Girl, Running for Mayor, Inspires Girl, Walking

Girl WalkingI sat in the back of dim room, listening to Yvette Simpson. I knew Yvette Simpson, city resident. And Yvette Simpson, councilperson. Now, I wanted to know Yvette Simpson, mayoral candidate.

Yvette spoke ardently about her background, growing up in poverty, raised by extended family, securing a law degree and an MBA. Then, she transitioned to her real passion. Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

As a transplant from Cleveland by way of the Pacific Northwest, I had always heard about Cincinnati’s “52”, but my knowledge was limited the east side when I lived there in my 20’s, and now, in my 50’s, around the urban core.

I had already followed Yvette Simpson’s posts on social media. She talked about and appeared in neighborhoods I didn’t know how to access so I crossed boundaries to get Bond Hill. North Fairmount. She marched in parades and I bought coffee at walk’s end in Pleasant Ridge. Madisonville. She attended community meetings with six residents so I marched through South Cumminsville and East Westwood.

I considered myself well read and curious. If I didn’t know those neighborhoods, neither did the rest of the city. I embarked on a quest to walk the “52” and crossed highways and hills, interstates and the obscure Mill Creek.

On December 4, I covered the boundary and core of East Walnut Hills and thus set a precedent to traipse through as much territory of a neighborhood as possible. I next walked Queensgate. I had no plan, other than I wanted no plan. While accessing recollections from my younger days, I also observed each community with a fresh set of eyes and scrutinized a neighborhood not just for its “as is” but its “to be”.

I traipsed across California and up the mounts of Westwood. If I found no personal connection, I made one. In the Villages of Roll Hill, I met neighbors who wanted to simply talk about their kids or their meat smoker. I left a neighborhood better than when I found it, even if only my energy fulfilled that obligation.

I was chased by dogs, had my racial, economic and eastside-westside biases checked, and returned home, surprised by my heart. With enthusiasm for my finds and distress over the devastation of some neighborhoods, I plopped in my chair and wrote about each neighborhood.

As I closed in on my final neighborhoods, I grew tired and grumpy. And then I considered how many times Yvette might have shown up at a sparse meeting or knocked on someone’s door in the cold, how many hurdles she had to clear to get to this point in her career. Then, as a former hurdler, I could certainly propel myself forward over those last few.

Recently, I had a drink with friends. Someone asked about Winton Hills. Another friend responded, “Ask Annette. She’s the neighborhood person.”

That isn’t true.

Yvette Simpson is “the neighborhood person”. She best understands the complexity of the composition of our city, and has the necessary skills to propel Cincinnati into the future. From the ground up. The best leaders lead with the people at their side.

Yvette Simpson best tells the story of Cincinnati because she IS the story of Cincinnati. She inspired me to want more for my city. Can your candidate running for office do that?

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In the End Are My Beginnings

This is my fifty-second (last) 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.

“Do you know which neighborhood you’ll walk last?” Shannon, our daughter, asked. She and I were in a hot car as I drove. Shannon had spent a few weeks at home over the summer in between life phases and had noted my absence several mornings when I was out before morning dawned. I still had a dozen communities left to explore.

But I had kept a long-held secret from her and everyone else who asked.

“I’ve known which one I would end with almost since I started. But I’m not telling.”

Shannon attempted several guesses. But she hadn’t been in my life long enough to recall all my beginnings in Cincinnati, and therefore could not accurately predict where my project would end.

My secret was this: I had saved Hyde Park for last because that neighborhood represented for me the most difficult topography. Not in hills or safety or breadth of the boundary. But in its emotional terrain.

When I moved to Cincinnati in 1989, Hyde Park had been the site of my first home. I didn’t know if I had the strength to travel back in time to the young woman I was, let alone accept where I had journeyed to along the way.

But I could no longer avoid the monumental mental task.

I parked my car along Easthill Avenue and strolled towards Grandin Road, passing a senior housing center and streets that revealed – on paper – their connection to other parts of the neighborhood where I had never trespassed.

Within those first steps, I realized how little I knew about the first neighborhood I had lived in. Having mostly traversed Madison Road during my early years, I now turned off Madison onto Grandin Road to find Springer School, a school dedicated to children with learning disabilities (I did a stint there too for WWfaC) and the 24 acres of Summit Country Day, founded in 1890 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, where my mother-in-law, Mark’s mom, had attended school.

I walked the surrounding streets to take in the mansions and views that encompassed the school.

Of course, I snapped a photo of a home sporting a U of O flag and texted it later to Davis.

I continued on around Elmhurst and came upon the former Dr. Henry Heimlich residence. But then I could go no further and backtracked out to Grandin.

The Cincinnati Country Club, opened on the 4th of July in 1909, was one of the premiere golf courses in Cincinnati. They also hosted a platform tennis club, played with a smaller court, lower net, and no doubles lines (more arguing with your partner). It is also designed to be played outdoors in cold weather.

As I gaped at the many mansions along the road, I thought how foolish my older sister, Laura, and I had been, to think as we did, we could attain that kind of wealth at our entry-level salaries or in our lifetime. We had no idea that kind of money existed. We were young, small-town, and less politically savvy than my kids today to understand that kind of generational wealth and how it becomes entrenched and passed down.

Rain threatened that day as I followed Grandin Road again.

I came upon a unique Frank Lloyd Wright home, once owned by the Corbetts, set atop a hillside and read later the area was being primed for nearly 20 new homes, starting at $500K. The land had previously been owned by the Barrett Family, and, per usual, wealth was following wealth. For more information on the home, click here.

I trekked through lower Grandin and up Alpine Terrace through what could have easily been a neighborhood in Loveland or other older suburban neighborhoods.

Back along those streets, nothing felt remotely familiar to my time in my twenties. In essence, I had discovered something new.

I rose to the top of Alpine, then Paxton to Kinmont and trekked down and around to Linwood, then up Halpin, to Griest to Delta and Erie, passing Clark Montessorri, one of CPS’s premier programs.

Finally I moved along Erie, Shaw, Wasson, and Madison and through Hyde Park Square.

The walk in the neighborhood felt just that. Residential with a charming downtown. I see now how or why I had been attracted to the area.

My Saturdays and or Sundays had been spent at Arthur’s in the courtyard or inside the dining area dreaming of joining those who had  been memorialized in cartoon form on their walls.

As I walked, I thought about the approaching death of Mark’s father-in-law, and how I wanted, now as a writer, to be memorialized. I no longer needed the cartoons. I had grown up. My loved ones would know me in a more intimate way. They would read my words.

My stroll finished up along Observatory as it led towards Madison Road and Withrow High School.

Withrow’s land was once a small farm, then sold to the board by Andrew Erkenbrecker, the founder of the Cincinnati Zoo. The school’s notable alumni were Rosemary Clooney (see BLINK 2017 festivals videos for her animated mural), Ron Oester of the Reds, and John Ruthven, Cincinnati wildlife artist whose work was also animated during BLINK 2017.

There at Withrow, in my downtime as a twenty-something, I wandered over to the oval track and “practiced” hurdles to see if I had enough jump to get over them. Most times, I did.

Now, I moseyed through the grounds and stopped in front of the tower, near the school’s main entrance, and read my way around the column. The first quote I encountered had been most poignant.

“And all who will may enter
and find within these walls equal and
varied opportunity for a liberal
education based alike upon art and industry
with books and things, work
and study combined and where good
health the spirit of play and joy in
work well done shall abound.”

The words were from Superintendent Conlon, who had been working in tandem with the original architect to convey certain important aspects of education and translate that into architecture.

I had traversed eight miles that day. I was tired. Thinking about 52 neighborhoods made one tired. I had one last mile to tread towards my car. Yet I sat longer to contemplate the quote.

Our education system should be guided by this principle, this one principle alone. Had our Cincinnati Public School board candidates and current members seen this quote? Or read this passage? Were we measuring up to those words?

Had I measured up, in this effort to traverse so many miles across the potholed back roads of the of the urban core? Had my living in Cincinnati been joy in work well done?

I crossed Dana and ventured up Madison, taking a quick turn on Vista Drive. The road ran along the backside of my first apartment, Madison Road Apartments. Yet, I had never walked up that way. I traipsed to end, turned around and marched the 100 yards or so to the front stoop of my old apartment.

I had rented a first floor apartment with a walkout patio. I never owned patio furniture. I didn’t need it with Eden Park nearby, or working hard and playing harder. Laura lived only a few miles away, off Martin Luther King Blvd, which became Madison Road. She often appeared early mornings and late evenings looking for company or coffee. We shared a lot in the couch spaces of each other’s lives. Devin, as my boyfriend, was also a night owl. He came knocking on the door after hours for sleepovers. I had often turned in for the night when I would hear a rap on the sliding-glass door. My heart raced, as did my feet, to open the door and let love in.

I plopped down on the steps for quite a while, waiting for someone to shoo me away. But no one came. There existed only the ghosts of the two people I loved the most when I lived here. Those two were gone from my everyday life but never from my heart.

Hyde Park as a neighborhood was thriving. Their community council activities were not “safe nights out” or “clean up the Mill Creek” kinds of activities. They were “cement benches for buses” and “NSP monies for fireworks” sorts of projects. Also, their memberships costs were a bit higher. Council memberships were $20 in Hyde Park and $2 in OTR. They were dedicated to the success of their nonetheless.

I doubt Shannon and I had ever driven along Madison Road together, based on when she departed for college and traveled the world.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning. T. S. Eliot.

When I have driven with Davis along Madison Road, I slow the car and direct his attention to my first apartment. I become the same broken record I feared when my father did the same. I want Davis to know in that place was my beginning. And my beginning with his father. I will show the apartment to my sister’s daughter some day too. In that place, her mother and I also took root as saplings in the Cincinnati soil. We uprooted and replanted, left and returned. I am still here, using old memories to light new fires.

Stay tuned for “Girl, Walking: 52 Lessons Learned in Crossing Boundaries”, and a celebration of gratitude for and with those who accompanied me in rain and clouds, fog and sun, and early mornings, humid evenings, or late nights in person or on social media.

 

“You’ve Seen the World” – Gettin’ My 52 On in Mt. Airy

This is my fifty-first 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.

“You’ve seen the world, then,” a older, spry woman named Joanne, said as I encountered her in Mt. Airy, after having walked seven miles and told her about my project. Her reply made me laugh out loud.

“I don’t know about the world, but, yeah, I’ve seen a few things since I started.”

A world. Many worlds. Mt. Airy was its own world. I had only visited Mt. Airy once, when picking up a friend for a cookout. As one of his Facebook followers, I noted how often he referenced crime in his neighborhood. I was somewhat reluctant to walk Mt. Airy but when complete, yes, I had seen the world.

I parked my car at the entrance to Mt. Airy and began the long walk down on the opposite side of Colerain Ave. to the bottom of the Colerain hill.  I turned up Raeburn and caught sight of several homes situated on the heights, highlighted by the rising sun. I turned back around and chatted with a few masonry men about the steps they were rebuilding.

“Can I run them?”

“Yeah, but be careful, young lady.” Little did they know how many of these old steps I really had traversed. However, there were several steps that were closing in on “missing” status, so I was grateful for their warning.

As I climbed back up Colerain, I neared the bus stop by a playground.

“All ready for school today?” I asked two students.

Both nodded furiously. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And what’s your favorite subject?”

The fifth-grader answered, “Math.”

“Alright, Math is good for you.”

I glanced down at the first grader. “What about you? You get to go all day now, right?” He nodded again. “What’s your favorite subject?” I quizzed, fully expecting him to answer “recess” or “lunch”.

He opened his eyes wide. “Math,” he declared.

“Well, then I expect to be hearing good things about both of you.”

I wished them well and they, in turn, did the same.

I continued up to the St. Anthony Friary and strolled their spacious grounds.

A few worshippers were departing from the chapel after mass, as I passed through the parking. I overheard one say, “He went a little long today.” My steps were a little lighter after that.

I returned to Colerain once more as my guide. Soon, I approached Hawaiian Terrace where loads of kids waited for the school bus. Teenagers were not the most friendly in the mornings. A few moved out of the way. One grinned at me. The rest looked down, wishing they were anywhere but waiting on a bus.

I turned right and descended Hawaiian Terrace to nearly the end, then spun around to walk back up the hill, snapping photos of the street which contained a myriad of apartments and multi-family units.

An older woman, leaning on a cane in the sun, was in my sights. “Hello,” I greeted her. She acknowledged my presence. “I’m Annette.” I held out my hand and we shook them together. “Great day out isn’t it?”

“Yeeaasss.” She sighed.

“Well, I’m walking Cincinnati’s neighborhoods, all 52. Have you lived here a while?”

“Nah, grew up in Mt. Auburn. I don’t like it here.”

“What don’t you like?” In hindsight, that was a ridiculous question for me to ask, given that Hawaiian Terrace was one of Cincinnati’s most dangerous streets.

I had moved the conversation too close. Ms. Thompson jump up with her cane. “Shit, I gotta go.” She hobbled off.

I followed Colerain and began to see markings for Mt. Airy Forest on the other side of the road. Excited to spot the marker, I ran towards it only to learn that the trail was closed to deer-hunting. At first I was alarmed. Later, it was pointed out to me that only bow hunting and not guns were allowed. I was grateful to my dedicated readers who guided me.

On to North Bend, I turned right on North Bend which led me to Kipling.

Several “no trespassing” signs came into view, as did a pond. A stately manor loomed in the distance.

It was Pinecroft at Crosley Estate, home of Powell Crosley, of Crosley Radios and Crosley Field. To my surprise, the grounds held a bocce court and I decided there must be a secret society of bocce courts around town. Or I will have to form one.

After strolling around the grounds, I met Joanne looking for her newspaper.

“I used to walk fast, like you.” She imitated my stride.

“You can join me.”

“Oh I couldn’t keep up. I’m just out here looking for my paper now.”

“Still read that every morning?”

She nodded.

“Do you do anything online?”

“No, I save that for the young ones.” She gazed at me in the sharp morning rays. “Do you live around here?”

“No, I don’t. I’m walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. I’m on number 51.”

“Honey, you’ve walked 51? You’ve seen the world, then, haven’t you?”

I patted Joanne on her back. She had shrunk in stature over the years, but she grew tall in front of me, as she recounted how she and her husband, a firefighter, had moved from Mt. Healthy to Mt. Airy when he joined Cincinnati Fire Department. That would have been when they were required to live in the city. She enlightened me on her neighbors, how they used her driveway for parking. “They used to ask, but not any more. Used to be, with a lot of things around here,” she said. “I used to walk like you, every day. Three miles. then my husband retired and I had to stop. Oh, for a while he came with me, but he was so slow, and he wanted to go because he didn’t think it was safe, eventually I just stopped, it wasn’t worth it anymore.”

We said our goodbyes and I promised we’d meet if I ventured into her neighborhood again.

I continued in and out of plenty of “No Outlet” streets (in the old days we called them dead ends), crossing back over Colerain, down to Jessup and Vogel, with no sidewalks and back again onto North Bend.

Mt. Airy had been relatively easy to walk, with the water tower in as my beacon. There had been some notions to make that area a park like setting, as the neighborhood had no center of commerce.

And thus, one can easily surmise why there might be more crime there too.

My phone had run out of charge, so I saved Mt. Airy Forest for another day. Those were my stumbling blocks, keeping me from finishing this trek. It had felt like a marathon and I was panting at mile 25.

While Mt. Airy lacked in a business district, it did not lack a substantial park, one on which the community can continue to build their identity. Mt. Airy Forest contained 1459 acres. And if you forgot that number, there were signs posted everywhere to remind you.

The park boasted of an aboretum, frisbee golf, and Everybody’s Tree House, a handicap-accessible treehouse, where my colleague, Pauletta Hansel, held a writing workshop and my other colleague, Ellen, created this inspiring poem.

There were plenty of residential areas in Mt. Airy, but the occasional multi-family dwellings were disconnected from other roads or businesses, leading to challenges in community creation and policing.

I often struggled with people who asked, Do you feel safe? As a city/country, we routinely asked children to wait at a bus stop at the top of the most dangerous street in the city. If we have to ask, then we’re doing something wrong. My kids were spoiled in not having ridden buses across the city, on metro lines that don’t connect them anywhere, standing out in the cold. I am embarrassed to admit I complained if the bus didn’t pick up the kids at the driveway.

Last spring, WCPO aired this piece. It’s an intriguing read and puts into context the lack of development in the neighborhood and a community that is trying to put itself back together. With a city councilperson, Kevin Flynn, making his home in Mt. Airy, the community needs more support from City Hall.

Perhaps one of its famous sons could help.

The Griffey family, of baseball fame, moved to Mt. Airy in 1973 when Ken Griffey, Sr. played for the Reds. Surely, the duo could make a few contributions to play areas or ballfields to breathe new life into the old growth of Mt. Airy and its surrounding forest.

FullSizeRender - Water TowerLike I have for many other the neighborhoods, I am cheering for Mt. Airy, if only to reclaim a parking lot so that the neighborhood can decide what kind of business to locate there. Most residential homes were structurally-sound and well-kept. Its unfortunate neighborhood had developed around the concept of so many No Outlets.

Mt. Airy Elementary was a community learning center and neighborhood school, serving kids kindergarten through sixth grade. The community council was active and engaged, and ready to turn over a new leaf.

With a forest and medieval castle water tower as backdrop, the neighborhood could certainly rewrite its own tale. I don’t know what the oxygen production was per acre, but with 1459 of them, certainly that life-giving element offered visitors and neighbors alike the opportunity for cleaner air and fresher ideas.

Yes, Joanne, that’s the kind of world I want to see.

 

 

 

 

With the Kids – Gettin’ My 52 On In Hartwell

This is my fiftieth 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.

Confession. I had procrastinated when it came to walking Hartwell. We have some young friends in Over-the-Rhine, Nick and Emily, who had moved from Hartwell. Months ago, when my “Girl, Walking” project first began, Nick and Emily suggested I include them when I walked Hartwell.

To date, no one other than Mark –  and my circular and often irrational thoughts – had accompanied me on my walks. So, I had procrastinated until I only had three remaining walks to complete, one of them being Hartwell.

Finally, on a Friday night, I asked Nick and Em if they would wake up early on a Sunday morning to walk. The walk evolved into eating lunch at a West African restaurant and suddenly we were not walking early. Nor we were there only four of us out for a walk. A text had come across from Eric and Mindy, also newer friends of our in OTR, looking to to enjoy the rare late September sun. I asked them along too.

Now, we were six, squeezed into my car (Mark rode in the way back, curled up on my Browns blanket on a day the team would later lose to the Bengals). I inhaled and exhaled. I didn’t take direction well (instruction ,yes, direction, no). I was accustomed to crossing the street wherever my eyes or feet or head wandered and not at someone else’s suggestion.

At Nick’s direction, we parked at Country Fresh Farm Market, to return later.

Hartwell was small, Nick had informed me. It would take us no time to get around. We strolled down Vine and then onto Compton where we found Luken’s Blacksmith Shop and the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and the Centennial Barn, only to learn that neither of those were within the neighborhood or city limits of Hartwell. And neither was a stretch of small homes that we traversed to get to Galbraith Road.

In essence, Hartwell was laid out in a bar bell shape. We had just circled one end of the barbell.

We landed back on Galbraith, perusing the exterior of the Daniel Drake Center for post-acute care and rehabilitation, while Dr. Mark explained “post-acute” to our group. Across the intersection of Vine and Galbraith, Hartwell School, a CPS community learning center and location of several Rookwood pottery drinking fountains, rose in the early morning sun, reminding me of another writing program where I had co-taught.

We neared the recreation center, a center that also served neighborhoods not in Cincinnati city limits. Nick had spent a few of his formative frisbee golf years in the field behind the center. He was now coaching Mark on the nuances of the game.

Nick then led us to the historical signage, and in particular, the neighborhood sign sporting a unique logo.

The logo, bearing resemblance to a stained glass design, was a graphical representation of the layout of a planned neighborhood, which was how Hartwell was originally conceived.

FullSizeRender (92)Noted here, a streetcar line once ran through Hartwell and also, Vine and Galbraith contained the business districts. Part of the original zoning laws required businesses locate on those two roads.

We traversed Vine to walk Parkway and cross the tracks, and landed in the section laid out as a rosette. Several churches were at the epicenter of the layout. There were so many great structures, including one at 233 Parkway Drive that sold a few years back for only 50K. Nick waxed poetically about wanting to buy it and fix it up.

Walking along Anthony Wayne Avenue, my stomach growled and we did have a planned food stop. However, we were not necessarily nearing the end.

Eventually crossing Galbraith again at Woodbine, we still had another side of Hartwell to walk, where we found two Habitat for Humanity homes under development in a section Nick proclaimed had not been the nicest part of the community. However, lawns once left to seed were now manicured.

Soon, we neared Wyoming (the neighborhood) where Nick and Em joked about the not so obvious border. How many times had I crossed over into another neighborhood, only to realize I was off my path because of campaign signs or school signs? How many neighborhoods looked the same one street to the next, Oakley and Madisonville, East Price Hill and West Price Hill, or until finally a house house fell into disrepair or a business shuttered closed?

Back on Vine, we came across the Public Library warehouse, where the Friends of Library held their sales. I was surprised by the smallness of the warehouse. However, I bet I could find about a dozen of my books inside. The store opened for regular hours on Monday, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Other times and sales can be found here.

We lunched at Teranga, a West-African restaurant, (I had the maffe). Oddly enough, I did have two Senegal connections. One of my mother’s caregivers had married into the family of the owner. And one summer, our family had visited Senegal while our daughter Shannon worked for the state department.

As we made our way through more of Hartwell, I wondered how Nick and Emily had found themselves in Hartwell when moving from Boston.

Nick worked for GE, and after surveying properties and values near GE Evendale, they settled on Hartwell. Once they discovered Teranga, Country Fresh Market and Cosmic Pizza, they knew they made the right choice.

Soon, we came upon the original Cosmic Pizza, the business now closed after its owner was brutally shot and killed during a robbery, leaving a widow and three children. The community rallied behind the family and the killer is still waiting trial on the death penalty.

As twenty-somethings, Nick and Em told us, eventually they found themselves downtown frequently. Like many others, they saw potential in the bones of the old buildings and was drawn to the new energy the city had begun to emit.

We ended our field trip at Country Fresh Market with a little beer tasting and some of Hartwell / Wyoming to take home with us.

A few days later, I returned to walk the remainder of the neighborhood AFTER I had found out about its bar-bell shape.Hartwell Cinci Demo

The two primary areas I had missed were the Evergreen Retirement Community and the Williamsburg Apartments. I had once considered living at the Williamsburg Apartments, but my older sister’s wise counsel led me to a different part of the city (That blog soon to come).

Hartwell had its own community council and improvement association, as well as its own scuba diving center, In Too Deep.

We have a few other “Nick and Em’s” in our lives. We call them “the kids” because the young friends do honestly remind us of our adult children. Sometimes, those same individuals have more fun hanging out with our kids when they are home. But honestly, Nick and Em and many of young people we have met in the city, in particular those not raised or schooled here, see the potential in communities like Hartwell, in a way that is different. They are willing to leap over eastside-westside borders and biases, and racial ones too. They are less entrenched and consider buying homes in neighborhoods that underdeveloped. We need more of them, we need better policies to attract them and keep them, and we need to sometimes get out of the way and let them run with ideas that are better than our own.

As for me, that day, with five others in tow, my pace had slowed. Our walk was a gentle reminder that it wasn’t always places, things, or events that connected me to the city. And it wasn’t always my husband or kids, family or long lost friends, but something or someone new could come along and likewise make me want more for all of us.

Lawn bowling, anyone?

 

 

 

Still Educating Myself – Gettin’ My 52 on in College Hill

This is my forty-ninth 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.

The day dawned with a crispness in the air and I was free. My number of walks remaining had dwindled to four. I had plans to walk three other communities, to occur with the right amount of time, coupled with the right temperature. College Hill was the lone standout on my list.

From Northside, I followed Hamilton Avenue until the street intersected with Belmont. I parked my car at Belmont and Hamilton Ave. After walking Northside, Hamilton now stood out as a main thoroughfare, one I had never considered before.

As I started my stroll, I crossed the College Hill Presbyterian Church, which has a colorful history, once built with bricks from the kiln of Pleasant Hill (the former name of College Hill) and then demolished by a storm, only to rise again. I continued along Belmont and came across Aiken High School, home to CPS’s New Tech program, where I once subbed as a writing program instructor.

In the middle of Llanfair, the former town hall now anchored a park.

The homes along this stretch varied in their architecture. I finally opened my eyes a little more at the sight of Laurel Court, home of Peter Thompson, founder of The Champion Coated Paper Company.

Later I would circle about its backside and around its stunning European gardens. Each mansion seemed to surpass the one before it.

I turned down Glenview hoping to make it to the bottom of the hill and Fox Preserve, home to a two-mile loop through a forested area. But alas, I ran out of sidewalks, decided the curves were too treacherous to continue, and realized the entrance on Kirby would not take me where I needed to go.

I marched back up Glenview to Belmont and reconnected with North Bend Road, finding stretches of homes along Collegevu Street.

I wandered for a long time in and out of Savannah to Harbeson to Hamilton.

Having overshot my next destination, I backtracked along North Bend Road, crossed onto Cary, and stumbled across McAuley High School, where a writer friend of mine taught.

Then, I caught sight of the backside of Laurel Court. Thankfully, the rear gate had been left open and I could stroll (trespass?) through the green rounds and lush gardens that made me ache for Italy.

I circled around Cedar to find College Hill Fundamental Academy of our CPS system. CHFA was designated an EL school, as if one might instantly know what that means.

EL – experiential learning, a magnet school that combines academics with project-based and service learning. I’m still searching for the flow chart to keep those designations straight, and to better understand the decision criteria in establishing each so different from the rest.

The history of Dow’s Corner was related to Cora Dow, who, yes, as a woman, owned a chain of drugstores and also developed a penchant for good ice cream. Her father had handed her the business when he died of TB. She eventually pursued her pharmacy degree and grew the chain.

Along here, I discovered the business district, more importantly the beer district. Brink Brewery, Marty’s Hops and Vines, Bacall’s, operating since 1982. Fern and the College Hill Coffee Co. also held promise for a less sultry day.

Episcopal Retirement Homes and Model Housing were developing a senior housing complex nearby. And an Artworks mural, depicts “A Perfect Day in College Hill.”

I was enticed by the prospect of stopping for coffee, lolling about in the early fall warmth, but the better part of me knew I wanted to finish.

Instead, I continued snapping photos, drawn to the many “blurple’ – blue and purple – homes I had witnessed on these walks.  I completed a stroll through Hollywood Estates, walked down Daly, and traversed North Bend once more all the way to Tahiti.

Back on the main road, I turned down Argus Drive, aware of which direction I needed to turn, but not the streets. I left it up to my intuition, found Grosbeck, and eventually Hamilton.

However, I was still in search of the colleges for which College Hill had been named. I headed south on Hamilton and came across the Children’s Hospital expansion, which was located in the former Ohio Female College, also known as the Cincinnati Sanitarium and the Emerson.

Directly across the street sat the former Pleasant Hill Academy, also formerly known as the Ohio Military Institute, which was now for sale. I checked the Zillow listing and found the interior to be completely lacking in any original decor. Also, along Pasadena, the former post office had been converted to a home.

I popped down Hilcrest to get a look at the entrance to LaBoiteaux Woods. My final two destinations were Twin Towers Senior Living Community (Do you ever hear their commercials on WVXU? Now you know what it looks like). The Twin Towers community offered an active lifestyle and a continuum of care.

Another condo tower, Hammond North, located just south of the twin towers, boasted of 29 acres of park and was the home of a long-time writing mother of mine.

College Hill had an active development corporation and community council. Controversy didn’t seem to travel too far in this community, other than it had to often distinguish itself between North College Hill (not in the city limits) and College Hill.

The walk had stretched my imagination. I would walk College Hill’s next-door neighbor and find that what College Hill could boast of, that neighboring community could not. The size of a community matters, even when it shouldn’t. So too, for the mix of housing. The attraction of wealth to wealth.

The longer I thought about College Hill, the number of my writing connection increased, perhaps tied to College Hill’s roots in education. A vibrant and progressive history defined, bolstered and propelled a neighborhood as much as anything else. Perhaps we had too many neighborhoods that had been created just for the sake of boundaries.

 

 

 

 

Finding My Italy, Sort of – Gettin’ My 52 On in S. Fairmount

This is my forty-eighth 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 few weeks ago, when researching neighborhoods, I came across an article about South Fairmount. I had been waiting for my S. Fairmount moment long since I discovered this was where the Italians lived. But I discovered so much more and predicted to my husband, who walked with me that morning, South Fairmount would be the next hot neighborhood in twenty years. By the end of walk and blog, I would feel ambivalent about my prediction.

We began our walk near Error Place on Queen City Ave. And while we were not in error, I could have plotted our stroll more effectively. But we were swept up in the view of cranes and footers and rebar. There was a massive construction project happening called the Lick Run project.

The Lick Run is a watershed that spans about 3000 acres. Sewage and stormwater often overflow from this into the combined overflow in the Mill Creek. The project is intended to keep spillover out of the combined system. Since I’m not engineer, one can read more here.

The project involved sewer system renovations, as well as creating parklike setting around the sewer systems. However, about 90 homes, including historic ones, were destroyed to the effort. Due to funding and controversy, the scope changed over time. Some residents remain concerned their community will resemble more amusement park and not a neighborhood as it once existed.South Fairmount St Francis

The original plans for the Lick Run project also called for two-way Harrison and Queen City Avenue, to allow for a better flow of cars. However, that would not happen either.

With the burrowing of equipment, the elongated stretches of dirt and concrete, the cranes that linger over commuters, residents had a right to be concerned.

We passed the St. Francis Courts and Orion Academy. Once the location of a cemetery and then a hospital named St. Francis Hospital for the Incurables, the buildings were now designated as Section 8 housing. Because I was prone to wandering, we found ourselves pacing to the top of White St. after a dog galloped after us. For once, I was thankful for debris in the road. I picked up a short 2×4, prepared to use it. The dog scurried away upon the owner’s whistle. During my walks, the times I had felt most threatened involved dogs. It was a fear of mine, despite owning one.

Near the top of White, the former Central Fairmount school rose up out of the shadows. A portion of the school looked to have been built in the more recent era of school expansions. The original school was constructed in 1900 and CPS sold it for $300K in 2012, with its last class graduating that same year. It was now owned by an Indianapolis company. Another school building sat empty while our city and county remained perplexed on how to create more affordable housing.

We crossed over on Fairmount and trekked back down Harrison Avenue. Having circled around, Mark suggested we walk counterclockwise to our original direction, along Harrison, crossing over the Westwood which became Queen City Avenue.

We traipsed through Selim, and Esmonde where two sets of stairs were accessible. We processed toward Quebec, finally ending at Sunset Avenue, crossing on Lick Run Way to the “other side” of South Fiarmount. (insert map).

Wanting to the historic church, we approached Orland. I actually walked up Error Place because, well, because I wanted to see what was beyond it.

Back down on Queen City, I found my private Italy, or at least an Italian church, San Antonio, with an upcoming spaghetti dinner on October 8. So much of their early culture resonated with me, as my parents too were raised in the Italian viewpoint of blending in.

Nearing the car, I wanted a break. The treads on my shoes were wearing thin, but I resolved to use the same pair until my treks were complete.

We hopped in the car despite the fact there was still a portion of the community that I wanted to explore. I admitted that my internal compass had gone awry that day.

At first considering a drive home, I changed course and parked near the base of Beekman and Harrison (yes, we could have walked this easily). But temperatures were already nearing 80 degrees at 9 a.m.

I’m thankful we circled around and walked up Pinetree to Tremont. As we made our way up to Tremont, another church beckoned. Having the steeple in my sight, I had merely walked past a woman seated her in car. She called out to us.

“Morning! Hey, do you live on the street?”

“No, we’re just out for a walk.”

“I live here.”  She pointed with pride to compact home. “Been here 11 years.”

Instead of shouting across the sidewalk, Mark and I approached the car.

“I’m Shale.”

“Annette and Mark. Who’s in the back?”

A young woman broadly smiled.

“Nyah. I’m a ninth grader at Clark Montessori.”

Shale spoke lovingly about her home, sharing that she once lived downtown. “Down on Race, near 14th.”

“That’s where we are now.”

“I went to school at Washington Park. I also lived on Vine for a while. They fixed lots of those homes up in Over-the-Rhine, I’m hoping the same happens here. Its not safe, drugs, you name it. I don’t even walk around here.” She eyed us with incredulity.

In broad daylight, maybe she did. But she resided on a side street off Harrison and Tremont was an easy cut-through for anyone wanting to save time or elude observation.

Later, in researching, I found several LLCs cobbling together property for some time, probably since the sewer project had been announced. They too had their eye on the same prize as Shale.

“Stop by anytime,” she encouraged us.

I really could’t wait to return.

We took a few more strides towards the church and discovered a note on the door. Someone had broken into the church. “To the person who broke in, God has seen you,” the note read.

A new academy awaited our exploration, as did an building resembling my old elementary school. The building appeared to be more of a residence now.

We concluded our walk down Waverly, and Howe and Bloom, to the Lunkenmeier Valve Company, which now hosted New Life Furniture and Cincinnati Recycling.

The car was back within our sights. “Can we get to the Mill Creek from here?” I asked.

Without knowledge of the potential for the Lick Run project to connect in any sort of way to the creek, I followed my intuition and there below was the Mill Creek.

And along that area, a pathway that may or may not become a bike path someday, as part of the Mill Creek TrailScreen Shot 2017-10-02 at 12.29.30 PM

I’d love our city’s governing body to actually promote our healthy biking communities.

Instead, we recently lost more federal money and the opportunity to connect the larger biking region.

Here is a list of links to help one continue their education of this controversy better than I can explain:

It’s difficult to capture how the neighborhood feels like it has been scooped out along with the dirt, only to be put back into the ground at a later date. Trekking across the landscape, one would have difficult finding the “center” or core. There is no CRC center, as children visit the one in Millvale. The community council meets at Orion Academy but hosts no website for more information. South Fairmount once contained the highest concentration of Section 8 housing. With the demolition, I don’t know where that stands today.

In conclusion, I vacillated between balancing the needs (and waste) of our 21st century and preserving a way of life from our 19th centuries. As an Italian, I admit to having a hard time letting go of something in the past, its my most endearing trait.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 7.30.55 AMHowever, we only have one history, and eventually, it becomes a shared one. Who decides what to leave in and out of our history? I’ll leave the reader with this last look.

The stretch of four homes in the first photo (Enquirer file), situated north of this garage-like building (below) are no longer.

 

 

 

What’s Fair?- Gettin’ My 52 On in N. Fairmount

This is my forty-seventh 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.

East of Westwood, south of East Westwood, north of South Fairmount, south of south Cumminsville, and east of Camp Washington.

I appeared like and sounded eerily similar to the scarecrow in Wizard Oz, flopping my arms around, explaining to my husband where North Fairmount was located.

North Fairmount was a fairly accessible neighborhood off the viaduct and Beekman, which made it more ironic, that this neighborhood too, had not thrived as others of a similar size, such as Columbia-Tusculum, that I had visited.

As an extenuation of my walk of English Woods, I included North Fairmount that day and parked my car at St. Leo the Great Parish, which boasted of an international community of congregants, including Burundian, Congolese and Guatemalan immigrants.

I plodded up Baltimore Avenue, the main thread that ran through the community. Across from a school, I encountered an older African-American woman wearing a neon vest and seated on a concrete wall.

“Morning.”

“Good morning,” she said,with some hesitation.

“Hot out this morning.”

“Oh yeah.”

I quickly turned the conversation to what I perceived as her reason for the vest.

“What time does school start?”

“Not til 9:15 there abouts.”

“Oh got it. Is this a CPS school?”

“Yeah, but only through like fourth grade.”

“I can’t keep them all straight,” I shook my head. “The sign says magnet school but I’m still figuring out all those designations.”

LEAP Academy had just opened one month prior. LEAP was a Cincinnati Public School, and stood for Language Enrichment and Academic Proficiency. As a magnet school, LEAP’s focus was on the Spanish language. Given the make up of the neighborhood, the concentration made complete sense.

“I need a flow chart,” I joked.

“You and me both.”

“So you’ve been at this a while?”

“Yeah, just live around the corner, been doing this 13 years, and up at West High.”

“Bet you know all the kids?”

“Not these young ones since their coming in from all over, but yeah, the high school kids, know some of them.”

“You have the day off?” she quizzed me, like I was one of the kids, possibly skipping!

“I’m a writer, and teach some writing. I’ve got some flexibility. I’m not from Cincinnati, so I’m out walking as a way of getting out and getting to know the city.”

“So, the neighborhoods give you some inspiration, right?”

“Oh, they’ve given me more than that.” I didn’t have time to detail how the more I walked, I less I knew (and also, the more pounds I gained, which seemed odd.)

“You have a great day”, I bid to her and extended my hand for a shake. “I’m Annette.”

“Cynthia.”

“I’ll see you when I come back down the hill.”

Her mouth opened in a slight smirk.

I tread up Baltimore, to Western-Northern, and turned and trekked back down, perusing Yoast and a few other streets which were getting the election-year paving treatment.

By the time I reached the bottom, my phone had died, and I was forced to head home.

I returned again a few days later, parking again at St. Leo. The church was not only a landmark, but as its spires towered over the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood, St. Leo embraced its residents living below.

I started up again, seeking out steps up Denham. I traversed across Seegar, back to Baltimore, and down to where Baltimore met Carll, overlooking the tracks. The engine brakes pierced my ears.  I scurried back up Carll, and around to Pulte and Denham. Many of the side streets “faced” into a valley where the playground was located.

The layout was certainly conducive to a neighborhood feel, and yet so many homes had been torn down or were in disrepair. However, I discovered other homes that had remained were kept up or at least neighbors were attempting to do so.

I encountered a rain garden project along Denham, and then hiked back up a set of steps at Beekman and Baltimore, across Liddell, and back to Baltimore again. I had criss-crossed a small portion of the neighborhood like a hopscotching preschooler.

A neighborhood that had once looked daunting because it had been forgotten, had lodged itself in my heart. If one scooped up all the homes in Columbia-Tusculum and situated them on the vacant lands of North Fairmount, no one would be the wiser.

It seemed more arbitrary than fair that C-T’s property values continued to climb and properties were highly sought-after, yet in North Fairmount, that was not the case.

Convinced I had completed my circuit, I glanced at the map. I noticed a small section of streets belonging to the community that was not accessible from near Baltimore. That puzzled me. I was forced to return to my car, DRIVE to the other section, only to discover that those streets belonged to the Baltimore-Pike cemetery, once as known as German Protestant Evangelical Cemetery or Raschig Cemetery. Thus, I could have walked through the cemetery from Baltimore, up into the burial grounds, and to the other side.

Later, Mark and I brushed our teeth before bed.

“I really want to show you North Fairmount sometime.”

Sure there was no coffee house, bar or restaurant. But I had felt a sense of warmth that did not permeate from the odd and oppressive heat of September.

Perhaps because Italians once lived there, I don’t know. From its easily navigable layout of the community, I could envision attracting developers and homeowners to the neighborhood’s natural undulations. I might be biased because I had become more adept at maneuvering around the community.

Following some research, I discovered this moving article , published this past August, about North Fairmount, naming it as one of our forgotten neighborhoods. Again, I asked. How did that happen? Like having too many children, did the city have too many designated neighborhoods and some just got overlooked and were left to fend for themselves? Wasn’t there someone we could take to task for this neglect?

For instance, this building had once been for sale, and was still owned by Stepping Stones. Here’s how it appeared in 2008.

There were many “missing teeth” along the back stretch of Pulte (see map) where I discovered this trailer. Don’t we have departments for this? And is this legal?Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 5.12.12 PM

The community council was active, as the president was quoted in the above article. Residents met at St. Leo’s, which by now, I absorbed the fact that the church was everything in this enclave. After visiting St. Leo’s website, and learning the community had raised 25K to repair the stained glass windows, I re-enrolled in my Kroger community rewards and named St. Leo’s as my charitable organization.

I hope to someday read more about North Fairmount, that perhaps the MSD project which took away so many historic homes from South Fairmount (blog coming next), will at least spur more economic activity in North Fairmount.

The city needs gets its hands dirty in some of our forgotten neighborhoods, whacking at the weeds, putting together more comprehensive, innovative plans that don’t involve absent property owners or large developers. Plenty of residents or those who sent their children to LEAP or attended St. Leo’s probably know how to grow a community by weeding and planting roots. We could ask them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consolidating Lives – Gettin’ My 52 on in English Woods

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 had to see it all for myself.

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.

I turned north and walked towards Westwood-Northern Boulevard, in my promise to step on the cracks of most sidewalks in the boundary of each neighborhood.

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.

My sense that there had been demolishment was confirmed as I stepped across driveways and stoops that should have led to a life better lived.

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 headed into the group of townhomes, circled around and encountered three women, appearing that they had recently put their children on the bus.

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.

At the base of Sutter, I discovered a few homes not related to the CMHA housing properties, and of course, the parking space for the “pastor’s wife.”

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 1994, the neighborhood was lauded as exemplary. 

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).

238086524_a313abaa8a_zReaders 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 Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 4.34.53 PMinactive.

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.

FullSizeRender (78)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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bona Fide Westsider – Gettin’ My 52 On in Westwood

This is my forty-fifth 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.

When my trek was over, I breathed a long sigh of relief, bought a bearclaw from a new café, and dragged my feet back towards my car. I had conquered Cincinnati’s largest neighborhood. By my estimation, I had padded across approximately 11 miles of sidewalks, a few cut-throughs, and several driveways I should not have wandered near.

I began near Westwood town hall, since that was the only point of interest I knew. The neighborhood was hosting its annual art fair that day, and the road was blocked off. I turned down Epworth and parked somewhere close by.

In a game of twister, I spun in all directions until I finally decided to walk as far west as my feet or signs would take me.

From Epworth, I took Montana over to Glenmore, passing the Y and a zealous Halloween fan, and followed Glenmore Avenue along the backside of Western Hills Plaza.

Occasionally, I saw political signs that did not look familiar and street signs with references to Cheviot. I was technically trespassing into another neighborhood.

But I continued on Glenmore until I came across Pickbury. Then I missed my turn, wound up going north on Coral Park Drive then crossing over to Boudinot for a while. I traipsed up and down a portion of Queen City and Boudinot to hit a few highlights, including Mother of Mercy High School. Sadly, the 100-year-plus old Mother of Mercy will close next year and merge with McAuley High School due to low enrollment numbers.

Along Ferguson, I took note of some fine homes, dating back to when the school’s enrollment was healthier.

Finally, I was in trouble. Queen City Avenue stretched below me like a demon in the late dawn. The road twisted and descended where it would land at the base of West Price Hill and South Fairmount.

The problem? If I walked all the down, I would have to hike all the way up. But this was my 45th walk.

I was in this project for long haul whether it was up or down (and there had been plenty of both). The day had brought a particularly fall kind of weather. If I couldn’t do it then, I shouldn’t have been out at all. I had at least learned that.

So, I trekked to the base of Queen City, or at least near what I might have presumed to be near the basin. Then turned around and hiked back up through Lafeuille Terrace.

I ventured off that street onto a few others to the east where I viewed more faint outlines of the city. I enjoyed the sights that carried me to Harrison Ave and of course, a set of steps.

Once on Harrison, I stood again in indecision. Harrison Ave ran near- parallel to Queen City Avenue. I had driven up its incline, so I had a realistic sense of what it would take on foot to ascend.

But, I turned that direction and soon encountered young Kershawn. (I’m sure my spelling was off).

“Hey, how are you today?”

I presumed he was waiting for a bus.

“I’m good. But do you know what time the bus comes?” His eyes gazed at me in earnest.

I noted his yellow t-shirt and guessed his age to be somewhere in the pre-teens.

“I really don’t. Which one are looking for?”

“The 21.”

“I just saw it go past the other way.”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to sit on it for a whole hour.”

“I don’t blame you. Where ya going so early this morning?” Teens didn’t rise that early for nothing.

“Findlay Market.”

“What for?”

“I’m in this program.”

“What kind?”

“Its called Youth Hope and we do things like sell bags.” I knew of the program through my involvement with Findlay Market.

The young man and I walked towards the designated bus stop. And he proudly chatted some more. “My brother recommended me, after they came and talked to the school. So, I go down there all day. We sell bags.”

IMG_3426“I’m sure the bus will be along soon.”

“Yeah, me too. I just wasn’t sure if I should wait.”

We neared the Judson Care Center, founded on 18 acres in 1946 as the Baptist Home and Center. “I hope I see you again, maybe down at Findlay. My name is Annette. What’s yours?”

“Kershawn.”

“Kershawn. You’re doing great work. Don’t stop.”

So many neighborhoods had endeared themselves to me, not because of architecture or beauty, but because of the people I met.

Westwood had a side that also backed up to the Fairmounts, which I hadn’t walked yet. However, I did know McHenry and I did know it was a corridor where police concerned themselves. Sure enough, there was a security camera at the intersection of Harrison and McHenry.

I am often asked, “Aren’t you afraid?” The truth is, “Yes.” Of getting lost. Of not knowing which direction is home. Of missing a large chuck of a community. Of writing about it later and getting the feel of a neighborhood wrong. Yes, in general. But I try to get out during busy times of the day, or what I perceive to be active. Saturday mornings. Weekday afternoons when buses are running. Evening rush hours.

I did a few more loops on the northern side of Harrison and as I approached the town hall, I strolled past two middle-aged men mowing the yard of a quaint home. I stopped to compliment them on the tidiness of their surrounds.

“Its Mom and Dad’s,” one replied.

One lived in Cheviot. The other lived in White Oak and wasn’t sure if that community was the city of Cincinnati. I had to inform him otherwise.

But I discussed my project with them. The older one reacted. “I’m proud to know you.” I clarified again that I was NOT running for any office, other than the office of curiosity. We agreed to meet again on the west side when fate deemed it so.

The Westwood art show was beginning to open, but I still had a few missed blocks that needed coverage. So I started up on Epworth again to Wardall then circled around, crossed over Montana somewhere along the line and hopped into the vicinity of St. Catherine of Siena (where neighbors of mine have performed in choral concerts) and the Westwood Commons.

Oddly enough, as I strolled by the church, there was a funeral taking place. I fumbled with my camera to snap a photo of the spires and didn’t realize the casket was being carried out at that exact moment. A funny moment if I had been in a sitcom. Horrified, I scrambled away.

When I had no more land to conquer, I recalled walking a portion of Westwood, along Montana, during my East Westwood walk and wanted to include those photos as well.

While my tour was complete, my walking was not. I returned to the town center, after securing a prized pastry from the recently opened Muse café, a gathering spot that was somewhat nondescript in its décor and name. Eventually, they planned for local art on their walls as their signature, but none were evident that day. 

When I had enough and learned that Henke Winery was not open yet, I could not locate my car. I had parked somewhere off Epworth but in my wanderings to get started, I had ventured down an alley or two (those were waay different from OTR alleys), and was convinced my car was near one of the alleys, except that three materialized ahead of me. I pressed a few keys on my Iphone, to see where I snapped the very first photo. There my car would be.

However, my walks were never truly complete. The downside to my utter lack of planning is that I neglected parts of a neighborhood I deemed necessary to include.  As such, I did drive back and walk some near Bracken Woods, the backside of Westwood Commons where I once played CRC volleyball at Gamble High School, and around Brodbeck Nature Preserve. As for Mt. Airy Forest, part of which was located in Westwood,  I would tackle that green monster later.

Westwood had an active community council and also its own historical society. Westwood will be celebrating sesquicentennial in 2018 and was comprised of seven historical civic buildings. The neighborhood encompassed five square miles (it felt like more that day) and also boasted of a population of 30,000.

In Westwood, CPS runs an “enterprise” school where students are learning about the world of business. It is also a community learning center, with access to many community services. I am beginning to liken our schools to factories, where if you lived in a certain town, you went to work in that town’s factory. It didn’t matter what product was made, only that’s where you worked. I see the logic of setting up special or enterprise type schools, but are we are directing students into one role, when they might be better suited for different role attainable via a separate school? Just some seeds…

My thighs and calves sore, I drove home that sunny, autumn day, absorbing the beautiful weather, and knowing my way from Boudinot to Queen City to Spring Grove to home.

Could I be considered a bona fide west sider now?

 

 

Island of Humanity – Gettin’ My 52 On in the Villages of Roll Hill

This is my forty-fourth 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.

The Fay. Everyone knew it as The Fay, a winding stretch of subsidized housing built in the 80’s. However, I didn’t know it as The Fay, with one exception.

A writer friend of mine, Maura Anaya, had been a social worker then, making visits to the community. In one of our writing sessions, Maura penned a piece about The Fay. She painted one of the most startling images of life inside the neighborhood – more than what I could find in Youtube videos and news reels. I included her work at the end of this blog, but in her writings, Maura referred to the area as an island and through her work and words, affirmed the humanity that can be found anywhere.

That was years ago. In 2010, the city of Cincinnati announced plans for a $36 million overhaul of the Fay Apartments, including new kitchens, windows, doors, fences and a new name. The Villages of Roll Hill.

In one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods, residents and city officials alike agreed. The problem was not with the residents, but oftentimes their associates. The revitalization plan also included installation of security cameras, and automatic camera readers for license plates to identify individuals who perhaps were in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.

In 2012, when the new 703 units on the 79-acre parcel were unveiled, residents hailed the outcome as nothing short of a total makeover and total peace of mind, as one resident called it.

At the time, the city received the “Oscar” of community development awards for its LEED work in the renovations of the Fay Apartments.

But given its history, I of course had trepidations over walking the area.

Mark joined me that day, only because he was off after call. I planned the route during school bus pickup times. Many children waited at bus stops along the streets of the Villages of Roll Hill.

Our entry in the community was met with an empty police cruiser, perhaps stationed there during school pickups. We stopped and talked to a young mom with a very tall toddler. “School today?” I asked. “No, she’s only three,” the mother replied. I couldn’t believe it. The little girl had grown past my waist. The three-year-old had come from good genes.

We kept up our walk, surprised by the airiness of the community. Space. Breath. At several junctions, I waded through the dew-laid grass to snap photos of what appeared to be our city’s medical institutions and those of higher learning.

I tried to imagine if my home overlooked of these institutions. And I had little or no way to access that educational institution via schooling, financial means, even for that matter, the damn highway separated them all, as well as a twisting, winding road, which led down back through South Cumminsville and was not developed at all. How would I wake each morning?

As had become customary, I did discover a pair of lost soles, as we traversed the neighborhood. Many of the townhome clusters had neighborhood laundry rooms (though the hours noted were mostly weekday and weekends, with little consideration for weekday evenings) and neighborhood offices. There were at least three playground areas, and a child care center.

The homes were distinct in siding color and style. Many had been built as multi-units versus townhomes. During the renovation, some 17 buildings had been demolished to open up the setting, as we would learn. Some of those had been built along the property’s fenceline, and knocked down for more breathing room.  Where once old chain link fences had been installed, the newer ones or none at all allowed for more light as well.

We circled around the neighborhood, which didn’t take long. Nearing our car, I stopped to chat with two gentlemen seated on their front stoop.

I sauntered up the walk with Mark trailing me. “Hey, how you are this morning, gentlemen?”

“Just enjoying this weather,” the older one responded.

“My name is Annette, and this my husband Mark.” We all shook hands.

“I’m Ron.”

“Ron, I’m out walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. (blah, blah, blah). This is quite the change. You’ve been here a while?”

“Yes, since early 2000’s.”

“So, you’ve seen the change.” Ron noted the apartments across from him which had been torn down.

“For the good?”

“Yeah.”

“Raised any kids here?” The other gentleman, Dave, said he did. Two went to St. Boniface in Northside. The other to West High.

Ron went on. “But we gotta have more for kids to do.” Dave nodded his head. Of course, that was the lament of all parents, but this time the note felt far more imperative and important.

“Boys and Girls Club does operate out of Roll Hill,” I noted, having learned that from my last walk. What about a rec center?” I asked.

“Kids got to go too far for that one down in Millvale.” Later we would drive down to that and it really was far and hilly) and only the fittest had a shot at going back up that hill.

We took our leave, with me asking who the smoker belonged to.

Everyone pointed at Ron.

“Well, Ron. Next time, I’ll be back around dinnertime.” Ron chuckled.

Trudging back to the car, we walked past the basketball courts and cramped community center.

I tried to work the logistics in my head. One neighborhood, the near entirety of it, was managed by an out of town property manager. There was a remaining dozen or so homes that belonged to an older street but were beyond the boundaries of the actual Villages of Roll Hill . They were part of the Villages neighborhood, not part of East Westwood, which seemed to be having its own issues set adrift from any comprehensive neighborhood feel.

Wallick Communities was the operator, based out of Columbus. They operated in nine states and also managed properties for assisted living, senior housing, and student housing. Let’s just say the online brochures and marketing are VERY different.

We’ve come a longs ways from separating ourselves by chain link fences. But I couldn’t help but walk away thinking we still had more distance to travel, in each of our minds, to envision a neighborhood not segmented off from the rest.

Excerpted from Maura Anaya’s work on The Fay apartments…

Having worked off and on with people who live in the Fay as a caseworker and in various other capacities for 20 years, I found myself visiting that island on top of the hill surrounded by trees, often, sometimes every day for weeks at a time. I once stood in the middle of a parking lot with a different domestic disturbance going on like stereo sound on both sides and in front of me. I knew 4 children who had witnessed their mother murdered in front of them on a street there and saw for the last time a teenager I cared about as he got out of the car telling me he knew what he was doing. 24 hours later he was found shot in the back, gone. I have called the police on that hill more than a few times. Yet, what struck me most about the Fay or the newly dubbed village of Roll Hill was the humanity. The humans all living behind cinderblocks with concrete floors, all isolated with one entrance and one exit. The people trying to beat the odds, the ones that despite one set back after another persevere and keep moving forward. The crime and poverty maybe more obvious, but the kindness, the hard-working men and women, the moral choices, and deep empathy that exists despite or perhaps because of the poverty stayed with me in equal measure.

If you think you are thrifty or strong or kind, try being those things when you are poor or scared for the safety of yourself or love ones at every moment.

Things that others do not see or are scared to look at you can see up close at the Fay but that up-close view reveals more than the stereotype or reputation of the neighborhood.

There was a vibrant economy that did not exist with money but rather bartering, favors and keeping track of who you owed and who owed you. There are vegetable trucks, sock and underwear guys and phone card sellers that came on the same day of the week that were not exactly official. It takes 5 dollars for you and your child to take the bus out of there. The store, the doctor a job interview or buying groceries means a significant undertaking if you are poor. Everyone knows the guy who can fix cars or a washing machine or the bootleg cab drivers. More than a few times, I have walked with families to buy some chips at the only store at the entrance. I have waved at the guys on the corner and counted pennies. I met all the definitions of families you could imagine that live there. What separated them from my urban neighborhood was diversity of income not diversity of being. No sea of humanity is one thing and despite the poverty and a concentration of all the urban problems you can name, I witnessed amazing spirit and creativity, time and again. No matter how desperate or poor, love has the same definition everywhere. The people I met at the Fay taught me that there are many ways to live under the same circumstances. American entrepreneurship and ingenuity is not just about drugs or exploitation it is about sharing and depending on others. It is about figuring out a way to live that meets your needs. I learned how working mothers of multiple children cook big meals with very little and was taught recipes for feeding a crowd that I still use.

I knew families that stuck to themselves and were very selective about who they associated with and others who knew everything and everyone. I knew criminals and law-abiding Christians, Muslims, even a Buddhist. I talked for hours with many families: a single mother so depressed and alone fearful to leave her apartment, an elderly foster mother who just did not know how to help the children she was caring for, a drug dealer who wanted to get out of hustling, an immigrant who built a computer for his studies. I met more loving parents than drug dealers and people with skills and jobs more than not. As a community, there are ebbs and flows and norms and unspoken rules just like anywhere else.

The Fay was an intense microcosm of humanity. Joy, suffering with some living and others just surviving, perhaps like every neighborhood. Or perhaps due to its isolation, it’s location or its existence up on the hill with empty tunnels underneath the dynamics whether they be dangerous, desperate or amazing examples of human spirit, I never left the Fay without thinking of the extremes of a remarkable place.

Maura Kennedy Anaya
2012