I’m sure those of you that have started following this post have been wondering “Where the heck does this kid live? He says it’s in Cincinnati, but what does it look like?” Some of you may not care much, but those that do are in for a treat.
This post is going to highlight a few major landmarks in my neighborhood, as well as a virtual tour of my community. Let us begin:
Casa del VVC
This is our humble abode. Once upon a time, this used to be home for a congregation of priests or nuns that lived and worked in Cincinnati but was eventually abandoned. About four years ago, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul purchased and renovated the home from the bottom up. This 143 year-old relic has quickly welcomed us in as its newest residents.
St. Vincent de Paul
This is the place where all of the magic happens, 3 blocks away from home: 1125 Bank St. Located just off of the I-75 South highway (exit 2), the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been operating in Cincinnati for nearly two decades. The Society itself was founded in 1833 by a man named Frederic Ozanam in Paris, France, but has since expanded its legacy to the United States and across the world. Locally, people come to us for rent or utilities assistance, obtaining prescriptions from our Charitable Pharmacy (the only one in Southwestern OH), our amazing food pantry, and other select programs or services. The organization is considering building a few additional facilities in the neighborhood, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Below is a picture of I-75, just to the west of the St. Vincent de Paul office. Back in the late 1970′s, the highway was built upon an existing neighborhood of predominately African-American citizens, displacing many from the West End into neighboring communities like Price Hill and Clifton. Many current West End residents are still quite upset about the city’s decision to erode their community in a similar manner as I-94 was built on top of the Rondo community in St. Paul, MN.
Two blocks east of our home is the CityLink Center, a conglomerate of social services agencies driven to assist people in obtaining jobs, housing, legal counseling, access to transportation, and other social services. Sometimes we get client referrals from CityLink and vice-versa. They are a tremendous asset to the residents of the West End and Hamilton County.
Lack of Educational Capacity
Below are three pictures of Herberle Elementary School…
and one of Lafayette-Bloom Middle School below…
What do these two schools have in common? They are abandoned. Shut down. Out of commission. Rotting away. Forgotten. Over the past few decades, children from these schools have slowly been pushed out of the neighborhood to “higher performing” schools or one of Cincinnati’s many private institutions. I try to imagine what it must have been like being in a vibrant West End community with kids running around down Bank St. or across the park at the baseball field after school. Parents waiting outside of their cars for their kids or walking home from a day of learning…
Now, the only remnant of children left in the neighborhood are at King Academy Community School (below), which is right next door to our house. As you will note, the small building structure and fenced-off schoolyard are hardly the desired setting where parents would want to send their children. But, many families do not have a choice, as they cannot afford to send their kids elsewhere.
I am a subscriber of the notion that the physical assets and usage of land in a community have a strong influence on the outcomes and success of that community. Unused buildings, abandoned housing, or privately owned, underutilized spaces enervate the capacity and life that a neighborhood possesses. This once-thriving industrial district is on the verge of post-industrial extinction, but the West End’s fate is anything but incorrigible. Organizations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and CityLink are providing much needed assistance and capacity to a neighborhood that would otherwise face the apathetic tendencies of a conservative city that is 10 years behind the rest of the world (25 according to one of my clients). There are a few advocates working to keep the community alive, but they will need more expansive support and a cogent power structure/vehicle to allow them to avert the enduring circumstances that have plagued the area for decades.
Now, I leave you to continue this virtual tour on your own. Some of the pictures might be grotesque or vivid for some people, but, to me, it tells a beautiful, captivating story. There are relics of the past still standing in tact, and glimpses of the future that have yet to fully manifest. When I see this neighborhood, I see what it once was, but also what it could be. It is an urban planner’s dream to walk down Bank St., knowing that everything, through God, is possible.