Led by: Councilman Rich Swirsky and Rosemary Reymann of Progress Through Preservation
Councilman Rich Swirsky led an energetic and interesting walk on a warm, sun drenched evening. This took place in the Highland Square neighborhood that is known as one of the more eclectic areas of Akron. We gathered at the corner of West Market Street and Portage Path on a small landscaped lot at the site of the Native American Indian statue to hear a brief history of the area from Rosemary Reymann, known as “the Queen” of Highland Square as a result of her passion, civic pride, and historical knowledge of the neighborhood.
As City Organizer, I arrived early at the meeting spot thinking I would be able to chat with a few people and take in the sites before we began the walk. When I approached the corner, I stood from a distance in awe and surprise as a large crowd was forming. Attempting to count the number of participants was an arduous task as people continued to come in mass before the start of the opening remarks. I estimated over 100 people, young and old gathered for a history lesson, exploration, and an insight into the new development of this hip, densely populated, and artistic urbanite district of Akron. Councilman Rich Swirsky took to the platform near the statue as the crowd cheered and he described the sites we were about to visit. I briefed the crowd about Jane Jacob’s and what she stood for in creating a better sense of place that can lead to positive change in the community. Rosemary Reymann then gave an insightful history as she spoke about the significance of where we all stood, “until 1798, the Portage Path was the western boundary of the United States and was used by Native Americans to connect between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas Rivers.” The crowd was silent as they listened with interest- a true testament of the passion that these Highland Square residents possess over their neighborhood.
Our first stop was at the Highland Theater, one of the oldest businesses in the Square that opened in 1938. Then we went on to Mary Coyle, a neighborhood ice cream shop that has been operating since 1937. We got a glimpse of history as we viewed old photos of Highland Square from the 1930s and gathered around on the outside patio to savor a hand-dipped cone and take in the sights and sounds of the Square. A few doors away, we stopped at Angel Falls Coffee Shop, a popular gathering spot where we marveled at the new mural on the side of the shop. We proceeded across the street to the newer Highland Square Library and then walked a few doors up to the site of a new mixed use project that will house apartments, bars, and restaurants later in the year. The Highland Square walk ended at the new Mustard Seed Market, which was scheduled to open in two weeks after Jane’s Walk. Our group was privileged to get a sneak preview of this family owned organic grocery store and restaurant that will become the heartbeat of the Square. Ideas were discussed to make this pedestrian friendly neighborhood even more complete by adding other amenities such as protected bike lanes and connecting paths to the Towpath Trail in the area.
The walks carried their own insights and unique qualities that allowed me to see things I’d never seen before. Two themes kept popping up that have a huge impact on building community – history and movement by its people. A lesson learned from the walks and reflective of Jacobs’ principles is, “designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.”