The Importance of Context
By Katelyn Lusher
The Streetvibes archive is complex and layered with community history and emotion. However, because Streetvibes circulates slowly, that history and those emotions can only be felt if you are intimately familiar with the community that the paper serves or you are knowledgeable about Streetvibes’ journey, like I am. Streetvibes’ status as an “alternative” news source and its connection to a homeless advocacy nonprofit known for its radical politics are sometimes alienating to those unfamiliar with the long history of disenfranchisement in the Over-the-Rhine community. To those who are unaware, Streetvibes and the Homeless Coalition may seem “too far left” or “too demanding” in their calls for affordable housing action; however, the dire state of affordable housing in Cincinnati demands radical action that cannot be smoothed over with empty promises.
The Coalition was accused of asking too much during the fight for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (Issue 4) during the May 2021 local election. Former mayor and Cincinnati City Councilmember David Mann, for example, claimed in a WCPO story earlier this year that the trust fund would take away funding for police and emergency services—although the language of the trust fund itself indicated no such thing. What most people are lacking is context. When content circulates slowly, context can get lost as it does not reach everyone quickly and information is delayed. The archive can provide years of context for those who want to know more about the history of the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement and about Cincinnati activism in general. For this reason, it felt important to trace the evolution of Streetvibes’ content over time to help establish that context.
Through the Streetvibes archive, people interested in the fight for affordable housing can get educated about the fight for affordable housing over the decades and learn about how gentrification has rapidly spread in Over-the-Rhine. What many former and current City Council members fail to recognize is that the affordable housing situation has become worse because not enough people listened to warnings from community activists.
One such story that tried to warn people about the spread of gentrification in the August 2004 issue of Streetvibes, titled “3CDC—What Is It?” by Vera Zlatkin. Zlatkin’s story does more than just rail against what gentrification is doing to Over-the-Rhine (although those types of stories certainly have a place and an important function within Streetvibes). Rather, Zlatkin provides information for people who might not know what this new mysterious entity is and discusses potential problems with it, like the profusion of Fortune 500 CEOs on 3CDC’s board—which is still the case today and is, in fact, part of the problem with 3CDC since low income families are apparently of no concern to them. Zlatkin asks important questions: “How was this board selected and by whom?…How much power does 3CDC really have? Will the general public have any say in plans for the development of our Downtown areas? Will 3CDC continue as a corporation after the development is completed? If so, what will their purpose be?” Some of these questions have unpleasant answers 17 years later.
Development is still under way and shows no signs of stopping. The only people who seem to have any say in the development are wealthy investors; activists like Bonnie Neumeier have been soundly ignored when they express their concerns for the needs of lower income families in Over-the-Rhine, who have been forced to leave because of rising rent prices. Zlatkin’s closing comments were, in fact, indicative of what was to come: “In the meantime the displacement of disadvantaged people continues and privatization; that is corporate control of public properties and institutions is becoming the norm”—which is, more or less, exactly what has happened as 3CDC projects have taken over downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Although there is no data to prove this, it is likely that some people become aware of 3CDC and their potentially unethical practices by reading this article since it is the first mention of 3CDC in the Streetvibes archive. Since 2004, 3CDC has gained greater notoriety in activist circles as they develop projects that displace low income people and back policies that only further the divide in Over-the-Rhine and downtown demographics. However, public memory is short and past mistakes are too often forgotten at the polls. Will the new City Council members actually fight for affordable housing—or will it be more of the same?