Kent Ohio, bisected by our beloved Crooked River (Cuyahoga) as it makes its way to the great lake Erie, we are community that remains divided between the past and the future. A crossroads of early native pathways, the “Council Rock” stands in the river north of downtown, now easily visible from a new human powered pathway that traces the historic pathway of the 1830s Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal and makes its way along side an active railroad and the shrouded remnants of a massive rail yard that most have never heard of. A Milltown, a canal town, a railroad town, and since 1910 a college town, now home to Kent State University, the second largest University in Ohio.
At our recent Kent Heritage Fest, probably almost as many people enjoyed our historic transit oriented downtown as live in the whole city (27,000). There I met many who marveled at the multi-million dollar transformation that is taking place in creating a downtown that can be the core for the creation of a resilient, self-reliant and sustainable community. That same day a thriving farmers market gathered people committed to everything local. Of course as a college town we have the vitality of youth, seeking to live creatively in the midst of a down economy, making music, hanging out at coffee shops, riding bicycles, seeking a reason to stay near their families. And then we have our share of “townies” that have never made peace with the University, especially in the light of the tragedy of May 4th, but who love Kent nonetheless and are as important to creating the character of our place as the musicians, the artists and the local environmental groups.
I live on the verge between the two places, embracing a post-industrial future creatively wrest from our landscape, living locally, my 25 year old garden experiment the centerpiece of my life, my philosophy, my vision. I love the past and seek to keep our historic structures intact, but also see the garden as a metaphor for a new garden city, where we learn to live within our means. As I have sat in my garden this week, introducing it to a few of my new friends, I have discovered that there is power in our place that only comes from the characters that work in their gardens and neighborhoods, and who are proud to call Kent home.