Let's ride: This unique bike tour gave Clevelanders an up-close look at how Fairfax is on a roll

Last fall, a walk taken around the Fairfax neighborhood signified the possibilities for powerful change. Almost a year later, a unique bike ride continues that forward momentum.


On Aug. 22, FreshWater Cleveland partnered with The City Club and Bike Cleveland to host a “Ride + Learn” event centered on the future of Fairfax. More than 25 riders from around the city gathered to take a curated 2.8-mile tour of the Fairfax area—followed by a Q&A panel at PNC Fairfax Connection with neighborhood leaders Denise VanLeer (Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation) and August Fluker (City Architecture).


Designed to showcase neighborhood gems and projects in the works, the tour included:


St. James A.M.E. Church: Celebrating 125 years in 2019, St. James is one of Fairfax’s oldest and most important churches. As well as being a central place of community worship, the church has also been a hub for social justice and action—as the unofficial election headquarters of Cleveland’s first African-American mayor, Carl Stokes, and a place for respite during the Hough/Glenville riots in the late 1960s.

<span class="content-image-text">A stop at St. James A.M.E. Church on the Ride + Learn: The Future of Fairfax bike tour</span>A stop at St. James A.M.E. Church on the Ride + Learn: The Future of Fairfax bike tour

Playwright Park: A new greenspace and community park unveiled this summer, Playwright Park is the first signal of much more to come on the future Innovation Square site. The park is anchored by two large shipping containers, which will serve as outdoor stages for Karamu House productions; it will also soon showcase public art made by Fairfax residents.


Karamu House: This Fairfax institution may be the country’s oldest African-American theater, but it’s getting a whole new look as "Karamu 2.0." Right now, Karamu House is 70% of the way toward its $10 million goal for phase three of its ongoing renovation, which will introduce a new cafe, various exterior upgrades, and public art (in addition to its epic Ruby Dee mural).


Cleveland Clinic Langston Hughes Community Health and Education Center: Once an Andrew Carnegie library, this bright community health center offers a mammography suite, gym, and many programs for both Fairfax and all of Greater Cleveland. All services are free to anyone regardless of insurance status. 

<span class="content-image-text">A stop at Cleveland Clinic Langston Hughes Community Health and Education Center on the Ride + Learn: The Future of Fairfax bike tour</span>A stop at Cleveland Clinic Langston Hughes Community Health and Education Center on the Ride + Learn: The Future of Fairfax bike tour


Griot Village: Built in 2014 and fully leased as of 2015, this inviting collection of 40 townhomes along Central Avenue isn't your ordinary development. Designed as intergenerational housing, Griot Village is one of just seven residential complexes in the country devoted to grandparents who have custody of minors. The name is derived from a West African term for "storyteller."

Afterward, the group gathered at PNC Fairfax Connection for an intimate Q&A panel with Fluker and VanLeer, moderated by ideastream’s Justin Glanville. Though much of the bike tour focused on progress and development, Fluker started off the panel by sharing his thoughts on the importance of retaining Fairfax’s identity, especially amid simultaneous expansion of other nearby neighborhoods.


“We’re not going to be MidTown East or [University] Circle West,” Fluker says. “We have a rich history in this community, and we have to look back before we move forward—embracing who we are and figuring out who we want to be.”


One of the prominent topics of conversation was the expansion of the Cleveland Clinic, as well as the ever-evolving nature of the community’s relationship with the Clinic. Though VanLeer says "the relationship with the Clinic is better than it's ever been," not everyone was as optimistic. (During the tour, a representative for St. James A.M.E. Church dryly told the group, "The Clinic has committed not to go south of Cedar ... we're north of Cedar.")

<span class="content-image-text">Forum discussion at PNC Fairfax Connection</span>Forum discussion at PNC Fairfax Connection

As a principal for City Architecture, Fluker says he would like to see the Clinic become less insular and incorporate some street-facing businesses along Cedar Avenue. "From a historical standpoint, there used to be a lot of African-American businesses there, and we need to respect that," Fluker says. "There is some enterprise that could happen, especially along Cedar. We need to figure out how to get some of that marketplace out of the Clinic ... and get people out on the street."

Other topics included the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation's workforce development efforts (such as a recent event in which RTA made job offers to 23 Fairfax residents); attempts to make the neighborhood's parks safer and better utilized; and other ongoing neighborhood revitalization efforts.

VanLeer, who started at FRDC as an intern and now serves as executive director, invited the crowd to become an integral part of Fairfax's ongoing renaissance.

"If you really want change to happen, you have to be part of the change and be committed and courageous," says VanLeer. "This area is wonderful, I love it, I'm passionate about it, and we're going to do everything we can do to make it happen."

To watch the full video of the panel or listen to the podcast, click here.

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.