This is the thirty-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.
The rains the past week were messing with my non-schedule of 52 walks. I stayed closer to home for the sake of time and tempests and drove to Avondale, beginning in the southeast corner of the neighborhood at Burnett Ave. and Taft.
Walking along Burnett, a pedestrian is aware of the medical complexes, hospitals and social services that accompanied one along the sidewalk. A business district that once existed had been eradicated after the riots in the 60’s. (Cincinnati has a long history of rioting). I was also becoming mindful of the sprawl created by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, named number three in the country, and their planned expansion. A larger Ronald McDonald House. More research. More buildings. More parking. More cars. Less neighborhood.
The Cincinnati Herald was housed inside a secondary Children’s Hospital building. Founded in 1955, the African-American newspaper was published every Wednesday and partly owned by Eric Kearney, a former Ohio state senator.
As I approached Rockdale, I saw signs of new townhomes and renovated historic buildings, as well as the Rockdale Academy. I would learn later that this area too was in the sights of the Children’s expansion.
Turning along Erckenbrecher Street, many historic homes had already lost the battle to the hospital giant. As an average bystander, I felt overwhelmed by the takeover and sense of vacancy and depravation.
You can read more about this contentious, yet oddly supported by city council, issue. According to the Avondale community council president, Children’s has purchased over 100 homes in the past years to create their, well, footprint.
What does the cost benefit analysis say about the long-term health of a community versus the long-term health of patients coming in from out of town, state, country?
As I approached the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, a distinct odor filled the air. That of animal stink, emanating from the zoo. The zoo’s growth too had happened at the cost of the neighborhood.
I walked down Vine, to Erhman and circled around Forest, and back up Vine. I didn’t often get turned around, but in Avondale I did.
As I pushed my legs up the Vine Street hill, I noticed an older gentleman sitting on his second-story porch. He lived in a home with the garage below street level.
“Morning,” he said and waved me back. “You walking around here?
I was forced to explain my presence, on a near rainy morning.
“How many you done?”
“Then you got 21 to go.” I didn’t need his help in the math department, but at least he knew how many neighborhoods were in Cincinnati. “I’m hoping for more for encouragement and less math,” I joked back.
We had a short exchange about his growing up in Georgia and me in northern Ohio.
“So why you doing this?”
“To keep my mind young. How old are you?”
“89,” he proudly shared.
“Wow. What’s your secret?”
“Staying away from stupidity and prejudice.”
The gentlemen spoke at great length on the two subjects. On the latter, he referenced a Christian upbringing several times. “You Christian?”
“Then you know, the church where you go, that’s not really the church. You the church. You out here, walking these streets, talking to this old man. That’s the church.”
I felt blessed that morning, and, in the back of mind, also wondered how many more miles I still had to walk to get to my car before the rain.
“You live alone?” Oops, I didn’t want him to think I was some random stalker.
“No. got my wife whose 78.”
“Oh, so that’s you’re secret to staying young.”
He just smiled, his white teeth brightening the gray mouse morning. “You ever come back, you knock on my door and I’ll introduce you.”
I ventured back towards Reading Road and encountered what felt like entire blocks boarded up, waiting to be swallowed by the whale.
I continued my march down Reading, conscious of the skies while passing in and out of side streets, past the American Cancer Association Lodge, the former Vernon Manor, once considered “the” place to stay for musicians including Bob Dylan, and a few miscellaneous buildings now relegated to time served.
The Cincinnati Civic Garden Center was located at the intersection of Taft and Reading. To the hundreds of passengers in car that drive past each day, the center may only be a grove of trees.
But to a questing pedestrian, it was a wanderland of plants and flowers and secret paths and good work in the community. As I moseyed along the paths, I rapped at the window of a woman working in a nearby office.
It was Karen Kahle, the center’s marketing and development director, and Findlay Market friend.
I sat with Karen for a while, procrastinating from the now certain rain, and we chatted about broad range of personal and professional topics. While the civic garden was known to more of insiders, with Karen helping its transformation, I am certain more citizens will become enthusiastic guests of the lush gardens and trails.
I ran through the garden and rain that day exuberant, re-energized from a walk that had emotionally worn me down. People had less and less of a voice regarding their communities and I wasn’t sure what the solution was.
Dancing in the rain amidst the flowers was certainly a start. Perhaps Calvin could join me next time. After all, this, every last inch of the sidewalk, every last breath, was my church.