31 March 2010

Socializing, Walking, Marriage = Happiness

Well, David Brooks got a lot of people all a twitter in his most recent column on the subject of happiness. I think it is commonsense. Yglesias agrees and emphasizes the anti-commuting issue.
Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being...

...The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness...

...The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.

30 March 2010

Neutral Public Ground

If we valued fraternity as much as independence, and democracy as much as free enterprise, our zoning codes would not enforce the social isolation that plagues our modern neighborhoods, but would require some form of public gathering place every block or two. We may one day rediscover the wisdom of James Oglethorpe who laid out Savannah such that her citizens lived close to public gathering areas. Indeed, he did so with such compelling effect that Sherman, in his destructive march to the sea, spared Savannah alone. - The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg, page 23

28 March 2010

Sleeping on Car Trips

I had proposed to my wife that we lay the rear seats down in the car
and make beds for the kids so that we could drive in the night while
they rest. When I was a kid this is what our parents did. My wife
objected because then they would be without seatbelts. She has a
point, but it is so sad to see their crooked necks as they fall asleep
sitting upright. To me, the worst aspect of driving for a vacation is
the inability to sleep. Personally, I cannot read either, so the
whole thing is kinda frustrating. Books on tape are our best
solution so far.

Any opinions on the sleeping flat option for the kids?

27 March 2010

Opening Day

I've been out of town and out of touch so much this Spring Break, that I'm not even sure if it is begining to feel like Spring yet in Cincy. But one event means springtime more than any other in Cincinnati, and that is Opening Day. Unfortunately, because of the greed of the professional sport, Opening Day is sometimes in March, usually meaning a cold wet and generally depressing spectacle, especially for people like myself who don't really care for professional sports. But, I do love a good parade, and Opening Day is a fine Cincinnati tradition. I'll be sitting on Race Street sidewalk, as usual, and I hope to see you all there. Monday April 5th, 11am.

26 March 2010

Car Optimism 1950s Style

Chevy Advert in SF with Cable Car

Lincoln on Raising Children

"It is my pleasure that my children are free-happy and unrestrained by
paternal tyrrany, love is the chain whereby to lock a child to it's
parent.". - Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin,
p 106

25 March 2010

United by Cuisine

locations of McDonalds restaurants


no hotlink, sent via my phone, as I am not near a computer for days!

New Urbanist ReTweets

Brookings: Fastest growing poverty rates occur in suburbs: In places where sprawl without smart regional planning ...

Obama administration shows promise with location-efficient mortgage reform: DC Streets Blog had an important follo...

New Urbanist principles drive revitalization plans in Rockford, IL: The Rockford Register Star recently profiled the efforts...

24 March 2010

Detroit Border

This aerial photo shows a partially demolished Detroit neighborhood with an intact neighborhood just across a moat in Grosse Point. No commentary, just thought it was interesting:
This location on Google Maps here.

Similar aerial views can be seen when looking at Israel and both sides of the wall that divides Jews from Palestinians.

23 March 2010

Nation as Neighborhood

An interesting thought experiment:


22 March 2010

Factories of my Fathers

It just kinda occurred to me the other day, that I often pass the factories in which my father and both my grandfathers worked. I'm one of those people that think it is a bad thing that we have become less and less of a country that manufactures it's goods. And it is kinda interesting to see what is happening in these buildings today:

First, my maternal grandfather, was a butcher at Kahn's for all of his adult life. Here is a picture of him with some coworkers:

Here is the building on Spring Grove Avenue:

Kahns, American Beauty Meats

Kahns was bought by Sara Lee and in the 90s the slaughterhouse was moved to somewhere in Kentucky. The Kahn's site is currently for sale by Hamilton County, who had acquired the site with the intention of building a jail.

Spring Grove elevation

Second, my fraternal grandfather worked most of his adult life as a pressman at Rosenthal Printing in OTR. The building now houses the Art Academy of Cincinnati:

Art Academy outside

Art Academy inside

Thirdly, my father worked at Fisher Body in Fairfield as a die-maker. I had occasion to go by this site recently, which is what triggered this whole post:

Water tower

Power plant

More Fisher Body photos here.

19 March 2010

Sprawl vs Conservatism

Sometimes, when I read articles like this, I think that in an alternate universe wherein this was normal conservative writing, I could be a conservative... In that universe, conservatives are truly building strong communities, not just strong corporations, strong families of all types, not just families that fit a 1950s norm, strong transit infrastructure, not just more and more lanes of highways, etc..
...the rise of this hyper-ideological movement conservatism has many roots, but one important and oft-overlooked one is this modern American landscape of sprawl and steel, of suburbs and hour-long commutes, of strip-malls and vast concrete scissures. The distance created by sprawl is both a material and spiritual one. Something is lost when we tear apart the natural, organic community and replace it with long lines of indistinct houses, well-groomed lawns, and endless stretches of highway. The very wrong sort of ‘individualism’ which so infests the modern American left and right is spawned from such distances...
Conservatism itself is rooted more in the community and especially in the fertile soil of tradition than in the individual. In a land of strip malls and ten-lane freeways, of rampant materialism and unending competition, tradition and community become irrelevant – become skeletal ghosts on display behind panes of glass....
Sprawl is a result of massive statist interventions into our culture and society, and its symptoms are equally enormous. Everything that conservatism has historically stood for is undermined by sprawl. It is not only the physical manifestation of our decline, it is a poison which continues to contribute to that decline. Its repercussions can be felt in our discourse, in our speech, in our way of thinking. This is not merely a matter of aesthetically pleasing communities, but of communities which allow individuals to be a part of the whole. I doubt this is sustainable, this suburban maze – in any way: fiscally, socially, spiritually... - Trueslant

18 March 2010

National Bike Summit Quote

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. -Ray LaHood


Some People Love Their Work

Some examples I experienced this past week:

Mayberry. The guy who runs this little restaurant loves food. You can tell when you meet him and when you taste what he makes. He is someone who loves fat and butter, and is not ashamed.

Craig Kopp on WNKU. It seems that he really likes the music he plays. And in this day of pre-programmed music stations, that is refreshing.

Ed Moss. Playing piano is like breathing for this man. Enough said.

Pokey Lafarge. We accidentally saw this guy playing at the Southgate House, in the front parlor Saturday, and found him to be authentic. Again, he seems to be born (not so long ago either) to sing in small clubs:

17 March 2010

Soda Bread Recipe

It tastes better than it looks...

8 c flour
2 tb baking powder
1 tb soda
3/4 c sugar
1 tb salt
2 tb caraway seeds
mix dry ingredients

3/4 c shortening or butter - rub this into flour with hands

then add:
2.5 c currants
1 qt buttermilk

form into 6 one-pound loaves
Bake at 350F about 30 mins

Let cool, then slice and serve with with butter or with stew.

If you do not want to make loaves to hand out to all your Irish friends: halve or quarter this recipe.

16 March 2010

Why Beauty Matters

Beauty is assailed by two directions, by the cult of ugliness in the arts and by the cult of utility in everyday life. These two cults come together in the world of modern architecture -Roger Scrutton, in part 2 at 6:45

"Form follows function" - Louis Sullivan

This returns me to Oscar Wilde's remark that all art is useless. Put usefulness first and you lose it. Put beauty first and what you do will be useful forever. It turns out that nothing is more useful than the useless..

Part 2
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

15 March 2010

Proximity Breeds Contempt or Sympathy?

A common theme of anonymous comments on the Enquirer news stories is that downtown residents are bums. A typical comment would be ones like this after Margy Waller's editorial last month:
My area tour of that area involved trying not to step in spit and hoping I did not get robbed and of course being asked for any spare change by different drunks. -gailannmoe

If you walk down your neighborhood shopping street (assuming you have one), how many people would say greet you as you pass?

I ask because, in my neighborhood, it is a lot of people.

And how many of them are different than you in class status, accent, or color?

Yesterday, while making my way in the rain, with my hands full and keeping track of kids, some guy was hassling me for money. And it was no big deal but it bothered me a bit and I was rude in return. I regretted that because I didn't want the kids to see that, but it occurred to me that this was the most disturbed I have been on the sidewalk in a while. For the most part, everyone I meet treats me civilly if not kindly.

The people on the street could fill every classification on a census form. And sometimes, when you see the same person many times you begin to have an acquaintance. Its not like we become close friends or anything, but it is good to have acquaintances, and we will say hi and maybe comment on the weather or sports.

We've had situations wherein we become close to someone who was an acquaintance. It can be something that grows slowly over time, or it can be sudden, when we are thrust together in some emergency or a community event. And it is great to get to know people more intimately, even if we will never become close friends. Once in a while a closer relationship will emerge.

These people fill my consciousness and sometimes my dreams. Some people's faces say a lot without speaking, others come with names and family histories and more. Through this casual proximity, I have a growing sense of sympathy and concern for my neighbors. It is the open nature of the sidewalk and the public daily places that make it possible to have many many acquaintances without having to get too close to them...unless we choose to. And making an acquaintance into a friend must be a choice.

14 March 2010

St Patrick's Parade


12 March 2010

The Simplicity of Saying Nothing

My new method of raising children: "say as little as possible". Leave them to their thoughts. They have adults talking at them all day. Give them some peace.

11 March 2010

CPS Schools Competitive

Recently I posted some anectdotal information about people moving to Cincinnati specifically so that they could send their children to Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS). I thought I would follow that up with some sampling comparing selected CPS schools to other nearby public schools. I chose the schools that everyone says are the best: Sycamore, Indian Hill and Lakota, and I threw in Colerain for comparison, because I know that district pretty well. Then I chose what people say are the best of the CPS schools. I kept the information limited and simple focusing on the NCLB number (No Child Left Behind mandatory testing), a sampling or two of minority numbers, percentages of those receiving free lunch, and number of teachers with advanced degrees:

Some thoughts about this:

We are not exactly comparing apples to apples because Schiel is only to 4th grade and some go to 6th while others go to 8th. It is harder to get the high scores in the upper grades.

I think Montessori schools have more teachers with advanced degrees because it is required to teach the method.

Some people love the Montessori method but believe their scores may be artificially low because they do not teach to the test as much as in a standard classroom. I tend to agree with this claim.

The "% poor" is shorthand for students that qualify for free lunches. This is not necessarily poverty, but is just a general indicator of degree of affluence.

I included %Asian and %Black just as a general indicator. Several other categories are tracked, including White, Hispanic and or course a growing number are checking the mixed race box.

The really high and really low numbers are worth noting:

- only 59% of teachers in Indian Hill (our richest neighborhood) have advanced degrees and 41% at Colerain Middle School?

- There are relatively high percentage of Asians in Sycamore Township.

- Sayler Park has so many economically disadvantaged families? Higher than even Schiel and Winton Montessori?

- Sayler Park, Indian Hill and Sycamore have very few black students.

Schools with strong academics combined with diversity of student population:
North Avondale, Dater, Sands, Fairview, and Kilgour. GO CPS!!!

Statistics from the 08-09 year found here: reportcard.ohio.gov

Maybe I’ll do some high school comparisons next.

10 March 2010

It Doesn't Need to be This Way

To our considerable misfortune, the pleasures of the city have been largely reduced to consumerism. We don't much enjoy our cities because they're not very enjoyable. The mode of urban life that has become our principal cause of illness resembles a pressure cooker without its essential safety valve. Our urban environment is like an engine that runs hot because it was designed without a cooling system. -Ray Oldenberg, The Great Good Place, 1989, page 10

09 March 2010

Embshoff Woods - Off Trail

So, son was begging me to take another off-trail hike, and I had my eye on Embshoff Woods, since I had never been there and it is only a five minute drive from downtown, and we only had an hour or so to spare. The park entrance is in Delhi township, but the eastern half of the park appears to be inside the city limits. The park is run by Hamilton Country Park District, and the main part has picnic shelters and a parcourse trail.

So we went to the end of the drive, to the last picnic shelter and began walking. At first we got a bit lost, but after a while we found a path that apparently was an old farm driveway from Sedamsville up to a long-gone farm house. I estimate the change in elevation from the valley to the top to be almost 200'.

You can tell it is an old farm trail because there are traces of farm fence on either side of the drive, and it is wide for a vehicle. It also has many sugar maples, which may have been planted, who knows. The trail has many fallen trees across it, but it is wide and an easy walk as it goes down and bends to right:

Sap running out of a damaged maple tree

There was a nice, steep stream going down between the hills. Maybe much of the year this is dry, but today it was bubbly with water from melting snow. I'm not sure, but I think this is a nameless stream that flows into the now subterranean Bold Face Creek down at "Pete Rose Park" in Sedamsville.


It was very peaceful and quiet here, with just the sound of the stream. Strange for being in the middle of the city.

We had to hike back up, as the trail ends at a little street, named Eatondale.


tree in sunlight:

Sedamsville is a fascinating neighborhood, with some very early buildings, very steep hills, but we weren't there to look at Sedamsville today, maybe next time. While leaving, this one home did catch my eye:
[where: 232 Fairbanks Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45204]

The civil war era house on Eatondale is also interesting, but I didn't get a picture of it. I need to start carrying my real camera and quit using these cell phone pics.

UPDATE: Map of Embshoff Woods:

Our hike in red:

08 March 2010

Smart City Ended

I was a few months behind on listening to my Smart City Podcasts, and last night while doing the dishes, I listened to the December 31st 2009 broadcasts, and heard Carol Coletta say that she was going off the air. She will continue some podcasting, and the first podcast interview was February 17th with Matt Cullen, about Detroit. In case you don't know, he is also involved with the Cincinnati Casino, so it is worth a listen, just so you know who is building this monster in our neighborhood. Sounds like someone who understands cities.

07 March 2010

Is Target Essential?

I hear people talk about Target like it is an essential part of living. I think I've been to the one on Ridge Road and it just seems like an updated K-mart with tons of cheap plastic from China. But thought this tidbit from a merchandising industry webmail was interesting:

The second-largest U.S. discount chain recently announced it ... will develop a smaller store format with an edited merchandise selection to reach customers in dense urban markets. The retailer also has its sights set on expanding outside the U.S., most likely in Canada, Mexico or Latin America.

05 March 2010

Bockfest Parade Scene

Posted by Picasa

Life as a Human on Cincy

I feel very positive about Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati in general today. With this fantastic, bright sunny weather, preparing for all our Spring activities like soccer, gardening and Opening Day Parade. And then meeting great new neighbors with childern yesterday, I just feel like a new day is dawning downtown.

And when you feel like this, it is good to get reinforcement from outsiders now and again. Yesterday, I read a piece in the "Life as a Human" site:
I loved Cincinnati and its people.... there were troubles in Cincinnati, but it also felt more alive in some way. Cincinnati is an edge place. It’s a meeting of red state and blue state, of urban and Appalachia, black culture and white culture, industry and environmentalism.

Everyone should visit Cincinnati. It’s an important touchstone for understanding the complexity, the challenges, and the hope of America. A perfect place to hone our elemental media, and practice En’owkin, the Okanagan concept that translates as “Please give me the viewpoint most opposite of mine so I can increase my wisdom.”

04 March 2010

Cheese from Human Milk

A chef tries making cheese with mother's milk, and it turns out...ok.

Resist the Housing Cult

A blog at the WSJ, says that using Federal Stimulus money to reestablish housing construction as the basis of our economy should be resisted:
....The U.S. economy is in transition, reconstituting itself into something that isn’t yet clear. But here’s what is clear: we just don’t need many new homes.

Consider the following. The U.S. has about 131 million housing units... Of that only 112 million are occupied. That means 19 million or a staggering 14.5% of all available housing is empty.

...It seems that the only Americans who really need more new houses are the American home builders.

Raise My Taxes, Please!

...For transit that increases value in our city:
This paper uses data from U.S. cities to investigate the incremental costs and benefits of high quality transit service. The analysis indicates that high quality public transit typically requires about $268 annually per capita in additional tax subsidy and $104 in additional fares, but provides vehicle, parking and road cost savings averaging $1,040 per capita, plus other benefits including congestion reductions, increased traffic safety, pollution reductions, improved mobility for non-drivers, improved fitness and health. This indicates that residents should rationally support tax increases if needed to create high quality public transit systems in their communities. Current planning practices tend to overlook or undervalue many of these savings and benefits and so result in underinvestment in transit quality improvements.

From the The Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

02 March 2010

Mt Echo Exploring

Still fascinated by East Price Hill. Last Sunday, daughter had a birthday party to attend there, so son and I explored Mt Echo Park.

The views from the overlooks are fantastic. I just had my cell phone camera, but we sat here a while watching the Southern Railway trains heading up into the hills of Kentucky while the tow boats re-arranged the barges.

We took a hike on one of the very under used trails and ended up off trail and finding cool stuff, like fossils, old bottles and identifying plants, etc...

Found this spooky vacant house in the woods with a view of the river:
[where: 2736 Montreal Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45204)

The undercanopy of most of the woods is choked with honeysuckle bushes. At the entry to the park, the undergrowth has been cleared, and they left some great swinging vines. This was a hit:

Strange vacant house across from the park entry:

[where: 360 Elberon Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45204]

Next stop: Embshoff Woods.

01 March 2010


National Suburbs Museum!
The Kansas City Star
...You know that shopping center at Interstate 35 and Johnson Drive in beautiful downtown Merriam where no stores have ever opened?
You mean tear down the Circuit City-that-never-was and start over?

No, he said. Keep the shopping center. But have an architect add to the design, something to make it iconic...

The decision was to operate a facility focused on a national rather than just a local audience, the way the World War I Museum has.

“I think we can tell the national story of suburbia here,” consultant Guy Hermann said...

Do Toxins Cause Autism?

The precautionary principle suggests that we should be wary of personal products like fragrances unless they are marked phthalate-free. And it makes sense — particularly for children and pregnant women — to avoid most plastics marked at the bottom as 3, 6 and 7 because they are the ones associated with potentially harmful toxins. - Nicholas Kristof, NY Times

Bad Streets = Death

Parents of toddler killed in crash file lawsuit
The Denver Post

...Both the Colorado Department of Transportation and the city of Aurora are being sued in connection with Havana being widened in 2003 to only 7 feet from a Baskin-Robbins.

...In addition the suit names the parent company of Baskin-Robbins because the store's wall facing Havana was made of glass and did not have safety barriers....
There are many things that led to this tragedy, including the driver being high on meth, but there is no denying that the design of the road is very bad. The speed limit is posted as a 40MPH, but the width and number of lanes encourages speed. And then to have a glass storefront right up by the street with no barriers, no parking lane?

(Street view of accident location from Google Maps)

Servatti's Door