Cheers to our third places!
written by Kevin Wright, executive director of WHRF.
Four years ago this month I started at the WHRF. I was tasked with reinvigorating a 34-year-old community development corporation. We had an office. Sort of. It was a dusty desk in a decaying storefront at Hemlock and McMillan. We shared that space with the Hamilton County Probation Dept. Not surprisingly, this eventually proved to not be the most productive of spaces. This forced me on most days to take my MacBook on the road to places like The Parkside Cafe and Brewhouse, where I could work in relative peace with coffee, beer, food and free wifi – what more could a guy ask for?
While working in these quasi-public spaces I spent a lot of time reading over old plans and thinking about the neighborhood’s future, but more importantly my experiences in these neighborhood gathering spaces helped me quickly realize something important – If you want to authentically and sustainably shape the future then you must focus on the present. The story of now. And this was indeed the story that was being told in these quasi-public spaces. These third places. These restaurants, bars and coffee shops that were more or less extensions of the street. They were unique in that they were providing a social construct for neighbors to meet neighbors. A place where all were welcome.
This understanding of place quickly began to shape my strategies for the WHRF. Monthly Meet-Ups were born out of this realization. Programs like the THRIVE Business Development Grant and Facade Improvement Grant were then created in an effort to help establish more authentic third places. The Five Points Alley was conceived. These programs, strategies and events created quite a bit of momentum and ultimately led to the opening of Fireside Pizza and more recently Angst Coffeehouse & Pub. These two have quickly become places where you can easily run into a neighbor or accidentally stumble into a neighborhood civic meeting in progress.
In Walnut Hills we’ve learned that you don’t necessarily need fancy decor or esoteric menu choices to have great places. More importantly, it’s the staff, the customers, the passersby – the people – that ultimately shape place. Many have written about the links between quality social environments and neighborhood resilience. We are seeing this brought up more and more as it relates to the design of our civic spaces. The bottom line is that when people know one another they are more likely to understand each other and be less fearful of one another. This tactic of creating human connections can have ripple effects on issues such as safety, connectedness and engagement, but maybe more importantly it can help to make places more equitable and welcoming.
In the coming months you will see and hear more news about new businesses and partners moving into Walnut Hills. This month MORTAR will continue conducting non-traditional entrepreneur training in our office and just a few doors down from there they will be unveiling Brick 939, a 10,000 sf pop up market. Just Q’in will be opening a second location of their BBQ restaurant as the first commercial tenant of Trevarren Flats. This is all being done intentionally to create an equitable, welcoming and inclusive Walnut Hills – filled with places where everybody knows your name.