Fall 2014 constitutes the ninth iteration of Miami University’s Over-the-Rhine Residency Program, offered through the University’s Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine. Every year events happening on the national stage often work their way into the dynamics of the program, affecting experiences and perceptions about urban conditions and class/race/social relations. The events that emerged this year were the tragic deaths of black males at the hands of police—with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Tamir Rice receiving the most media attention—and the national unrest and protest sparked by the cascading series of grand jury decisions that did not indict police officers of wrongdoing. Against this national backdrop, two questions became central for the students: “What’s your theory of social change?” and “What pisses you off?” While seemingly different, these questions actually came to complement each other by challenging students to look beneath the surface of things, to take on perspectives not of their own, and to allow new narratives to emerge that illuminate how private troubles and public issues are linked. In particular, the question “What pisses you off?” which suggests a license to stew in one’s own anger, actually produced the opposite—an opportunity to reflect on the power of compassion and an openness that comes from cultivating a radical empathy.
A smaller group than most years, this year’s cohort consisted of majors from only Teacher Education and Architecture and Interior Design. And like last year, one theology major from Xavier University joined us as part of the cohort.
This year began Meili Price’s role as our new Resident Coordinator. She succeeds Lorita Shrider who after two years of service has moved on to other adventures and was a fabulous Coordinator for us. Meili was in the Residency Program in Fall 2013 and continued on in our Atelier Program in Spring 2014. Meili continued to manage the Residency Program’s Facebook page that Lorita started, keeping students informed of community events and meetings. Meili also organized with the students the weekly community dinners that involve residents, thereby helping to build 2 community relationships and understanding in ways that academic approaches are not able to do.
Jennifer Summers, Executive Director of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, taught her ongoing course Service-Learning. Bonnie Neumeier, Community Liaison to the Residency Program and long-term resident, and I taught ARC 427 The American City Since 1940. Our third course, ARC 405Z/ENG 338 Designing and Writing for Social Change, brought together a teaching team of myself, Chris Wilkey, professor of English at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), and Dr. Alice Skirtz, long-time social worker and author of the important Econocide: Elimination of the Urban Poor. A required text of the course, Econocide convincingly portrays how the city of Cincinnati, through its legislation, ordinances, and a whole lot more, disserves the poor and too often relegates them to “economic others,” turning them into a status where they are made invisible and/or denigrated.
Bonnie Neumeier is the heart and soul of the whole Residency Program and beyond her team-teaching role in ARC 427, is active in all it’s aspects: the students’ initial orientation; historical neighborhood walks; supervising the service-learning experiences; and team-teaching classes. Most importantly, however, Bonnie meets weekly with the students in organized sessions for reflection and journal writing. These are invaluable sessions for the students as they process and share their experiences.
The Residency Program engaged all four social practices of the Center’s mission—Design/Build, Community Assistance, Agit-Prop, and Community Advocacy.
As in two prior fall Design/Build studios, the architecture and interior design majors worked at 1400 Republic Street. Led by John Blake, the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator, the cohort helped to build out the 750 square foot space, which will open in early 2015 as a carry-out grocery and sandwich shop.
Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, owner of the space, identified the for-profit tenant in spring 2014, and a summer cohort of graduate students helped to coordinate the mechanical requirements for the space, which will have a commercial kitchen.
Residency Program designer-builders framed the interior space for the kitchen, made cabinets and countertops for the waiting area, and fabricated the 14’ long service line counter. Cabinets were made from birch plywood, including stock left over from an earlier project. Students cut and routed the cabinets together, then veneered any exposed edges. The service line counter doubles as a catering station. The face of the service line is made of figured, 1 ½” thick cottonwood that the studio selected at a mill in southeastern Indiana. Part of the service line flips up to create a catering prep area, as requested by the tenant. Students maintained the “live edge” on one side of the cottonwood planks, keeping the sinuous lines of the tree. Other sides were milled and routed by the students to ensure a tight fit. Rather than “reinventing the wheel,” the studio re-purposed folding table mechanisms to serve as the supports for the catering counter. In our Community Assistance practice, the four student teachers worked at three different schools: Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, Taft High School, and Roberts Paideia Academy. All did their student teaching as part of the Urban Teacher Cohort Program at Miami University, directed by Tammy Schwartz of College of Education, Health, and Society (EHS). Kim Wachenheim, also of EHS mentored these student teachers along with Tammy. Our one non-teacher and non-architecture student, a Theology major from Xavier, worked at Venice on Vine, helping Sister Judy in the kitchen and with the catering side of that business.
In our Community Advocacy and Agit-Prop work, students from Miami, NKU, and Xavier again worked collaboratively on community campaigns with the neighborhood’s leadership. With the wonderful addition of Jenn Arens to Peaslee, newly-appointed Community Education and Volunteer Coordinator and complementing Jenn Summers’s leadership, all the students learned the techniques of videoing and conducting oral history interviews. This ongoing project adds significantly to the story-base of the Over-the-Rhine People’s History. All also wrote editorials for Streetvibes, the newspaper of the Coalition. Beyond these common experiences a few students worked on writing projects with men at the Drop Inn Center. Others worked with Michelle Dillingham, Education Coordinator of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless to do research and craft language that will become part of a new report by the Coalition. Another group worked on a meme they titled “Cool Place,” which will be a small logo placed in commercial windows to identify what community members see as a “neighborhood serving business.” Still another group worked on a social media project where students created the twitter hashtag “@We_Are_OTR.” And still others worked closely with artist Mary Clare Rietz to design and build a traveling-kiosk to engage community people. Mary Clare has been working consistently with a cohort of neighborhood residents who have volunteered their time to design maps that portray the places important to their experiences of the neighborhood. Mary Clare intends to use the kiosk as a prop to encourage others to generate their own maps about what they find valuable about Over-the-Rhine, and then the comparison will be the way community members from different classes, ethnicities, and walks of life can learn from one another.
Two other events deserve mention that impacted the Residency Program experience. And both of these happened on the same weekend in early November. The first was an Alumni Service Day in Over-the-Rhine sponsored by the Cincinnati Alumni Chapter and coordinated by John Blake of the Center, and Bill and Pat Kern of the Alumni Chapter. About 40 alumni volunteered with the students to organize the basement at buddy’s place, build a new brick walk by the back door of buddy’s, and maintain some nearby community-owned gardens.
The second event we titled the “Weekend Residency Program,” which was a pilot program—part of our Preparing the Future campaign sponsored by the Fetzer Institute—to gather together about a dozen teachers from three Cincinnati Public Schools to participate in a three-day, structured immersion experience with neighborhood leaders and residents. The community-based organizations that participated were the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, the Contact Center, and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. As well, academics from the Center for Community Engagement, the Urban Teaching Cohort program, and NKU also participated. The weekend was wildly successful. Those participating 1) deepened systemic analyses of issues such as poverty, economic inequality, racism, gentrification, and national policies that impact upon schooling and the role of teachers; 2) strengthened relationships and trust; and 3) explored the kinds of roles that teachers and administrators can play as allies in community life and how community members can be more effective in the life of neighborhood schools. Especially powerful were the stories of how teachers cope with families and school children ravaged by poverty, loss of neighbors displaced by gentrification, and a dramatically changing narrative of Over-the-Rhine that subtly erases their lives under the tome of “urban renaissance.”
If there was one image that captured the imaginations of this year’s cohort, it was a photo of a rose growing out of a crack of concrete. Strong, defiant, standing tall, the rose somehow succeeds against the inhospitality of the concrete. In time that image for many became a metaphor for how they came to see the everyday folk of Over-the-Rhine—their neighbors, those homeless, those made into “economic others” by a mixed-income economic strategy that doesn’t quite reach far enough down to those most in need—essentially those not typically seen in the neighborhood though they’ve been there for a long time.
It seems such a simple thing—to see someone. But perhaps like all “simple” things, there is nothing simplistic about them. Coming to see that beautiful rose in that drab concrete was an endpoint of a process that took a full semester. And that’s because the students—as you’ll read in their reflections below—had to peel back the layers of narratives that conditioned their own understanding of the world, narratives such as “poverty” and “urban renaissance,” for example. While radically different in what they project, both narratives are quite alike in that they submerge and make invisible the real life of the community that really exists. Captured by the poverty narrative, Over-the-Rhine is a pathological space, devoid of rationality where no one in their right mind would live. Captured by the urban renaissance narrative, the neighborhood is coming “alive,” thanks to the new hipsters and new development. Both narratives, however, miss the beauty of the rose, those who have built life in Over-the-Rhine for decades, who have their own gifts to offer if only they can be seen. In his The Trumpet of Conscience, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. cited a passage by Victor Hugo that in two simple sentences captures this complexity to peel back layers and to see things systemically and relationally so that community people can actually be seen as they are: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” The Residency Program struggles with this provocative challenge, as it provides a context for students (and faculty and community members) to question their own ideological blinders such that new narratives about Over-the-Rhine might have a chance to emerge and flourish, just like that rose in the concrete. Perhaps if enough can undergo transformation, maybe the concrete can finally be removed.
Kadie Henry (EDT)
When I think back on my semester living in Over-the-Rhine, numerous thoughts race through my head. Prior to the move, I received mixed feelings from friends and family members about my decision participating in the Residency Program. However, it didn’t matter to me what people thought because I knew this would be a life-changing experience. I had been to Over-the-Rhine several times for classes and workshops with the Urban Teaching Cohort, so I felt I knew the neighborhood well. I realized this semester that knowing something and experiencing something are two very different things. As I sit here writing this reflection, I feel as if there is much more I need to learn about this place I have called home for the past four months.
A requirement for the Residency Program is a course titled, “The American City Since 1940,” taught by Tom Dutton and Bonnie Neumeier. Throughout the course, I was challenged to analyze my own educational experiences and knowledge in relation to American history and the structure of our society. It was in this class that I understood for the first time the concept of ghettoization and the systemic racial discrimination embedded in our nation. I was able to clearly relate the knowledge I learned in class to what Over-the-Rhine neighborhood members experience on a daily basis. Despite the high hopes of Over-the-Rhine being a neighborhood of mixed-income, it’s a neighborhood of isolated income. Just take a walk on Vine Street, and one will feel a drastic difference after crossing the current “development divide” of Liberty Street. I have struggled and wrestled with my own thoughts to try and develop some sort of solution to the issues at hand, but this only leaves me with more questions and frustrations.
One of my biggest frustrations from the semester was my own ignorance of social injustices experienced in urban communities. Why is it that until I joined the Urban Teaching Cohort I had never realized the impact of power and privilege in our society? Why is it that as a senior in college I learned for the first time econocide is a direct result of gentrification? However, a very enlightening experience occurred at the beginning of November. Teachers from Cincinnati Public Schools participated in a weekend-long workshop to strengthen the relationships within the schools and their community. My student-teaching cooperating teacher was one of the teachers who attended the workshop. When I came back to school the following week, I had multiple conversations with her about gentrification and econocide in relation to Over-the-Rhine and our students. I also listened to other teachers in the building have the same realizations I have experienced these past few years. I wondered how teachers who had been working in Over-the-Rhine for decades were just now learning these things? At that moment, I realized there are some major issues in our education system. We cannot teach what we do not know, and it’s the stories of the unknown that need to be told. I know I will never be a perfect teacher, but I do know one thing for sure: I will not continue this trend of teaching only the heart-warming, sugar-coated stories of American history. I will be a voice for the voiceless, and teach my students the things I should have learned at their age to develop them into critical thinkers and analyzers of the world.
Kyle Fullenkamp (ARC)
It might be cliché to say it, but my experiences in Over the Rhine truly have changed my life. Before arriving I was completely oblivious to the challenges African Americans, those homeless, and those of lesser economic means face. I was a firm believer in the usual “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” argument and felt that people could just work hard to get farther in life. When I look back at my past views, I feel a little ashamed at my lack of empathy for people who face greater challenges than myself. My lack of knowledge of the challenges these groups of people face has been my moral crutch. I am proud to have since changed my attitude after my residency in Over-the-Rhine.
I feel that most people in America are generally oblivious to the struggles going on in their cities. For one thing, I feel it is completely unreasonable that a homeless shelter was not provided by the city until a person outside the government decided to do something about it. I feel this information would surprise many people. As the last resort to sleeping outside, you would think a city would provide a roof for its own citizens.
The general lack of knowledge that has plagued me has been replaced by a much more understanding and pragmatic mind. I used to think the free market was able to support anyone who worked hard enough. I now realize that there are costs for the freedoms a capitalist system provides. A newfound understanding of a system that does not work as well as people might think. Living in Over-the-Rhine I realize that the probable goal of a truly mixed-income neighborhood is not realistic if the housing prices are left to the free market.
While my political views and ways of thinking have changed during my time in Over-the-Rhine I guess the biggest thing that changed would be my soul. I feel a great deal more empathy for low-income individuals and their struggles. My heart now reaches out to the homeless, who are a people who need to be viewed as people. I understand that shelter is not viewed as a right in the United States. And the biggest thing I got out of living in Over-the-Rhine is that for all the problems the neighborhood faces, the individuals, groups, and organizations of the neighborhood are strong and resilient no matter how hard the fight. I found a dedicated group of people who recognize the lives of the oppressed and the forgotten. The way these groups have organized under pressure for the greater good gives me hope in a dire situation.
Andrea Spenny (EDT)
I would recommend this program to every person that wants to teach kids. I would especially recommend this program to individuals who may want to teach in areas that are unlike that of which they grew up. This program will make you feel uncomfortable and make you angry and this is a good thing. This program will make you think, reflect, question, and converse with others. This program will make you recognize some of the reasons that may have contributed to where you currently stand in society. This program is not for someone that is close-minded. This program is for people who are willing to take a risk to question who they are, question who others are, live in a place that is unfamiliar to them, talk to people they may have never talked to before, and share with others what they are learning in their time with this program.
This semester, I taught 10th grade English in a predominantly black high school that includes kids from many different neighborhoods throughout Cincinnati. I am sick of students talking down on their school. I am sick of students asking me if I was scared to come to their school. I am sick of students asking me if I want to teach in a school like theirs and when I say yes, I hate when they ask me why. I want kids to see themselves for how smart and creative and beautiful they are. I want white people to see how smart and creative and beautiful these children are. I am not here to save kids. They don’t need saving. People that think the students need saving are probably the ones that need some saving.
I have realized how hard a teacher must work to be good at teaching. I will probably find this out even more during my first year of teaching. I have realized how high of standards teachers must hold for their students and how much students will hate this at first. I have realized that these high standards will eventually pay off for most students. I wish every student would realize the importance of education, would attend school on a daily basis, would complete their homework, would encourage their peers to do well in school, and would respect their teachers, but this is simply not the case. I have learned I have to do as much as I can as the teacher but that students have to step up and do their part as well. I have learned that if they do not step up and do their part, I cannot feel bad about this. This may sound harsh but it is true. I do not have all of the answers. I know there will be days when I walk away from my classroom knowing I could have done more to make an impact on my students. However, I am human too. There will be days when I am overwhelmed but when a student tells me he is going to drop out of high school, or when a student who previously did not turn in much work starts to turn in her work, or when one student says how he hates me, or when a student is taken aback because I called home to report something positive, I am motivated to keep going. If I ever decide to quit teaching, it will never be because of my students. Being in this program has been such a blessing to me.
Cristin Lombardo (ARC)
The classes I’ve taken through this program have given me knowledge that I didn’t even realize I was missing out on. I’ve become more aware and more knowledgeable about issues concerning race, class, homelessness, displacement, systemic and societal issues, and so much more. But throughout this semester, I have realized that learning in a classroom is something completely different than learning through experience. This semester we had the opportunity to learn in a classroom setting but we also had the added benefit of experience living in Over-the-Rhine. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge about such important things; however, the greatest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is a new perspective. We’ve talked about empathy in some of our classes and what I’ve learned is that humankind has lost the ability to empathize with others. We see someone struggle and we see the problems that others face but we tell them that they have to handle it on their own. We don’t feel inclined to work with them to solve problems because we all have problems of our own to deal with. We lack empathy.
What I’ve also learned here is that empathy is something we need. We need to see other people’s problems as our own. Especially when those problems are systemic and when they are so deeply woven into our society. We can’t expect people who face systematic problems to solve them on their own and they shouldn’t have to.
I’ve also learned that being knowledgeable about these things is of great importance. In a paper we wrote about what pisses us off I wrote about how so many people are unaware of systemic issues and how this lack of knowledge hurts us all. Throughout this semester I have been able to gain some knowledge about important things such as these, but I have also, through my experiences, realized that I need to change my perspective and my outlook on the world. I need to have more empathy for humankind and discard the hateful attitude that I had at the start of these four months. One particular encounter I had really helped change my perspective. As I was walking down the street with other students, we saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk holding a sign. He said hello to us and we offered the same pleasantries, saying hello and have a nice day. Then the man said, “thank you for acknowledging me.” I began to wonder how many times this man had been ignored and passed by without a word, that he felt it necessary to say thank you when all we did was say hello, as any decent human being should. These are the kind of experiences that helped me realize I need to change the way I look at the world; that we need to be kind to one another, that we need to be willing to solve problems together, and that we need empathy.
Marisa Giglio (EDT)
I experienced an important mindset shift throughout my time in Over-the-Rhine. In the beginning of the semester, I would get annoyed in class when we were supposed to be confused or upset about people with money doing whatever they wanted regardless of who it would affect. I had this mindset of: that’s life, of course people who have money can and will do whatever they want, because that’s the way it works in our society. However, after reading Tom’s Econocide Over-the-Rhine article, I had this sudden realization that, yes, people with money CAN do whatever they want, but SHOULD it be that way? I think I finally had this epiphany because this article talked a lot about seeing problems not as “my” problem, “your” problem, or “their” problem, but as “OUR” problem. Finally the Lilla Watson quote “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” that had been thrown at me before and during this experience actually made sense to me. It just clicked for me that we are all in this together. What affects one person in society really affects us all.
In addition to this mindset shift, another important lesson I learned while living in Over-the-Rhine is how to engage in a community where one is not living. I had a bit of a different experience in the Residency Program than most, as I was not living in the community in which I was teaching. Rather than student teaching in Over-the-Rhine, I taught at Roberts Academy in the nearby neighborhood of Price Hill. I did so because I am passionate about working with Hispanic immigrant students and Price Hill has a large Hispanic immigrant population. Since one of the key tenants of both the Urban Teaching Cohort and the Residency Program is community engagement, I was determined to find ways to engage in the Price Hill community even though I was not living there. Not living in Price Hill forced me to set aside intentional time to go spend in the community. Each week, I did my grocery shopping at the Price Hill Kroger. I attended some church services at La Vina, a bilingual church that meets at Roberts, as well as a festival that La Vina hosted at the school. I also volunteered to help coach a soccer program held at Roberts for 4th-6th grade girls. I am so grateful that I learned how to set aside intentional time to spend in the community where I was teaching. I now feel confident in my ability to engage in any community I end up teaching in, regardless if I am able to live there or not.
I wish there was a way to fully capture all that I have learned in my time here in Over-the-Rhine. Due to a variety of factors, this semester has definitely been the most challenging phase of my life so far, but I have grown so much as a result of these challenges. I am thankful for all I have learned and to be able to carry these lessons with me throughout the rest of my life.
Blythe Ely (ARC)
Looking back on the semester, I realize that although we evolved a routine, there were many things I learned new everyday. Being immersed in a community that is completely different from environments I have grown used to, really teaches you what is important for not only your own well-being but the well-being of others. In the classroom we would learn about issues occurring not only in Over-the-Rhine but in other cities and neighborhoods around the nation. When learning a new language everyone always says that to achieve fluency you must live amongst people speaking the language and also experience the culture of the place. This concept applies to this idea of becoming fully understanding in how a community operates and what will bring success to that community in a way that does not just focus on the economic growth aspect that city members become so wrapped up in. I believe that I am walking away from this experience with a grasp on the aspects of a neighborhood that must be preserved for the betterment of the residents. We learned the history of Over-the-Rhine, the events that occurred here that either hurt or helped the area, and then we went out and saw firsthand the effects of such events and history.
During our end-of-year final show, I gave a reflection speech to the audience where I compared my new activity of roller derby to the risks that I have taken while here in Cincinnati. Roller derby was a sport that I had always wanted to do but never had the opportunity, or honestly the guts, to do. But this time around when the opportunity emerged I took it without hesitation. I began going to every practice held by the team. I became close friends with the girls on the team. And I was willing to dedicate time to become a better derby player. I think that this experience is one that can represent other experiences I have had while here in Over-the-Rhine. I began taking chances without hesitation. I became comfortable with being on my own in a huge urban community, which otherwise I would have been completely fearful of doing. I don’t even remember what was going through my head when I took on those experiences. I think I wanted to feel comfort in such a populated place. I wanted to make this place my home even though it wouldn’t be my home for very long. Overall, I am proud of myself for the things I learned. I grew to love this community in a very short period of time and I don’t think that would have happened if I had not taken risks.
Charlotte Dietz (EDT)
I’ve grown a lot during my semester in Over-the-Rhine. I’ve learned many things from the neighborhood, but it was in my student-teaching classroom that I really grew. Student-teaching consumed most of my time and energy and thus also most of my heart. I feel that in the struggle to become a teacher, I struggled a lot and that is where I learned.
In my classroom, I learned about justice and respect. I learned that justice cannot always be administered fairly by humans who are not omniscient and that gaining the respect of students is difficult. Progress in the classroom requires mutual respect. I have struggled with the concept that African Americans face difficult injustices forced upon them and yet must also respect authorities that do not always administer fair justice. Overall, as the teacher, I had to fight to gain my students’ respect while continually communicating my love and commitment to each individual. Classroom management is all about routines and fairness. So, over the semester, I became more and more consistent and fair in my discipline. I feel my students respect me due to the vested interest I have shown in regards to their needs. I think this is true for the larger societal model. Those governing or policing must show they have a reason to be respected.
Also in my classroom, I learned multiple ways in which to reset and get uncooperative kids back on track. I can hardly describe the many ways we reconfigured the classroom in an attempt to create a successful learning environment. I know I would not have learned this in a suburban school. It is useful to have a big picture for how hard it can be to get students’ respect and how long it can take. Also, kids take a lot of battling and interaction to know you believe in them. I have been encouraged for as much punishing and yelling as I do, and the meaningful times when I got to push and encourage kids. Last week, I almost jumped up and down excited when boys dropped their fists and walked away from fights. I got to show a girl how many times a day I said, “The reason I need you to get back on point is because I believe in you.” Teaching is hard and I hate having kids in my face yelling about whatever is making them mad at the moment, but these rewarding moments make up for most of the bad.
Finally, I have learned immensely about the history of how Cincinnati, civil rights, and racism have played out. All in all, this simply drives my understanding of why my students live in poverty and ignites my desire to see them achieve against all of the obstacles created by a racist society.
Hanna Fellinger (Xavier)
As a Xavier student, we all get unofficial minors in social justice, thanks to our Jesuit identity, so by the time I reached Over-the-Rhine, I was exhausted and in a rut. The first few weeks of journaling in nearly every entry I would beg the question, “who will save us?” And it took this semester of struggling with this question to finally come to an answer that I can live with.
Tom was never going to walk into class one day with all the answers, because his answer to “who will save us?” is the Miami Center for Community Engagement. His answer was me(!) as well as the nine other students that joined me on the journey. He invested his hope in the future, and it is our job to build it up, literally and figuratively, and here is how we did it:
The teachers, with their positively peachy demeanors, worked tirelessly day after day to teach a group of children that the rest of America would assuredly just dismiss;
The architects, with their hilarious humor, finished a project (Picnic and Pantry) that will bring affordable meal and grocery options to a corner of Over-the-Rhine that might have otherwise been filled by another bar; and I, in my infinite ignorance, worked at Venice on Vine to be present to the community through working in the kitchen with Sister Judy to cater gigantic meals for folks all around Cincinnati.
The solutions to all the social, economic and political inequality have to come from each and every one of us. We have to work, within our skill set, to strengthen one another and create a world that we want to live in, not one that we happen to live in. We must be intentional. We must be aware. We must be awake.
There are no absolutes; there are many shades of grey. That is why, one of the key ingredients to my semester in Over-the-Rhine was open-mindedness. My experience has been a series of encounters with others as well as myself. Leaving my apartment to walk the community always promised excitement. When you go outside, joy happens, sorrow happens, life happens. And the community was open to sharing all of those moments at once.
To quote a piece of my long thank you letter to Venice on Vine, “What I am most grateful for are all of the invisible gifts you have given me… I know that I will carry these with me forever.” My Over-the-Rhine experience has infused me with invaluable “invisible” gifts that have molded me into a better person. Though I do not see it now, I know that I have changed, and changed for the best. So again I will pose my original question, who will save us? I am going to try, if you promise to help.
Jessica Thornton (ARC)
For me, my journey in Over-the-Rhine began in January 2014. The close of this semester marks almost an entire year in this community. I’ve learned so many things in this place. Experience: that’s the key to learning. My experience has taught me so much. In this place I’ve developed skills in my field, but I’ve also discovered a lot more about myself. I have never felt so many different feelings in one place. The classes we have taken this fall have pushed us to question society and better understand the systemic issues that our society faces.
My sophomore year I took Tom’s class Architecture and Society in Oxford. It was in this class that I first realized how much a building could impact a community. For the first few years of schooling, a building can be whatever you want it to be. There is no budget, no site visit, no real consideration of your location. In this perfect realm of design, the site will respond just the way you want it to. We discussed such a broad range of things that I never could have imagined would have an impact on design. However, after
discussing the way in which designers influence a community, I was much more conscious of my designs. This program has allowed me to mature as a person as well as a designer. It was in this class that I first learned about Over-the-Rhine. I heard the stories of students fighting for the community during the development of Washington Park. This incredibly engaged design excited me, and I was interested in pushing my own boundaries and moving to a place I was not used to.
I have been pushed beyond any level of comfort I thought I had attained while living here. This immersion is not a gradual ease; it is a cannon ball into the deep end. I was confronted every day with the clear social, racial, and economic divide this community faces. Gentrification does not hide its head in shame or try to apologize for itself. The community of Over-the-Rhine has been torn apart. Earlier residency programs saw a more diverse community. Buildings I walked by at the beginning of the year that sat vacant now offer housing for one small payment of $240,000. This stark contrast is heard clearly as former residents of these buildings call out the rent they paid as tenants of the same location, “See that building, I used to pay $150 a month to live there…Now it costs $2000 a month!” This program makes you ask the hard questions about society, analyzing the systemic issues that cause these problems rather than accusing those that face these hardships.
As I pack my things to leave this community after a year’s worth of memories, my heart aches for the future. Over-the-Rhine has left a huge mark on my life that cannot be erased. In the future I can only hope that the empathy and compassion that has risen within me continues to grow. I hope that when I see a stranger on the street I will continue to long to hear their story. I hope I will never take anything that I have for granted and understand that all decisions come at a price. I hope I will always remain conscious of my impact on others regardless of how small that impact may be. Lastly, I hope I can leave my mark on Over-the-Rhine and many other small communities in the future.
Taylor Spaeth (ARC)
My life has always been filled with anticipation. I’ve found myself focusing too much on the future and forgetting about the past. I can’t remember a time where I’ve stopped to think about where I’ve come from. I can’t remember my first streets. I can’t think back to time where I’ve contemplated the next steps to take. Everything was laid out for me. I was given a path from day one. The world was constantly circling around me, not in excitement on what I was to do next but because there was so much pressure on me so that I would make the right step. Not once was I challenged on my decisions. Not once was I stopped and told I was wrong or I was out of line. Everything was given on a spoon and fed to me. I’ve never had to go out of my way to fend for myself. I never had to question my thoughts and beliefs. I was told them. My life seemed so monotonous, so boring. I was never given questions only answers.
As a future architect, I can’t help but to critique my surroundings. I see change happening on every street corner. I see people struggling, losing hope, and falling into shambles. I feel for those people in the most need, I feel for the ones who have given up. I feel for the people who have found a crack the right size to fall through. How can I take pride in my trade when my trade is the one that is allowing those people to collapse, what can I do to change the issues at hand? Should I be so proud of my own creativity to create something beautiful and elegant? The same pride I take in the beauty of the art is the same pride that is ruining my neighbors.
Four months ago, I stepped foot into this neighborhood for the first time, not knowing what was in store for me. I had no idea why I was coming to join nine strangers on a journey in which none of us knew what was going to happen. I’ve learned a lot from my time here, I’ve learned about architecture, this community, the history of American cities, I learned how to build using hammer and nail. I learned about racism, feminism, sexism, urbanization, suburbanization and much, much more.
But there is only one thing I want to take from my time here. That is reflection. I’ve found that reflection is a person’s greatest tool. Until one can sit and question, everything, they will never be able to understand anything.
Being able to spill my guts out to a group of people who I’ve never spoken too is a struggle I hold in everyday. Our time together has been personal for me. I share my deepest secrets with you and after this I will ponder all night, about this very moment, running every possible combination of words to say during my time here through my head. But then as the clock turns to tomorrow, I’ll move on. Each day I’ll find a new thing to challenge, to mentally exhaust myself over, whatever it is. This gift that I now cherish and will forever cherish has been made possible because of you, Over-the-Rhine, you have been my playground, my mentor, my friend. An ode to you for everything you’ve done for me. You have changed my life, you have changed my outlook on society and you challenged me to think. For that I give you my heart, my emotions, and especially my love.