Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Toynbee Tiles

After a lot of waiting, I visited Cincinnati's only remaining Toynbee Tile. It was an urgent visit, as there is currently a huge hole in the road mere inches away and I am afraid the tile might be paved over soon.

A mini marathon was going on downtown when I visited and I purposefully stood for a few minutes to see how many of the dozens walking near or even over it would take a look. The answer? Zero. I was blatantly standing in the crosswalk taking photos, which I figured might pique the curiosity of other people. I'm not sure if it just becomes part of the background after awhile, but I look for it every time I pass. A Kubrick reference embedded in the middle of the road is worth stopping for a few seconds. And for a city known for always being seven years behind in everything, we should be proud to have such an interesting little gem right here in the Queen City. Knowing would almost be a disappointment, as it was when the Poe Toaster stepped forward.

As much as I would love to know the purpose of the Toynbee Tiles, it is fun not knowing exactly what they are all about. Like so many of my other interests, there is an element of mystery. I like that.

City Beat writer John Stoehr wrote this awesome article about Cincinnati's tiles back in 2001. sadly, two of the three have been paved over since (as far as I know) and the one that remains is at Fifth and Walnut (at the crosswalk right outside Nada). I think he counts the tile at Fifth and Walnut as two since there are two distinct sections. I would call it a single tile because of how they are manufactured, but that would be splitting hairs I think. I also believe (judging from the picture in this article) that the two Cincinnati tiles were manufactured by the same person. I plan to contact Stoehr to clarify a few details.

Note: Now, I don't want you kiddies running out and defacing public walkways, but instructions on creating your very own tile can be found on pages 66-74 of Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook.

I would love to try it, but since I have no idea what they really stand for, all I would be is a copycat. I wonder how many of the tiles are the work of someone who truly knows what the tiles mean and how many are simply people who replicated something cool they saw.

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