What should I do this weekend?
It’s a question all students ask themselves every week. Here at Xavier we’re only a quick 15 minute drive from one of the fastest developing neighborhoods in the country, Over-The-Rhine (OTR).
OTR provides plenty of options for a leisurely weekend excursion from campus. Restaurants, shops and theaters can be found throughout OTR. If you are so inclined, you can even find overpriced home décor shops. All of this allows for a sufficient break from the monotony of being stuck on campus. If you are looking for a place to get away and have a nice meal with friends, look no further.
OTR did not always look like this. Until the mid-2000s OTR was home to rampant crime rates and a shrinking population.
All of this changed rather quickly. The neighborhood stopped being characterized by vacant buildings and started to be dotted with hip storefronts.
While all of this is fine and good, as students at a Jesuit institution we are called to examine things on a deeper, more human level.
What does the OTR of today mean? What purpose does it serve? While brunch restaurants can offer a wonderful Sunday morning meal, can they really be considered pillars of a community?
What about the people who lived in OTR before it became the example of gentrification it is today? Is any of this improving their quality of life?
This is the thing about gentrification: It might seem on the surface that the community has been reborn, but many times it has simply been swept aside. Just because the scenery of this neighborhood has changed does not mean that any problems have been solved.
Fixing decades of poverty and urban decay is not as simple as opening shops and restaurants that only cater to yuppies with a handsome disposable income. A cute brunch restaurant does not mean much to someone who is struggling to makes ends meet.
One day trends will shift and OTR will no longer be viewed as Cincinnati’s up-and-coming neighborhood. What happens then? What sustainable infrastructure will be there to sustain the economic growth when the popularity of the area inevitably dips? The reality is that the cycle will probably continue once OTR is again left on its own.
Inevitably, when gentrification comes along certain people are left behind. The people who are on the margins already are pushed completely from the page.
As Xavier students, we are called to think of these people and recognize that their lives are just as important as our own. We are called to see the world from outside of the bubble of whatever privileges we might have. We are called to look for long-term solutions to problems such as poverty. In the end, we are called to be men and women for others.
While I am certainly not trying to claim that OTR does not offer a wonderful escape from the daily grind of college life, there is no reason that we cannot have a nice time while also being aware of our surroundings and what they really mean.
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