For Christian Huelsman of Spring in Our Steps, alleys, sidewalks, and stairways are more than “forgotten spaces;” they are useful, rich with history, and can be sites for community building.
Huelsman first became interested in Northside’s alleys in 2012 as a part of Make a Difference Day, a national day of service. His latest venture in the neighborhood, aLLies for aLLeys, aims to clean all 25 of Northside’s alleys. As of today, Huelsman and community residents have cleaned Pope and Medill alleys, as well as much of Armour. With Armour complete by August 30, 2014, Huelsman plans for an alley block party to introduce Williamson and Fergus St. residents – both to one another and to a now accessible alley.
For Huelsman, recovering and reclaiming “forgotten” city spaces began in 2011 with cleanup to Vine Street Hill in Mount Auburn and OTR. That same year, Huelsman founded Spring in Our Steps, a community organization dedicated to renewing the viability of alleys, sidewalks, and stairways in many of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. Since founding the organization in 2011, Huelsman has led more than 110 cleanups and has worked with what he describes as “passionate people” invested in making city alleys, sidewalks, and stairways more accessible.
Huelsman understands that accessible alleys, sidewalks, and stairways are necessary – not simply for utility, but also for the safety of the neighborhood. Huelsman said that “poor lighting, overgrowth, and litter have become triple threats that plague urban spaces,” but that these spaces can be recovered for community use. Armour is a perfect example of what Huelsman describes. Prior to cleanups in this alley, Armour’s overgrowth made walking from Coates alley to Pullan impossible; now, pedestrians are able to use the alley, and it is now visible from the street.
Community interest and investment in alley cleanups such as those of Armour have been critical to the success of aLLies for aLLeys. More than 15 residents (my fiancé and I included) worked to clean Armour on three occasions, and countless other residents have lent their time and energy to making our neighborhood cleaner, safer, and more accessible. Some residents have begun to clean neighboring or bordering alleys on their own. Huelsman describes the cleanup of Gorham, Justin, and Looker alleys near Florida and Georgia Avenues as a “one man project” that “grew to a group of a half-dozen committed residents.” In a short amount of time, Huelsman has been able to not only clean Northside’s alleys but also ignite interest in cleanups that convene neighbors.
On Huelsman’s agenda for Northside are cleanups of Baltzer and Grey alleys, as well as Carrie (connects to Pullan), Ingol (behind Hamilton Avenue), Blum (between Turrill and Cherry), and the unnamed alley between King Place and Weber Place. Many of these alleys are not as overgrown or inaccessible as Pope, Medill, and Armour, but they are still in need of attention.
Residents interested in cleaning remaining Northside alleys can expect more than clipping weeds and overgrowth or scraping away dirt to reveal curblines and brick paving; they can also expect to meet other residents who share in an interest to beautify Northside. Huelsman offers only one caution: dress appropriately to avoid bug bites and exposure to poisonous plants. Residents can also assist in cleanup efforts through a donation to Spring in Our Steps through its Website.
For More Info:
To participate in one of Northside’s cleanups, or to learn more about Spring in Our Steps, visit the Spring in Our Steps Website at www.springinoursteps.com or contact Huelsman at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find Spring in Our Steps on Facebook and Twitter.
By Alisa Balestra