31 May 2007

Radiant City - the movie

I haven't seen this movie, but it looks interesting.

30 May 2007

Privacy in the city

Jane Jacobs spends a lot of time writing about the need for the city to accommodate strangers. When I first read this, I thought she was giving too much attention to a minor topic. I mean, you can always pull your shade, right? But the longer I live in the city, the more I see that the issue is much deeper than that.

People want the freedom to become friends with only the people they choose. They do not want to share all their private lives with all the neighbors. A good city neighborhood allows people to know lots and lots of acquaintances, but importantly allows those people to also have private lives.

Perhaps I am being to abstract to make much sense, so I will try an example:

The playground. At a well designed and well-attended playground, your child can meet and play with lots of other kids, and if you wish you can strike up a conversation with other parents, while they sit in the shade and watch; or you can sit and mind your own business. However, if play is limited to private areas such as yards, courtyards, or even to inside, then the parents are forced closer than they want to be to the other families. Families in this situation may choose to stay isolated, rather than open their private space to all kinds of strangers.

Residents of small towns, are forced to be intimate with neighbors. This could be good, but it could also be bad. See, I would rather choose who I become intimate with.

Suburbanites have the choice of following their little kids to the neighbors yard, (if you want to supervise them), or you can drive them to the local park to play. The real result of this arrangement is that families pick neighborhoods that are full of people very similar to themselves. Then, forced intimacy is more likely to be ok.

The advantage of city life is the huge variety and degrees of friendships that are available. Because you are not forced into intimacy with everyone, the range of people you feel comfortable living next to is much more diverse.

26 May 2007

This Play Unit Designed for ....


Our local "play unit" is in terrible condition. The small plastic slide is punctured by a post, because some really big kids jumped on the end of it. There are some metal poles around that I think once were play structures. Today, there were some adults drinking out of brown paper bags and lots of hot cheetos wrappers laying around, and no kids.

But when the kids are playing on it they are mostly 2-5 years old, with some 6 and 7 years olds stopping by for a quick slide. Is the sign for liability purposes? Apparently that is why we no longer have see-saws and merry-go-rounds...

25 May 2007

Leave no Child Inside

Richard Louv returns June 19. Register here.

Why young families leave the city

Join host Carol Coletta for a look at the trends and ideas shaping our cities. Only on public radio.

Smart City, an NPR type radio show out of Memphis, had a show today on Kids in Cities. The guests first stated that their study was limited to parents who are middle class (those who had choices on where to live). Then, they divided this group into 4 types of parents:

1. Parents dedicated to the city who would never live in the suburbs.
2. Parents dedicated to the suburbs who would never live in the city.
3. Parents in the city who may move to suburbs as they grow a family.
4. Parents in the suburbs who are dissatisfied and may move to the city.

They continued to discuss how to attract those in the latter 2 groups, especially #3, (retaining those already here). They believe the key issues are:

1. Safety
2. Space
3. Schools

I might also list:

4. Herd mentality: Regularity, homogeneity, dependability of suburbs.
5. Cars: People cannot disconnect from the necessity for all activities to involve driving. Also: cars are still required in most cities and keeping a car here is more difficult.

I think the three main issues are extremely important for retaining families, and I plan on discussing each one in successive posts.

Fountain Square Events next week

I don't know anything about these events scheduled for Fountain Square, but we will probably check them both out:
Fairview Fundraising
Thursday, May 31, 2007 from 1:30 PM to 2:15 PM
Parents and children from Fairview German Language School raise awareness against cuts in school arts funding.

Fringe Kids Theater
Saturday, June 2, 2007 from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
Co-produced by the Fringe Festival and Fountain Square Management Group.
Subject to change

24 May 2007

Book Review - Owl at Home


There are so many good children's books it is hard to choose one to highlight. Last night I again read "Owl at Home" by Arnold Lobel to the kids, and they were enthralled. Unlike Arnold Lobel's other classic books, the Frog and Toad series, there is only one Owl book.

Originally published in 1975, the book has 5 short stories:
The Guest
Strange Bumps
Tear-water Tea
Upstairs and Downstairs
Owl and the Moon

The stories are meant for young readers, but works very well as a bedtime story book too. Many of the lines in the book, such as "mashed potatoes left on a plate" have become part of our family dialogue. The concepts in each story are perfect for the kids. For example my 6 year old is struggling with the concept in the last story about how it seems that the moon follows you, even when you are moving. Hard to explain, but it gets the gears going.

The stories are timeless, and the pictures are drawn with so much love, that I am certain that your children will fondly remember these stories when they are old.

22 May 2007

Daniel Ransohoff


At UC, in the mid 1980's, I took a class called Uban Lobbying. It was taught by a man with real passion about Cincinnati: Daniel Ransohoff. His class consisted of him talking about the strengths of the city, about how geographically it was a peneplain, and how we all needed to get out there and meet people and make things happen. Each class, he would bring in a speaker to talk about the history of their company in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, at that time, I wasn't thinking of staying in Cincinnati, and I did not care much about the speakers.

However, Danny was a great personality, with his scarf and hoarse speaking voice, and of course, his passion. I remember towards the end of the quarter, I discovered a bunch of his photos that he had taken in Over-the-Rhine and other inner city neighborhoods in the 40's and 50's. After class, I walked up to him and asked him if he ever took photos of kids in the city neighborhoods anymore and he said something to the effect that food stamps had emphasized starchy foods and made the kids less photogenic.

I beleive his photos are in storage at the Cincinnati Historical Society, in the Museum Center. I wish they were either published, or scanned for ease of browsing. The photo above is a scan of a print I own. I recognize one or two of the buildings. Look close, if you know OTR, you might see where it was taken.

19 May 2007

Another pool advocate

Same topic, just another city: East Liverpool, OH:

... remember when ... the public swimming pool teemed with people on any given summer day. It’s hard to imagine that our society has changed so much. Nowadays, everybody goes into debt trying to maintain a pool in their back yards. For many, even one of those round, metal-sided dunk tanks is a status symbol. They have their picnics on their own backyard decks rather than meet friends at the park. It’s all part of the move toward private rather than public recreation.

Now that the crowds have gone, the park is more peaceful, but I can’t help but think that we have abandoned an important part of the social structure of our city. Many of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories come from Thompson Park. My parents took us there regularly for picnics with their friends and their families. Nobody needed to drink beer and talk loud to have fun.

During the long summer weekdays, mom would drop us off at the pool and return several hours later to pick us up. Parents didn’t have to worry about their kids getting into trouble. You went swimming, ate hot dogs, and watched the big kids show off on the high dive. It was great.

...Some parents imagine that allowing their children to mingle with “strangers” is dangerous; they want complete control of every minute of their child’s life. I don’t see how forcing one’s own paranoid fears on kids is good parenting.

15 May 2007

Cincinnati to Close Public Pools

In what I view as a tragic mistake, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission is proposing to close many public pools and install "spraygrounds".

WVXU reports:

Cincinnati’s Recreation Commission is getting ready to open the city’s 40 swimming pools during the first week in June. Acting Recreation Director Michael Thomas told Council’s Health and Recreation committee Monday that more than 200 of the needed lifeguards have been hired and are being trained. In the future the number of pools may be reduced because of the price tag for maintenance. Thomas says they could be replaced with spraygrounds, which is basically a playground that allow people to get wet. The commission is planning to replace Oyler Pool in Price Hill with one of these facilities. Spraygrounds could be open longer during the summer, and they would not require lifeguards. He says the commission will be studying the volume and usage of all the pools in the city. A consultant has determined the city would have to spend $20 million to bring the city’s pools to good condition, and that’s without any new issues or problems developing.

Cincinnati has 40 public pools, and many of them are packed during the hottest days. A few years ago you could barely see the water through all the kids in the two Over-the-Rhine pools. However, as population has left OTR, the pools have become less and less crowded. I would argue that this is a temporary situation, and we should not rush to close pools at this time.

I could write a book about the importance of neighborhood pools to the success of urban neighborhoods. If our pool is closed, our family will change from walking to the pool, to getting in a car and driving to a pool. Most likely we will join a pool club outside the neighborhood. We will lose one more connection between us and our neighbors. Our neighbors who cannot afford to join a club or drive a few miles, will be less likely to learn how to swim.

Trailer: Kids growing up in a big city

I ran across this trailer for a film that follows children for 6 years as they grow up in a troubled area of Hamburg. Interesting that this is considered the bad part of town.

11 May 2007

Middle Class Neighborhoods Vanishing

Personal observation tells me that neighborhoods are becoming more and more segregated. I see it all the time: a new subdivision is proposed and the developer promises that all the houses will be priced from $250-350. This way people will be completely surrounded by people in their exact income bracket, not higher, and certainly not lower. A partial answer is a return to the mixed-income, urban neighborhood.

Middle-class neighborhoods, long regarded as incubators for the American dream, are losing ground in cities across the country, shrinking at more than twice the rate of the middle class itself.

In their place, poor and rich neighborhoods are both on the rise...

"No city in America has gotten more integrated by income in the last 30 years" ...

...a sorting-out process is underway in the nation's suburbs and inner cities, with many previously middle-income neighborhoods now tipping rich or poor.

... increased residential segregation by income can remove a fundamental rung from the nation's ladder for social mobility: moderate-income neighborhoods with decent schools, nearby jobs, low crime and reliable services.

For people who do not want to put up with aging, troubled neighborhoods and have the means to do something about it, escape is remarkably easy -- in Indianapolis and across much of the country.

The housing industry in the Midwest and the Northeast routinely floods local markets with new, ever-larger houses. In greater Indianapolis, more than 27,500 houses were constructed between 2000 and 2004, even though the population grew by only 3,000.

In the process, older houses and many older neighborhoods -- such as McCray's -- have become as disposable as used cars.

"As upper-income Americans are drawn to the new houses, neighborhoods become more homogenous," he said. Echoing the Brookings study, he said: "The zoning is such that it prevents anything other than a certain income range from living there. It is our latest method of discrimination."

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer

Let Kids Outdoors!

Fear keeps too many children inside all the time:

At a PTA meeting, during a discussion of traffic problems around the school campus, I asked what we could do to encourage families to walk or bike to school. Other parents looked at me as if I'd suggested we stuff the children into barrels and roll them into the nearest active volcano. One teacher looked at me in shock. "I wouldn't let my children walk to school alone … would you?"

"Haven't you heard about all of the predators in this area?" asked a father.

"No, I haven't," I said. "I think this is a pretty safe neighborhood."

"You'd be surprised," he replied, lowering his eyebrows. "You should read the Megan's Law website." He continued: "You know how to solve the traffic problem around this school? Get rid of all the predators. Then you won't have any more traffic."
Our hyper-anxiety about the safety of children is creating a society in which any outdoor activity that doesn't take place under the supervision of a coach or a "psychomotor activities" mandate from the state is too risky to attempt.
A child is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as kidnapped by a stranger, but it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope.

And when a child is parked on the living room floor, he or she may be safe, but is safety the sole objective of parenting?
Which scenario should provoke more panic: the possibility that your child may become one of the approximately 100 children who are kidnapped by strangers each year, or one of the country's 58 million overweight adults?

L.J. Williamson, LA Times

Over-the-Rhine business rumours

A few things I've been hearing:

1. The owner of Fries Cafe has been thinking about re-opening the Elder Cafe at Findlay Market.
2. In addition to Metro Nation, a Jean Ro lunch restaurant, Park and Vine, 3CDC has also enticed:
- an urban garden store
- a successful O'Bryonville store

All of the above are likely to open stores near 12th and Vine this summer.

08 May 2007


Someone from the Mt. Adams moms group mentioned that they had used Babysitease. We have never used a babysitter other than relatives, and we thought we would give it a try. It costs $50 to sign up. Then it costs $8 every time you setup a new sit. Both of these charges are made to your credit card when you setup the sit online. Then you get an email giving you the name and resume of the sitter selected. Then you pay the sitter directly at the end of the night $8 per hour. It was an expensive night.

The sitters through this company appear to be college age women, and of course it would be cheaper to get neighbor / high school student, which we have considered. The problem for us with younger sitters is our dangerous neighborhood. I'm not sure too many parents want their 14 year olds going to OTR to babysit. So we will probably use Babysitease again.

06 May 2007

Bikes with children in the city

Outside the school in Amsterdam, harried moms drop off children, checking backpacks and coats; men in suits pull up, with children's seats in back, steering while talking on their cellphones. It's a typical drop-off scene, only without cars.
Her two older children ride their own bikes on the 25-minute commute to school while she ferries the four-year-old twins in a big box attached to the front of her bike. Biking gives her children exercise and fresh air in the morning, which helps them concentrate, she says. "It gets all their energy out."
the American road can take some adjustment, as Cheryl AndristPlourde has found when she visits her parents in Columbus, Ohio. Last summer, the Amsterdam resident enrolled her 8-year-old daughter in a camp close to her parents' house. The plan was for her daughter, who biked to school every day back home, to walk to camp. But her daughter whined about the 10-minute walk -- all the other kids drove, she said -- and the streets were too busy for her to bike. By the third day, Ms. AndristPlourde was driving her daughter to the camp

04 May 2007

Children still spanked in Ohio schools

I didn't know that spanking was still used as a form of discipline in some Ohio public schools:

Many parents refuse to paddle their children, and a lot of people believe it has been taken out of the equation in the school systems, but that isn’t true in all schools.

“Many parents can’t or don’t want their children going to Saturday School because of a discipline problem they may be having. Instead the parents can sign a paper and agree to have the child paddled instead of making them go to school on Saturday. It is entirely up to the parents, and it is effective in most cases,”.

Strickland cutting vouchers/charter schools

Another good article on Vouchers in Ohio, this time in the Chicago Tribune:

"There are those in our society and political leadership who have given up on public education, and they really don't believe that public schools ought to have a special place within our social structure," Strickland said in a recent interview in Toledo.

Reflecting the demand of some parents to get their children out of public schools, about 76,000 students attend charter schools in Ohio, and annual growth rates have been in double digits since the first charter school opened in Ohio in 1998.

Social networks of children strengthen neighborhoods

Contrary to popular opinion, children play a key role in strengthening local communities and making people feel safe in their neighbourhoods, according to a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Much panic today about childhood in urban areas is based on a very partial picture, argue the authors...(whose) report challenges previous theories that social networks are largely determined by parents. According to the evidence they found, children are active - both indirectly and directly – in forging neighbourly relationships and connections for their parents.
They found that the more parents were involved in the lives of their neighbours, the more freedom they gave their children. At the same time, the more social networks children have in a neighbourhood, the greater parents’ confidence in the safety of that area.

Many parents questioned were often torn between wishing to protect their children and wanting them to be streetwise.

03 May 2007

Games in the Street


What good is playground equipment for children over 5 years old? The padded, plastic and rubberized stuff that Cincinnati Recreation Commission installs is only fun (read: challenging) for children ages 2-5. Then they post a sign that says "this playground intended for children ages 5-12".

What use does a 12 year old have for a three-foot long slide? They would rather be playing on the street like the photo above.

Photo from book "Games in the Street", by Rachel Gallagher, 1976 Brooklyn