Enhancing community connections in Cincinnati, by reclaiming alleys, sidewalks, and steps for the pedestrian.
Since March 24, 2012, Spring in Our Steps had developed a particular affinity for Peete Alley, a curved, cobblestone public space between the western end of Peete Street and the 2200 block of Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. And we’re not talking about the common misinterpretation of a cobblestone surface. Peete Alley is one of only five known examples of exposed, rounded, irregularly-shaped river stones left in Cincinnati. [The others are a one-block segment of Bright Alley in the West End, part of Corn Alley in the West End, a portion of a one-block segment of Kirk Alley in Clifton Heights, and Nagel Alley near Mohawk Place in Over-the-Rhine.]
Our reinvestment in Peete Alley from 2012 onward was likely the first time in decades that the space received any focused attention. Each of the buildings still standing on the block have been abandoned and vacant for over a decade. A handful of lots have likely remained vacant for decades. We hosted an average of one to two cleanup events per month from 2012 to 2014. During that time, we removed several rolloff dumpsters worth of refuse and dumped items. The cobblestone surface, once completely covered by several inches of soil, roots, and broken glass, was wonderfully gleaming.
No cobblestones are alike. They shine during and after rainfall. Where they are featured, flagstones run parallel to–and sloped toward–the granite curbs. Historically, those flagstones facilitated a smooth ride for wheeled traffic and funneled water toward sewer drains. In old American cities such as Savannah and Boston, flagstones and cobblestones alike are protected, preserved, and maintained under historic covenants. These paving types are now a rarity and serve as elements of an urban scavenger hunt, for those who seek a highly variable, dense, urban environment that is full of surprises.
The primary tenet of Spring in Our Steps has been that making use of our alleys (and stairways) will only bring positive users into the space, counteracting the negative influences that perpetuate such stigma. Back in 2013, Spring in Our Steps began working with the City of Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering on a project that would make use of monies reserved for gateway denotation in Over-the-Rhine. $10,000 was allocated for the first pedestrian-scaled signage system in the country to specifically address historically walkable, public space in–a concept we initiated to bring better visibility to these overlooked spaces. These signs would finally bring to light the names of these pedestrian-scaled spaces, giving them identity. They would guide students of Rothenberg Preparatory Academy through the northeast gateway of Over-the-Rhine and Mount Auburn. Twelve signs in all, at eight different pedestrian gateways, would receive bollards with attractive, aluminum placards with a uniform, blue and white system.
Much to our astonishment and dismay, following the June 30th formal dedication of the (mostly) completed Stairway & Alley Signage Project, we stumbled upon a version of Peete Alley that we had never seen before. Gone where the endearing replaced sections of missing flagstones with multicolored brick. Gone were the seemingly haphazard placement of cobblestones that had likely sat undisturbed for decades. We found a dirt path graded several inches lower than the former cobblestone surface. We found a rolloff dumpster placed at the end of Peete Street. A fraction of the number of cobblestones removed were cast aside behind an alley-facing building at 2010 Vine. The endearing features of Peete Alley were irreparably destroyed. The culprit, we believe was either a contractor or the owner of a single rehabilitation project between 2010 and 2016 Vine Street.
We do not know what the future holds for Peete Alley, once the most complete alley section of surviving, exposed cobblestone pavement in Cincinnati. Fortunately, the City of Cincinnati DOTE has begun investigating who might have been responsible for this destruction. DOTE has been well aware of our intervention to the space, given its inclusion in the Stairway & Alley Signage Project. Although not protected under historic district guidelines, the department has language in its Street Right-of-Way and Street Restoration Manual that holds all parties responsible for like replacement and restoration of a street surface, including brick and stone. Photos of the aftermath were submitted to a DOTE contact on July 6th. Spring in Our Steps hopes that its very through documentation of the previous condition of Peete Alley may be used to hold the irresponsible parties liable for damages. Although we never anticipated a restoration of the alley, the responsibilities that the department places upon those who conduct work in the public right-of-way could lead to a disingenuous restoration of Peete Alley. Someday.
We will update with any further details.
Please peruse past photos of Peete Alley, from our first discovery in 2011 through the damage found in 2017. We share them with a heavy heart and inevitable optimism.
Only the byway, passageway, narrow corridors of life angels know how dismaying this is. The smaller spaces matter…and my favorite and a most important alley in our city (created immediately after the demolishing of Fort Washington…was blacktopped over the original pavers by Western Southern a few years back. Iwin Alley, renamed Iola Alley at the turn of the 19th century.