By Gregory Korte
and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer
One morning in April 2001, architect Joe Bodkin closed on a 120-year-old house in the Pendleton neighborhood, dropping his loan paperwork in the mailbox.
That night, riots broke out.
"If I could have gotten it out of the mailbox," he said, "I would have."
But Bodkin stayed, and - with a group of new urban pioneers - has helped to get more police presence, clean up the neighborhood and lure hundreds of artists to live and work there. And they've done it all without debates over "gentrification" and displacement of low-income people.
They've learned to be vocal - or "incredibly persistent," as Lisa Cameron put it. She's a 26-year-old architect who moved into her house on 13th Street last year.
They put their neighborhood police officer and his boss on their e-mail list. They call District 1 police offices - a lot. And enough e-mails to Mayor Charlie Luken led him to single out Pendleton in his State of the City speech Jan. 30.
"The Pendleton neighborhood is a great example of what can happen very quickly when a neighborhood, along with the city, works closely together to fight crime, litter, graffiti and drugs," the mayor said. "This is a major shift in the way we do business - the city and the neighborhood are working together to get it done."
"It is true neighborhood involvement."
Instead of complaining about police, Bodkin asks, "What can we do to help you do your job?"
The police notice.
"They're just very willing to get involved," said Sgt. Steve Saunders, supervisor of District 1's neighborhood officers. "And they're intolerant of the crime that's existing there. That's great."
Crime, however, is not gone. At their neighborhood meeting last week, residents talked about being flagged down at certain street corners by drug dealers. Beyond crime, the neighbors spent $561 last year on flower bulbs. They had colorful banners designed. And they paid for cuts in the sidewalk last year so the city could plant trees.
Marvin Butts, owner of Air Marvin's limousine service and Mr. Bubbles car detailing, moved to Pendleton under protest more than four years ago. His landlord, Jim Verdin, owner of the Verdin Bell Co., persuaded him.
"When I got here, I was fighting with drug dealers, a lot of crime, kids hanging around and cars speeding down the street," he said. "It's gotten a lot better."
He credits Verdin for investing a lot of his own money, real-estate agent Christine Schoonover for trying not to sell to absentee landlords and Bodkin for continuing to push people to stay involved.
Bodkin persuaded Butts to dress up as Santa Claus for the neighborhood Christmas party. That's among the things the community council - led by white residents - has done to involve minorities in the neighborhood, which is 80 percent African-American. He only did it, he said, "because Joe asked me to."
"When Joe moved in, I thought, `Here's this white guy who's going to come here and live,' " Butts said. "And he said, `Whatever you need, you come and see me. We're going to get through this together.' I said, `OK.' "
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