo here.

Anonymous said...

3CDC ain't exactly Tammany Hall, but they display the same diregard for people in the communities they claim to serve. What's happening in OTR is what happens when development is
implemented by sales and marketing people, rather than urban planners, architects, etc.

Interesting timing: 3CDC staff occupies their new offices only a couple of weeks after 95% of the homeless people in Washington Park are displaced. The young people you encountered leaving work do not have to look at those they have pushed out of the neighborhood. Where do those 150-200 homeless people go during the day?

Anonymous said...

^ I still see many of them- Instead of sitting in the park, they are sitting against the church on Elm and 12th. Every day- I see the exact same 8-10 people. Every single day- sitting on the abandoned church steps laughing, telling stories, drinking. The guy with the eye patch is there on most days as well. There are always about 15-20 people standing outside the Lord's Gym- and there are another 20-25 around the health center on Elm.
3CDC also helped fund the Jimmy Heath House which opened last fall- a program that works to solve homelessness, not just placate it.

Anonymous said...

First, I want to compliment you on the very last sentence in your commentary desribing the riots 2001. So WELL said! My husband and I own a business in OTR then and now. We were the whole time. Next, I can understand your OTR melancoly. Things change and on deeper levels we relize we will too, like it or not. Life marches on.