Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation

8-2014

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department

Urban and Public Affairs

Committee Chair

Negrey, Cynthia, 1953-

Committee Member

Austin, Mark

Committee Member

Kelly, Janet

Committee Member

Gagne, Patricia

Subject

Gentrification--Ohio--Cincinnati; Urban renewal--Ohio--Cincinnati; Over-the-Rhine (Cincinnati; Ohio)

Abstract

This study examines the social costs and benefits of the gentrification process using qualitative methods. The neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine (OTR) in Cincinnati, Ohio, represents certain universalities of gentrification in an older city, and was thus chosen as the site for a case study. OTR’s prime location between the Central Business District and uptown medical and university community has spurred rapid gentrification, particularly since the early 2000s. Using in-depth interviews, participant observation, a focus group, and print media, this dissertation sought to understand the social costs and benefits of gentrification in OTR. Adopting the language of “revitalization” and “renaissance,” the city of Cincinnati formed the Cincinnati Center City Community Development Corporation (3CDC) as its economic development arm. Unlike traditional CDCs which act as liaisons between the community and the city, 3CDC plays the role of the main developer. 3CDC has the full political and financial backing of the city and the corporate community, enabling it to take redevelopment in OTR from pocket-sized development to one large-scale development effort. This devolution and privatization of power is a testament to Cincinnati adopting a neoliberal imperative. Today, the city is no longer the regulator of development, but instead, its progenitor. Acting in tandem with 3CDC, the developers, and the corporate interests, the city has adopted policies geared toward attracting the middle- to upper-middle income class back to its urban core. Conspicuously missing from the decision-making table are OTR’s longtime residents, social service organizations, advocacy groups, and the displaced and homeless. This study examines the social costs and benefits of gentrification, going beyond a profitability analysis and incorporating the voices of all the actors involved in the process of gentrification, using qualitative analysis. By taking into account all perspectives, this study permits a holistic understanding of the social costs and benefits associated with gentrification. As expected, the greatest social cost of gentrification is displacement and the erosion of social capital. In OTR, gentrification also caused a palpable rift between its proponents (city, 3CDC, developers, corporate interests, and newcomers) and its opponents (longtime residents, social service organizations, advocacy groups, and the displaced and homeless). The greatest social benefits include increased tax receipts, social mixing via de-concentration of poverty, and an upgrading of the disinvested neighborhood. Some unexpected findings included the fact that in addition to the well-documented positive “trickle-down” effects of gentrification via social mixing, there are also positive “trickle-up” effects. Another unexpected finding was that although the displaced are typically portrayed as being voiceless and disenfranchised, the in-depth interviews revealed that displacees were actually empowered by their experiences, finding greater resiliency and spirituality. Two of the six displacees interviewed also said they chose to remain homeless because it brought them greater happiness. As gentrification becomes more pervasive in cities across America, a holistic tally of the social costs and benefits of revitalization projects becomes imperative. When social and monetary costs are tallied against social and monetary benefits, the true costs may in fact be greater than the true benefits. The study concludes with policy recommendations for Cincinnati and other cities that are considering revitalizing their urban cores.

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