I am all in favor of change, when change is progress. Often, it is not.
On a recent visit to Cincinnati, I drove through the area I used to call home to have a look around. I lived in an east-side neighborhood called Madisonville, but did most of my shopping up the road in Oakley as Madisonville shopping basically consists of a UDF gas station, a Dollar General, and a Porsche dealership. When I moved, Oakley was in the midst of a “major redevelopment.” I was curious to see how things have changed over the past year.
I discovered that all those months of road construction resulted in a revamped street-scape. It’s nice. There’s some “green space.” Overall, I was underwhelmed. However, on my way out of the neighborhood, I almost caused a traffic accident when I saw this:
I remembered there being an interesting old industrial building here with cool windows, though I didn’t know what the building was used for, or if it was still used at all. It’s definitely not being used now. When I got home, I searched for news of this project and learned that the building once housed a manufacturing plant called Cincinnati Milacron. Interestingly, this company has a deeply embedded history in the city. Founded in 1884, it has been applauded for a “strong tradition of remembering the past (1).”
The $120 million demolition and redevelopment of this 74 acre property will result in the creation of 200 new apartments, an office campus, a movie theater, and 350,000 square feet of retail space. The developer referred to the old plant as “underutilized property.”
I could point out plenty of other “underutilized property” in the area. For instance, just down the street is a vacant Circuit City building that went out of business three years ago. Why not use some of that $120 million to find a tenant for this building and improve other deteriorating buildings we already have? This old Milacron building could have been creatively repurposed into lofts, art studios, or a truly unique retail space. I wonder how amazing it would have been to rent an apartment in a refurbished historic building with Cincinnati roots, while also living conveniently close to shopping and public transportation? Why are we always so hell-bent on tearing everything down and starting all over? Are we really so short-sighted, so unimaginative, that we cannot see something beautiful right in front of us?
The developers of this property are, of course, patting themselves on the back for creating jobs out of this project. And they are. Redevelopment jobs are lovely, but they are also temporary. 350,000 square feet of retail space will certainly create some jobs. Jobs in stores that will no doubt sell cheap crap manufactured in China, and employ people at minimum wage who will hate going to work every day. And they should. Because they are going to be selling crap.
The developers are also touting the fact that their new buildings will be LEED certified, because apparently that makes this horrifying project environmentally friendly. How can people not understand that it is far more environmentally friendly to use what we already have than to tear it all down and start again? The whole time I was photographing the wreckage, I tried desperately to hold my breath. The air was heavy with all the toxic substances released into the neighborhood when they tore this monstrous structure down. How will this affect the cleanup crew that is spending hours among the wreckage, the people who work every day in this neighborhood, the people who are doing their Christmas shopping there right now? As I was photographing, I scolded myself for not being more prepared – why don’t I keep a gas mask in my car for situations like this?
With a little bit of innovative thinking, this “underutilized property” could have been something truly unique that Oakley could have been proud of. Instead, my guess is that it will just be another Kenwood or Rookwood – a mass of ugly, hastily assembled buildings lacking in character, history, and neighborhood identity.
Well done, Cincinnati.