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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

Like Home – Gettin’ My 52 On in Mt. Washington

This is my forty-third 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.

Mt. Washington felt like home. Not the community where I currently lived. Not even one where I felt comfortable. But the neighborhood had the look and feel of my childhood hometown.

I started my walk in the corner of Mt. Washington, on Beechmont, near the Anthenaeum of Ohio where local men and women fulfilled their vocation to the Catholic Church. The morning was brisk. I could see my breath painted on the air. I chuckled to myself, recalling my previous walk through Kennedy Heights when I wasn’t prepared for the weather and regretted the subsequent cold. The day would eventually heat up, but for a bit, I puffed out my hot air as I chugged up the hillside to the center.

Off in the distance, I detected the silhouette of vineyards and skipped ahead to find a few grapes still hanging stubbornly on the vine. My next effort would be met with consternation, as I could not turn up the street I wanted because there were no sidewalks on the narrow two-lane Berkshire off Beechmont. So, I kept going, passing my niece’s school, Guardian Angels, and Archbishop McNicholas High School. The last time I was at McNick had been my only time. Davis had run in a track meet that day, one that lasted too long into the evening.

When I had the chance, I turned up Honeysuckle Lane, disappointed that I would eventually have to turn around. But, at the top of the hill, I found a path that cut through to Sands Montessori , a magnet CPS school, and landed me on Corbly Road. Perfect.

I meandered along Corbly, turning up Trailwood Drive. If I hadn’t know better, these homes reminded me of a stretch in Loveland and few others runs in my hometown of Amherst. Then, I crossed Corbly again, and trekked up Coffey and along that way for a while. There were newer model homes, small scale homes built perhaps in a manufactured home-style, and others that I would definitely have coveted.

It was this mix of a town laid out in 1846 that reminded me so much of Amherst. For the rest of the walk, I amused myself by comparing streets I knew in Amherst to streets I came upon here.

I circled around to Beechmont Avenue and walked along the thoroughfare for a while until I spotted the sign for Stanbery Park. I hopscotched across the street to find the entrance. The park was smaller than I anticipated from reading my map, until I recalled how I had zoomed in on the printout. The “boy reading book” statue was erected after World War I in 1938. The park boasts 125 acres of walking trails of which for certain will be on my list of parks to visit when this neighborhood walking thing is complete.

I returned to Beechmont to stroll along the main street, salivating when I saw the Creamy Whip sign until I read the posted hours. No opening until noon. And Water Tower Fine Wines was not open either!

As I strolled down Campus Lane, I spotted, of all things, Mt. Washington Cemetery, on land donated by the Order of Oddfellows and containing the grave sites of 169 Civil War veterans. Its original chapel was designed by none other than Cincinnati Sam, Samuel Hannaford that is.

I hopped over to Sutton Avenue, and turned down Wayside. It was here I had to make a decision. My sister, Beth, lived off of Wayside. But it was another mile that stretched out before me, when I had already completed about six.

I committed to walking Wayside until I no longer wanted to.

Unfortunately, that meant that I didn’t get all the way into Adena Trail, where sis lived. Besides, I still had to walk back up and around some fairly treacherous roads.

I snapped a photo of Red Oaks and later my sister informed her husband had dated a woman whose family once lived there. We were all just few degrees of separation from wealth.

My strides brought me back to Sutton, then Cambridge, as I past Mt. Washington School, a newer Cincinnati Recreation Center, in comparison to some of the others, or those that were missing one like Villages of Roll Hill.  Also, there were other recreation centers that opened four hours later than this particular one. I found plenty of inconsistencies with how the city apparently allocated funding and time in our most needed areas.

That morning, a few friends had joined me, but only for a brief stretch. They tried, but couldn’t  keep up.

I ended the walk along Beechmont again, noting many multi-family units dotting the landscape. This time my legs just gave out. I stumbled the rest of the way towards my car, satisfied in my finds for the day.

Mt. Washington Community Council  has one of the most complete websites for a council. Their community development corporation was hosting a scavenger hunt later in the month. Some of the issues concerning residents involved cleanup, lighting around the McNick stadium, and even, with its Washington Cares effort, the impact of drug use on the community.

The main street reminded me of portions of Amherst (though I think Amherst had more bars). The historic homes that dotted several of the surrounding streets were also reminiscent of those in my northern hometown.  IMG-3364 (1)

A part of me wondered if that’s what drew my sister, Beth, to the area, or was it the home? Their daughter had been young when they moved. They were well into their careers. Maybe the feel of home wasn’t on her radar at all. But it was on mine now.

 

 

 

 

Trying to Find Answers – Gettin’ My 52 on in East Westwood

This is my forty-second 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 Westwood sits on a few hills near Westwood, in between Millvale, South Cumminsville, Mt. Airy, Westwood and North Fairmont. So, where again was that?

That’s just what I wanted to know and found out. But not as soon as I had planned. The fog rolled in that morning, and despite my best efforts, I thought it unwise to walk a community where I usually meandered with little plan, if I couldn’t see a foot in front of me.

So, I returned later in the day, after the sunshine had burned off the fog and I convinced Mark to join me. He cracked a few jokes the entire drive about the location of East Westwood. Is that west of Eastwood, or east of Westwood? He was relentless and also, I didn’t have an answer.

Mark once lived in Westwood. He had never heard of East Westwood back in the 1990’s. To back him up, both books I had been using as reference, WPA Guide to Cincinnati, and Cincinnati Observed, made no mention of East Westwood. Also, in the WPA Guide, which did reference a tour through Westwood, the area encompassing East Westwood appeared as a blank canvas on the page.

We parked at Roll Hill School on Baltimore Avenue, a community learning center of CPS that promoted a technology-based learning program, with a healthy list of partners. With upcoming elections, I would advise readers to learn more about the structure of the CPS system and how some of the schools are independently governed, act as a magnet school, or act as a community learning center. And also, how to get involved in schools where support is necessary.

We trudged up what was probably Roll Hill. In doing so, and because Mark was gearing up for college football season as a beleaguered ND fan, we both uttered “Roll tide” under our breath as we traipsed up the incline.

Down Hawkins Street was the new neighborhood playground, recently completed as part of the city’s neighborhood enhancement programs (NEP). Children were already taking advantage of the sunshine and space.

We turned down McHenry. The McHenry corridor was another main artery traveling through East Westwood. I snapped a few photos and found the lot where the community garden will be planted (see NEP program) once a few lot restrictions had been ironed out. Another component of the NEP programs was for crime reduction.

According to the city’s website, “In 2016 the City launched PIVOT, a data-driven, city-wide violence reduction plan rooted in the place-based policing model. The first PIVOT location was East Westwood/Westwood, with a special focus on the McHenry Corridor between Harrison and Baltimore avenues. Key results included a dramatic reduction in shootings, violent crime and weapons-related calls.”

To effectively walk the rest of East Westwood, we approached Westwood-Northern and walked up to and along Montana, where Mark used to live. Later, I planned give myself credit for walking a part of Westwood, because we did quite a hefty hike through that neighborhood that day.

We circled back near the Panorama Apartments, reentering East Westwood, noting most of the remaining area was comprised of multi-unit housing.

To be fair, I researched East Westwood on the city’s website, and discovered I left off a bit of the neighborhood. I went back for more.

Mark was still with me, later in that day. I parked the car in the lower portion of EWW, near Scarlato’s Pizza which had quite heavy hitter list of hoagies on their menu. We walked down Saffer Road, which revealed a few amazing views from the top of a hill that overlooked the city and the North and South Fairmounts. Most of the homes were built in the 1950’s, though we did find one on the street that appeared to have been built in the Italianate-style architecture.

However, I still had no more of narrative for East Westwood than I had before. I attempted to make contact with an email address associated with the EWW community council. I also sent an email to the Westwood Historical Association and an received a reply with no more clarification, except my contact presumed East Westwood was a newer designated neighborhood. I hoped to update the information as it trickled back to me.

In the end, I was left with a hill, and a few more. But no history. No historical markers. No interactions with residents or any instantaneous connections to others. Only a hill. But maybe that’s all it took to begin a new narrative. Perhaps the only lesson was that East Westwood’s lack of identity had forced me to make reach out and make connections to others where first there had been none.

Spicing Things Up – Gettin’ My 52 On in Carthage

This is my forty-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.

“I’m walking Carthage today,” I announced to Mark,

“Is that where Paddock meets Vine?” asked the Cincinnatian to the Clevelander.

I shrugged my shoulders until the phrase set in. That’s where the Indian stood.

I started at 65th and Vine and wondered, did the streets numbered 1-70 something from downtown all the way to Carthage? Wouldn’t that have been something, I thought, imagining how New York City had its numbered streets, if only we could have replicated the same. And apparently, in 1842, according to the WPA Guide to Cincinnati, commissioners were pushed to build a “graded road from Carthage to the head of Vine, in Cincinnati.”

I traipsed all the way up Vine on an early Saturday morning, pleased to be out before the heat and crowds, passing multiple used car lots along the way. And of course, where Paddock meets Vine at the old Indian sign. My official welcome to Carthage. The sign was erected in 1954 by Jake Sweeney and is known as Chief Pontiac, after the car line sold there at the time.

Soon, I came upon the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. I could actually detect a slight odor in the air before coming upon the area. I walked around inside the fairgrounds for while until I realized I might be caught for trespassing.

As I made my way to the north end of Carthage, Vine Street met the Mill Creek. The Mill Creek shimmered that day. One of these days, I was going to kayak through it, I decided, that would be one of my next explorations, a Cincinnati bucket list so to speak.

I circled around the backside of the fairgrounds and landed on Anthony Wayne Blvd, near the original White’s Station, a stockaded settlement in 1790. There is a historical marker that was placed by the National Distillers Association (Think of Jim Beam’s location now).

Mr. Wayne was quite popular, as this was the second time in two weeks I had come upon the use of his name, the first in Northside. There was also a reference to the Wayne trail in a marker along Central Parkway in OTR.

I looped back down North Beth Road, having decided to attack my walk of the neighborhood as if it were a hand, following each finger out and returning in the same direction. Out along North Bend Road was the Caldwell Preserve, as well as the Caldwell Playground, where a pool once existed but now was limited to a sprayground. Carthage no longer had its own elementary school, though Hartwell Elementary was about a mile or so from the center.

Returning back to Vine, I then traveled west on Seymour and found a few tracks, the Mill Creek, and the Seymour Preserve that I had known was present from my walk around Winton Hills but it hadn’t been accessible via signage from that neighborhood.

My final approach took me through a more residential area of Carthage, with smaller homes. I was surprised when I came upon a newer development from 2002 called the Mills of Carthage, with approximately 50 starter homes. There were plenty of alleys with names like Marble and Granite, and in many ways, reminded me of a few alleys in East End and California.

As I ended my walk, I met Julie, through Angel, her border collie who had just had a tumor removed. Julie wasn’t very conversational, even after I explained the purpose of my walks. Of course, I named dropped and mentioned my treks all began after listening to Yvette Simpson campaign for mayor as I tried to understand where all the 52 communities were located.

Julie’s nails were painted purple. Her mailbox was purple. The most I could elicit from Julie was that she really liked purple and Carthage was safe. I wished her well and moved on to my final encounter.

The El Valle Verde restaurant was well-known, as Carthage had a growing Hispanic population, at over 18% of its population, which the neighborhood treasured the diversity as an asset. Outside the restaurant and market, a Hispanic woman sold cut mango, watermelon, and cantaloupe by the cup. I couldn’t resist.

“So, are you all part of the market?” I asked.

A young man spoke up. “This is my wife. Her mother’s son owns the building and market.” The fruit woman was shy and didn’t want her photo taken. However, she was not bashful in her sprinkling of red pepper flakes over my fruit cup. It was the best way to eat a fresh mango. I will never go back to plain honey and lime juice again.

Carthage was quaint, as Julie had noted. I did indeed feel safe. But I wondered, why was it necessary to so often take the temperature of how safe one felt.

Perception. What we read in the media. I walked Over-the-Rhine every day and there was still that perception of whether or not it was safe. Oftentimes, newspapers could hardly wait to print a headline with something bad that happened, despite positive press, or the extraordinary community efforts that many undertook to stand together as a community, when external forces pitted residents against each other.

Carthage was once known for the birth of harness racing which took place at the Carthage Fair. The community, with approximately 2700 residents, had one of the oldest councils, Carthage Civic Club. Out of the Carthage Christian Church, the community was offered a free meal on Fridays. (Check the website for details). And St. Charles (San Carlos) served the Hispanic Community, even supporting a cricket league.

There was certainly potential for young families to grow and be woven into this tight-knit community. Perhaps because of the size of the neighborhood, I felt, at once at home and my interest in connecting piqued. Given the political climate in regards to Hispanic immigrants, I vowed to return and support the efforts of those who were holding their families together and dreaming of life beyond mangoes and hot peppers.

Charmed at Each Turn – Gettin’ My City On in Clifton

This is my fortieth 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.

To me, Clifton had always been the Gaslight District and a few houses sprinkled behind Ludlow Avenue and the Esquire Theatre. I never passed through other streets on my way to somewhere else. It had always been a sort of “get in, get out” neighborhood, not in that I feared for my life, but that there were few other purposes to my visit. I had several friends who lived there, but we mostly met in writing circles where we could all be free from the everyday chaos left behind in our homes.

I began my walk on the east side of Clifton along Ruther. Soon, I was staring at the backside of the zoo and found myself at the base of Vine Street near the City Barn community garden.The City Barn at 3516 Vine was built in 1896 and housed the city’s horses that pulled the trolleys. There is a horse up top. My friend, Ellen, had once invited me to see her garden space, though she had since given up her spot.

I continued along Vine, and met up with two women seated on their front porch. I stopped to chat and ask what their secret was to the astounding collection of thriving impatens and petunias. Mine were clearly dying.

“You gotta water them every day and talk to them.”

“I do talk to them, just in some not so nice Italian,” I joked. I don’t think they understood my humor.

I moved on past Richie’s. My feet came to a screeching halt as I took notice of another cemetery. Vine Street Hill Cemetery. The cemetery website actually boasted of businesspersons who sat and ate their lunch amidst the peaceful setting. I was there past happy hour that day and didn’t encounter a soul.

The climb back up Woolper Avenue was not an easy one, but I was rewarded with a view of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, where my friends Elaine and Kelly teach writing classes, and the famed Probasco Fountain.

After a disappointing, contentious contract negotiation, the CCAC will be turned back over in 2018 to Cincinnati Public Schools for a neighborhood school. The CCAC continues its search for a new home. According to a letter sent to Elaine, the center would like to remain an “uptown” resource, not necessarily limited to Clifton.

I headed down Clifton Avenue, past several well-known religious institutions. Seventh Day Adventist, Church of the Nazarene, and Calvary Episcopal.

I kept going until met up with the highway and turned around, towards LaFayette. Ironically, three of my writer friends lived along this route. Ellen once hosted a book club meeting after I published, “I’ll Be in the Car.” Jenny held a small writing circle at her little yellow home (hidden below) before she moved.

And, I recalled my last walk through here with Claudia, who had instructed me on my manuscript. Her advice had proved invaluable. She would be surprised at the current state of the manuscript – other than the fact I had not worked on it in a while so I could complete “my walking project”.

Claudia was the one who had shown me the way to Mt. Storm, and so I headed in that direction. The Cincinnati Women’s Club boasted of a beautiful backyard courtyard, but I had never been at an event there, for any reason.

Clifton Meadows Swim Club was down a road not taken, for my legs were beginning to wobble.

I did however hop over a few walls to get to Scarlett Oaks Retirement Center. Its main historic home once belonged to the one of the seven barons of Clifton – George Schoenberger. Built in 1867, it was Cincinnati’s largest home at the time. In 1973, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mt. Storm had several unique vistas, looking back towards the University of Cincinnati and also looking across the Mill Creek onto our city’s more industrial business. Lafayette ran down the backside of the park, and I found myself amidst a few Brady family-like homes until I landed at the base of Cincinnati State Technical College.

There, I had to make a decision. Travel back up Ludlow or make my way through campus? I went through campus and discovered DePaul Cristo Rey High School, where my friend, the poet Manuel Iris taught. He was a big fan of Mark’s bourbon creations, and a beautiful poet.

I crossed the boundary into a neighborhood that warned it was not a cut through. Once on the other side, I still had plenty of Clifton yet to walk. It was getting late, having set out for an evening stroll, and my legs still had to carry me up another hill.

I moved in and out of Cornell and Whitfield, my phone running low on power, hoping I would at least make it back to my car before I ran out of battery to take photos.

Alas, I returned two days later for my final leg of Clifton and started back in the center of town. Mark accompanied me that day and we paraded in and out of few streets behind the theatre, before crossing Ludlow into the area behind TriHealth/Good Samaritan Hospital.

There I found the Clifton House – home to Tongue and Groove literary salon. 

We ended at Lydia’s for iced tea and a stroll past the Clifton Market, which as a coop, was not cooperating effectively right now. I had recently returned from a trip to Dayton and Dorothy Lane Market, and though perhaps the DLM folks could take over Clifton Market if things didn’t work out. It would be a great spot for killer brownies.

I loved all the architecture Clifton had to offer. I was overwhelmed in trying to take it all in and decide on a favorite street or home, given the lush estates on every street.

Of course, nowhere I had seen more political signs than in Clifton. It was dizzying at times. The community had always been known for its activism, perhaps because of so many ties to wealth, industry, the hospitals and the University of Cincinnati.

On August 16, a new neighborhood school serving the neighborhoods of CUF, Clifton, and Spring Grove Village launched its inaugural classes. This was not a magnet school, and the website distinguishes it as a neighborhood school that will occupy the former Clifton Arts Center.

Clifton was named after a local farm. The grounds of many villas along Lafayette were designed by the same person who laid out Spring Grove Cemetery. There’s really so much history and interest to the area that its worth reading more.

Like many of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods, with urban living in demand, Clifton’s cost of living has continued to rise. In all, I walked nine miles around the neighborhood, charmed at every turn. I’ll return to Clifton for many more walks, given its proximity, so I can waltz by sprawling villas and dream.