Western & Southern filed for their demolition permit for the 19th-century brick row houses on Arch St. last week.
And I know we’re going to be sad when they go, the day we hear the bulldozers start up on the other side of Lytle Park and we try not to listen, can’t bring ourselves to go look at the gaping wound of bare dirt after the engines go silent again.
Now why should we be so sad? Come on. You know it’s true. The only time most of us ever went to look at those little houses was when we knew they weren’t long for this world. Heck, nobody even knew where Arch St. was until we found out Western & Southern wanted to knock them down.
But those houses symbolize something that runs deep. An idea of life we’re terrified to lose. One of Bob Castellini’s great-great-great aunts rented one of those walk-ups. Stephen Foster lived around the corner when he wrote ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ Those simple houses, empty for so many years, are precious because they remind us of all the talent and hard work that goes into building a great city generation after generation, that one life isn’t long enough to measure anything that really matters and that’s the kind of city where we want to live, one where citizens leave meaning in their wake, where fortunes can be born from humble circumstances, where a building’s primary reason for being has nothing to do with its internal rate of return or the availability of tax increment financing.
Yes, we’re going to lose those buildings – but we can’t afford to lose what they symbolize. Because that’s what we’re really fighting for all over this city and we’re fighting for the same ideas in Avondale and Westwood and Price Hill and the Lytle Park Historic District and Over-the Rhine and Roselawn and Oakley. This stronger, better community is no Pollyanna pipe dream. It’s a fact based on the great social experiment called the internet and no corporation , no matter how big it is, can derail the new Connection Economy. The days when an elite few who made the biggest political contributions dictated how we use city resources are over. Believe in Cincinnati and the continuation of the streetcar construction is all the proof anybody should ever need.
Lucky for us, Cincinnati, developers have become very dependent on the public taxpayer in order to materialize their products, investments created for institutional portfolios looking for income streams higher than bonds. And that means we can say, “No.” No, we don’t want to pay for your garages. No, we aren’t willing to pay your share of public services while you get a 30-year free ride on property taxes. No, we don’t want to finance any more pedestrian promenades or street-level retail that sits dark and empty year after year. No more management fees. No more sweet-heart purchase options where the guys with the good lawyers take all the profits. No. No. No.
As they tear down those little row houses on Arch Street, it might look like Western & Southern is so big nobody can ever stop them. But that’s not true. This city can stand up for what we believe in, the kind of city where we want to live, and we can say, “No.”