Right now I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a neighborhood called Northside. It’s about a 15-minute drive north of downtown. From my bedroom window I can see a pizza place, hair salon, a couple tax centers, a rad art-collective-space called Chase Public, and a boutique shop I’ll never venture into. I think if I lean I can see a chile place on the corner. Largely, the area is populated by long-time locals, but many (like myself) have moved here after a bit of redevelopment and renewal. While this renewal, on the economic side of things, is almost entirely beneficial to the city, there comes with it a necessary conversation about the appropriation (accidental or not) of an already-existent culture. The result is a hodgepodge of establishments peppering Northside’s business district.
What’s striking about this glass-paned landscape is this: the places we might think of as being an agent (or a result) of gentrification last when they exist self-consciously and are aware of their environment and very act of replacing. Though they are accused of invading, of not understanding or respecting their environment (either spatial or temporal) or adjusting to it, of being culturally parasitic, my argument is that they actually understand and respect it better than most. For instance: the art space exists, along with the few other galleries in Northside, knowing it might well be temporary. Knowing they might run out of funds by the year’s end. Knowing something else, some other project, might soon exist in their physical and metaphorical place.
But this isn’t pessimism — it’s embrace. Hell, it’s romantic, isn’t it? Like the wise neighbor whose view of death is sparkling and worriless. The tax centers, too, embrace and even operate around this acknowledged impermanence. That’s what they do. The places that I’ve seen close up are often restaurants — the common victim of entrepreneurship.
A new fancy eatery down the street, Bistro Grace, does not follow these ideals. Northside is an area of largely middle- or lower-class people, including myself, who can’t regularly (or even rarely) afford to eat at overly expensive restaurants — Bistro Grace is exactly that. Eating there, therefore, is not really available to Northsiders, and this seems very wrong to me. How permanent can we expect this place to be? How much about the area does this place appear to understand or respect? It’s important to remember that art galleries, on the other hand, are not only free to enjoy, but do not truly expect to make much money in the long-run. This is another element to their impermanence, and something that I think embraces areas like Northside with both their monetary accessibility and their curating of local artists. This, to me, is a smart way to encourage regionalism and the pride native to it.
So my question is this: why look at these galleries as gentrification? Why not embrace their impermanence and availability as they do? The majority of the Rust Belt’s fall (arguably, sure) was based on a false permanence and a lack of adaptation, but these houses of art have learned from those mistakes; an act which, to me, is the greatest and most useful form of respect. In this way, these spaces and places are not only bringing life back into the hollows, not only creating urban renewal and reasons for both locals and tourists to visit an area and feel a sense of pride (and to, in turn, contribute to its redevelopment and growth), they are also showing us they know their place in history, however fleeting.
— C.J. Opperthauser