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.
“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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
Like 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.