This is my forty-sixth in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to find what makes each relevant to me. Follow me on Instagram for a hint of where I’ll venture next.
A week off had solidified my desire to complete this “walking project” strong. Still in re-entry mode and wanting a short walk, I drove to English Woods, a neighborhood named for David English, a settler who brought his family to Cincinnati back in the 1800’s.
My knowledge of English Woods extended only as far as the viaduct and the fact it was primarily a CMHA-based neighborhood located somewhere off of Western-Northern Boulevard. But, it was a neighborhood, nonetheless, one built in the post-WWI era, comprised of 107 acres of mostly federal public housing.
I parked at Marquette Manor on Sutter Avenue. I recognized the tall building as the one seen often as I made my way across Hopple or Harrison, with little knowledge of its purpose until now. Marquette Manor was a CMHA building primarily for the elderly and the disabled.
The sun seared through the morning haze and spread across the empty meadows. I felt a chill that should not have been present, one that could have only originated from the abject lonesomeness I felt in a place like this.
I turned back around, strolling past the manor, and continued towards Sutter View, known as the English Woods addition in most legal documents. Yes, there were legal issues I would find out later.
I crossed the street to say good morning.
I was forthright in explaining my presence, and though they eyed me skeptically, we all agreed that a.) it was hot and b.) we each still got lost on the west side and needed GPS to guide us.
I left the community and continued my trek down Sutter, which I ran into Beekman and then back up Westwood-Northern.
Sutter disappointed me in that sidewalks were again lacking in an area that most assuredly could use a little more foot traffic, especially since the road had been paved with new drainages areas along the roadside.
I returned to my car and meditated for a while, witnessing the sun rise up over community that really no longer existed. Returning home, I was anxious to hit the internet to find out exactly what had happened.
English Woods was built in 1942. There were 750 units in 83 buildings. Most were a modified Georgian two-story with one-story buildings at the ends. The entire project cost $3,750,000 to build (WPA Guide to Cincinnati).
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, CMHA completed a series of modernization projects at English Woods. In 1994, English Woods was recognized as a model of public housing modernization by the National Association of Housing Redevelopment Officials. (English Woods Civic Association v. CMHA).
In 1999, the CMHA undertook a study which surmised that a per unit renovation would coast $18,000 per unit. But by 2003, CMHA had produced another evaluation that reported a renovation per unit cost would be closer to $134,000.
In September of 2000, this piece was written about a Cincinnati Recreation Center employee who took on the role of mentor to many children in the neighborhood. About that same time, a decision was made to apply for demolition of most of the units in the English Woods complex.
Ironically, and according to a Cincinnati Enquirer article, a few of our city’s current leaders, including Rep. Steve Chabot and Mayor John Cranley, made concerted efforts to keep English Woods from being demolished – for questionable reasons. Chabot pulled federal funding and Cranley sought to have two CMHA board appointees removed over their decision. In the news article, Pete Witte of Price Hill Will, was said to be representing to westside interests who felt that by relocating the occupants of English Woods into surrounding areas, crime would surely follow. (Read more here).
By the end of 2004, the decision had been made to move forward not on demolition, but on “occupancy consolidation”, following a lawsuit by the English Woods Civic Association or resident’s council. In this way, English Woods was not being shut down, nor was CMHA forced to make repairs. They had already highlighted the upcoming changes and many families chose to move out because of impending changes, as well, in 2000, HUD initiated a program allowing for more scattered choices across the city. Units were to be consolidated to efficiently maintain and secure groupings of units. The term for that was “occupancy consolidation.”
Despite sit-ins and activist involvement, the demolition occurred following consolidation. One resident said the community failed because of “maintenance neglect and not tenant abuse.” (Check out these photos taken in 2006 by flickr user chillin in chile).
Readers can visit included links and make up their own mind.
In the end, the community also lost its recreation center. Children now travel to Millvale for recreation-based activities.
Even the few remaining homes, CMHA or not, have no real representation, as the community council is now inactive.
Cincinnati is well-known for losing its housing stock, in particular, historical and inclusive housing units. Politicians move monies and people around like its a shell game, without a comprehensive, encompassing strategy.
Housing opportunities and the elimination of politics from our policies needs to be sustainable in order for a city or neighborhood to remain so as well.
Ten years after the dismantling of English Woods housing complex, the site remains empty, perhaps waiting for an Amazon headquarters or mixed income proposed developments. The views are absorbing and the air a welcome distraction from the smog below. Still, the meadows wait.
Recently, I came across an article about Project Row Houses, begun in 1993 with the vision to renovate derelict buildings in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Houston by pooling monies and resources and over time, transforming affordable rental units and a school into an arts hub as well as housing for single mothers.
Our city and the housing authority still control that land up on the hill. Now’s their chance to start over with fresh approach. Perhaps they could ask a few artists I know to step in.