30 June 2010

Neat Street vs Color

I love the children's book "The Big Orange Splot" by Daniel Pinkwater:

It is the story of a man who lives on a "neat street" in which all the houses are the same. Then one day he dramatically changes his house. His neighbors try to get him to change it back, but he responds "My house is me and I am it. It is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams". Eventually the other neighbors also change their houses to look like their dreams. It is a wonderful story.

I was reminded of the book while reading a recent article about a man who painted his historic house orange:

Many of Ruben Jones' neighbors are not pleased with his color selection, or that his house is being painted at all, since the paint covers the original, unpainted gray surface of the house designed by Neel Reid. Jones said the color is meant to replicate the look of an Italian villa and will fade.
Frankly, I like the orange and I don't think something as transitory as a thin film of paint should be regulated at all, even in an historic district.


Our Leaders Deny Our Oil Reality

'Americans are not addicted to oil, Americans are addicted to freedom - the freedom to move freely and independently where and when we want," - former Virginia governor, George Allen (said to a standing ovation from the crowd). It is hard to believe that we keep denying the truth: that our entire way of life is dependent on oil.

29 June 2010

Photos of Benet's Last Day

photo of inside

Old-timey novelty scale. The kids loved this.

One penny for your weight:

28 June 2010

Benet's Phamacy: Last Day

My wife went into Benet's today to pick up her prescription, an hour before they closed for the day, and the pharmacist told her they would not be open tomorrow... that they sold out to CVS!!!


Too bad they could not hold out a few more years, as I think they could see an increase in business over the next few years as more people move downtown, especially people who want the personal attention found only at a small pharmacy, owned by pharmacists.

Or, maybe it is another thing we can blame on the health insurance companies. Ours recently told us that they would quit paying for prescriptions at Benet's.

Well, they had a good 75 year run.

27 June 2010

Delhi Grossness

“A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending.” -JH Kunslter

Die Meistersinger

It is not very often that in your life that you can walk down the street, across a park and sit down to watch a world-class performance of a 6 hour Wagner opera.

Amazing performance.

(Thanks also to friends who have tickets they cannot use and other friends who will babysit).

Walmart Going Urban

(Walmart).. has almost exhausted growth possibilities in suburbs and small towns, and now is looking at urban neighborhoods. ...

To fit into cities... It would shrink its stores to as small as 8,000 square feet, about 4 percent of the size of an average supercenter. It is considering formats that are primarily groceries, stores where customers can order something online and pick it up, stores where local business owners can lease space, and even formats like bodegas.

...“We have very small market share in the large cities within the United States, so we see a big opportunity for us to grow in those urban markets,”... -In the NY Times

26 June 2010

Temple Grandin TED Talk

I've been listening to TED talks as podcasts, and most of them are excellent. I would say all of them are excellent, but Daniel Libeskind was blah. I though Temple Grandin's was very good. If you don't know, Temple Grandin is a hero in the autism community:

During the talk, she mentions a movie about her. This is a recent HBO movie:

25 June 2010

Great American Tower in Origami

Like everyone else downtown, I've been watching the crown go up on the newest tower in Cincinnati. From some vantage points, ie: Mt Auburn/Mt Adams, I find it it is disturbing. But from the river, as in this origami it presents a decent face:
Found here(PDF) an advert for Oldcastle.

BTW, the view of this building from 4th street (when you look up at all of that 40+ stories of flat glass) was exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright meant when he called modernist boxes "flat chested".

24 June 2010

Old Radio Shack Catalogs

When I young I spent a bit of time paging through these catalogs, and I think I even had this kit:

TV Tennis game:

Ben Franklin on being Vegetarian

"...I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you.". So I dined upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then ocasionally to a vegetable diet.  So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.

- Ben Franklin in his autobiography

22 June 2010

Federal Policy Depopulated Cities

In an editorial piece in the Enquirer last month, Ed Cunningham claimed that Federal Government policy assisted the depopulation of US cities. As I read this, I thought that his point can be demonstrated by my own family history. On a recent trip to the library, I paged through a 1911 City Directory and wrote down the addresses of 3 great-grandfathers, and found that two of them lived in houses that were later destroyed by freeway construction and urban renewal projects:

In 1911 Thomas, a plumber, lived at 1060 Wade Street. The house was near the Reds baseball field, which I guess is why my grampa was always talking about sneaking into games etc... This whole area was reconfigured for I-75 and the site is now the Enquirer printing press:

Anthony, a coachman, lived at 3840 Colerain. This site is now right next to an I74freeway ramp and the house was later demolished for the construction of a gas station:


Edward, a pressman, lived in Mt Auburn at 556 Milton, and thankfully, that house still remains in use:

I have no info on the fourth great-grandfather who was on a farm in Alexandria, KY in 1911.

It was a mistake to install freeways through the center of the our city. Thousands of brick dwellings were destroyed, and the properties nearby were made unpleasant and unlivable. It did not have to be this way. Freeways in Europe for example were often built on the edge of the city and connected via boulevards. Urban boulevards can move lots of cars and still support a vibrant city. As it is, we are still struggling to reconnect the parts of our city that were divided by freeway construction.

Anyway, I thought it was a relevant look back. Does anyone else out there want to share a story about their family home being demolished for highways, road widening or some urban renewal project?

21 June 2010

Stomping on Graffitti

The kids got a kick out of this "shadow" of a fire hydrant:
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18 June 2010

Summer Doldrums

I thought I would just ramble a bit for fun:

I've been feeling very disconnected from downtown so far this summer. My work currently keeps me out of the city 5 days a week, and any time outside of work and sleeping is pretty much spent at our pool which is a 12 minute drive out of the basin. Now with the temperatures getting even hotter, I'm sure we will continue going to the pool everyday. In the evenings sometimes we will sit out on the stoop and talk to neighbors, or we will go to the Saturday movie on Fountain Square. Tomorrow, the movie is Astro Boy, which I have never even heard of, but we probably will be there. Unfortunately, lots of events happen around us (like the Fringe Festival or Taste of Cincinnati) that we don't even know are happening until they are over.

I was troubled to hear about a seemingly random shooting in the 1700 block of Vine a few days ago. Despite all the condos, retail and general positive business developments in Over-the-Rhine, it is still quite dangerous north of Liberty Street. In the southern half of OTR, I feel pretty comfortable on the street with my family. We can hardly walk half a block without meeting friends and stopping to chat. But if we walk a few blocks in any direction, we will be mostly amongst strangers. Even walking over to Main Street to go to Shadeau Breads, it seems like we don't know anyone over there.

One of the great stabilizers on a street are the people who are there all the time. Mostly I am thinking of the shop keepers, like Mike at MiCa or the lady at Ice Cream Palace, but also the maintenance man next door and even some of the homeless guys or the Tender Mercies residents and staff.

Washington Park almost seems like a dead zone lately. There are still lots of people hanging out, but the dusty gravel lot and the empty swimming pool deaden the whole north end, and the broken play equipment has been baking in the hot sun. Seems like the park itself is a patient sullenly awaiting surgery...

While on a recent road trip, I listened to hours of podcasts. I listened to several good ones from Citybeat and I also listened to a backlog of James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler is interesting, but seems to have really gone off the deep end with his predictions of our approaching worldwide catastrophe triggered by peak oil. His best book was his 1994 Geography of Nowhere, which although now a bit dated, you should definitely read if you haven't. (I'll give away my copy if you email me). But for the past decade or so Jim has been focusing more and more on oil. And although oil is an extremely important subject for our society, especially seeing that our entire economy is based on its production, I am not comfortable with his far-reaching predictions of the future. He thinks that the past 50 years of American suburban, cheap oil motoring is an anomaly, not a predictor of the future and that we will return to a localized agrarian economy.

I have to admit that when he first started writing about this stuff he himself was an anomaly. But now he is just one of a growing chorus of people predicting peak oil and a resulting economic collapse. I agree that oil is certain to get much more expensive over the next decade. But people will adapt, and oil use will decline as it gets more expensive. There will still be oil for critical industries and fertilizer production etc...

Meanwhile we continue to re-shape our built environment for this uncertain future. We continue to build and re-build our cities. I read somewhere that it is predicted that 50% of what will be standing in 2050 we will build between now and then. We must remember that even though most of our population currently lives in a sprawled out unwalkable wasteland... we can change our path. We can change our path to build beautiful, productive, healthy and walkable cities. We can do this one step at a time over the next decades. And to accomplish this, we must recognize that development naturally follows access and transit. This means if we want a beautiful city with public space meant for people, then we must build durable infrastructure that supports pedestrians first. In my humble opinion, if we support the pedestrian we will automatically build a great city.

That's all today. I predict that my posting will be a bit sporadic this summer (I refuse to take a laptop to the pool) but I'll be around at least weekly if not daily. See you on the street!

15 June 2010

New Washington Park Website

Just a quick break from my summer hiatus, to notify you all about a new website that is dedicated to events and programming at Washington Park. I was at a community meeting a few months ago in which Emmanuel Community Center was taking the lead on developing programming (with assistance from The Creative Department) for the park after it's much anticipated reconstruction.

Currently the site is soliciting ideas, and the 16 proposed ideas are a good start. I'll try adding some things myself soon.

08 June 2010

Week Off and Washington Park

In an attempt to get some work done (and to enjoy my evenings) I am turning my internet browser off for about a week... so no posts for a bit after this.

Before I go, A few thoughts.

First, has the weather been awesome here or what? That early Sunday morning rain storm cleared the humid air out and made for some of the most beautiful weather ever to be had in Cincinnati. Look for the oppressive humidity to return later this week. The only solution for the humidity is... the pool.

We have joined a pool club, and totally enjoy it. We are finding a new summer community to hang with, but are feeling a bit disconnected from our downtown neighbors more already.

Secondly, my wife and I, and a neighbor met with the manager of the Washington Park reconstruction. I guess we were squeaky wheels enough to merit a meeting in which we discussed many of our concerns. We discussed the removal of some trees and we got very specific. My wife especially pushed for the saving of a particular large Linden tree and the Catalpas near the new playground. The guy acted sympathetic, but we didn't get anywhere.

Same with the playground. I wanted to push for more stuff for older kids, but they had already travelled to different cities to see successful playgrounds and had made up their minds on the different play equipment. I still would like some traditional swings, a long rope swing and some ball play stuff like tetherball, basketball or small soccer goals. But none of that is included.

The weirdest aspect of the Park is the elimination of the on-street parking surrounding the park on all 4 sides. What is so strange is that the curb will remain where it is, which means that there will just be 50-60 empty parking spaces surrounding the park. To me, if they are serious on this issue, they should just move the curb out eight feet and create a wide, 20' brick sidewalk all the way around the park, with bollards at the curb. The way it is currently planned, the "no-parking" is just signage, and could be easily changed later.

Generally I like the plan, especially the oval lawn. The overall weakness, I think is that the park features are inward facing, and the perimeter of the park has no seating or assembly areas. I think that this (and the parking issue) are a response to the current problem of people partying while sitting in their cars. I agree that this is sometimes a problem, but I believe it is more a policing problem, not a reason to have empty asphalt surrounding the park.

UPDATE: Picture of said Linden Tree:

06 June 2010

Feet in Fountain




Patriotic Oil Consumption

Seen on top of a gas pump 
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04 June 2010

Drop Inn Center Blog

The Drop Inn Center just entered the blogosphere. Since there is so much talk about their possible move and various issues such as sex offendors, I look for this to be a place for some straight talk, straight from the source:

...It is important not to mistake rhetoric for reality. In the end, no ultimatum given by the City, the School Board or any other group will compel us to move.

3CDC has offered to help us both with improvements to our facilities and exploring new possible sites. We realize the DIC is part of a whole community effort and we also realize it is important for us to explore any opportunity that could potentially benefit our residents. The Drop Inn Center Board and staff are deliberating all possibilities carefully and all policies will be implemented in an appropriate timeframe. As always, the needs and requirements of our residents come first...

Visualize the Spill

The BP Oil Spill overlaid on Cincinnati, so you can visualize the scale of the disaster, found here:

UPDATE: But that is nothing compared to this visualization of the possible long-range spread:

03 June 2010

Don't Subsidize Home Construction

... The difference between Germany and Spain, when you get down to it, is that Germans work for companies which provide goods and services that the rest of the world wants. In doing so, they make good money, which they save up. That’s how they became rich. The Spanish, by contrast, have massive unemployment, and most of the country’s GDP growth in recent years has come from the construction industry. Their main export is tourism, if that counts as an export, and the main way that Spaniards have become rich in recent years is by sitting back and watching the value of their real estate grow exponentially.

The U.S., going forwards, needs to be less like Spain and more like Germany. So let’s not subsidize housing. That way lies fiscal disaster. - Felix Salmon

02 June 2010

The 18 Year Marathon

...a new UCLA study that documented the life of middle-class families, videotaping their dinners, conversations and leisure activities:

The U.C.L.A. project was an effort to capture a relatively new sociological species: the dual-earner, multiple-child, middle-class American household. The investigators have just finished working through the 1,540 hours of videotape, coding and categorizing every hug, every tantrum, every soul-draining search for a missing soccer cleat.

So what did they find? The general conclusion is that family life is extremely stressful, a relentless barrage of problems, mishaps and negotiations. One of the graduate students who spent time with the families referred to the experience as "the very purest form of birth control ever devised."

...And yet... it's much easier to quantify pleasure on a moment-by-moment basis, or document the swing of cortisol levels in saliva, than it is to quantify something as intangible as "unconditional love". Changing a diaper isn't enjoyable, and teenagers can be such a pain in the ass, but having kids can also provide a profound source of meaning. (I like the amateur marathoner metaphor: survey a marathoner in the midst of the race and they'll complain about their legs and that nipple rash and how the endless route. But when the running is over they are always incredibly proud of their accomplishment. Having kids, then, is like a marathon that lasts 18 years.)

The larger point, though, is that just because we can't measure something doesn't mean it isn't important, or that we should always privilege the quantifiable (pleasure, stress) over the intangible (meaning, purpose). Real life is complex stuff. - The Frontal Cortex