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MAY 21, 2011

Signs of life

Ohio City signsThis year's Cleveland Marathon was more fun because a group of younger folks in the neighborhood organized a cheering section complete with bells, signs and recorded music.

Some of us older folks joined in, setting down our coffee cups to clap and cheer as the runners went by. Much more fun than watching more or less silently as we've done in previous years.

The fact that the cheering was done under the Ohio City banner annoys me a little, but only a little. This time around I think Ohio City means more to its advocates than just a place to buy an architecturally interesting old house and renovate it.

The new generation of OC residents seems determined to enjoy the neighborhood, from starting urban gardens and farms to playing ball in Fairview Park. They ride bikes and walk dogs. They've transformed West 25th Street from a faded strip of struggling old stores to a bustling entertainment area. I'm glad they're here.

A bit of history

Thirty years ago when we moved to West 32nd Street, the neighborhood was called "The Near West Side." It was rough, run-down and dangerous. We chose to live here to work with the poor as part of a Catholic Worker-style group called the Thomas Merton Community.

Around the same time another batch of new residents, often called "urban pioneers" by the media, moved in to renovate grand old houses that can be found on every block. They generally considered the poor folks who we wanted to help nothing more than a hindrance to their redevelopment plans. This group pushed to re-brand the area "Ohio City."

In my opinion this original OC group hoped to completely gentrify the area, creating a Disney-like enclave like German Village in Columbus. Years of conflict followed, with the activist Near West Neighbors in Action battling the Ohio City Redevelopment Association. Ultimately the groups were forced by funders to merge as the Ohio City Near West Development Agency.

That shotgun marriage ended as activists over time were out-manu eve red and outvoted. Now the organization has renamed itself Ohio City Inc. The battle is over.

Who won?

Beer sign at marathonI guess "they" did. But honestly it seems that "we" did. We means all of us who live here.

I think the new Ohio City is an improvement over the old. The younger generation seem to see the neighborhood as more than an architectural treasure. They want it to be a lively place to live. I like that.

Maybe it's just that I'm getting tired and the old fights don't seem worth fighting anymore. I'm really happy to see the new energy that new residents have brought to our streets.

And they make great signs, too.

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