30 April 2010

Austin Like Portland

My wife was in Austin, TX last week, and she sent me these two photos because they struck her as similar to scenes in Portland, OR, which we visited together a few years ago.

First here is an extra wide sidewalk:
Some effort was made here to narrow the part of the right-of-way that is for driving and widening the sidewalk. This was also done in areas of Portland.

Secondly, these look a lot like new condos you would find in Portland's Pearl District:

29 April 2010

Street as Playground Inspiration

A post about a new playground in Paris was forwarded to me by a reader. I really like custom designed playgrounds, especially when it's not all rubber surfaces. Apparently this playground has been wildly popular with the kids:

But the most fascinating part about this playground is not the hard surfaces or how wildly popular it is. The most fascinating tidbit is the designer's stated inspiration: A Willy Ronis picture from 1959 of kids playing in a street:
Belleville that was an inspiration for the playground:

Obviously, the "street" in the Ronis photo is not a typical street. It is full of levels, steps, different materials, surrounding shops and such. It is really a medieval type street in a old neighborhood of Paris. Actually I think it is not too far from the new playground site above. It is not a street designed by a traffic engineer. But although the street is extremely pedestrian friendly and kid friendly, it doesn't have any trees, benches or signage, things that today are assumed necessities.

Kids on the concrete:
Anyway, it brightened my day to see someone making these connections and thinking about playgrounds in a different way.

28 April 2010

Smitty's Fire

This morning, firefighters are still working on Smitty's to make sure the fire is totally out. This was the kind of building that probably had lots of jerry-rigged electric, so I wouldn't be suprised if the cause was electrical. Sad to see a long time business like this ruined. Apparently one of the Smith brothers was on TV this morning saying he would re-open somewhere else. So building by building, year by year, fire by demo by rehab the neighborhood continues to transform into something new...

Previous post on Smitty's

Americans Die by Car Crash

It was the leading cause of injury death in most age groups. (link is to a PDF file) Car accidents are the leading cause of death (not just injury death) in the U.S. from age 1 to 34.

27 April 2010

Gift of Understanding

It's an oversimplification to say that "children make you a better person," but they do, or should, improve your ability to psychologically and emotionally integrate that a) you want lots of stuff, b) what you end up getting remains, no matter what, ridiculously small and inconsequential, and c) you can't control your life nearly as much as you think.

I would sooner say that these realizations are gifts which children give to us rather than calling them "selfish reasons" to have children.

- Tyler Cowen

Danny the Champion of the World

"I really loved living in that gypsy caravan. I loved it especially in the evenings when I was tucked up in my bunk and my father was telling me stories. The kerosene lamp was turned low, and I could see lumps of wood glowing red-hot in the old stove, and wonderful it was was to be lying there snug and warm in my bunk in that little room. Most wonderful of all was the feeling that when I went to sleep, my father would still be there, very close to me, siting in his chair by the fire, or lying in the bunk above my own."

Last paragraph of Chapter 1 of Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

What a fantastic storyteller. Every kid loves his books.

26 April 2010

Non-Tech Urban Life

I'm not sure if I am up to an essay tonight, but I've had a thought that I wanted to try to express, and I'll get to it in a round about way, starting with a question.

Who spends more time outdoors: children in the city or children in the suburbs?

You would think that the answer is pretty simple, as one of the key reasons people prefer the suburbs is so that they can have a large yard in which the children can play.

But how much to the kids really use that yard? And how much time do they spend at video games or watching TV? And how much time do they spend as passengers in cars going to malls or the movies?

It just so happened, that I was watching a lecture on Youtube, and the guy referenced this statistic, which I followed up with a Google search. The result is a graph from 1990 showing where 11 year old children in California spent their time. The graph represents an average for all seasons and thus includes the school days but despite California having a temperate climate, the 10% of time spent outdoors does not surprise me at all. In fact I would suspect that today the number is even lower, maybe significantly lower.

But the graph is just a crude way to approach my subject.

Think about when you were eleven years old. What are the places in which you spent your most memorable times? For me they were all outdoors, and they are all times and places that had almost no technology involved. It would be playing outdoors, ice-skating, building forts, pickup baseball, bike riding etc... I do also have some fond memories of this time playing board games and card games inside, but for a child of this age, memories are forged mostly outdoors away from computer screen or TV screens.

While there are certainly exceptions, it seems to me that most suburban children today are raised indoors. And certainly you can do the same if you are living in the city. You can surround yourself with distractions such that you are barely aware of the changing weather outside your window.

But a family can make a conscious decision to not take this path. And an urban household could be one with few electronic devices. And, while you can live downtown, and still drive almost everywhere; if you make a decision that you don't want to live that way, then each walk to the store or to the museum is an adventure.

For example, my kids were pretty miserable walking home Saturday in a downpour. They complained as I extended the trip home to stop for a few groceries. But as usual, they forgot their misery, they loved the puddles, and the banter and the chasing. And when we finally got home they almost begged for a hot bath. And an hour later, completely exhausted they were washed and asleep in a dry bed probably dreaming of the fun they had. (or cursing me, I'm not totally sure)

There are few things that kids really crave. And after a loving, stable family the next craving is just the chance to run, climb and play. And in this century when schools are handing out homework in kindergarten, and organized sports take over most of the evenings and weekends, kids just don't have the chance to explore and play outdoors as was the norm when we were children.

But for many children (and this is certainly true of my son) they have another craving, and that is peace and quiet. I can see my son sometimes, getting frustrated with the constant assault for his attention. And when the chance comes, and he can be quiet, and draw, or walk in solitude, finally, he can clear his head and regain some inner peace. I'm not saying he will be denied use of the computer. No, but it will be limited, and I am thinking of completely ditching the TV, and keeping the radio off... and of course, walking evermore places.

25 April 2010

Sunday Eve

A quiet end to a rainy weekend. Daughter fell asleep of exhaustion, and son is drawing in his sketchbook. Three to Get Ready playing softly and laughter outside while I steal a few minutes with a book.

24 April 2010

A Train That Doesn't Stop

No time is wasted. The bullet train is moving all the time. If there are 30 stations between Beijing and Guangzhou, just stopping and accelerating again at each station will waste both energy and time. A mere 5 min stop per station (elderly passengers cannot be hurried) will result in a total loss of 5 min x 30 stations or 2.5 hours of train journey time!

23 April 2010

Temple of Love at Mt Storm

While my son was playing some pickup soccer, daughter and I walked over to the Mt Storm Playground. As usual, she made some new friends. We also watched some young women practice fire-eating, climbed some trees and looked in vain for an open toilet. Why does the Park Board tease us so?

As we walked back to the soccer field, we stopped at this structure, which, like a shiny beacon seems to attract wayward hikers. It's had a scaffold around it for many months, and I'm begining to wonder if anyone is really repairing it:


From the Cincinnati Park webpage:
Clifton’s 57-acre Mt. Storm is the site of the 19th-century estate of Robert Bowler. The Temple of Love gazebo-pavilion is all that remains of Bowler’s once grand homestead; it was designed in 1850 by Adolph Strauch, former supervisor of the Imperial Gardens in Vienna and designer of Spring Grove cemetery. In his magnificent home (razed in 1917) Bowler entertained the Prince of Wales, Charles Dickens and other 19th-century celebrities.

Picture I took in 2007:

And finally, photo of my grandmother here a long time ago:

21 April 2010

Rikki Tikki Tavi Friday at Emmanuel

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of THE GARDEN OF RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI adapted by Y York from Rudyard Kipling will perform "Off the Hill"

Friday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Emmanuel Community Center, 1308 Race St
Tickets: Free, Call 513-241-2563, Jenny Mendelson

This free-flowing comic brawl is a loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic children's tale RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI. Darzee, the diva tailor bird, is incensed when Rikki Tikki Tavi, a young mongoose, washes up in her pristine garden. Darzee and her friend, Chuchu, pull out all the stops in their attempt to run off the pesky mongoose until they see that Nag, a cobra and the garden despot, runs in fear at the sight of a mongoose on the loose. This comedy about sharing and cooperation has received numerous productions across the country. Award-winning playwright Y York is known for her adaptations of contemporary children's classics.

"In this production of THE GARDEN OF RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI, we hope to instill in each child the valuable life lessons that come with this classic tale, in a way that they can understand, have fun with and laugh at," says Playhouse in the Park Education Director Mark Lutwak. "We are very excited to introduce the Playhouse to a new generation and make professional live theatre more accessible to our neighborhoods across the region."

Wendell Berry, Gene Lodgson and Wes Jackson

I have been getting into listening to more and more podcasts, and I think Citybeat has the best local podcast. This week they have excerpts from the Xavier Food and Agriculture Lecture Series last Sunday, which featured a discussion between Wendell Berry, Gene Lodgson and Wes Jackson. Below is a quote I transcribed:

Well I wanted to go back to this issue of limiting growth. We talk about limiting growth as if somebody is going to figure out how to limit it, as if somebody external to the problem would come in and measure it and say "alright, this far and no farther". There are lots of reasons to worry about that as you know.

So I think if we are going to talk about living as creatures rather than machines, you know all the voices all around are telling you that you are a machine, ... if we're going to try to live as creatures we ought to try to think our way back into our creaturely life and talk about what pleases us.

And one of the first things you realize if you begin to think of the human creature as a person who seeks to be pleased, is that most people are deeply displeased... by their work, by their places and so on...

"Thank God it's Friday" is virtually a national motto. But, people that are doing the thing they are called to do the work that they are best fitted to do in this world, and attracted to aren't saying "thank God it's Friday". They're having trouble distinguishing between their work and their recreation. Work itself is pleasure giving.

One thing the three of us have in common is that we live in really attractive places. And that's not at all to say that these places in which we live are extravagant in any way. We don't live in palaces. We live in places that in one way or another have relation to the surrounding landscape. And in the relationship between the dwelling place and the landscape and the other creatures with whom the dwelling place is shared there is a kind of comeliness that is deeply pleasing and deeply satisfying.

Now I'll just talk a little now from experience. I'm speaking as an experienced odd person.

If you live in a pleasing place, a place that you really like to be in, you're not going to need television, or violent distractions. Your not going to spend your time speeding somewhere. You're have to want to spend your leisurely time at home, (which would be a great saving in fossil fuels and lead and these other things that we're against). If you like looking at the country you are in, your not going to need to look at television. My own phobia or motto is to stay away from screens. I avoid screens of all kinds.... screens of distraction ...that disguise the place that you are. Books don't do that. -Wendell Berry

20 April 2010

Peak Oil vs Oil Shortages

I have been a latecomer to the Peak Oil theory. It's just not my bag. My problem with cars is their negative effects on urbanism and walkability etc, not how they are powered. That said, it is true that the one thing that is essential to the whole suburban sprawl enterprise is cheap fuel. And once it gets expensive, or even unobtainable, then the whole system is screwed.

Peak Oil is the time when global production reaches it's highest point. Many smart people have studied this and have predicted that peak production is at least a decade or two away.

But a shortage is different than peak production. A shortage could occur even as extraction is still rising if usage is actually rising faster, (as it is in many countries such as China and India). This would lead to a much earlier crisis. This report in the Guardian quotes a US Military report as saying shortages could be a problem in just the next 2-5 years:
The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.

The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as ... the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel.

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day," says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis....

16 April 2010

The Death of Willie Lincoln

"Did you ever dream of some lost friend, and feel that you were having
a sweet communion with him, and yet have a consciousness that it was
not a reality?...That is the way I dream of my lost boy Willie.". -
Abraham Lincoln, pg423, Team of Rivals.

14 April 2010

Carolina Parakeet


On the third floor of the Downtown Public Library, there is a room, I think it is called the Cincinnati Room. It is on the bridge over Ninth Street. We rarely make it up to the third floor, but when we do, we are often rewarded with an excellent exhibit of some sort.

On permanent display in that room, there is a very large Audubon book of birds. It is in a glass case, and is opened to this beautiful page of the Carolina Parakeet. This now extinct species was found in very great numbers in the Millcreek valley by early white farmers in Cincinnati. James Audubon describes their slaughter:

..the Parakeets are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off the fruits or tearing the grain from the stacks, the husbandman approaches them with perfect ease, and commits great slaughter among them. All the survivors rise, shriek, fly round about for a few minutes, and again alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The gun is kept at work; eight or ten, or even twenty, are killed at every discharge. The living birds, as if conscious of the death of their companions, sweep over their bodies, screaming as loud as ever, but still return to the stack to be shot at, until so few remain alive, that the farmer does not consider it worth his while to spend more of his ammunition. I have seen several hundreds destroyed in this manner in the course of a few hours, and have procured a basketful of these birds at a few shots, in order to make choice of good specimens for drawing the figures by which this species is represented in the plate now under your consideration.

Can you imagine the Millcreek river in it's natural state, surrounded fertile floodplains and the ancient forest thick with these colorful birds?

13 April 2010

Charlotte Livability and Rail

April 5, 2010 New York Times
A Southern Success Story for Public Transportation Offers Lessons in Livability

The 9.6-mile line linking the city's suburban South End with its downtown financial district -- known here as "Uptown" -- came on line in the fall of 2007 with its planners expecting solid but ordinary ridership. What they got, however, was ballooning interest that reached 16,000 daily weekday trips in its first year, nearly twice the federal projections and roughly 15 years ahead of schedule.
DOT is in the early stages of what it has dubbed its "livability" initiative, a comprehensive rewrite of the nation's transportation strategy that includes an overhaul of how road and transit projects are picked to receive federal funding.

In January, DOT took its first major step toward turning the livability concept into practice. It announced that it was rescinding a budget restriction put in place during the George W. Bush administration that focused transit selection primarily on how much a project was expected to shorten commute times relative to its overall cost.
Home to the new NASCAR stock car racing hall of fame, Charlotte is not the first place most people think of when they hear about Obama's push for more "livable" cities. But when the president speaks of using a city's transit systems to shape its land use and economy, the picture he paints looks a lot like what Charlotte's planners have in mind for their city.

In year four of a 25-year plan, the city is laying the tracks for an intermodal passenger system with a full menu of mass-transit options, complete with light-rail trains dropping off passengers in Uptown and at a central high-speed rail station, and streetcars running from center city to the international airport.
"... the success in Charlotte, along with other Sunbelt cities -- like Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix -- have shown that there is pent-up demand for walkable, urban development all across the country, and rail transit is prerequisite for that. It is the most important infrastructure investment that urban areas can make. If you're not building it today, it's akin to not building freeways in the 1960s."

The ridership numbers for the city's first light rail line help to make the case: More than 70 percent of the system's riders had previously never been regular passengers on Charlotte's bus service, according to the city.

...Charlotte's planners say the city is expecting $1.8 billion worth of investments to be made along the first line by 2011.

Green Street Closed


Green Street has been barricaded for a few weeks. At first I was worried because I thought it might mean that there was a building in danger of collapse. But it appears to be an attempt by the police to disrupt drug buyer's traffic patterns.

12 April 2010

Blank Buses

For some reason, all the advertising is missing from the Metro buses. I never really cared for the wrap-around adverts, especially from the inside, as they made the bus riding much less pleasant. I suppose that contract has ended, and now they have to reinstall the old billboard type signs. but in the mean time it is nice to have simple clean buses.

10 April 2010

Good Park Report

I'm sitting her in Ziegler park with a dozen happy children running
around playing tag. The air is cool and the sky is deep blue. The
sun warms me and the other parents as we sit around on this lazy
Saturday evening.

It is a pretty dramatic contrast from the report of drinking at
Washington Park a few days ago.

Since or son was 3, he has called this the "spongy ground" playground
because the AstroTurf under the playset is extra rubbery.

No one is drinking here this evening. Ther is a lively basketball
game inthe block south, about 50 yards away, and there are 3 or 4
groups of adults sitting around the perimeter of the park chatting and
laughing while the kids play.

There was some kind of film crew here filming actors walking down the
street, while kids followed.

We don't come over to this playground that often, so we don't know any
of the kids. But after a few minutes both of them have made new
friends. My daughter will pick out a girl that she thinks she will
like and walk right up to her and ask to be friends. My son is not so
direct and will try to ease into a game of some kind.

It is a gorgeous evening, most idylic, with birds singing, new green
on the trees, all with a golden glow of the setting sun.

Ther are no fights, no anger, no drugs, no sirens, no loud music, very
little traffic noise, and even a sweet smell in the air that is the
mixture of a barbecue grille, blossoms, perfume and a distant
cigarette all mixed in the fresh spring air.

Time to finish this phone blog post and gather kids for a walk home, supper and hot bath.

walking to park

music video filming

spongy ground

07 April 2010

You Your Beer and How Great You Are

Good weather means intoxication in Washington Park. Oftentimes it is the kind of drinking that leads to much bravado and shouting. A group of 5 or six people are sitting on a park bench quietly, when all of a sudden, one of them will start yelling, cursing and sometimes slugging one of the others. These fights are usually just one person hitting, and the other person just crouching down covering their head with their arms. The hitting will end, but then the real yelling begins. It is usually something like "why you walking away?" ... " You come over here and say that.." "No, you come over here.." "Don't you give me no %##.."

From my sober perspective, it is all very pitiful. If someone spends all day drinking and doing a lot of nothing, then they aren't likely to feel very good about themselves, and thus their ego is easily bruised.

As I type this at 1:30AM, another loud fight is erupting. This time it is two completely belligerent woman yelling at a cop. I think he stopped to tell them the park is closed and they are saying that they are outside the park now on the sidewalk, "so leave us the f**k alone". They're calling him all types of curse words and getting in his face, getting real worked up and emotional. The cop is alone and stays pretty calm. Eventually, he drives away and they curse at him some more. Now the heavier woman is sitting down with her head in her hands crying. Her friend lights a cigarette and sits down quietly next to her.

Talking with a new neighbor last week, he asked why alcohol was legal in the parks here. He is a transplant and asked the question honestly. "Its not!" I said. "Then why is it allowed to occur so blatantly?" I couldn't explain at the time, but the recent scene outside is a clue.

06 April 2010

Sounds Like A 5chw4r7z Quote

This quote in an article about the extreme congestion on the Cross-Bronx Expressway sounded like something 5chw4r7z would say, while relaxing on his fabulous downtown balcony:

“If I’m having trouble with my wife, I come here and watch the traffic. I thought I had problems, but look at these poor people. They sit in this traffic every day. These people have it so bad compared to me.”

Detroit Demo Map

Last Wednesday, Mayor Bing announced a list of residential buildings to be demolished:

05 April 2010

Car Costs Make Housing Unaffordable

The Not-So-Affordable Neighborhood
Three out of five U.S. communities are too pricey for the average American when transportation costs are considered, according to a new study.

Even with market corrections bringing the cost of homes down in recessionary times, the United States remains in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. And a new study by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) illustrates just how bad it may be.

Some 48,000 American communities that are currently considered affordable to those making the median family income may actually not be affordable when you factor in the transportation costs necessary for homeowners to get to work, school, and the other locations that shape their daily lives. The study, “Pennywise and Pound Fuelish,” examined housing costs in 337 metro areas nationwide, which collectively are home to 80% of the U.S. population.

“The [current definition of affordability] does not take into account the almost equal cost of transportation, which can effectively double the cost of housing,” said Scott Bernstein, president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, during a March 23 media briefing. Transportation costs can range from 12% to 32% of household income, he said, depending on the location.

To this end, CNT has parlayed the study data into a new interactive mapping tool that allows users to get ultra-granular in charting cost-of-living calculations by place. The Housing + Transportation Index contains data on 161,000 neighborhoods, allowing consumers, builders, and developers to pull up average housing and transportation costs for block-by-block comparisons. The architects of this new tool hope it will help home buyers and renters make more informed decisions about where to live, thereby avoiding the risky decisions and overleveraging of assets that lead to foreclosures.
“Transportation planning in the United States needs to be recalibrated so that the focus is broader than merely reducing traffic congestion,” Bernstein argued. “We are now realizing that the more we expand road capacity and encourage driving, the more we are contributing to cost of housing.”
“We have crashed into our limits of 20th-century thinking, policies, and solutions. This is an issue that’s critical to the future survival of the middle class.”

Opening Day Today

Bunting is all hung. Ready for a celebration:

02 April 2010

Good Friday

Posted by Picasa

Could This Be Reality

Construction is planned to start in 60 days and end 18 months later (end of 2011), looking something like this rendering. Wow.
Now I have some complaints about parts of the design and maybe of some of the process, but if Washington Park really gets rebuilt like this, then someone deserves an award ....

01 April 2010

Fifth Street Closures


One of the significant changes to Fountain Square during it's reconstruction was the replacement of a steep wall along Fifth Street with shallow steps. This change opened up the square to Fifth Street. This gave me some concern at the time, because cars can travel pretty fast through this block, and there was no barrier to keep kids or others from walking out into traffic.

But there was a flaw in my logic. The old wall supported the notion that the street is meant for fast cars, and that we the pedestrian must be separated from them at all times. The better approach is to tame the car, not the pedestrian.

To that end, Council has passed an ordinance encouraging the closure of this block on some weekends. I hope this becomes a regular event in the summer, and I hope that other ways of reclaiming our public streets are found.
Qualls’ motion will create pedestrian-friendly Fifth Street

Fifth Street between Walnut and Vine Streets will be closed to through traffic to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment near Fountain Square for two upcoming festivals; if successful, the change could be expanded to include more weekends next summer....

“Streets are really the public living rooms of our communities,” Qualls said. “This will enhance what’s already a great public space in downtown by creating a richer variety of uses and activities in an environment where people feel comfortable, safe, and sociable.”

“Public spaces don’t have to be defined by parks or squares, said Fountain Square Managing Director Bill Donobedian. “The city has so many assets that can be repurposed so we can get more out of them. If we step back and ask ‘what if,’ Cincinnati can be as exciting and dynamic as any city, if not more so.”...

Cities across the United States are working to make public urban spaces with heavy pedestrian traffic more pedestrian-friendly by closing them to vehicular traffic, Qualls said. The most famous successful example is New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in February that the city would make the eight-month-old pedestrian plazas in Times Square and Herald Square permanent. The Broadway closure that created the plazas result in improved pedestrian safety and foot traffic – a 35 percent decline in pedestrian injuries, and a 63 percent reduction in injuries to drivers and passenger; foot traffic in Times Square increased 11 percent and in Herald Square by 6 percent, according to city data. The city banned vehicles on Broadway from 47th to 42nd Streets and from 35th to 33rd Streets...