Dennis Janson: West Side isolation is no myth but rather a reality that needs to change

CINCINNATI -- Hats off to the West Siders who are clamoring for enhanced access to their neighborhoods as downtown and East Side suits combine to determine the fate of the Western Hills Viaduct.

As a native Price Hillian, I’m aware of the myth about West Siders having some kind of complex about their isolation, largely because it is established fact. Whether it is their desire to remove themselves from the bureaucratic frays that ensnare progress east of the viaduct or a calculated effort to shuttle them to second-rate status, disregard for the West Side is no fiction. And it extends to career advancement as well.

Take the legendary Jake Held. A Sayler Park resident, he was told by GOP big wigs that he had to move to the East Side if he was serious about pursuing higher elective office. He did indeed prosper once he moved his base of operations to Walnut Hills.

An Oak Hills graduate joined a prominent law firm populated by East Siders. He more than held his own because of his intellect, integrity and insights but still seemed mired in the middle. Once he moved to Mt. Lookout, though, his star rose. He is now president of that same firm.

Then consider that one of the city’s legendary bankers, an Elder High grad, didn’t realize his full potential (at least in the eyes of the Brooks Brothers crowd) until he decamped for Hyde Park.

For whatever reason, there is a dismissive attitude many Cincinnati neighborhoods harbor for the West Side. It is hard to pin down where, when and why it started, but it is there. Could it be our predisposition to savings and loans, churches and saloons all clustered at the same intersection?

Whatever it is, Ken Smith, executive director of Price Hill Will, seems determined to have the West Side included in any expansion of Cincinnati’s light rail master plan, as preliminary studies begin for replacement of the viaduct. He and like-minded visionaries want flexibility for rail to be included in the original project rather than as a far more costly upgrade decades after completion.

As West Side devotee John Eby put it: “This is our last opportunity to connect 20 percent of the city’s population to downtown, to UC, even the East Side.”

Come what may, they don’t see the project launching for another eight years.

Now temper that projection with what is happening to another West Side artery, the Sixth Street or Waldvogel Viaduct project.

Plans for that upgrade hit the drawing board in 2005 with a projected start date of 2008. It finally launched in August 2011 and what was to have been a two-year undertaking is still an impediment to those trying to penetrate the so called “sauerkraut curtain.”  Is it because the suits figure out of sight (and touch), out of mind, or that West Siders will just deal with it as they always have?

West Siders have for years accepted the old adage, “You can’t get there from here” with annoyed bemusement. I’ve often observed that those with an aversion to expressway noise should head west because Glenway Avenue and Cleves Warsaw Pike is as far away from I-75, I-71 and I-74 as is navigable anywhere in the Tri-State.

There are those West Siders who are just fine with their remoteness, but long term that will only serve to undermine their historic neighborhoods and way of life.

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