By Ethan Nichols, World News Editor
Wasson Way presents us with an intriguing question- can environmentally-conscious, pedestrian-friendly, development enter a community and leave communities intact and free from gentrification?
I don’t have an answer to that. But what I do know, is that any development, especially one running through lower-income neighborhoods like Avondale and Evanston, must have a plan to ensure that residents are not displaced and that costs don’t skyrocket.
Cincinnati has a long, nasty, history of ignoring historically Black communities and lower-income neighborhoods. Decades of disinvestment, redlining, and systemic racism have led to systemic inequities — including in housing and walkability.
In the 1800s, a series of race riots led to Black residents being forced into small, dense, communities largely along the polluted Ohio river. As economically advantaged individuals begin to move farther away from the city center into suburban enclaves, those who lack the resources, mostly Black residents, are left behind.
In the 1930s, redlining reinforced housing segregation — this time codified into law.
When I75 was being built, it was put directly on top of the Lower West End, a primarily Black neighborhood. Houses and businesses belonging to Black individuals were entirely torn down, displacing residents, and forcing them to move. Most ended up in Avondale, Walnut Hills, and Over-The-Rhine (OTR).
While the 1968 Fair Housing Act made many of these practices illegal, that didn’t put a stop to it. These issues persisted, and have led to the current segregation in Cincinnati.
Currently, 1 in every 3 Cincinnatians live in a racially segregated neighborhood — defined as being 75% Black or 75% white.
We have seen the negative effects of well-intentioned projects like Wasson Way before. The street car, which opened in 2016, was designed to increase public transit opportunities in downtown Cincinnati.
What wasn’t talked about was whether the project would fuel gentrification in Over-The-Rhine and other surrounding neighborhoods.
OTR was once 80% Black. After the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, better known as 3CDC, began buying up properties in the neighborhood, it was easy to see what would happen to long-time OTR residents — they would be forced out.
The creation of the streetcar, while great in theory, is stuck on a 3.6-mile loop around downtown, designed to primarily serve tourists and business people. While not necessarily bad, it does little to serve long-time community residents, who would benefit immensely from quality, expanded, public transportation. Instead, it has jacked-up housing costs, contributing further to gentrification.
It’s no secret that Xavier has not always had the best community relations with Norwood, Avondale, and Evanston.
Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Kearney, an Avondale resident and proponent of affordable housing, has been outspoken about the need to prevent gentrification.
“We want to make sure that as these neighborhoods get all these amenities — new bike trail, new businesses — that these neighborhoods are still affordable,” Kearney said.
Tri-State Trails, an organization supporting Wasson Way, has noted that the original trail plans did not include Avondale.
“Most of the trails in Cincinnati are on the East Side in affluent, predominately white communities. Historically, trails have not touched these communities that are predominately Black, predominately lower-income, have high rates of zero car households,” said Wade Johnson, Director of Tri-State Trails. Xavier students live in a bubble, in many ways isolated from our neighboring communities. Wasson Way offers us an opportunity to be better connected with our neighbors.
Encouraging walkable communities, biking, and other environmentally-friendly transit options is to be encouraged. We can and should be doing more to get students out of cars and onto trails and sidewalks. But that can not come at the expense of our neighbors and affordable communities.
To ensure community engagement and to best prevent gentrification, there must be a plan to ensure that our communities remain affordable and accessible, and this must include input and leadership from within the communities most affected.