Are Changes Underway In Madisonville Revitalization Or Gentrification?
WVXU's occasional series on community conversations is exploring the changing landscape of Cincinnati's Madisonville neighborhood. As communities bordering Madisonville - Indian Hill, Mariemont, Madiera - all thrived in the last 50 years, the prosperity wasn't shared. Businesses slowly began to die off as Red Bank Expressway carried shoppers to Hyde Park and Kenwood.
The neighborhood entered decline.
Now, there's a concerted effort to remake the community into a place people want to live, work and play. So, we come to the question of how to describe the changes underway there. Is it revitalization? A renaissance? Gentrification?
Cheery purple walls greet customers who stream into LaLa's Blissful Bites near the corner of Madison and Whetsel. The pop-up bakery has been popular with neighbors like Leslie Landrum since it opened earlier this year. She chose to raise her family in Madisonville because she loved growing up here.
"Everybody knew everybody, so everybody talked to everybody," says Landrum. "It was kind of a close-knit community."
Landrum sees the new businesses and planned apartments in Madisonville as a positive. She'd like to see the area return to the thriving community it once was, full of shopping and businesses, opportunity and community. She thinks the neighborhood is on the right pathway, but then, she's heard plans like this before.
"In the late 1990s, early 2000s, Madisonville had a 25 year plan that was 40 years old at the time," laughs Landrum. "I do see changes. I just want it to keep going and bring Madisonville back to what it was."
Just down the sidewalk from LaLa's is the Madisonville Community Urban Revitalization Corporation (MCURC). In 2013, it began implementing the Madisonville Quality of Life plan aimed at bringing the area back to prosperity. Its particular focus is the four block radius surrounding Madison and Whetsel.
Director Sara Sheets says the goal is to create housing and businesses that reflect the neighborhood's diversity.
"We're not trying to get in fancy shops to cater to the neighborhoods that surround us," says Sheets. "We could do that, but we want to serve the people that are here in Madisonville."
Sheets say the group rejected a high-end development proposal in favor of market-rate apartments specifically because it does worry about the idea of gentrification.
"It is a concern of mine, too, because I live in the neighborhood. I chose Madisonville 13 years ago because of the diversity and I wanted my children to grow up in an integrated neighborhood. So, I share those same concerns. People always say, 'Oh, you're going to be the next Oakley,' and we say, 'No, we don't want to be the next Oakley, we want to be the best Madisonville that we can be.'"
Diagonally across the street from MCURC, community activist Kathy Garrison is hauling doors and appliances out of a series of storefronts. She's just received word the buildings are being torn down earlier than expected. She's not convinced the current revitalization plan truly serves the community.
"(The) shops that are going in are upscale," says Garrison. "I think the community spoke and said 'we want a post office. We want a drug store.' We want all of those things that we can afford and participate in. I'm not sure, and haven't been convinced, that that's what is occurring."
High taxes are another concern. As the housing market improves, so do home values. Garrison says it's important to keep taxes in check so people, especially the elderly, can afford to stay in their homes.
"I think there will be many who cannot afford… who will eventually walk away from here because they can't afford the restaurants, they can't afford the upscale whatever it is that's going in."
Everyone WVXU talked to for this story says they want what's best for Madisonville. How to get there remains up for debate, as does what to call it. Gentrification for Kathy Garrison, Revitalization for Sara Sheets, and Leslie Landrum, glancing around LaLa's Blissful Bites, she says "it's progress."
"I think Madisonville's going to do alright. I just need for the local/state/municipality to continue doing what they're doing. I don't want to see Madisonville's plans stopped again. If it stops, it may not be a good thing."
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