Economic Development or Economic Divide? I call it Economic Unconsciousness! 

Photo: Derrick Shelton, then Police Officer 778 with the City of Cincinnati (1995).

As usual, it was another fulfilling experience with Leadership Ohio. As we listened to well scripted presentations, engaged in meaningful discussions, and participated in tours around the city of Cincinnati, I found it astonishing how the downtown district has been gentrified, re-defined, and rejuvenated. As I watched the pedestrians walk the streets, children play in the park, and the multitude of customers patronizing the businesses, I reflected on what was and what is now.

You see, I was not just a resident of the City of Cincinnati, but I wore the badge of honor, the badge of service to protect and serve the citizens and visitors of this fine city. Yes, I was a police officer for the City of Cincinnati for many years. I actually patrolled the very area that I sit today, Over-the-Rhine.

As I reflect, I think of the days that we chased drug dealers through the streets. How we attempted to motivate the ladies of the night to seek a different profession, and how we encouraged the children to go to school to make a better life for themselves. You see, crime and poverty ravished this area with drug deals, prostitution, and other criminal activity. Needless to say, the only housing options available at that time was low income housing. One of our speakers noted that Over-the-Rhine was labeled as the worse neighborhood in Cincinnati, and it had one of the highest crime rates in the nation.

With that in mind, I was surprised to learn that there are now flats/apartments in this same neighborhood that cost up to $350 per square foot. According to the presentation by the 3CDC (Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation) representative, Over-the-Rhine is now a prosperous and growing neighborhood. To that end, there are thriving businesses and restaurants that people flock to day and night. The park that once housed the homeless and drug addicts, is now a Mecca for family entertainment and fun. There are a plethora of business partners supporting the area, and the redevelopment plan, which has been creatively developed and initiated, is like no other. In short, it is brilliant. Other cities across the U.S. actually visit Over-the-Rhine to learn how this magic works. It is truly a piece of art.

But what about the question that was asked in our 3CDC session; Where are the people who once lived here? In other words, where are the low income residents that once inhabited these streets? Interesting, no one seemed to know. The only answer we received was, “they were disbursed throughout the City.” This lack of understanding of how the redevelopment initiative affected the population that once lived here was disheartening. It was almost as devastating as the answer about diversity in Over-the-Rhine today. When asked, the only answer provided was based on per capita of the area. There was no answer to what demographic diversity looked like for the area.

It seems as though history has repeated itself on a smaller scale. The land has been taken and revived for the benefit of some, and at the detriment of others. Considering the World we live in today, a world that preaches acceptance and inclusion, why then could we not develop this area to embrace those who have their lives rooted in these streets? With the number of vacant buildings that were available to the developers, did it call for the displacement of young and old who knew nothing other than Over-the-Rhine? Where is the justice for the elderly who lived their entire lives on these streets, just to be uprooted through eminent domain, and other regulatory sanctions that forced them out of their homes?

Why does it have to be this way? Unfortunately, the saga does not end there.

During our weekend session, we were graced with the presence of Melissa Mosby. Ms. Mosby eloquently shared her life history of being homeless. For several years she slept in the doorway of a business in Over-the-Rhine. She shared deep intimate details of what it was like, and how she overcame. Long story short, she now has an apartment in another part of downtown Cincinnati, and as she put it, “her name is on the lease.” Her name being on the lease represents a level of pride and security for her. Unfortunately, she shared that her accomplishment of getting off of the streets is in jeopardy once again. As the city plans for the coming of their new soccer team, plans are to build the soccer stadium on the property where Ms. Mosby lives. The home that she has made for herself is being taken away from her to build a stadium. So once again, not knowing how this is going to pan out for her, Ms. Mosby has to deal with the thought of possibly being homeless again.

United States Congressman Bill Johnson said to the Leadership Ohio class of 2019, “we are smart people,” referring to the American citizens. Congressman Johnson went on to say, “we have the answers to the problems.” So what is the answer to this problem? How do we fix this issue? How do we join forces, rich and poor, young and old, and learn how to live together, not divided? Since we are all Americans trying to live the dream of peace, liberty and freedom, why can’t we live together in harmony? Why must there be a divide? Why must some benefit, while others suffer? Please tell me Why? Is it economic development or economic divide? I call it Economic Unconsciousness. What do you call it?

-By Dr. Derrick Shelton, Principal, Reynoldsburg City Schools | Leadership Ohio Class of 2019

Please note all blogs are the sole opinions of their authors and do not claim to represent the views of Leadership Ohio.