#Akron2Columbus: On the road to making Akron great(est) again

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Words by M. Sophie Hamad; Photos by Ilenia Pezzaniti

Akron is already awesome. At least, we at The Devil Strip think so. The question is how to make a great place even better.

TDS photographer Ilenia Pezzaniti and I set out to find out exactly that, along with a group of 35 of Akron’s finest leaders, entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, and community organizers. The trip to Columbus was made possible by the Knight Foundation, the GAR Foundation, and the United Way of Summit County, and included a mix of pre-scheduled events and DIY exploration (meaning: we got to hike, walk, bike, bus, and Uber around Columbus for a day).

Ilenia and I agreed that the highlight of the first day (and possibly of the entire trip) was a tour of the Columbus Idea Foundry, courtesy of Alex Bandar. Bandar explained how their particular take on the makerspace works. Columbus Idea Foundry is a community workshop, learning center, and creative space providing training on and access to tools and technology. They offer classes in Blacksmithing & Casting; Electronics & 3D Printing; Glass Working; Metal Work & Welding; Woodworking; Laser & CNC Routers; Fine Art, Sculpture & Photography; Jewelry Making; Functional Arts; Entrepreneurship; and Software & Programming. Bandar showed us what they are working on now, what their future plans are for expanding (from the first floor of the restored warehouse to all three), and then presented us with ideas about how to expand and improve upon our makerspaces here in Akron.

We enjoyed dinner courtesy of Market 65, the restaurant attached to the Sheraton downtown, which uses locally sourced, organic, seasonal ingredients. After dinner, owners Patrick Katzenmeyer and Anthony Micheli spoke with the group about the history of their restaurant, and about the growth and development of Columbus in recent years.

The next morning began with a panel presentation and Q&A with Columbus City Council members Zach Klein, Elizabeth Brown, and Shannon Hardin. We gained insight on how to implement new ideas and how to make Akron better from a legislative standpoint.

Then we were released on Columbus. The group split up into smaller expeditions, each tackling different areas in and around the City. Some checked out the bike scene, some looked at sustainability and green spaces, some focused on placemaking and complete streets, some entrepreneurship, some coffee and food, and others art and shopping.

Ilenia and I took off alone, exploring the city from South to North and back again. We started with German Village, and noticed on our walk there that each neighborhood or district was marked with a sign, which is very helpful to tourists and out-of-towners who might get lost and need some direction, or might just be interested in having a geographical reference for what they are experiencing. We marvelled at the historic architecture, dined on croissants, and discovered the Book Loft, which could have taken up our entire day, if we had let it.

Next we travelled north up to Clintonville, where we discovered a vegan co-operative bakery, filled with all the plant-based pastries an herbivore could want. After that, we Ubered to Uptown, then walked to Short North–downtown’s art and shopping district. There we geeked out over bike repair stations and the free circulator bus.

Finally the group reconvened at the Ohio Statehouse, where we enjoyed a tour of Statehouse followed by an informative Q&A with Representative Emilia Sykes and Senator Tom Sawyer. After that, it was dinner at Due Amici and then a comfy bus ride back to Akron.

Above all, my very favorite part of this trip was experiencing the overarching sense of community and collective consciousness. We all came back exhausted and inspired, full of ideas on how to improve this already awesome place we live.

Here’s to a new year full of new beginnings. Let’s do this, Akron.

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M. Sophie Hamad is practically bursting with a sense of connection to the Akron community.

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