Path of progress cheats Avondale

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The Cincinnati City Council’s recent 6-3 vote to allow a $550 million expansion by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Avondale raises important questions about our city’s commitment to the character of its neighborhoods, as well as its responsibilities to residents deemed to be in the “path of progress.”

The expansion, reported on by Soondos Mulla-Ossman and myself in the Aug. 16 edition of the Newswire, comes at a time of dramatic change in Cincinnati. The rehabilitation, or gentrification as many see it, of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has sparked important conversations about race, poverty and the role of communities in the city.

In a similar fashion, the Children’s expansion strikes a sensitive nerve. Critics in the neighborhood argue that planning largely took place without involvement from the community. The displacement of residents set to occur, mixed with local environmental degradation, adds to years of injustices heaped upon the neighborhood, one of the most impoverished in the city and largely considered to be the heart of its Black community. I cannot accurately evaluate the first claim without having been involved in the process, an undertaking largely worked on behind closed doors with the movers and shakers of Cincinnati public policy.

However, after spending this past summer writing a book on the history of Avondale, I can certainly tender the claim that the Children’s expansion stands as the latest chapter in a long and challenging history of displacement and injustice in this community, caused in part by institutional expansions and outside forces that have time and time again tipped the scale against disenfranchised residents.

Many of Avondale’s older residents came to live in the neighborhood during the 1950s and 1960s. In those postwar years, construction of public housing projects and highways through Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood destroyed homes and displaced thousands of low-income Black residents, who were subsequently ushered into ghetto-like conditions in Avondale by unscrupulous real estate agents, absentee landlords and racist home loan policies.

Once there, residents found little in terms of economic possibilities and the promise of a better life. Avondale, as it stands today – economically stagnant and increasingly violent – bears the scars of a half century of injustices and the longstanding devastation of its community’s exodus from the West End. As the hospital seeks to expand, threatening to scatter an already disenfranchised population, memories of these events become particularly jarring.

Meanwhile, well-endowed and economically dynamic institutions such as the Cincinnati Zoo, University of Cincinnati, Xavier University and, of course, Cincinnati Children’s, stand glimmering amongst so much poverty. They reap the benefits of patrons from outside Avondale and use those profits for shiny expansion projects and grand new parking garages in stark contrast to the community they call home. Children’s is one of the nation’s leading facilities for pediatric and critical care. Meanwhile, the infant mortality rate in Avondale is three to four times that of the rest of the nation. Something just doesn’t add up.

The hospital claims that its expansion will bring increased care capacity for children and more jobs as it grows.

However, the question certainly arises, who will see these benefits?

Avondale has long been promised revitalization and economic development. In the 1960s, the city enacted the Avondale-Corryville Renewal Plan, designed to improve housing standards and bring jobs following years of decline.

However, the University of Cincinnati and the local hospital complex capitalized on the moment, pulling in much-needed funds and administrative attention to build expansions on their own campuses in the name of renewal, though with little benefit to the community. Now, the Children’s expansion threatens to do the same, as the low-income residents, long denied educational opportunities, will face tremendous obstacles competing for the highly technical jobs offered by the hospital.

While I certainly don’t condemn the hospital increasing its capabilities to treat sick children, the arguments advanced for the expansion have been less than persuasive. It’s difficult to see the project as a boon to the community, with jobs and higher medical standards unlikely to trickle down to residents. In the end, it seems Avondale stands in the hallowed path of progress, with the city willing to allow its erosion in the name of another glimmering expansion.

By: Ryan Kambich ~Staff Writer~