Keep Our Courts: Kids First

Keep Our Courts: Kids First

by Jen Arens
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OTR youth celebrating their court Photo: Leslie Moorhead

‘Tis the season for Queen City basketball blues. Maybe Xavier or UC left you devastated, or maybe you’re just a proud Cincinnatian disappointed that we couldn’t will a local team to tournament victory.

But there’s good news—Cincinnati has another chance at a basketball win this season! Before we pack up our game-inspired sense of solidarity until next year’s tournament, there’s another team that needs us.

Photo: Leslie Moorhead
Photo: Leslie Moorhead

For a year, a number of children and families in our city have been fighting to protect a few public basketball courts from being bulldozed by a development plan. There’s nothing grand about the courts, or the community-serving garden and greenspace that abut them, except that they are well-used and loved by good people.

They sit at one corner of an otherwise vacant 76,000-square-foot, city-owned property directly across the street from Rothenberg Preparatory Academy—the only neighborhood-serving public elementary school that remains in Over-the-Rhine. And, should the city strike a pending deal with private developer NorthPointe Group, they will be destroyed in order to make way for 4 of 22 single-family homes, each costing around $500,000.

These kids and families, along with a number of community advocates, have organized cookout rallies, petition signings, committee meetings, public input sessions, a demonstration at a community council meeting, a presentation at a City Council committee meeting. They have tried for a year, in vain, to meet with the developer to share their concerns for the courts, for the community garden, and for the striking lack of affordability in the housing plan that would be imposed next to a school with 99% of its children in poverty.

Photo: Leslie Moorhead
Photo: Leslie Moorhead

This is not just about protesting change. These community folks have plans in their dreams too. Investors who bother to ask could help realize improved recreation space, housing across an economic mix, decent jobs for the local underemployed, and assets built to further strengthen a community school with tremendous knowledge and commitment.

The community’s hard work has spurred closed-door talks of a court relocation, but not a seat at any decision-making table. Those of us who played sports know that there is no post-loss solace in the words, “It’s just a game.” And those of us who know these families know even more deeply that this is not “just a court.”

OTR youth gather on the courts for a celebration of their community space and in protest of new plans for development. Photos: Leslie Moorhead
OTR youth gather on the courts for a celebration of their community space and in protest of new plans for development. Photo: Leslie Moorhead

This is one small fight against the crushing feeling that poor folks have to lose out in order for economic wealth to be invested in their communities. This is an effort to urge someone—anyone—in city government to have enough courage to tell a private developer that our public assets and resources are not theirs for the taking. In a country crying out that “Black Lives Matter,” this is one tiny chorus of voices demanding that we not simply accommodate plans to move poor black kids out of sight so that real estate can more easily sell to the wealthy.

Photo: Leslie Moorhead
Photo: Leslie Moorhead

These kids may not be in the jerseys of your alma mater, but they deserve the support of their city. Let’s all take the time we would have spent watching the Musketeers and Bearcats, and use it to lend our voices and energy to this struggle! Contact me to find out how.

Jennifer Arens is a resident of Cincinnati and the Community Education Coordinator at Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine. She can be reached at Jennifer.arens@peasleecenter.org or 513-621-5514.

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