This past Saturday comprised a tremendous string of lessons, ones that I will carry with me deep into the future. I had already planned a community cleanup event for the early morning hours. My winter hibernation habits even hit me for the oddly balmy First of February, having hit snooze at least five times, but sleeping a solid 8 1/4 hours. (I hit an all time high of 89% Sleep Quality on my Sleep Cycle phone app!) I hadn’t planned much after the cleanup event, but my day gleamed with color by the next bout with shuteye. 

Past Spring in Our Steps (SiOS) volunteers, new UC Preservation Action Network (UC PAN) cohorts, and I gathered at Rohs Street Cafe beforehand, talking about the scarcity of urban planning jobs in Cincinnati, among other topics. My own financial straits caused by the student loan vultures fueled topic discussion about supposedly bright careers in financial planning. But I wasn’t convinced. Something has to–and will–give with regard to my community ambitions and unrelenting fervor for enhancing the urban experience.

Our enthusiastic for Spring in Our Steps’ second Clip & Climb outing of the season was something to behold. We quickly achieved our largest turnout for a winter volunteer event, this time held at the Polk Street Steps. The street is one of several junctions along Vine Street Hill, between Over-the-Rhine and the Uptown communities, reflective in our 11-minute documentary titled Straight Off the Vine.

I was elated that so many people came out to a cleanup event in early February, on a day when it could have easily rained the whole time we were out there. Two volunteers were prior SiOS contributors, members of a running has group who ran the Polk Street Steps even four years ago! the new UC PAN volunteers had meant to come out to one of our events for a while. Others were PAN alumni and enthusiastic preservationists who care deeply for the integrity of our hillside neighborhoods. I could have asked for a much better team. The before-and-after and group photos speak for itself. I had to include a shot of Diana, who obliged my suggestion to deliver hot chocolate from Coffee Emporium, to the hard working volunteers, in a Pepsi crate found on the bedraggled, perpendicular Van Lear Street. 

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Following the cleanup event, I had a very difficult time trying to figure out what else to do with my day. Having very little in the way of spare cash, I did what I had done several times prior out of boredom: to clean up my own street. Residual, soggy leaf piles had been collecting along the curb lines and sidewalks on my hillside street, really one street up from the previous engagement at Polk. The unpredictable nature of the Winter of 2014 forced my hands at a second cleanup project of the day. More than two hours later, I collected over 95 gallons of wet leaves from the lower half of my street. 

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And then this happened. 

A neighbor who lives across the street approached me about a recent incident, during which I called the police, when his children had been blasting music through the open windows of their upper level apartment. I had avoided contact with that neighbor for over a year, after he had inadvertently backed his conversion van into the front of my Civic, cracking the bumper the whole way through. I was extremely defensive initially, but he then expressed his gratitude for my service in the neighborhood. Magically, in the nearly two years I had been a resident of the street, he became the first neighbor to step up as an exhibitor of Hollister Triangle pride.

The neighbor opened up about his feelings about the street, expressing his feelings that it’s a dangerous one. (I disagreed, explaining that we have it much better than the streets farther west in Clifton Heights, where students are victims of armed robberies daily, which we are not. He also expressed disdain for a nearby property owner who plans to demolish the triangle park within the block for parking. (I told him that I’m working with a longtime landlord in the area to fight it vehemently.) He also guided me through his building’s breezeway to the alley at the rear, explaining that assailants of college student bring their victims through that path to grab their loot. I told him that I genuinely care about him and his kids, that no one deserves to grow up an environment where drugs and robberies appear to be part of a standard upbringing. The neighbor gave me his phone number, and said, “Any time you’re planning to come out here to clean up the neighborhood, call me up. I’m in.” 

During the day that was preceded by a night of dread for the morning ahead, I was graced with the bright futures of great partnerships. With might I might just prevail from my falters. First of February, shadows be damned. I’m already carrying with me big plans into the first week of the month…

 

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