In Cincinnati diversity is more than skin deep, residents say

Event connects residents from many neighborhoods

CINCINNATI - The Greet and Gather room at Beans and Grapes, Coffee House and Wine Bar is intended to house dinners and discussions about community building.

On March 13, more than 60 people put the room to good use when they attended the "When Your Neighbor Is Different Than You, What Happens Next?" gathering at the Pleasant Ridge eatery.

The event was a collaborative initiative of the City of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) and several neighborhood councils. Organizers said their goal was to pinpoint problems neighborhoods face when it comes to diversity.

Starting the conversation

A panel of speakers from Price Hill, North Avondale and Pleasant Ridge started the conversation. Dan Hurley, director of Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, acted as moderator.

"Although we are talking about race, diversity isn't just about race, so tonight we are talking about the other things that divide us," said Elizabeth Brown, executive director of HOME.  "Economic divisions, age, race and sexual orientation. "

Brown's sentiments were echoed throughout the dinner, with residents saying what divides neighborhoods is more than skin deep. Many mentioned resistance when trying to join community councils and tensions between renters and owners.

The inclusion issue

In East Price Hill minorities are now the majority, and the demographics of West Price Hill are similar, said Ken Smith,  Price Hill Will executive director.

"We have a lot of new people in the neighborhood, a lot of new people that don't certainly look like what had been in Price Hill on the west side for generations," Smith said.

Looks can be deceiving for Smith when he's trying to reach out to Price Hill residents.

"I try to get more inclusion with the African Americans," Smith explained. "And they just say ‘Go to the churches.' We don't have any African American churches yet. They're going back to churches in their (former) community."

Residents from Westwood said it's hard to break into community councils. Inclusion can be strained by socioeconomic differences too, in neighborhoods like Madisonville and Kennedy Heights.

The property divide

Bill Collins, of Madisonville, said the neighborhood has always been diverse. Today, the disconnect is between homeowners and renters.

"The real issue as I see it now is turnover," Collins said. "I look at my old neighborhood and it's not as much fun living here."

His ideas for change include getting both renters and homeowners connected and engaged.

"If renters don't feel they're connected to the community they have reason to up and go," he explained. "If they're connected you're going to have stability for the community itself."

Finding common ground

In Kennedy Heights Jamie Bryant said  parents are connecting at Kennedy Heights Montessori Center, despite their differences.

"At the school it's very diverse, it's a melting pot of socioeconomic status as well as cultures," she said. "I really like the fact that it's active parenting. So we have to commit to helping at the school."

In Mt. Washington welcoming new neighbors helps.

Joe Zehren said the neighborhood's community council put together a booklet to get new residents acquainted with the area.

"It's a fold over glossy paper and we give this to all residents," he explained. "And we try to have a neighbor give this booklet to new residents and to get them involved in the community and also to promote our community council."

What's working and not working in your neighborhood? Share your stories with community manager Libby Cunningham:

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