By Katelyn Lusher and Shruthi Chidambaram
In Streetvibes’ 24 year long history, the paper has undergone many changes. Technology became more accessible and affordable in 1999 with the advent of Adobe InDesign, making it possible for early staff members to move beyond the cut and paste method used in the first two years. Editors have come and gone as they moved on to other things, like Donald Whitehead, who became the executive director of the National Homeless Coalition in D.C. last year. The city of Cincinnati has changed tremendously as gentrification has aggressively taken over whole neighborhoods and changed the socioeconomic and racial makeup of its residents. Street papers at large have changed significantly with the times as well and have had to adapt to economic crises, like the 2008 recession, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. With these changes, the content published in Streetvibes has changed as well.
Early on, for example, the content in Streetvibes was almost exclusively centered on the everyday struggles of people experiencing homelessness within the Greater Cincinnati area. Until 2004, narratives of experiencing homelessness were one of the most prominent features in every issue of Streetvibes. Welfare was also a prominent topic since the 90s were a time of significant welfare reform under President Bill Clinton. In earlier issues of 1999, there were many stories on homelessness and an urgent call for welfare reform. As the issues progressed, more attention was given to the issue of gentrification. When the topic of conversation shifts from policy reform to fighting gentrification, we see a simultaneous shift in the position people are able to take on the issue of their own housing and economic situation. In earlier issues, writers, while pleading with a broken system, are pushing to improve their condition. Through their opinion pieces and activism, they are on the offensive side of positive reform. They are actively fighting for increased stability, and a better livelihood. When their attention is shifted to combating gentrification, such as fighting the demolition of the Drop-Inn Center to build the school for the arts, they are fighting just to keep what they have. The population is not able to move forward and up if they are spending energy to keep just the basic needs of food, housing, and shelter provided by the Drop-Inn Center (now known as Shelterhouse).
Unfortunately, this theme of fighting just to hold ground rather than moving forward has been a common theme. When activists try to push for change, they are blocked. Recently, for example, City Council refused to acknowledge a charter amendment on the May ballot that would require Cincinnati to spend at least $50 million on affordable housing, despite the fact that there is a dire need for more affordable housing in the city. Projects that would inevitably lead to more gentrification, however, never seem to be turned down. Going back to the story about the Drop-In Center being displaced, there was a great fear in the community that the arts school in Over-the-Rhine would lead to more gentrification in the neighborhood, which did end up happening.
Starting in 2004, there is an increased amount of gentrification stories in the Streetvibes archive, specifically regarding 3CDC. A trend we have begun to notice is that people’s reactions to these “development” projects are negative not just for affordable housing or displacement reasons, but due to an aversion to big corporate intervention in tight-knit communities. When the Drop-Inn Center was being displaced, there were many narrative-style articles published detailing the many services and impacts of the shelter. These deeply personal accounts were met with a corporate letter describing the developing company’s past experiences with similar issues and promised to provide adequate support to make up for the loss they caused. This dismissal of dialogue and unwillingness to cooperate with locals set an unpleasant tone regarding large-scale development that is clearly reflected in the community’s reception of 3CDC. The same is happening now with City Council members, who are more interested in throwing money into luxury housing units and encouraging gentrification around the FC stadium in the West End. While the look and thematic elements of Streetvibes have changed, the song remains the same: the people need a voice.