From the Director: Infuriating Fakeness

From the Director: Infuriating Fakeness

by Josh Spring

I am infuriated with fake stuff.  It seems that in our city right now the only thing considered to be “development” is expensive new buildings or renovations with expensive finishes.  Everything has to be just so-so:  straight edges, crisp clean facades, hip lighting and sidewalk dining.  But then there is this contradiction.  Wood siding is hung on exterior and interior walls, not just wood though “reclaimed wood”, so it looks like it has wear from age.  Stores have shelves made from “reclaimed wood”, sidewalk bar tops are welded steel and polished rough-cut wood.  In some of these shops you can purchase furniture and decorations made from “re-purposed” industrial antiques.  You can buy “home-made” pet food.  You can get an “organic” lunch with bio-degradable utensils.  You can get “hand-crafted” sushi, “authentic” food or visit a “neighborhood” bar.

One of the contradictions is that everything is desired to be crisp, clean and new, but is made to look antique, laid-back and hand-made and environmentally friendly.  People pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a condo in a “historic” neighborhood in a “historic” building, despite the fact that the only thing still “historic” about the building is the exterior façade.  Everything inside the building was gutted, sent to a landfill and re-built when it didn’t need to be.  And in many cases the “historic” building was also gutted of its previous inhabitants.   The stores are supposed to appear to be “welcoming” places, but the actual neighborhood stores like the hardware store or discount dry goods store were pushed out.  It’s said that “development” is supposed to support young families, yet the local candy store and children’s karate school is forced out and the early child-hood community center is closed.

Of course, I am describing some specifics in Over-the-Rhine, but this applies to portions of the Central Business District, Price Hill, Walnut Hills and Clifton.  Often when walking through such an area, passing new and nearly entirely white yuppie groups of people out on their lunch break or drinking an over-priced “craft” beer on the sidewalk “re-claimed” wood bar top, I wonder what they are thinking and how they can enjoy what they are doing.  The simple hanging out with friends part, I understand.  The rest I cannot fully grasp.  Is it ignorance, ego, apathy or capitalism?  I guess it may be all of the above and more.

What drives a group of predominately white people to want to spend time in a bar or restaurant that is in a building where a neighborhood store used to be, above which predominately black people used to live until they were forced out, standing on a sidewalk that was freshly re-poured only because someone thought enough white people moved in to make it worthy, under lighting that was only updated for the same reason, drinking a beer that you could purchase cheaper elsewhere, on a street that several years ago they didn’t know existed and would have felt afraid to be on, knowing they can drink that beer on the sidewalk because they can pay the expensive price, but anyone else who can’t afford that but still would like to hang with friends and drink a beer on the sidewalk can be charged with a crime?  Not only do people seem to greatly enjoy this activity, they want to see more places like it created and in community arguments about “development” they say they value “inclusion” but believe the city needs more “economic base”.

People think they are a part of something big and new.  People think they are urban “pioneers”, saving a historic neighborhood from blight, crime, disinvestment and dirt, when really all they are doing is


attempting to force a neighborhood to look and act just like themselves.  Not only that, but to have residents and tourists who have the same economic means as themselves.  They think they are progressive when in reality they are a part of the age-old systematic practice of displacing people from their homes and racial and economic segregation.  So, yes they are urban “pioneers” and should research the terrible history of pioneerism in this country – these are not ranks of people you should want to associate yourself with.

Are some people’s worlds so small, easy and self-focused that they are able to not see the truth that is all around them? But then again, I guess the more you make things look a way that makes you and those you know comfortable, you see less and less of what you don’t understand and therefore are challenged less.

I am infuriated with fake.  I am infuriated with people saying they value diversity, when they take part in and promote systems that force sameness.  I am infuriated with people acting like they are laid-back and open when they won’t walk down the streets where people with low-incomes haven’t been displaced.  I am infuriated with people saying they believe in community when they complain about people hanging out and talking loudly in the neighborhood park.    I am infuriated with people talking about how new businesses create “economic base” and benefit the neighborhood when it actually doesn’t work like that figuratively or financially.  I am infuriated with people saying they have been a part of a drop in crime, when all they have done is push crime to another corner they don’t go on and moved in more white-collar crime that goes unprosecuted.  I’m infuriated with people saying they want to see historic buildings saved when they are okay with the displacement of the people who have historically lived in those buildings.

Let’s get real.  People can say they don’t want a place to look just like themselves and only have people with their same economic means, but words don’t count for much.  It’s actions that really matter.  If a person or company does “development” or supports “development” that directly or indirectly displaces people or is only accessible by people of their same financial means, then they don’t truly care about people that don’t fit their mold.  And if they think they do care, then they must change their practices.  There is no fence-riding.