Dan & Gretchen Moved to Over-the-Rhine

My neighbors across the hall, Dan & Gretchen, moved out of our building last year.  One of those high-achieving, dual-income households, they owned a 900 square foot unit, were expecting a second child and needed more room.  People come and go all the time in our 114 unit building, but their departure was especially hard as I’d gotten quite attached.  Their first child, Wes, had health problems when he was a baby and we got to know each other as Dan walked him up-and-down the halls at night.

This young family could have moved anywhere.  Terrace Park.  Mt. Lookout.  Somewhere outside the 275 beltway where they both grew-up  — any place with no poor people and no poor people problems, certainly somewhere where they didn’t need to camp out in a tent for 16 days to get their children into the school of their choice.  But instead they sunk everything into a house in Over-the-Rhine, vacant since the 80s, one that needed to be completely gutted. They bought it based on the architect’s drawings without ever going inside.  I remember the night they signed the final papers. Gretchen was melting-down next to the elevator, scared to death at what they’d done.

IMG_7535 (1)

Gretchen & Dan’s charming Italianate row house as the Opening Day Parade marches past.

The other day Dan posted this on his Facebook page:

“For all those that I’ve shared stories with about folks peeing and/or pooping (yes, humans) in the alley next to our house, I finally have an answer to the question: “What are you going to do about it?”

Here are before and after photos of the “prime spot.” Instead of installing motion sensing lights, cameras, water and/or paint guns, lasers, booby traps or any other suggestion that has been offered up, I figured that flowers might do the trick. At least the soil was fertilized, right?

Fight fire with flowers.

Perennials, not poop. (Would work better if I didn’t plant annuals)

If anything, maybe it will make someone smile when they unexpectedly see flowers and plants in an alley.”

dan's housebeforedan'shouseafterI

I swear.  The next kind, well-intentioned person I meet who brings-up gentrification in Over-the-Rhine – all this development for rich, white people – I swear I will punch them in the mouth – me – 59-years-old with my pathetic rubber-band arms.

These incredible young families risking everything to be part of the re-population of this neighborhood deserve all the support Cincinnati can muster. Living in a neighborhood in transition is not easy.  Even so, Over-the-Rhine’s newest residents believe in something they can’t even put into words and they believe in it so deeply that they are willing to live with the hard reality of poverty on a daily basis, fighting fire with flowers to make it a better place for everybody.

13 thoughts on “Dan & Gretchen Moved to Over-the-Rhine

  1. Mary

    Can’t it be both – people risking everything to invest in a neighborhood and people being pushed out while other long time residents who remain feel like a foreigner in their own community? Even typing the word “both” implies there are only 2 stories here. Gentrification is real and it’s complicated. Not everyone is a bad guy or good guy. Just like racism is very real yet not everyone is racist. High achieving dual income or under paid low income, no one likes people pooping and peeing in their yard or alley way. We’ve cleaned up more poop than I care to remember. Investment in a safety net and a system that adequately addresses addiction and mental illness might change that.
    Not everyone who moves to or invests in OTR is of the same experience or mindset as your friends.
    At the risk of receiving a punch to my face, gentrification is real.

  2. executivedreamer Post author

    I don’t find the word “gentrification” helpful. And I don’t understand your solution. Is it not to have people like Dan and Gretchen move to Over-the-Rhine? I don’t understand how that helps.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      The safety net is fine. My problem is the vilification of the new residents of the neighborhood. And sorry – every single one of the residents I know in Over-the-Rhine – the people who have the money to rebuild this crumbling building stock that we let fall apart – didn’t ReStoc own more than 75 buildings at one point and they didn’t have the money to restore them to a usable state? – every single one of them is caring, engaged in their community. And I know a lot of them. Just had lunch with a young guy rehabbing his own house and he isn’t rich. They are not racist or they wouldn’t be there. You want support for a safety net, say that. You want creative solutions to poverty, say that. But traditional, divisive approaches used by the social justice movement for the last 30 years have not worked, the percentage of our population living below the poverty line is at all time record highs. When the social justice movement alienates me – somebody who truly cares and has been involved in those issues on many levels in an intimate, life changing way with no compensation – then I’d suggest this approach is not working. Stop blaming everybody else, trying to make people feel guilty for enjoying Washington Park, Time to rethink strategy. Find a way to bring people together. Poverty is not attached to any single set of buildings or one neighborhood.

      1. executivedreamer Post author

        And then show me where the long-term residents have been pushed out. Any facts people give me, I check them out. 3CDC bought the apartment building at 13th & Walnut and got long term residents to leave. — Turns out drug dealers lived there and police were called for criminal activity. The woman who had lived their longest was actually happy with the settlement 3CDC made and the way they treated her. The drug dealers – not so much. — When I was working with Washington Park Elementary the biggest problem was half the kids – HALF – that started the year enrolled had moved by the end of the school year. Stability and poverty do not go together.

      2. Mary

        I’m surprised that you threw out that decades old stuff about ReSTOC. No, they didn’t have 75 buildings that they didn’t have the money to restore. What ReSTOC did is now a respected practice called “land banking”. If only they had 75 buildings!
        When did I suggest that people feel guilty about using Washington Park?
        I do want support for the safety net.
        I recently heard another neighborhood advocate say that they don’t want to be “over-the-rhined”. Yikes. What does that mean?

    2. Mary

      I honestly don’t see how my response could be interpreted as suggesting that people like Dan and Gretchen not move to OTR. It takes thoughtful people as I assume your friends are to assure that wholesale gentrification not occur. I think part of the solution is that people who move here appreciate that there is a community here, that there are good people who live here who care about safe, clean streets, and care about their neighbors. Some who invest in OTR and other urban neighborhoods see it as a blank slate upon which they can build their vision. In that case there is no respect for or value placed on current residents and their support systems. I know there are people who are moving to and investing in OTR who do appreciate the existing community and some engage in advocacy to assure that long time residents be valued and heard. Maybe we understand gentrification differently or maybe there is a better word to describe what i see and experience. I’ve been reading lots of articles about “gentrification” of communities across this country and they are eerily similar to OTR. It is complicated and I sincerely believe that we can be different than those other communities but only if we are intentional. We can work together to capture some of the increase in property values so that there can be continued investment in the affordable market. We can work together on securing businesses that provide lower price points. We can work together to make sure our schools are high achieving and that daycare is available.

  3. Bill Collins

    Thank you for sharing the personal details of this couple, Dan and Gretchen. By my count, the City of Cincinnati had a net loss of 150,000 or more middle-class and working-class people between the 1950 and the 2010 U.S. Census periods, while the number of poor people in the City has apparently increased. For lack of a better term, one might call this long-term trend “de-gentrification.” And for U.S. cities in general, I think it would be fair to say that this long-term matter de-gentrification is at least as big of a challenge as the shorter term issue of gentrification.

    The long-term success of our City will depend on its ability to attract and keep middle-class and working-class couples with children like Dan and Gretchen. That’s because working people tend to be reliable employees, and when a local workforce has large numbers of that group of people, employers tend to notice and make investments in those areas where, in turn, ALL kinds of people find employment — rich, middle and low-income.

    As I see it, at this point in the City’s history, for young working couples like Dan and Gretchen the housing situation (especially affordability) and amenities/entertainment situation (restaurants, entertainment, etc. ) is improving. But, over time the most critical service for young couples that will keep them in the City is quality public schools that are located close to their place of residence.

    Recently, just for kicks and giggles — in order to get a handle on this question of whether or not quality public elementary schools are located close to working-class and middle-class families — I compiled a table. See https://goo.gl/1tN1LJ.

    This table reviews the distance (in drive time) between various neighborhoods (I chose a key landmark in each of these neighborhoods) in the Cincinnati public school district and the five most in-demand (as I understand them) magnet elementary schools. [Please note that high-demand *neighborhood* public elementary schools like Hyde Park School, Pleasant Ridge Montessori and Kilgour School were not included in this table, because in order to attend these schools, one must live in the neighborhood schools’ geographic attendance zone.]

    The results show that, in terms of this geographic distance from these popular K-6 programs that coupes like Dan and Gretchen might like, the most UNDERserved area is the northeastern part of the CPS District — Silverton, Madisonville and Kennedy Heights. Another area that was relatively underserved is the Downtown/OTR/Pendletown, West End/Queensgate area where Dan and Gretchen live.

    Going forward, we need to see CPS add more programs at schools in the underserved parts of town so that folks like Dan and Gretchen not only buy homes here, but also stay in the City to raise their families. The current CPS board is very forward-looking, so I encourage people who care about these issues to contact the CPS board with your thoughts on this issue.

  4. Johnny

    I love these personal stories that put faces to the changes in OTR. Thanks for putting them out there on your great blog Kathy.

    “Gentrification” is a term that comes with a lot of baggage. It’s essentially the opposite of “white flight”. It’s wrong to blame Dan and Gretchen for the plight of the poor, just as it’s wrong to blame the people who poop in the alley for their condition. If you don’t have a home, where exactly are you supposed to poop?

    I’m actually more inclined to blame the people who moved out to places like Mason who intentionally distance themselves (and their money, and children, and middle class entitlement) far enough away that all of Cincinnati is just an abstraction they don’t even have to think about. But Dan and Gretchen are right there in the thick of it so it’s easy to get pissy with them about society’s failures. The Mason people are far, far away…

    So what’s the alternative to gentrification? Leaving OTR to continue to decline as it had been until the buildings just can’t be saved and return to saplings and quail? The old liberal policies of the last thirty or forty years may have done wonders for the overall condition of women, middle class blacks, gays, etc. but the very poor of every kind have been completely left out of the loop. We need another approach that’s pragmatic and based on achieving results. You’re more likely to get constructive engagement from Dan and Gretchen than distant voters who evacuated the city for another county.

    And by the way, Cincinnati’s struggles with gentrification are small potatoes. I live in San Francisco. Around here Dan and Gretchen are the kind of people who are being displaced to make way for even wealthier people. It’s all part of a big international economic food chain…

    My guess, based on observation all over the country, is that the poor of OTR will eventually find themselves in the failing aging suburbs where 1950’s tract homes and strip malls are slowly falling apart and where absentee slum lord conditions are beginning to emerge. Since this is where the majority of the underclass is likely to end up sooner or later it might make sense to address these social equity problems there ahead of the curve. After all, White Oak is seriously unprepared for what’s about to happen to it. Fergus, MO anyone?

    – Johnny

  5. Christopher Grossman

    My wife and I recently relocated to Cincinnati from DC. We are currently renting while we “study” various neighborhoods around town. OTR is certainly one that intrigues us (it has since I performed community service there back in the 90’s). We have three pre-school/school age children now and I’d be curious to hear how Dan and Gretchen are finding their way in OTR with kids. Maybe Dan and Gretchen could post a little of their experiences or if they’d be willing to reach out and share offline, we’d greatly appreciate their point-of-view.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Hi, Chris. Dan & Gretchen are two of the nicest people I know so I’m sure they would love to talk about what they’e learned since living in Over-the-Rhine with their two young sons. — I’ll forward your email to them. — Of course, I’ve been trying to get them to write more about their reality in their own words. Maybe your comment will help them find a few minutes to share more with us.

      1. Christopher Grossman

        Thank you very much! And I can’t imagine my wife and I are the only ones who’d be interested to hear their story. We have been pleasantly surprised by how much energy there is about city living in Cincinnati these days. But I understand how hard it can be to sit down and devote the time to write about one’s experiences with all of life’s other pressing commitments. Either way, I wish them well in their new neighborhood.

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