We have focused several articles on greater Cincinnati neighborhoods historically defined by the large urban Appalachian presence. Of particular interest to the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is the state of our neighborhoods, many of which have undergone massive changes in the past several years. Some of these changes have been for the better, other changes have raised concerns. A new report called Cincinnati’s Western Riverfront Neighborhoods: Sedamsville, Riverside, Sayler Park provides a full study of the state of our western neighborhoods.
The report was compiled by Core member Michael Maloney with assistance from Kayla Brandt, a graduate student from the University of Cincinnati School of Art, Architecture, Design, and Planning. This study offers a detailed assessment of three of Cincinnati’s historically urban Appalachian neighborhoods. I asked Michael Maloney what brought this study about, and he explained: “Since the 1970s, I have been doing a report on Cincinnati, its neighborhoods, and environs based on data from the United States census.” Maloney is, of course, referring to The Social Areas of Cincinnati, and massive and ongoing work that details the demographics, economic, and social makeup of Cincinnati neighborhoods. Maloney continued, “From data compiled from the census and the ‘American Community Survey,’ I discovered that Sedamsville was declining at a faster rate than any other neighborhood in the city.” From this initial discovery Maloney began work on a study that would focus specifically on the western neighborhoods that follow the Ohio River.
Of the three neighborhoods that line the western riverfront, Sedamsville is in the most advanced state of decline. Maloney said that “small businesses and neighborhood anchors have left the neighborhood, leaving it without any place for community focus.” The report cites a Sedamsville resident as saying, “There is nothing here now – no school, no library, no park, no real grocery store, no softball teams, no gym. (Santa Maria once had a gym, food distribution and after school activities for kids.)” (5). The loss of any meaningful economic base means that homeowners are leaving Sedamsville, and renters are taking over. This makes the neighborhood particularly vulnerable to developers. One of the most urgent concerns in Sedamsville is the need to rehab vacant and deteriorating property. (The housing vacancy rate is 41%.)
Further west, the Riverside neighborhood is also struggling. The loss of Riverside’s elementary school in the 1980s meant that students were taken into nearby Sayler Park. Decline of social and community gathering places has meant a loss of community cohesion. The Western Riverfront Neighborhoods explains that “there is some history of cooperation between business and the Civic Club but there are also tensions between them. The issues include environmental pollution and the fear that residents will be displaced by industrial expansion” (15). Industrial expansion is evident all along the western riverfront, most recently with the acquisition of land by Amazon for its distribution center. Current concerns of the civic association include water runoff on the slopes and at Anderson Ferry and the need for improvements at the Gilday Boat Dock.
Sayler Park, on the other hand, is doing quite well. Sayler Park stands in some ways as an autonomous community, or as the study states, “a seemingly self-sufficient village mostly located in the compact flat area north of River Road” (22). Sayler Park sustains a population of nearly 3000 people. There is an active village square with no empty storefronts. Even concerns raised in the Fourth Edition of The Social Areas of Cincinnati regarding the dropout rate among high school students have all but disappeared.
Cincinnati’s Western Riverfront Neighborhoods makes it clear that the decline of some neighborhoods is at least partially attributed to a lack of civic investment in the neighborhoods. While it is true that there are demographic shifts that lead to neighborhood decline, the city’s tendency to neglect poorer neighborhoods tends to accelerate this decline. Michael Maloney said one of the goals of the study is to shine a light on the fact that “the western riverfront is an area of the city that has been neglected. It has not been adequately invested in, and there is evidence of physical decline.” Maloney cited the fact that neighborhoods like Sedamsville are the last to get its potholes filled, and the retaining walls that partially protects the neighborhood are crumbling. We hope Cincinnati’s Western Riverfront Neighborhoods makes people aware not only of the conditions of these neighborhoods, but also the fact these neighborhoods are integral to our city, to our communities more generally.
In addition to the history and current state of these areas, Cincinnati’s Western Riverfront Neighborhoods provides detailed data on the demographics, economics, and cultural makeup of all three western riverfront neighborhoods. It is fairly exhaustive on this account, and it serves as an important research tool for anyone involved in the current state of our city. The import of Cincinnati’s Western Riverfront Neighborhoods cannot be overstated as the City of Cincinnati struggles with issues of affordable housing and gentrification. Maintaining our neighborhoods means retaining the life of our communities, and studies such as this offer insights on how to preserve these communities from within the neighborhoods without having developers and speculators further colonize the city.
The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition has always been grounded in the life of our urban Appalachian neighborhoods. As these neighborhoods have changed over the years, we have sought to support community partners in maintaining the life of these neighborhoods. Sedamsville, Riverside, and Sayler Park are anchors of the western riverfront. The economic and demographic shifts of the past decades have deeply impacted these neighborhoods. Michael Maloney and Kayla Brandt have given us a crucial tool with Cincinnati’s Western Riverfront Neighborhoods: Sedamsville, Riverside, Sayler Park. By studying the history and current conditions of our key urban neighborhoods, we may hope to find ways to retain the cultural life of the City of Cincinnati.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.