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John and Liz McEwan’s relationship story began in Over-the-Rhine in the mid-2000s, so it’s fitting that now, 10 years later, they are married and raising their kids in the same neighborhood. This is their beautiful, renovated home on Orchard Street. / Image: Daniel Smyth Photography / Published: 12.16.16

One Family’s Take On The Challenges And Rewards Of Living & Raising Kids In OTR

CITY / FAMILY: Exploring the things that transform a house, a place, and its people into a home.

John and Liz McEwan met in Over-the-Rhine in 2005. After they fell in love and John convinced Liz to stay in Cincinnati instead of returning to Chicago, they purchased a beautiful historic house on OTR's beloved Orchard Street. They got married, had kids, and are currently raising their family of five (soon to be six) in the inner city. This is their story.


What are your names?
John and Liz McEwan. Our kids are Israel, Elsa, Edith, and our fourth is due to arrive any day.

Tell us a little bit about your family.
John and I met almost 11 years ago. At the time, I was new in town and was working nights at Kaldi's on Main Street in OTR. That's where we met. He was running a small historic and custom remodeling company. We got married in 2008. We love music (both John and I lived previous lives as musicians), we love coffee, and we love entertaining.

What brought you to (or kept you in) Cincinnati?
I'm from the Chicago area and moved to Cincinnati in 2005. I was an AmeriCorps volunteer for my first two years here. John is from Northern Kentucky. He moved away to western Massachusetts for school, but eventually made his way back to the area. From the moment I met John, he was a huge champion for Cincinnati. Even before we started dating, when I was convinced it was time to leave and head back to Chicago, he was a big part of what kept me here.

What do you do?
John is a Field Operations Manager for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati. I (Liz) stay at home with our kids and work as a freelance writer. Right now, I'm writing for Soapbox Cincinnati. Our kids are homeschooled, so we spend our time between home and out and about in the neighborhood. The kids play outside a lot, and we love hiking in all our awesome city and county parks.

What neighborhood do you live in, and how long have you lived there?
We live in Over-the-Rhine. We lived in an apartment north of Liberty for two years when we got married and then bought this house about six-and-a-half years ago.

Why did you pick your neighborhood? What do you love about living there?
OTR has been a part of our story since the day we met. So we chose to plant our roots in the neighborhood where our story started.

We shopped for houses in the area, but nothing came together. We only knew about this house because I had somehow been added to the contact list of the seller and got an email about him listing his home. The rest of the history of this house and our buying it has become sort of apocryphal at this point, but it was definitely providential in the moment.

There is always something new coming, some new event happening, and something to do. I think most residents have mixed feelings about it all. We definitely do. But, if nothing else, the sheer amount of people out and about on any given day is an awesome change. We love the architecture and the history of the neighborhood. We love the diversity.

What are some challenges of living where you do?
Urban living, in general, has its challenges. Parking stinks. There is no privacy. Greenspace is limited. It can be loud, dirty, and the air quality is bad. There are issues with drugs and violence (even though most of that doesn't touch us personally, except by proximity). People who aren't used to the city find it inconvenient and frustrating.

But, like any lifestyle, you weigh the costs versus the benefits and you learn to adapt to the challenges. We've found that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Have you done any major renovations on your home? What makes it yours?
The backyard required a significant overhaul and has been a lifesaver for me and the kids. We've done some work to the kids' bedroom and to what I call "the library," which is the main space on our first floor. Next on the slate is probably a new roof and then, eventually, moving the kitchen from the second to the first floor to free up the third bedroom (which we currently use as our play and homeschool space).

We've never had much of a budget for renovations, so big jobs have happened in small pieces. In a lot of ways, this house still feels like walking around in someone else's old shoes. What makes this home "ours" is the family we're filling it with and the tons of friends and strangers we've had through the front door since we moved in.

Do you have a favorite park or place to hang out?
Other than our sidewalk, alley, and backyard, we take a lot of walks around the neighborhood and hang out at places like Washington Park and the library for a break from the house. The streetcar has made it much easier to get down to the riverfront with a bunch of kids in tow and we'll be excited when the new Ziegler Park opens. We have a few favorite "go-to" spots outside the urban core for hiking and playing outside, like Eden Park, Burnet Woods, French Park, and California Woods.

Is there anything specific you hope your kids will learn from living where you do?
The city is a complex system that our kids are learning to be one small part of. It's teaching them adaptability; it's teaching them to be aware of their surroundings. It's forcing them to share their space and to learn cooperation with those around them. It's making them brave and bold and confident.

My hope is that our kids learn to think critically and compassionately about their world while living in the thick of it. I hope they learn to function as a part of a community full of people who are sometimes very different from them but with whom they still have a lot to offer. I hope they develop a vision for where their gifts meet the needs of the world when they become adults.

What changes do you hope to see in your neighborhood in the next 10 or 20 years?
In OTR, we're dealing with a lot of growing pains from all the new development in the neighborhood. There is a lot of talk about gentrification and displacement and whether or not those steering the ship have everyone's best interests in mind. Our family feels some of that weight, too. My hope for the neighborhood is, honestly, that development slows down to a more organic, grassroots pace.

I believe some of the fast-paced, top-heavy development may have been necessary for a time, but now that the neighborhood has achieved a level of viability, I hope it evens out to something more sustainable. If that happens, more residents can get in on the action and OTR can start to more closely resemble the diversity of its people.

Also, now that the streetcar is up and running and is such a great success, I'd love to see it head Uptown and beyond. Then, someday, maybe we'll be able to hop on the streetcar stop around the corner and do a quick transfer to the Amtrak line to go visit my family in Chicago. That sounds like a dream come true.

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Scroll back to the top to get a peek inside the McEwan’s home.