Sunday, June 29, 2003

Mix creates strength

By Nick Spencer
Guest columnist

The most successful street in Cincinnati is Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. On any given day, at any given time, a casual observer will be pleasantly surprised by what they see. Every old misconception of Cincinnati will be dismissed: It's a diverse, eclectic, free-thinking, independent-minded place where young and old, black and white, rich and poor, congregate.

But before anyone dismisses it on the basis of its cultural atmosphere and leanings, keep this in mind: Ludlow Avenue is also one of the city's most successful economic development stories. Its storefronts are all full, and crime is low; homeownership is up, and vacancy rates are down.

Ludlow Avenue has the panhandlers and lower-income residents so often blamed for all of our ills - but still it surpasses most of our city streets in terms of energy and growth.

All across the city, we are seeing similar signs of progress: Pleasant Ridge, Northside and College Hill are neighborhoods that are experiencing growth because they have learned to build on diversity.

Statistically, cities that have shown an openness to minority cultures of all kinds have grown: Atlanta, San Francisco and Portland come to mind immediately; even nearby Columbus has seen the benefits of multicultural living.

The great myth in our city is that a neighborhood begins to decline when low-income minority residents start to move in. But communities across the country have succeeded in welcoming and integrating new, poor residents through neighborhood programs many city leaders seem to have little interest in. Poverty alone does not equal crime; poverty abandoned and ignored often does.

Diversity goes beyond race, as well. Article 12, the city's anti-gay charter amendment is costing our city millions of dollars and is alienating a significant portion of our population. As a city, we have allowed people to be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

For far too long, our city has been divided along lines of race, orientation, and income. According to the Dissimilarity Index, Cincinnati is the sixth most segregated city in the nation. The result has been a population that neither understands nor appreciates itself. A culture of fear permeates our streets. We blame poverty, when we should be blaming economic division, poor political leadership, and flat out racism.

Cincinnati's biggest obstacle to progress is its reputation as a segregated, sometimes intolerant city. The great challenge before us is to overcome our fear of one another. Until we learn to do this, all the new buildings and ballparks will mean little.

We can be more than this. I see it everyday on Ludlow, on Hamilton, on Montgomery; all over the city. People can live together, acknowledging and accepting their differences. If you are white, spend a day in a neighborhood that is predominantly African-American. Go to church there. Have lunch. Bring your children. Celebrate this city together. Division has torn down our city; unity will build it back up again.


Nick Spencer, 25, is founder of Cincinnati Tomorrow and a candidate for City Council.

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