Keep Cincinnati Beautiful is a local non-profit organization that educates and encourages individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community environments. As part of their current Future Blooms project, the organization has been resurfacing the boards installed on vacant properties with representations of windows, curtains, doors, and window boxes.
The group has been working on this project out of a studio on Main St. in our neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine so, over the past few months, I’ve witnessed the proliferation of these painted elements on various area structures.
From the project description on the organization’s site: “Our hope here at Future Blooms is that the reintegration of a visual language referencing the occupation of these properties will lend itself to positive shifts within the community including a reduction in crime surrounding these properties and a rise in area property value.”
I hate to poo-poo anything positive happening in my own neighborhood, especially when it centers around beautifying the community with public art, but I am a bit mixed on this effort. I really appreciate that it’s grassroots, pragmatic and artistic, but it seems to me that the cartoonish, candy-colored simulacra of inhabitation draw attention to the fact that so many properties in Over-the-Rhine are abandoned. In a similar way that a proliferation of murals can signify a “bad” neighborhood, or an installation of place-making banners can suggest a struggling retail district, these painted facades serve to highlight the problem.
This is especially frustrating for me as someone who would love to purchase a building in OTR and to secure a long-term future for us and for our business right here in the neighborhood. Believe me, I would love for one of these buildings to become ours. We would love to rehab a building and live above the store, which is the kind of life for which many of these buildings were originally designed. That seems to be out of reach. So, unfortunately, this project serves to taunt me a bit about what I can’t have.