27 May 2009

10 Years Gone Twice

I was reading Visualingual's post about her anniversary of arriving in Cincinnati, and I found it touching, perhaps because if you know Maya, you know it is a bit out of character. Also I was reflecting on how lame some of my posts have been lately, partially because of time. Despite the terrible economy for those of us in the construction business, I have been lucky to be very busy and with little time for a thoughtful blog post. I really appreciate those bloggers who actually write coherent thoughts instead of just posting links or cell phone photos like I have been doing lately.

Anyway, Maya's post reminded me that I first moved to OTR 20 years ago this month. I was a Mt Auburn resident, hopefully about to graduate from UC, when I got into a discussion with a buddy of mine about "which coast to move to". There were things like Paolo Soleri building a city in the desert or Mike Reynolds building earthships out of tires. Those were the kinds of things I was tentatively interested in. But I wanted to live in the city, not a desert. I told my friend that I wanted to get involved in "community building". My friend suggested I go see buddy gray. So I did that, and moved to 14th Street the next month. It ended up that I had to continue with more coursework in the fall to complete my degree anyway, so I stayed. I met some amazing people. There were young guys like myself, and we had a blast working together and hanging out on the rooftops and doing crazy stuff like smelting aluminum and knocking down chimneys.

But also there were lots of older men who were really wonderful gentle souls, carpenters and bricklayers. Many of them came to the Drop Inn Center down and out. Someday, if I learn how to put some emotions into written word, I will say more about all those men, many who have now died.

The community building that was the objective never seemed to work, at least not in the ways I had hoped. But somehow many years later I find that I live only a few blocks from that first landing spot, and community is everywhere if you open your door to it.

I remember that when I first came here, that it seemed so loud. People yelling up at each other from the street, and buses rumbling by etc.. I remember the first time I saw one of those cars with the thumping speakers in the trunk. But now for example, after midnight with the windows open it seems so peaceful and quiet. I'm really not sure if the neighborhood has changed or I have.

I also remember that my roommate got beat up real bad that first summer. He was standing at the corner waiting for a bus, when a group of guys just came up and started slugging him. Luckily nothing like that has ever happened to me, but I have lost a few bikes and hundreds of tools to thieves. I've also seen lots of sickness and depravity. In 1992, I saw a man shot in the middle of Republic Street. And one morning my wife found a dead man who had just escaped from the Justice Center. He died on our doorstep of a heart attack. I had to move him to open the gate.

And I used to feel that it was a certainty that anyone that voluntarily moved to OTR, generally left demoralized after a few years. That's not so true anymore.

Sometimes I wonder if people are meant to stay here. I saw a woman I knew from years ago recently, and she said something to the effect of, maybe you and I should just move on, seems like the new people are getting more done than we did. She was someone that used to fight demolitions with us. And fighting demolition in Cincinnati is a demoralizing fight if there ever was one. Even if you win the battle, the vacant building just sits there and continues to rot and get more dangerous.
At one point maybe in 1993, I felt responsible for all these vacant buildings. And every time it rained I would get panicked, picturing the damage being inflicted on these buildings by the minute. And it happened that one time I got a call on New Years day, early in the morning. A building, soaked with water, had frozen and then as it thawed, collapsed into the street and onto the sidewalk. Luckily no one was on that sidewalk, but that was just once. Then it happened to another bigger building down the street. And there were partial collapses and fires. Then I decided I couldn't take this anymore, and I could not be responsible for trying to save or maintain vacant buildings. It was mostly a mental excision on my part, but I changed jobs too.
But I had met my wife here, and we decided to make our home here. And I have had jobs in which I have had to commute out of downtown, though sometimes I've worked close-by and all of my wife's jobs have been in the neighborhood. And everything else is here, from the pool to the baker to church. And we are thinking maybe the kids will go to the new school being built nearby, and I maybe I'll change to a job down the street.

But then again, I may end up in another country. You never know. An old classmate of mine recently sent out an email saying he was hiring in Vietnam...


Dan said...

Great post CityKin.

CityKin said...

BTW, both of the buildings in the photos were saved and are now rehabbed and occupied.

Radarman said...

I hope you stay. It would be impossible to exaggerate the benefit to the city of people who hang around for the full performance. But there's also a benefit to the person who stays - he gets an unparalleled understanding of the city as an organism.
And I really like what you write.

Mark Miller said...

Obviously you've successfully built a community of downtown parents, which is an ongoing effort.

Any thoughts on other aspects of community building in OTR? Would Buddy approve of the current direction things are headed in?

CityKin said...

To paraphrase Walt Whitman, We contain multitudes. Each of us is members of community some voluntary and active and some involuntary and passive. We have neighbors, good friends, aquaintances, "virtual" friends, relatives, political allies, religious co-believers and even business partners. Sometimes these reinforce each other but sometimes they just are what they are - friends.

Community is not only formed when you have some common enemy or cause.

Quimbob said...

Were you raised in Mt Auburn ?

CityKin said...

^No, I was just there during my last years at UC. Childhood home was in Colerain Twp.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say, belatedly, that yours is one of my favorite blogs. I love what you write and I find myself coming here before just about any other.