31 December 2007

End of Sprawl Debate

I am very skeptical of the triumphalism of Kunstler and others who see in our current mortgage crisis an end to sprawl. Nevertheless, I am drawn to their arguments, in a hopeful way. Could the combination of falling home prices and increasing oil costs stop suburban sprawl? I think in the short term, yes, at least as this relates to new-home construction.

Through my work, I happen to meet many homebuilders. Two of these men, both which are very successful single-family homebuilders, have independently asked me about opportunities in downtown Cincinnati. They know I live downtown, and that I have some experience in building here. They both have come to the conclusion that they cannot build a house for profit in the suburbs anymore.

These guys know how to build houses, and they are stymied. What should they do, when no one is buying? ...Look at other markets. They know they can't keep the same model of buying farms and subdividing, at least not the next year or two. Heck, they can't even sell the inventory they have know. These guys want to keep building, but they don't know how. The only problem is that as the suburban market sinks, so has the urban one, (although maybe not as badly). After all, many empty-nesters need to sell their suburban house before buying their city condo.

I met an empty-nester couple over the holidays. They have been living downtown for about a year. However, they are in a very tight situation, because their old house in Delhi has been on the market for over a year. On top of that, these people were in their 70's and, being a product of the depression, they were shocked by the condo fees they are paying (over $600/month). Fortunately for this couple, their house in Delhi is paid-off and they can afford to wait a bit to see if the market corrects.

However, it is a fact, that this sagging market will keep many people from moving.

Then there are the entry-level homebuyers, who are moving from rental to their first home or condo. They are more likely to buy in OTR anyway, as the empty nesters are going for places in the CBD or following Eric Kunzel to his new condo in Newport. I think the young, first-time homebuyer is key to keeping the market alive downtown, more so than the empty-nester. And these first-time homebuyers, oftentimes, young couples thinking of starting a family, are the object of this blog.

Anyway, all that is my introduction to an opinion piece in the Washington Post yesterday:

The End of Sprawl?

... the inexorable spreading out that has characterized American life since World War II might finally be coming to an end.
American sprawl was built on the twin pillars of low gas prices and a relentless demand for housing that, combined with the effects of restrictive zoning in existing suburbs, pushed new development outward toward cheap rural land. Middle-class Americans, not able to find housing they could afford in existing suburbs, kept driving farther out into the countryside until they did. Gridlock in the suburbs and the expense of providing municipal services to sparsely populated communities imposed their own limits on how far we could spread. As a result, the density of metropolitan areas, which fell steadily in the postwar years, had begun to creep back up in the 1990s. Despite these infrastructural restraints, however, the now-defunct housing boom and cheap gas kept exerting centrifugal pressure on living patterns, pushing the edge of new development farther out into rural America.
...during the present downturn, accompanied as it has been by high gas prices, homes close to urban centers or that have convenient access to transit seem to be holding their value better than houses in car-dependent communities at the urban edge.
The death of sprawl will present enormous challenges, chief among them the need to provide affordable middle-class housing in areas that are already built up. Accommodating a growing population in the era of high gas prices will mean increasing density and mixing land uses to enhance walkability and public transit. And this must happen not just in urban centers but in existing suburbs, where growth is stymied by parochial and exclusionary zoning laws. Overcoming low-density, single-use zoning mandates so as to fairly allocate the costs of increased density will require coordination at regional levels. This in turn will require overcoming the balkanization of America's metropolitan areas. This shift toward a more regional outlook will force broad rethinking of how we fund and deliver services provided by local governments, most obviously (and explosively) public education.

...We may discover that it's not so bad living closer to work, in transit- and pedestrian-friendly, diverse neighborhoods where we run into friends and neighbors as we walk to the store, school or the office. We may even find that we don't miss our cars and commutes, and the culture they created, nearly as much as we feared we would.

29 December 2007

1132 Bar


[Where: 1132 Race Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202]

28 December 2007

Post Times Star


In honor of the last day of the Cincinnati Post publication Monday, I have scanned a front page of a October 13, 1928 Times Star newspaper that I found in an OTR building being rehabbed. The Times-Star was an afternoon paper that I believe was combined with the Post. I remember my neighbor as a child had a box out by his mailbox that said "Post Times-Star", which I suppose was the combined name for a while.

This paper has a couple of interesting items:
1. The lead article is about a Graf Zeppelin attempting to land at US Air Station at Lakehurst the next day. Nine years later, the Hindenburg would go down in flames at this same landing site.
2. The paper cost 2 cents per copy, 12 cents per week.
3. The weather is predicted to be "unsettled"
4. Six private bus companies were using fountain square as a stop, and the city was trying to get them to purchase a site for a bus terminal at 6th and Sycamore.
5. "Burglars entered a Kroger store at 507 Wade Street early Saturday and stole 175lbs of sugar, 40lbs of butter, and cigarettes worth $96.16. The burglars entered the basement and cut a hole in the floor to get into the store"
6. 35,000 Catholics from 100 Hamilton County parishes, are expected to march tomorrow in the Holy Name parade. The parade will start on upper Race Street and proceed south to 7th and then west to Redland field, where Archbishop McNicholas will give benediction. There is detail given about the re-routing of streetcars around the parade. The streetcar routes are familiar bus routes 17, 19 etc...

A fire in Mt. Adams:

Alfred Smith, Presidential Candidate in KY:

Black Republicans:

The first bookmobile:

Scientology Christmas

Apparently Tom Cruise bought the rights to all the Charlie Brown TV shows, and being a fan of Jimmy Kimmel, I thought this clip was bang-on:

27 December 2007

Downtown Shopping vs Mall vs Lifestyle Center

The Economist gives their know-it-all summary to the history of the American Mall. Entertaining article with some interesting tidbits of information here and there:

America now has some 1,100 enclosed shopping malls, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres. Clones have appeared from Chennai to Martinique. Yet the mall's story is far from triumphal. Invented by a European socialist who hated cars and came to deride his own creation, it has a murky future. While malls continue to multiply outside America, they are gradually dying in the country that pioneered them.

.... his shops were like mousetraps. A few years later the same would be said of his shopping malls.
Oddly, this most suburban American invention was supposed to evoke a European city centre. .... shoppers were expected to sit and debate over cups of coffee, just as they do in the Piazza San Marco or the Place Dauphine.
In 1998 Good Housekeeping ran a story entitled “Danger at the Mall”. Indoor shopping malls are now so out of favour that not one will be built in America before 2009 at the earliest, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres.
So many malls have died or are dying that a new hobby has appeared: amateur shopping-mall history. ...One of the most touching is a website devoted to Lakehurst mall near Chicago, which was demolished in 2004. Prodded by a local journalist, women and a few men write in with memories of back-to-school shopping trips, ear piercings, first jobs at Cinnabon and Orange Julius, early dates and even marriage proposals. Many are bereft at the mall's demolition, as though suffering the death of a pet. “You don't realise how much you miss something until it is gone,” writes one. Others are almost apologetic: “If only we knew what we had, we would never have strayed to other malls.”
Mr Caruso believes that people are naturally gregarious, and that America has failed to provide them with places that meet their social needs. Like Gruen, he claims to be trying to create not just profitable shopping places but also more perfect city centres.
He has tried to re-create a kind of prelapsarian downtown where there is no crime or homelessness. His romantic evocations of city centres are possible only because people have forgotten what downtowns used to be like. And they have forgotten, of course, largely because of the suburban shopping malls that Gruen built. It was necessary to kill the American city centre before bringing it back to life.

26 December 2007

Why Don't We Have a First Night Celebration?

Akron, Canfield, Columbus, Salem, Youngstown. What do these Ohio cities have that Cincinnati does not? First Night.

First Night, is a nationwide phenomenon, started in Boston in 1976. It is a family-friendly way to welcome in the New Year. I have never been to a First Night event. In fact, I had never heard of it, until told about it by some relatives a few days ago. They attend every year at their home in Ft. Collins, CO, and they couldn't believe we didn't have one. I may have to travel to Columbus for this year's event to see what it is all about.

I am interested in helping to start such an event in Cincinnati. Is anyone out there interested in this? Seems to me it should be on Fountain Square area, but maybe a different area would be more suitable.

NCLB Moving the Middle Class from Public Schools

This is a claim I have read a few times. I don't buy the Bush Co. conspiracy stuff too much, but there is definitely a concerted effort to remove the teacher's unions from public schools, by privatizing the schools. The author doesn't address that issue direclty, but tries to make the issue children vs corporate interests.

The fact does remain that urban public schools systems are being decimated, and the students that have moved to charter schools don't appear to be improving either in their scores or in their graduation rates.

...NCLB testing is part of a systematic effort to privatize diverse urban public schools in the United States. The objectives of privatization have been threefold: first, to divert taxpayer money from the public sector to the corporate sector; second, to capture part of the market, which would otherwise be receiving free education; and third, to drive out middle class accountability, leaving behind a disposable population that won’t have a voice about the inappropriate use of their tax dollars, nor the bleak outlook on their futures.
“The emergence of HMOs and hospital management companies created enormous opportunities for investors. We believe the same pattern will occur in education,” observes Mary Tanner, Managing Director of Lehman Brothers.
Randy L. Hoover and Kathy L. Shook note that a study of 593 Ohio School Districts show the district’s high stakes tests “to correlate with Social Economic Status to such a high degree as to virtually mask any and all actual academic achievement claimed to be measured by these tests.”
The effect of NCLB has been to dismantle public education by funneling public tax dollars directly to corporations through penalties, private tutoring companies, and vouchers.
False Reports of NCLB Success
A 2006 study by Harvard University Civil Rights Project found that the successes reported by NCLB proponents “simply do not show up on an independent national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the ‘nation’s report card.’”
Pat Wechsler reported in Business Week that thanks to partnerships with businesses, such as McDonald’s, in under-funded schools, students “learned how a McDonald’s works, and how to apply and interview for a job at McDonald’s.”

25 December 2007

Ohio and the Candy Cane

Doscher's is an old-time candy maker, still located on Court Street, in downtown Cincinnati. Their candy is sold all-over the region, and you probably have their candy canes in your house now. Below a quote about candy canes and their history in Ohio:

1847 - The National Confectioners' Association officially recognizes August Imgard as the first ever to put candy canes on a Christmas tree. Imgard, a German immigrant living in Wooster, Ohio, decorated his tree with a star cut by the village tinsmith, and decorated it with paper ornaments and candy canes. The canes were all white, with no red stripes.

23 December 2007

Washington Park School Historic Photo

Below is a photo that I retrieved, courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, that shows the in-progress demolition of more than 30 buildings in preparation for the construction of Washington Park Elementary School.

Same view today after school removed:

Here is a map of the area:

A closer view of Race Street at 14th, shows 4 storefronts and two buildings that are now gone (1326 and 1330-32). Also note that there are no wires as Race Street has underground electric and the intersection is a 4-way stop sign:

If you click on the pictures, you should be able to see more detail.

Today, showing the two missing building lots:

Here is a closeup of a grand house front steps, wrought iron fence and tree in the front yard:

Here is a closeup of the old-pool house. The old pool was to the south. Also, you can see the rear of the last house standing on the block, and the remains of the southernmost portion of Pleasant Street, which ended at the pool building:

The pool area today, with the "controversial" basketball hoop:

A photo from 14th street looking out at the new view of Music Hall. Notice the vacant lot on the left, where a corner furniture store is located in the historic photo:

21 December 2007

Exurb More Dangerous than City

A five year old study I just found says that you are more likely to be killed going about your daily grind in exurbia than you are in older suburb or a city. They used statistics on traffic fatalities and homicides by strangers. These two items combined are higher in the outlying areas than in the urban areas studied. Not the most comprehensive study, but interesting nonetheless.
Leaving home to go to work and other activities is more dangerous for residents of outer suburban areas than for many central city residents and for nearly all inner suburban residents, concludes a recent University of Virginia study.

From Baltimore to Minneapolis to Houston, some sparsely settled outer suburban counties are the most dangerous parts of their metropolitan areas, according to a study by William H. Lucy, professor of urban and environmental planning at U.Va., and graduate research assistant Raphael Rabalais. Their findings are contrary to the conventional wisdom that cities are dangerous and outer suburbs are safe.
The study analyzed traffic fatalities and homicides by strangers to test the common belief that outer suburban areas with low-density housing and quasi-rural settings are safer places to live and raise children than cities and inner suburbs.

Potential dangers in any residential location arise from leaving home to travel to work, shop, attend school, attend church, visit friends, or go to civic functions and family gatherings. Tabulating traffic fatalities is the best method of measuring these dangers, the researchers concluded.

They also examined homicides by strangers, because they are the murders most likely to be associated with going about one’s routine business out of the home, and they may be related to proximity to dangerous areas. FBI data indicate, however, that only 17 percent of homicides grew out of felony circumstances, such as robberies and drug law violations, in 1999.
Greater danger in fringe locations in metropolitan areas was caused mainly by the large number of traffic fatalities compared with homicides, and the greater difference between traffic fatalities and homicides by strangers.


Traffic on this site skyrocketed over the past few days, and it appears to be generated by a site called Buzzfeed, that has linked to the Obama vs. Huckabee Christmas card post. Weird.

I guess I'll be reading Buzzfeed more, they seem to know the good sites.

20 December 2007

Spontaneous Community and Crowds

A question from a reader:
" ..I guess that spontaneous sense of community that happens in suburbia – or lack thereof – is one of the biggest fears of moving downtown. Does that make any sense? In other words- is there a large enough group downtown to just bump into each other and hang out, or does it need to be more proactively planned?"

For adults, this is an easy question. The city offers tons more opportunity to just bump into people. We can hardly walk a block without bumping into someone we know at least as aquaintances. This often results in coffee or at least a short conversation. The need for planning get-togethers is more a function of everyone being so busy all the time with their work family juggle, and this is a nationwide problem, not just one that downtowners have.

However, for kids, and their unstructured vs structured playtime, the question revolves around the child's "roam space". See a previous post on how kids Roam Space is shrinking. First of all, yes there are lots of kids around. The question is, are they appropriate playmates for your kid without supervision?

Kids do spontaneously get together and play sometimes. We will hang out at the playground for example and meet new kids. My son keeps running into some kid named Anthony, and they immediately get into wrestling and chasing. His grandparents own a store on Walnut and he attends the same school as my son, and they can play anywhere we bump into them, whether the sidewalk or the library. The other chance for spur of the moment play is if other kids of similar ages live in the same building. Fortunately, we do have that situation for my daughter and a neighbor boy.

I think the advantage of the suburb that the reader is thinking about essentially has to do with the safety and relative homogeneity of a neighborhood, which would allow a parent to let the kids roam, and find their own play in the cul-de-sac or amongst the backyards. I think that the cul-de-sac and the yard are less essential in this equation than is the guarantee that the neighbors are child friendly and if the kids they meet are up to your standards.

For example; if on your quiet residential street, the kids all play together after school and the parents do not have to watch their every move, you have a relaxed and peaceful spontaneous play time community. But if you have that same street but one house has drug dealers (as is the case with some suburban friends of mine) then a responsible parent will not allow the kids to go out playing spontaneously.

In the city, we cannot get a homogeneous sidewalk or park, nor do we want it. We do not know who just moved in up the block. However, in a successful city, there is an inherent safety that occurs with the varied number of people out and about.

I would like to make a point here: Safety is found in numbers. Many contemporary Americans are uncomfortable with this idea and prefer safety in isolation, as in a private backyard. However, safety is indeed found in numbers for the simple reason that a great majority of people are trustworthy and responsible citizens. Empty city streets are inherently more dangerous than crowded ones for this sole reason.

I am very confident that if my child was in danger, many neighbors would rush to the rescue. In fact I have seen this in evidence many times. A few weeks ago, for example, my son crashed his bike in the park when I was maybe 30 yards away. Two somewhat ragged men stopped and asked my son if he was alright and helped him with his bike before I could get there. This kind of thing happens all the time, even in the poorest neighborhoods. It takes a faith in mankind to live in a city, but you must remember that a crowd of good Samaritans keeps the bad eggs in check. The problem in many American cities is finding any kind of crowd at all.

There will come a time, and I am not sure what the age will be, when my son will go to the pool or the corner store on his own. What age do parents in the suburbs allow this to occur now? In the 70's I left the sight of my parents for hours on end at age 10. Do parents still allow that? Is it even allowed by law? I really don't know.

Obviously kid's lives are much more structured than they were when we were growing up. This is true if you live in the suburbs or the city. Between work, school, homework, sports, scouts, music lessons, etc etc, when do kids get to just play anymore?


19 December 2007

Sampling of European Rail Videos

John Massengale has some interesting youtube videos of streetcars, trams and light rail, in his latest post called "You Choose".

Society Jazz Orchestra Rocks


Last night, Ed and Pam had the Society Jazz Orchestra with them at the Jackson Street Underground, and Ed brought his home-cooked food. They rocked, and everyone had a great time and a full belly.

Two favorite songs: sand in your toes and the snake. Plus the xmas stuff.

CRC Jumping Before Looking

Please see my past posts on this issue here.

15 or so people spoke for 2 minutes each last night in front of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission Board. Most spoke in favor of saving a deep water pool in OTR. The Community Council President from North Fairmount (Adams?) also spoke about the proposed removal of their pool. Some points:

1. Spraygrounds are proposed to be un-monitored and some are proposed to have no showers or toilet facilities. I have been to the spraygrounds that Hamilton County Parks runs, and they have toilets, concessions as well as lifeguards on duty. They enforce the rules, keep order, and shut the system down when a child has a diaper accident. A sprayground without toilets and showers is unsanitary. A sprayground without guards is unsafe. However, the whole point of this CRC plan is to reduce lifeguard staff. And that is another point. Lifeguards do not get paid that much. How much of the annual budget goes to them? None of this is spelled out in the report.

2. Spraygrounds are enjoyed mostly by little kids. If bigger kids come to an unsupervised sprayground, they will be causing trouble.

3. CRC has proposed providing transportation from North Avondale and OTR to take kids to deepwater pools. They will not be taking parents or other family members though, just swim team members.

3. Brandstetter Carrol, the architects hired to study the pools, specialize in spraygrounds, so obviously, this is what they propose to put all over the city.

4. Lifeguards, especially the swim coaches, fill a big brother type role in many adolescent boys summers.

5. The CRC Board said we should speak to Council, as they have given the directive to reduce the number of pools. First, I don't believe that this is true. Some council members have taken this position, but have retracted it when there was an outcry. Secondly. When we talk to 3CDC, they say it is the Park Board making these decisions. When you talk to the Park Board, they say it is the Recreation Commission making these decisions. When you talk to the Recreation Commission, they say it is Council Making the decisions. When you talk to a Councilmember, they say they are following staff recommendations.

6. All of the current 41 pools are operated on a 1.5 million annual budget. This is not nearly enough, and is why many pools have such limited hours. However, this is a small part of CRC total budget, not to mention a very very tiny part of the City's annual budget.

7. In the analysis of the existing pools, by Branstetter Carrol, they state that the all-aluminum pools are of superior construction and generally do not have leaks and are still in good condition. This is the type of pool in Washington Park and Mt. Auburn (both proposed to be removed). The shallow water pools, such as Inwood, Mt. Adams, Ziegler, and Faiview, are older concrete pools, that have been modified over the years and re-lined. These shallow-water pools are in genuine need of replacement. These are all proposed to be removed completely. 7 of these older pools have already been removed over the past few years.

8. CRC staff say that a spraygrounds are very popular in other cities, and will attract several times more users than a deepwater pool. However, CRC installed their first sprayground a few years ago when they replaced a pool on Bank Street. My family has been to that sprayground, and it does not have great attendance and is not that nice of a facility.

In my opinion, the spraygrounds will be in service 5-10 years, then they will be vandalized and in need of major upgrades. Then the spraygrounds will not be turned on one year, then they will start to be removed.

Some of the Board is receptive to criticism (Catherine Ingram for example), and they obviously want to think this out and perhaps make changes to the plan to guarantee that there is a successful outcome. Others on the Board (Driehaus) and some staff (Norman Merrifield and Jeff Koopman)at the CRC are single-minded and are willing to jump into this plan without further thought.

My advice: look to see if the pool is filled with water before jumping.

Here is a list of the CRC Board Members:
Denise Driehaus, President
Rev. KZ Smith, Vice President
Roscoe Fultz
Mike Moeddel
Catherine Ingram

18 December 2007

Freakonomics Quorum

Some interesting quotes at Freakonomics site. The discussion was triggered by an announcement that more than 50% of the world population is now considered urban.

Edward Glaeser
… cities remain important because they create the intellectual connections that forge human capital and spur innovation.

…Humans are a social species, and our greatest achievements are all collaborative. Cities are machines for making collaboration easier. Thus, I am delighted that our planet has become increasingly urban.

Robert Bruegmann
… public authorities have once again tried to slow or halt the process, now pejoratively called “sprawl,” often with the explicit aim of preserving the distinction between the urban and the rural. This effort is likely to be just as futile as the effort to stop people from moving into the cities….

Dolores Hayden:
… we are a predominantly suburban nation. After almost two centuries of peripheral urban growth, American suburbs have overwhelmed the centers of cities, creating urban regions largely formed of suburban parts. …..” It is urban society trying to eat its cake and keep it, too.”
… government has encouraged green field development on raw land outside of urban centers, usually through tax subsidies rather than direct spending. These incentives account for extended metropolitan expansion promoted by “growth machines” — alliances of bankers, developers, and business leaders profiting from hidden federal subsidies for suburban development. Excessive green field growth lies behind the national energy shortage and the mortgage crisis. Using federal incentives to constantly expand urban peripheries with commercial and residential development has had serious consequences. Reliance on imported oil, pursuit of war in the Middle East, and the credit crunch shaking Wall Street suggest that wise patterns of urban land use are more important to economic well-being than many Americans recognize.

1967 Billy Graham on Rioting

I found this pamphlet laying on a windowsill at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church [Where: 1522 Race Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202]. The original congregation moved out of this church two years after this pamphlet was published to their new church on Central Parkway (Concordia Lutheran). They funded an outreach church that has remained there since.



Frozen Fountain Historic Photo


I found this photo at the Cincinnati Historical Society, and it shows the fountain, about 90 years ago, in the center of Washington Park, where the gazebo is now. Seems like they would have installed a valve on the water supply so they could turn it off in cold weather. The photo is looking east towards Race Street.

17 December 2007

Who is Tom Weidman

I got a telephone pole (poll) this weekend, that was obviously paid for by a Sycamore Township Trustee, Tom Weidman, who is apparently considering a run against Portune for Hamilton County Commissioner.

The questions were things like:
- Would the fact that candidate Weidman is against illegal immigration make you more likely to vote for him or Portune?
- Same question, insert abortion.

I didn't know that Hamilton County Commissioners decided such issues.

Foreclosing Cleveland

This guy says Cleveland is Ground Zero in the home foreclosure disaster. Not good for Ohio.

Reliable Going Out of Business


Court Street seems to be in some trouble/transititon lately. Much more vacancies than it should be, I think. These storefronts get tons of lunchtime foot traffic, and the right store should do fine. Reliable has a great location, and has been in business for 99 years. It was a neat place that carried stuff that can't be found anywhere else. The owner Gene, bought and fixed-up old bikes and was a committed downtowner. Despite this, I never was quite sure how he made any money. I'm not sure why he is closing, and maybe it doesn't matter, as long as something else useful fills the space.

Sign at 29 E. Court Street:

16 December 2007

Bill Disses Barack

I just happened to turn on the TV very late Friday night to see Bill Clinton making a desparate attempt to save his wife's campaign. I couldn't help but wince as I watched.

I think this will be the last of my posts on the presidential race, (unless they are discussing issues directly related to urban families). I don't want to get too far off topic here.

Here is a sample poll showing Hillary declining in NewHampsire and others, especially Obama rising:

Strange Maps

Not at all relevant to the subject of this blog, but here is a sample of some interesting maps:



15 December 2007

Satrurday AM Snow

OTR rowhouses:

Alley under construction:

A snow angel:

14 December 2007

Pam and Ed Continue at Know Theater

Pam and Ed look to have a great show on tap for this coming Tuesday. I hope to go:

Join us next Tuesday December 18th, at the Jackson Street Underground (aka The Know Theater) as Ed Moss and Pam Ross perform with the tremendously talented Society Jazz Orchestra. Everyone loves them, so if you haven't had the opportunity to hear them, now is your chance. The show starts at 8pm and ends at 11. And for those of you who miss Ed's cooking from Schwartz Point, Ed will be providing his acclaimed gourmet buffet. For this show, there will be a $10 cover, and where else can you get jazz and dinner at such a great price?

In addition, Ed and I have been performing during pre-theater hours at the Jackson Street Underground. So Stop in after work for a drink to unwind and hear some jazz; Then, right after our show, you can catch the new performance of "Christmas.to come" upstairs at the Know Theater right. For additional info, here is a link to the Know Theater site

Frog Princess Starts this Week


Should be a good show, appropriate for all ages, including small children according to the producers. We are planning on going next Friday. More info here.

UPDATE: We saw the show. I highly recommend it. Music, action and story were compelling for 3 year olds, 12 year olds and adults. We are so lucky to have such a good theater group here.

Strip Mall Graffitti

Found behind a suburban strip mall in Springfield Township:

Birds Nest:


Note, this is 18 miles outside of Cincinnati.

13 December 2007

Christmas Card Comparison

A leading Republican Cadidate:
hat tip

VS the leading Democratic Candidate:



OTR Skyline Drawing

...from a 6yr old with charcoal

A Mother's Unconditional Love for a Bad Son

Channel 5 news had shocking video on last night of an inmate of the Hamilton County Justice Center. The video shows the forcible extraction of an inmate, Michael Jackson, from his cell, but also shows the officers taunting him and shooting him at point blank range with pepper balls, when he is already shackled. I cannot believe that the officers involved have not been at least reprimanded.

But what really stuck with me after the news segment was the inmate's mother, a woman who appears to have led a very rough life, is pamphleting on her son's behalf. She admits he is criminal, but "you don't treat dogs like he was treated". There was something brutally honest about her.
Update: The footage of the mother is in the newly added second clip.

12 December 2007

Complete Streets

I've been hearing more and more about the catch phrase "Complete Streets" which was started by bicyclists pushing for streets that are safer for all kinds of transport including bikes, buses and pedestrians. Here is an article about cities remking their streets with these goals in mind:

"Seattle is a great example of how to do it right,” McGrath says. The 569,000-population city passed a resolution in October 2006 and an ordinance in April 2007. The ordinance helps ensure that for each capital project in Seattle, there is a Complete Streets meeting, with participants from all the municipal departments that have a stake in the project — most notably Planning and Development, Public Utilities, and Transportation.

Ronkin encourages governments to adopt Complete Streets policies, but he urges them not to include design standards in their legislation. If rigid standards or dimensions appear in legislation, they often impede creativity, he says.
He also observes that major road projects are not where the greatest gains are to be made. Ultimately, greater progress can be achieved through routine work done by “maintenance and operations folks.” Because existing streets, crosswalks, signals, and other elements undergo continual maintenance and repair, Ronkin says advocates of pedestrians should seize opportunities to do such things as requiring that every time a signal is worked on, a pedestrian countdown signal will be installed.
To make conditions safer for cycling, Ronkin advises bringing the speed of cars and trucks down to 20 to 25 mph — a speed at which motor vehicles and cyclists can comfortably share the road. That also makes pedestrians safer and more relaxed.
In some areas, the city of Portland has extended its sidewalks, marked part of the broadened sidewalk for use by bicycles, and installed separate signals for bikes. “It’s a bike facility in every sense of the word,” says Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland’s Office of Transportation. “You feel separate from the roadway.”
Although some bicycling takes place on greenways or other routes dedicated to biking, “the great majority of utilitarian biking is done on the roads,” Geller points out. Thus, New Urbanism’s advocacy of extensively interconnected streets serves cyclists well. When there is a grid of streets, Geller says, “people naturally gravitate to sidestreets,” which are quieter and safer.

NYC Streetcar Article

Streetsblog is an interesting blog out of NYC that I read once in a while. Last week they had a post about streetcars that generated lots of discussion. One of the comments:
The long loading time for buses is caused by their kneeling, narrow entrances, high steps, and need to have the driver handle each wheelchair - plus time-consuming fare collection. I think all of these can be eliminated on the trains with wide doors opening at grade, and not having the driver collect fares one at a time.

11 December 2007

Transition to City Difficult Once Family Established

An email from a reader got me thinking this morning about how difficult it is to move into the city once you establish your family in a suburb. I think most of us who are downtown, have grown into living here through incremental steps in our lives.

If you live on the westside and move to the eastside it may be traumatic, but your everyday life will not change much. You will still have a driveway, garage, backyard etc. Before kids, I figured out where to park, established myself in the community and found friends here for support. Once kids arrive, parents get very cautious, and no big changes are easy.

This relates to the Kotkin article mentioned on this blog last week. It is much much harder to get an established family to move to the city than it is to keep the young couples, just starting families.

Charlotte Foreclosure Map


I have not seen a similar map for Cincinnati, but the reverse doughnut effect is clear on this map of Charlotte North Carolina. The map is from a story in the Charlotte Observer Sunday. I assume it would be similar map in Cincy.

The very center of many cities are strengthening, but the so-called first suburbs are now the ones showing signs of blight.

Update: Here is the link to the article.

Shake It Records

I quit buying music when the CD became prevalent. I'm exaggerating, but after college (when I had piles of cassette tapes), I bought some CDs, but never really loved them, and they seemed to get lost or scratched a lot. So for many years, I mostly just listened to the radio. Part of it might have been the noise in the city, and appreciating quiet, when I could get it. Or maybe I was just too tight to spend the dough on a stereo and new music.

A few times, I would find myself in a record store, and I felt so uncomfortable and befuddled, ending up in the oldies aisle, which is the only place I recognized any names.

But last year, my dear wife got me a turntable from Reliable at Court and Vine, and I hauled out the remnants of my teenage vinyl collection and had an enjoyable time becoming re-acquainted with old records.

Then, I started picking up a few records here and there at the Salvation Army and thrift stores. I did a little looking online for vinyl, but it seemed so expensive, compared to the 4 records for a dollar at garage sales. Yesterday, for the first time, I entered Shake It Records, which is in Northside, two blocks north of Knowlton's Corner. Wow. What an eye-opener. There were all kinds of people like myself sorting through the vinyl selection. I still didn't recognize most of the bands, but the setup reminded me of ye-olde record shop, like Moles or Everybody's records, so I felt at home. After only a few minutes I left with some vintage Chet (both the Atkins and Baker variety). 4 albums for $18. Very nice.

Can't wait to go back.

10 December 2007

Last Chance to Impact Primary


By March 4, 2008, the date of Ohio's primary, 34 states will have already chosen their presidential candidates. If you are an Ohio registered voter, your vote is essentially meaningless. If you send $50 to the Obama campaign today, it will have much, much more value than your vote in March.

Do you want a campaign this fall between Hillary and Giuliani? To me that would be a nightmare. It feels like every presidential election in my lifetime has carried the culture war of the pre-60's vs. the hippies. Of course that is a huge generalization, but can't we just get past this kind of thinking?

Obama is the first presidential candidate that has a reasonable chance of winning that I have been inspired by. I remember seeing him on Charlie Rose in 2002 or 2003. I started the interview very skeptical. But his mind seemed so nimble. He was not speaking for political purposes, he was speaking his true mind, as he figured things out for himself. He spoke about his doubts about invading Iraq. When the show ended, I remember thinking, that this kind of guy can't survive in politics. He was too honest. But here he is, with a real chance of making it all the way.

Our country is in ragged shape these days. It appears that recession is looming. The foreclosure rate is ravaging the lower middle class and destroying the housing market (which has been the backbone of the economy for many years). The GOP has a seige mentality on everything from Islam to Mexican immigrants, and we have 150,000 troops in Iraq for almost 5 years!

In 1987, I took my first ever trip outside the US. As I recall there were fireworks on TV celebrating 200 years of the constitution that July 4th. I was in a very small town in Spain, and I remember hearing through halting English, from many people how much they admired USA and how the Statue of Liberty was a true symbol for them. Today, if I were to return to that town, I am certain the talk would all be about secret detentions, torture memos and Gitmo. And when we saw Barack at the Westin a few months ago, and he talked sincerely about closing that illegal prison system and honoring the Geneva Conventions, the audience applauded the loudest of all.

It is so important that this country restore its dignity and it's ideals.

If you agree, click on the Obama link in my sidebar and give a donation.
(Photos cribbed from the Atlantic, I think.)

Localvore or Locavore

I recently read, that the word Locavore, was voted the best new word or 2007. I think the origination of the term is "eating food that is grown locally". I agree with that sentiment, but also try to support local hardware stores and shops too.

However, it is definitely possible to go over-board with this sentiment. For example, we bought a car a few years ago, partially because the dealer is within walking distance.

....we should have read Consumer Reports first.

Anyway, I would like to coin a new word: Locablog.

Would Jesus Litter

Found along the sidewalk this morning, (along with some Steel Reserve cans), left from a church handing out sandwiches Saturday.

09 December 2007

We Missed Carolfest

There are dozens, if not hundreds of child-friendly events downtown in December, and Saturday we hit 4 of them. But somehow we completely missed Carolfest at Music Hall. There were lots of families leaving and I thought for a moment that it was the Nutcracker. It sounds like a lot of fun, and we will definitely plan on attending next year.

08 December 2007

Seminary Square Christmas Walk Sunday

I plan on attending. This is a cool area of Covington.
Covington, KY-The Old Seminary Square Neighborhood Association will celebrate the holiday season by hosting a Christmas Walk on December 9, 2007 from 5-8 p.m. Sixteen homes and businesses will be fully decorated in holiday fashion. Ticket holders will visit the homes and enjoy refreshments and holiday music. The Holmes High School Choir will provide Christmas Carols. Old Seminary Square encompasses Russell Street North to South, 8th Street to 12th Street and East to West, the railroad to Bracken Court.

"Our historic neighborhood is so lovely at Christmastime and we want to share that with the community," said event organizer Linda Carter. "We are eager to open our homes so that others can enjoy the beauty and the flavor of the holiday season."

Recognized as a historic district, Old Seminary Square has retained much of its architectural integrity of the 19th century Victorian brick houses and row houses. In the late 1830s, the Western Baptist Education Society purchased 370 acres (1.5 km²), which would define Covington's southern boundary in 1841. On this tract, the organization established a seminary and set aside 22 acres for a cemetery, which in 1843 would become known as Linden Grove Cemetery. To raise money to build its campus, the Baptists entered into the real estate market, subdividing the land and selling lots around its campus and cemetery, an area now known as Old Seminary Square and the Westside.

The public is invited and tickets can be purchased the evening of the event for $15 per person at the Ashbrook house at Russell and West Robbins Streets. Proceeds from the event will benefit ongoing beautification efforts for the Seminary Square neighborhood association. Free parking is available at John G.Carlisle Elementary School.

Directions: I-75, exit on 12th Street (exit 191), East on 12th, left on Russell. Left on Robbins Street to school parking lot. For more information, contact Kathy Groob, 859-341-4278.

07 December 2007

1,000 Visitors

In September, I put a counter on this site (Google Analytics), and today I passed 1,000 unique viewers. There have been 2,400 total visits and 4,300 pageviews. I think 1,000 viewers in 3 months, is pretty good for a site that is ultra-local and non-political.

In September I usually had 30 unique viewers per day. A few days ago, I had 130 in one day. My highest traffic day is typically Monday, the lowest Sunday.

Of course there are more readers on the days when the posts are interesting, not just filler. And I have more than just visitors. I have gotten to know a few people in-person or via email through contact at this site, and that is pretty neat too.

I don't see other bloggers post about their traffic much at all. Is it bad manners or something?

Virtual Neighbors Support Real Neighborhood

Here is a mind-expanding excerpt from a book about the intersection between virtual neighborhoods and good local neighborhoods. There are some good observations here. Consider the quote below:

A tenet of modernist planning was that cities didn’t matter any more, that communications technology ... rendered them useless and inefficient. Of course, the opposite has proved true. As technology has lowered the barriers between places, the differences between them have become accentuated. At least at a global scale, when ideas and capital flow freely, they tend to dry up in some places and pool in others—as in New York. But the influence of communication technology is beginning to have an impact at the neighborhood scale as well. Jacobs wrote that “word does not move around where public characters and sidewalk life are lacking.” Now it does. There are the people paused at the top of the subway stairs, occupying two spaces at once, one physical, one virtual. And in neighborhoods around the country—this one in particular—community online message boards and blogs are thriving, entirely in parallel with news passed stoop to stoop.
If the physical form of a neighborhood is conducive to community, so is its virtual form.

Interesting thesis, but is it true? I defintely think that a city with good physical form helps foster community. And I understand that virtual communities are more active in vibrant neighborhoods or ones in transistion or with many stresses. For example, people may go online to organize block watches or to organize to save the local pool.

06 December 2007

Urban Families Article in Seattle Paper

I was forwarded this Seattle Post-Intelligencer article by a reader:

...Despite the fact that Seattle gained few new traditional houses since 2000, the city's percentage of households with children went up between 2000 and 2005, while declining in the rest of King County...

Moms at the playground say they'd love to live in the urban core, but ...

..."We need guest rooms."

.... she'd need at least three bedrooms, and a nearby park and grocery store.

..."Most of them are no more than two bedrooms," she said. "Families really need three-plus bedrooms."

But Seattle Planning Director John Rahaim argued that families don't need a particular kind of home, they need a community around it. "It's having a school nearby and having kid-friendly open space nearby," he said.

Seattle Public Schools spokesman Peter Daniels said the district, however, should not be the one to take the leap of faith and build a school where there isn't demand.

"We just can't see the wisdom right now in doing something like that when we have other challenges and when the enrollment is just not there," he said.
Schmitz said the recent condo boom has not produced buildings that look like places where kids live.

"We're talking about numbers of bedrooms, that kind of thing," she said. "Families have different kinds of space needs."

She also noted the lack of a playground south of Cascade Playground. "If I had a kid, where would I go? We have a playground on the roof because there's no park here close enough."

Daniels suggested that one answer could be a partnership between the city and developers to make building family-friendly apartments and condos worthwhile in the future.

But for now, the size, amenities and marketing of apartments and condos tend to focus on young professionals and empty-nesters, rather than families. A Vulcan billboard across the street from the company's South Lake Union "Discovery Center," for instance, proclaims, "The patter of little feet sounds great on hardwoods."

The accompanying picture? A young man with his dog.

Ada Healey, Vulcan's vice president of real estate, acknowledged her company was not building for families with children.

"We're kind of waiting for the demand to materialize to support larger units," she said. "We would love to deliver product for families. One of the challenges families have in the center city is, where are the schools?"

Denny Onslow, chief development officer for Harbor Properties, agreed that the lack of a school was the biggest barrier to demand from families.
House culture?

Ellen Parker and Jason Staczek love living in their three-story condo, just up the hill from the stores and restaurants of Fremont. But, with their baby daughter getting older, they're moving to 10 acres on Vashon Island.

Yes, Fremont has parks and a school. The problem, Parker said, is that her home has no yard and too many stairs.

"It's not the best place for a baby who's beginning to crawl," Parker said at an open house last month.

Anyway, most parents in the condo complex end up leaving, Parker said. "The trend is, people have a kid and they move out within a year."

"Most of our friends just move to Ballard and get a yard," she said. "We don't want to reach out our window and touch our neighbor's house anymore."

Daniels, of the Seattle Public Schools, said Seattle families just haven't accepted the idea of raising children in apartments and condos. He said the district has lost enrollment to suburbs where families can afford a house with a yard.
It also may be that many head to the suburbs with their children simply because that's where they were raised.

"City living's a lot different," Harbor Properties President and Chief Executive Douglas Daley said. "If you grew up that way, I guess you're used to it."
Quotes from existing city parents:
"It's just an easier lifestyle," she said. "And there's more time."
"About 90 percent of them go, 'What are you thinking?' " he said. "The other 10 percent say, 'Oh, I've always wanted to do that.' "
"Unless you've grown up in a place where you can envision community life in the city, it just feels foreign," she said. "I think it's the kind of thing that once you see it, you go, 'I get it and I want that.' "

She's also working on other steps, including a playground in Denny Park.

Downtown "doesn't just call out to families," she said. "But I think it will, and I'm committed to making it happen."

One thing that jumps out at me in the article is the differences and similarities in the comments you hear in Cincinnati. First, there are the same requests for a grocery store that we continually hear. However, their concern about schools is less about the quality of the schools, which is the concern we always hear, but that there are none in the area. That is certainly not the case in Cincinnati, where we have many school choices in the immediate area, including the SCPA which will be K-12 when it relocates.

Meeting Today to Discuss Pools in OTR

Just found out that the CRC is holding a meeting today to discuss the aquatic plan. I don't think I can make it, because of the late notice, and I'm not sure what the format is, or what will be discussed. Thursday, Dec 6th, 4pm at the OTR Rec Center, 1700 block of Race Street.

05 December 2007

Alley Bay Window


All the Usual Suspects


“All the Usual Suspects”: A group exhibition of Marx Gallery members

Opening at The Marx Gallery
COVINGTON, KY Opening December 7, 2007

The Marx Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of All the Usual Suspects: A group exhibition of Marx Gallery members”.

This month we are celebrating a great year of exhibitions with showcasing our own talent. The Marx gallery members will be showcased in this December exhibition.

Artist include: Bekka Sage, Keiko Taka, Jim Guthrie, Laura Goebel, Rob Dreyer Shawn Felts and Jennifer Feld.

Refreshments will be served and donations kindly accepted.

The Opening Reception is First Friday, December 7 from 7-10 pm and the exhibit continues through Friday, December 21.

The Marx Gallery is dedicated to providing a forum for the growing diversity of talent in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. The Marx Building also offers affordable studio rental space for area artists in the heart of Downtown Covington.

For more info visit: www.themarxbuilding.com

The MarX Gallery
[where: 520 Madison Avenue, Covington, KY 41011]

Kids Programs this Saturday

First there is the Lloyd Library Young Naturalist, meeting at 10am-12.

Then noon-2 at Nicholas Gallery, they will be making Christmas Ornaments.

I plan on trying both events!

04 December 2007

Yellow Bus Service

The Cincinnati Enquirer had an article yesterday highlighting the fact that CPS has been cutting some students from their bus lists. Most of the students attend smaller parochial or charter schools, and State Law allows them to deem some transportation requests as unreasonable.

Long gone are the days when a bus circled neighborhood and took all the kids to the local school. These days we have district-wide magnet programs (and the district is huge) and all sorts of private, parochial and charter programs. It is getting more complicated to get all these kids to school. Somedays while waiting for our bus, we will be passed by 6 or 7 other buses picking up kids to go to other schools.

This is our second year using the yellow bus service, but this year we only use it in the morning, as it doesn't usually fit with our afternoon juggle. And next year, we likely won't be using it at all because or youngest hopefully will be in a pre-school for 4 year olds, and the yellow bus does not serve kids that young.

My complaints with the yellow bus is two-fold. First, the bus driver cannot seem to get there at the same time every morning. I hate standing out in the cold or rain, a block from home, wondering if the bus has already passed. If the regular driver is sick, the bus can run very late, and may even come down a different direction or miss us entirely. It seems that with mobile phone ubiquity and computer technology that the location of the bus or estimated arrival time could somehow be easily monitored. I'm sure something like this will be commonplace someday. Secondly, some of the drivers are questionable. We had a problem last year with the bus driver playing innapropriate music. This year, we have a different driver, and the bus is quiet inside.

03 December 2007

Kids in Cities Concept Paper

In this entry, I will attempt to summarize the Kids in Cities Concept Paper, which can be read in full here. PDF here.

First they establish the obvious, which is the value of more children in cities. They summarize that Parents and Children:
1. Add to the vibrancy and diversity
2. Are strong advocates for amenities
3. Strengthen the ecosystem of civic-minded citizens
4. Add to the tax base
5. Grow the future urban citizens.

Then they discuss how most cities have been losing families for the past 50 years and how many of them have become virtual kid-free zones. The project is about how to reverse this long-term trend.

Then they divide parents into the following subgroups:

The misleading part about this diagram is the equal size of the squares, because the suburban loyalists probably make up a great majority of all parents in the US. But it does serve the purpose to understand the potential targets, and the target of the paper, is how to attract the swing vote. I don't like the term Urban Pioneer, and think Urban Loyalist is a better description for the current city parents.

The urban loyalist values: diversity, density and vibrancy.
The swing vote values: space, safety and schools

Space, Safety and Schools must be addressed to attract the swing vote. An extensive study was made of existing urban loyalists, and a lot of attention was paid to their “pain points” and their “work-arounds”. Finally they propose ways to change these duct-tape solutions into opportunities.

Redefinition is one strategy. For example:
• Safety: Majority perceive the city as unsafe, however the density and diversity of people provide many eyes on the street, and children are kept safe by the many people they know in the neighborhood.
• Space: Apartments are expensive compared to half-acre lot in suburbs, however cities offer many adjacent spaces used to extend the home. The entire city is my backyard!
• Schools: City schools perform badly; however, the city offers many out-of –the-classroom learning experiences. The entire city is my classroom!

Some concepts leaders could start to implement:

Messaging: Safe routes can be established and marked, and businesses can be certified as child friendly.
Services: A simple pre-paid card could allow children a network of safe travel on public transit or even taxis. Child-only areas can be established near the driver of buses and trains.

Private Space
- flexible space apartments
- older generation can act as a network of providers that swing vote trusts
- time share model for shared spaces or shared sitters or nannies.

Public Space
- car free zones for safe play
- happy hour for families
- stroller lockers, family rest stops
- k-games, interactive kiosks with scavenger hunts, mazes, city history

- Website or school liaison should consolidate school information.
- Help children become involved in shaping their community. Families could network via web to search for learning and volunteer opportunities for children. In this effort children will learn real-life lessons.
- Cities have a concentration of experts in certain fields and each city has certain strengths that could be utilized. For example, architects run a program “architecture for kids” that utilized the buildings around them.

I guess I was surprised that the paper did not discuss the things you most commonly hear such as bike trails, parks, affordable housing, daycare, afterschool care, more neighborhood policing etc. I thought the first half was excellent as it reviewed the current strengths of city life vs the growing weakness of suburban life (alienation, less safety, car issues etc). The proposed concepts were a bit underwhelming. I agree with the ideas, but there was nothing revolutionary here. Maybe that is the point. Small adjustments could make life better for us while also signaling to swing voters that they are wanted.

02 December 2007

Before and After - Don's Crankshaft

126 East Liberty in late 1980's:

The building was demolished in 2005, exposing more of the backs of buildings on McMicken:

A map of the area with the demolished building highlighted:

Just to the left (west) of this are the buildings that the Freestore is proposing to demolish.

01 December 2007