By: Kevin Wright, Christina Brown, Kathryne Gardette and Jeff Brewster
Kevin Wright is executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and Christina Brown is board president; Kathryne Gardette is board president of the Walnut Hills Area Council; and Jeff Brewster is board president of the Walnut Hills Business Group.
The last few years have attracted significant attention and investment to Walnut Hills.
In just the last three years, we have revitalized our neighborhood community development corporation while stabilizing our commercial corridor. We accomplished this through property acquisition, façade improvements, transportation changes, business attraction and an intense focus on safety through placemaking and promotion. In the fall of 2014 we opened a new restaurant (Fireside Pizza) and on that very same day we celebrated the 3rd Annual Cincinnati Street Food Festival.
These changes have been driven by neighborhood leaders who believe focused investment and growth is critical to the health of our community. In 2015 that investment and growth will only become more visible. In the coming year, millions of dollars in private and public dollars will be invested into buildings and public infrastructure throughout the East McMillan corridor – a corridor that has, with few exceptions, seen only disinvestment, abandonment and blight over the last several decades. Our hope is that these investments make Walnut Hills a neighborhood of choice for all.
While investment is clearly needed in order for Walnut Hills to grow and prosper, a persistent underlying question is “How can we ensure this growth is as inclusive as possible?” Or, more simply put, “What can we do to make sure that the improvement of Walnut Hills benefits the people of Walnut Hills?”
We want to begin by disrupting the conventional wisdom that neighborhood growth and resident inclusion are mutually exclusive. We believe the opposite is true. Through repeated (and continuing) neighborhood conversations and intentional neighborhood placemaking, we (the community) can in fact influence what new investment looks like and how it interacts with our existing community.
We plan on achieving this in a variety of ways. Our placemaking efforts are expanding beyond the Five Points Alleys and into the newly revived St. James Pocket Park and Green Man Park. Our community garden program is growing into a broader health and wellness initiative. We are pushing for development projects to hire neighborhood residents and are working hard to connect our residents to the opportunities created by community investment.
We believe that the field of community development is on the verge of something special and we want to help lead the way. We want long-term sustainable growth, rather than speculative redevelopment. We want creative, thriving and welcoming businesses.
We know it won’t be easy to simultaneously embrace outside investment and a new population, while also engaging and creating opportunities for existing residents and businesses. But we believe, as a community, we can do just that.