“Cleaning is Nice, but Respect for the Residents is Better”

By Lynne Ausman

Cops guarded every entrance to Washington Park during the Mayor's Corporate Challenge kick off

Cops guarded every entrance to Washington Park during the Mayor's Corporate Challenge kick off. Photos by Lynne Ausman.

Today is a big day in Over-the-Rhine. Well, that’s what I have been told. Today is the Mayor’s Corporate Challenge. A day when hundreds of corporate executives and staff descend on OTR with grandiose ideas that they will clean up and clear out all that is bad and leave a trail of magic fairy dust in their path that will keep things clean and tidy until next year when they do it all again. Because I knew that this event was occurring today and that the kick-off was in Washington Park at 8 a.m. I decided to take a detour on my normal route to my office and drive by the park.

I expected to see cars lining the street and hundreds of groggy-eyed corporate staffers wearing the same T-shirt expressing how great they are because they took a few hours out of their day to clean-up Over-the-Rhine on one spring morning a year. (I’m not knocking volunteer work. I volunteer, I love to volunteer and I appreciate all that volunteers do, whether they volunteer once a year or once a week: it’s all still good.) What I am knocking, however, is that instead of hundreds of volunteers ready to do their part and clean-up, I saw barely a hundred. From a distance I could pick out a few of the groups – the orange shirts, the white shirts and the blue shirts – all with their individual corporate logos and slogans.

The volunteers begin to leave for their work-sites.

The volunteers begin to leave for their work-sites. Photo by Lynne Ausman.

This morning there were more people in the park than normal – the 100 or so volunteers – but I also noticed something was amiss. It took me a minute or two, but I finally realized what felt different about the park. Usually on a cool spring morning, the park is full of people in the gazebo and sitting along the outer walls of the park. This morning there were none. Instead of people enjoying the park, there were police officers everywhere I looked – some on horseback, some on foot, some in cars (with lights flickering), some on Segways, some on bikes. I spoke with one man who was sitting quietly on a bench in the park. He said that no one told them to leave, but most moved along anyway – too many people, too many police. I spoke with some guys hanging out on the steps of Memorial Hall; they said that there was definitely a sense that they weren’t welcome.

Cops on foot and segways

Cops on foot and segways. Photo by Lynne Ausman.

“I don’t know what they are going to clean up,” said one. “They have people come in and clean up the trash in the park every morning and they just put in some new landscaping. The park is already clean.”

I am so tired of people who say they care about Over-the-Rhine and want it to be a “successful” community swoop into the community without a care in the world about the people who already live, work and play in OTR. I think OTR is already a successful community – last I checked OTR residents were mostly families with children – despite that there are no elementary schools in OTR. Thank god the old Rothenberg is scheduled to be renovated and re-opened. When I walk down the street in some other neighborhoods, I might as well be invisible. In OTR I walk down the street and people I have never met say “hello” or “good morning,” not because I look especially friendly, but because I am another person walking down the same street. I always return their kindness with a “hello” or “have a good day.”

When people from outside OTR want to do good, they immediately go to OTR and look for trash to clean up or community gardens to weed – or homeless people to shoo away or affordable housing to tear down in favor of expensive condos or shelters to suffocate until they have no choice but to move. I get that the event is the “corporate” challenge, but why isn’t it the “community” challenge. Why aren’t the social services in OTR invited to participate? Why aren’t their clients? Most important, why aren’t the people who live in OTR and use the park invited to help? Which gets me to another issue – why do people have such a problem with people loitering in parks? Last I checked, parks are FOR loitering! As the kick-off ended and the crowd of 100 volunteers begins to disperse and go off to their work sites for the day, the park regulars begin to return.