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Back to the City

By Joe Wessels · May 27th, 2009 · Wessels

The experiment is over. I’m not a suburban guy.

It doesn’t totally surprise me. I grew up in the suburbs, but my heart is in the concrete and noise and combustible nature of an inner city — namely Cincinnati.

Last September, at one of the worst possible times — the middle of a political campaign and on the actual day Hurricane Ike tore through town — I packed up my bags to leave an apartment I enjoyed. My place overlooked the nonstop sideshow at Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, and I moved to another area named for our first president, Mount Washington.

The woman I was dating at the time thought I was crazy for living in Over-the-Rhine, and I told her she’d gotten the wrong impression. In the more than four years I’d lived across from Washington Park, I didn’t even encounter a car break-in.

Then one evening a guy pulled out a gun and pointed it at us while we chatted innocently in her car outside my front door. She had doubted me but trusted nonetheless. This criminal proved her right.

So, feeling like I’d lost any credibility to my argument that the inner city was safe, I trekked up the hill to another of our city’s neighborhoods. I found it to be as much Anderson Township as “city of Cincinnati.”

That relationship is now over, and I’m feeling myself coming back again. You lose yourself a little sometimes in love’s foggy joy.

It’s no wonder why so many of our city department heads live up the hill in Mount Washington, including City Manager Milton Dohoney.

It’s like a perk: Work for the city but live in the suburbs in your own city. Much like the Ohio River divides north Cincinnati from south Cincinnati, the Beechmont Levy divides city Cincinnati from suburban Cincinnati.

The levy is long. Very long.

Mount Washington is a nice community, but it’s just not for me. I want to be able to easily walk to eat, grocery shop, be entertained, get a haircut or find a cup of coffee.

At the mechanic a few days ago, he informed me I’d put 22,000 miles on my car in the past year. Before moving out east, my car often would sit parked for six days until I had to switch sides of the street to avoid getting a street sweeping ticket.

Now I’m hunting for a place to live back where I feel the most comfortable. Seems I need to hear a gun shot or two to help me fall asleep. The stillness of a suburban night or the chirping of crickets just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Many of my family and friends think I’m crazy. Why would anyone who could live most anywhere else in the city, they ask, choose to live among the poor, the desperate, the downtrodden, the meek and the unsanitary? Because I like it there.

I see the hope, the past and the potential for the future, and I want to be there to demonstrate how great it can be. I love downtown, and I spend so much of my life there walking to work, to meetings, to social gatherings, to fun activities.

If I can pull it off — and I think I can — I’ll sell my current late-model German luxury car and get a Segway for toting around town, a scooter for longer trips and maybe a Smart car for the even longer trips — and still spend less than a new midsize car from Toyota, Ford, GM or Honda. Sounds great to me.

In my little neck of Mount Washington, I noticed another thing: It’s not that much different from Over-the-Rhine. We just might be seeing the early stages of it: Alcoholism, broken marriages, drug dealing, crime, poorly reared children, drug use, people desperately trying to get by — just doing it all from a slightly higher perch.

Live where you want to live, and I’ll live where I want to live. I tried it your way. Now I’d like to go back to what I love.

Conduct your own experiment, wander downtown and see how great it can be.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net



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