I ventured out in the cold in December 2016 on a whim. I had the vague idea of getting to know Cincinnati better via my feet, my curiosity, and my words. Given the city’s 52 neighborhoods, I could walk one each week across a year, right?
I was raised in a small Ohio town where neighborhoods were defined by elementary schools or whatever friend lived nearby. Moving to Cincinnati in the late 1980s changed my definition. Work required driving through East Price Hill and Mt. Washington. I rented an apartment in Hyde Park and socialized downtown. Years later, relocating to Over-the-Rhine, I finally paid attention to the norths and souths, the easts and wests, and the many mounts I wasn’t familiar with.
I’d drive through East Walnut Hills and look for the man who carves walking sticks. Or a craving for Mr. Gene’s Dog House in South Cumminsville would hit me mid-afternoon. Or I’d be fascinated by young students standing on Colerain Avenue at Hawaiian Terrace, one of the city’s most crime-ridden streets, smiling while waiting in the cold for a bus.
Earlier this year I began driving across the city on food rescues for La Soupe. Notified of pickups and drop-off locations, I rarely check the map, and I credit my year of walks (and many since then) for this insider knowledge.
It turns out I wasn’t the only person getting to know Cincinnati’s neighborhoods by walking them. While their methods and lessons varied, one thing remained constant: Like me, they found that what was relevant in their lives also resonated for others separated by highways, parkways, and three-ways.
On January 6, 2020, Mike Moroski was still recovering from elbow surgery. Unable to do push-ups and weighing 240 pounds, he’d walk his downtown apartment’s stairways from the eighth floor to where his car was parked on the second, then back again. He graduated to the stairs, aiming for 10,000 steps a day. A few months later, quarantined, he bundled his 1-month-old son, James, into the stroller, walked across the Purple People Bridge, and returned via the Taylor-Southgate Bridge. Moroski hasn’t stopped since.
Every morning at 5 a.m., father and son walk the streets of Cincinnati. “We listen to music,” says Moroski, “and I talk about live concerts as if his mom and I were there together.” He never set out with a plan to walk to all 52 neighborhoods from downtown; he set small goals instead. “I wanted to walk to Mt. Echo. Then, could I make it to the Crow’s Nest on West Eighth Street? How cool would that be?” Moroski went on to walk at least 76 half-marathons.
His objectives centered on being a better dad and husband. But the alone time also impacted his work as Cincinnati Public Schools board member and policy and partnership manager at Cradle Cincinnati. “I walked the streets of our schools,” he says. “There’s a dramatic change passing Rothenberg [in Over-the-Rhine], traveling up Reading Road to Dana and Observatory and then passing Hyde Park schools. I notice what kind of trash is on the sidewalk. I notice newer sidewalks in gentrified parts of town. I might see a crack that got fixed, but there’s another crack that will always be there.”
SANDY AND RICK LINGO
“The whole walking thing was a matter of desperation,” says Rick Lingo, a former teacher at Oak Hills High School and an amateur photographer, about walking Cincinnati’s neighborhoods during quarantine. “We needed to fill the hours of retirement.”
Five years ago, Sandy bought Walking Cincinnati and offered to join him on the book’s routes—though it took the pandemic shutdown to finally get them going. They began their walks by discovering the boundaries of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods, soon seeing additional layers to each neighborhood due to closed businesses and summer protests. They’d turn a corner and suddenly experience a different side of the city. “Community whiplash,” says Rick, 71, who grew up in Deer Park. Mansions in Evanston lined the streets leading to the Academy of World Languages, where cars queued waiting for food giveaways. “You can only feel that from walking,” says Sandy, 68, who was born in Finneytown.
After completing the city neighborhoods covered in the book, they explored more obscure ones like Lower Price Hill and South Cumminsville. “In comparing those areas with others, you can’t find hope,” Sandy says. “You don’t see mothers pushing strollers. Kids don’t have the resources. Maybe there’s church. Sometimes you just couldn’t discern any community.”
One day they neared the former St. Aloysius Orphanage in Bond Hill. Sandy pulled on its doors. While Rick joked about getting caught, she knew that if the sirens came they’d be fine, while a young man from the neighborhood might not. “We were really understanding white privilege on the ground,” she says.
KAYLA CAMP AND DONNIE WARNER
On New Year’s Day 2013, Kayla Camp and Donnie Warner conceived of a running project to take them through more of the city they loved. The duo had met while working on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. After relocating to Cincinnati for Warner to pursue creative writing at UC, they took jobs in sectors that exposed them to the city’s neighborhoods.
Camp recalls being struck by “the profound differences” between high-income households in Mt. Lookout, where they lived, and residents living in poverty in Lower Price Hill, where she worked. Working later for the city’s Department of Community Development, she often pondered the ways in which the allocation of resources stratified neighborhoods.
Camp and Warner ran at least three miles in each neighborhood, working in alphabetical order, and mapped routes to ensure they’d pass historic or memorable sites. “I was able to indulge my inner history buff,” says Camp, including writing a blog to document their trail. Warner was thrilled “to find more public art, especially the murals.” During their last run in Winton Hills, a friend met up with them when she could have “easily bailed given the weather.” She died several years later, and the connection to her made Winton Hills memorable for the couple.
Camp was surprised to discover Fernbank Park in Sayler Park, with its paved trails along the Ohio River. They found Pleasant Ridge so much to their liking they lived there for five years. They believe city leaders should emphasize connecting the “combined assets of all our neighborhoods, and not just one or two,” says Warner. “Safe streets and interconnected trails are a sound approach that can help everyone.”
Cam Hardy’s mother would take the bus to work downtown when he was young, and he learned how to ride it as well. One summer, Metro offered bus fare for 50 cents and transfers for free. “My mother gave me a dollar,” he says. “I could ride the bus all day and get out of her hair.”
Hardy would ride to Clifton, close his eyes, and wait for the 53 to take him home, touching all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods before he knew that many existed. He was an explorer because he had to be. “But my mom turned bus riding into a fun thing,” he says. “We used to take the bus down to Findlay Market every Saturday, and I loved it. I’ve carried that with me.”
Where some see the lack of a place to congregate in a neighborhood, Hardy finds a replacement on the bus. “There’s a community on every bus, like Miss Mary, who was like an unofficial auntie,” he recalls. “She would give me spending money. And if she knew I was gonna be at that bus stop, she would wait.”
These days, living and working downtown, Hardy has become president of the Better Bus Coalition, a transit advocacy group. His lifetime project of discovering and rediscovering neighborhoods continues, and he enjoys going to every part of town and “getting a different vibe. This city can be weird, but in a cool way.”
GEORGE AND DEIRDRE BELUAN
George Beluan’s family emigrated from the Philippines to Cincinnati and first laid down roots in Fay Apartments, now known as the Villages of Roll Hill. When he returned as an adult to walk through the neighborhood, he experienced a wave of emotion, recognizing the hardships his parents endured when they first arrived.
While George and his wife, Deirdre, both 48, were born and raised here, they began strolling through various city neighborhoods on Saturday afternoons after meeting in their twenties. The couple took to the sidewalks again two decades later once their children were old enough to stay home on their own. “We never lost the appetite to explore our city’s neighborhoods and the architecture and business districts,” says George, a teacher at St. Xavier High School. “When the pandemic hit in spring 2020, these walks gave us something to look forward to on the weekends.”
They’ve lived in Clifton, Avondale, Westwood, and in Pleasant Ridge since 2004. Venturing across the city, George says a highlight for him was Hartwell. “You’d be hard-pressed to find more beautiful Victorian homes in a concentrated area,” he says. “You get a sense of how much thought was put into building a neighborhood.”
He and Deirdre agree that South Fairmount, with the newly developed Lick Run Greenway gurgling along stone pavers past updated playgrounds and picnic areas, is going to become an attractive city neighborhood again. “If both housing and business development are done thoughtfully there,” he says, “this could be a truly diverse and vibrant community.”