28 February 2011

Magnet Lottery System

Dear School Board Members; (email: davisph@cps-k12.org )

Please do not ruin your successful magnet programs by changing to a straight lottery enrollment system. My children are already in our chosen CPS magnet programs, so your decision will not directly effect my family. However, I do think the introduction of the lottery could result in young families leaving the City.

Seven years ago we were facing this decision of which school would be best for our oldest son. Our neighborhood school was Washington Park Elementary, a struggling school that was rumoured to be scheduled for closure. We considered private schools like Mercy Montessori but we could not afford them. It seemed to us that our options were either a CPS magnet program, or move out of the City. We visited several of the CPS magnet programs and we were completely thrilled with what we saw at each of them. In the end we decided the closest magnet program, Fairview was best for us and our son.

At that time we did not have to wait in line, but merely took a tour and then added our names to a waiting list a year before school would start for our child. The system was simple and painless. Also as you know, at that time, the school used the Tauber index to admit children partially based on race and gender. This system worked well for us as it kept the diversity of the student population, yet required some commitment by the parents to think ahead and at least visit the school and learn about it before applying. However, as you well know, because of court decisions, CPS's use of the Tauber Index's use was ended in 2007.

At about the same time the racial quotas were removed, CPS told Fairview administration to end the waiting list method of enrollment and made them go to the first-come first-serve method which resulted in a 24 hour camp out the first year. This has now grown into several nights of camping.

Now, I don't like the idea of making parents camp out, but the only worse enrollment method would be a straight lottery. The parents must keep some control. They cannot be left to the pure chance of a random drawing. If I can think back to when I was a younger parent, the one thing that kept us here, was the knowledge that we had the power to choose. We could do things like visit early and talk with the principal so we would have a reasonable chance of getting the school that fit our particular child's needs. The fact that we had these choices made us strong supporters of CPS.

If the Board insist on moving to a lottery system, then please at least keep the requirement that the parents physically visit and learn about the school before they are qualified to enter the lottery. Also it is only common sense that siblings continue to have enrollment priority. To make parents endure a lottery for every child would surely be demoralizing not to mention that the results could be a transportation disaster with kids from one family attending several elementary schools.

Remember that parents know what is best for their child. If you keep as much power in their hands you will end up with a much stronger school district.


West Half of Mt Airy Forest

I've been meaning to take some hikes with my son on the western side of Mt Airy park, for a while. It is an interesting area, because it seems like it is somewhat forgotten. For example, if you go to the Cincinnati Park's website you will see that west of I-74 they show no trails:
And whereas the eastern side has a nature center, an arboretum, a treehouse, marked trails and lots of picnic shelters, the western side is hardly marked. I've hiked much of the eastern side, and one interesting loop is the one that follows close to the highway described here. here are some good photos of the eastern side

The western side of the park has several access points on Westwood Northern Boulevard including a very nice Maple Ridge Lodge on Lucas Road. The other access points here are the McFarlan Ridge shelter, which has a locked gate, and the popular dog park:

McFarlan Ridge Road, Location in Google Maps

This side of the park is bordered by Montana, Westwood Northern, Diehl, Shepherd Creek and Interstate 74. It is quite a large area, and despite the website showing no trails, there are extensive trails though the area:
There is an old trail map mounted on the Maple Ridge Lodge if you feel you need it, and here is a website that describes trail "E".

Here are some photos from our hike:

Typical trail with fallen trees and mostly dry creek below trail

son finds a hollow Sycamore

old trail marker

orange blazes mark one of the trails:

Lower trail, the creek is flowing. This is one reason it is good to go in the late winter or early spring. In the summer, all this could be dry, and less exciting for a kid, although when dry there is good fossil hunting in the stream bed:

On the northern edge of the park, along Diehl Road, Green township is developing a huge new park with more structured activities. The new park, called Bicentennial Park has been under construction for the past year or so and should open soon. The old house on Diehl in which Marge Unnewehr lived before she became Marge Schott, is actually a very early farmhouse built by pioneer farmer Peter Diehl in 1835. Green Township has rehabbed the house and will offer it for rental use.

In the map below you can see the old farmhouse and how a few years ago, it was surrounded by woods:

In a more recent aerial, you can see how much earth must be moved to create some flat playing fields in this very hilly area. The Diehl house is in the upper center of construction, along the road:

22 February 2011

The Case for Play

The Case for Play
How a handful of researchers are trying to save childhood.

...The emphasis on standardized testing, on attempting to constantly monitor, measure, and quantify what students learn, has forced teachers to spend more of the school day engaged in so-called direct instruction and has substantially reduced or eliminated opportunities that children have for exploring, interacting, and learning on their own. Recess has, in many districts, vanished from the schedule entirely. After school, parents shuttle their kids from activity to activity, depriving them of unstructured time alone or with friends.

That matters, according to researchers, not just because play reduces stress and makes children more socially competent—which evidence suggests that it does. It matters also because play supposedly improves working memory and self-regulation; in other words, it makes kids sharper and better-behaved. So, ironically, by shortchanging them on play in favor of academics, we may actually be inhibiting their development....

....Within the world of those who take play seriously, there are multiple camps, each with its own dearly held tenets. There are the Free Players, who argue that play is a human right and that adults should more or less leave kids alone. There are the Play Skeptics, who see play as useful for blowing off steam but are dubious about its cognitive upside. And there are Play Moderates, who advocate a mix of free play, adult-guided play, and traditional classroom instruction.

...Vygotsky viewed play, particularly pretend play, as a critical part of childhood, allowing a child, as he said in one oft-repeated quote, to stand "a head taller than himself." His biggest theoretical contribution may have been the Zone of Proximal Development: the idea that children are capable of a range of achievement during each stage of their lives. In the right environment, and with the right guidance (which was later dubbed "scaffolding"), children can perform at the top of that range.

...The students in the play-based school scored better on cognitive flexibility, self-control, and working memory—attributes of "executive function," which has been consistently linked to academic achievement....

....Whether children play enough isn't an obscure debate among developmental psychologists. If it's true that children who spend too little time playing struggle with executive function, then we may be raising a generation of kids with less self-control, shorter attention spans, and poorer memory skills...

..."The right answer is less programming and more opportunities for kids to make up things on their own."

...40 cities have expressed interest in holding their own Ultimate Block Parties. She and her colleagues will soon unveil a Web site to promote play research, and more books are on the way. Their goal, she says, is to restore play to its rightful, respected place in the lives of children. "Even if we don't understand it perfectly, it's silly to take play away from society," she says. "It's like taking love away. It's crazy."

19 February 2011

Mike Reynolds - Earthships

An old classmate of my wife's has been in New Mexico for many years building houses out of recycled materials with Mike Reynolds. I have never been very interested with their work, because Mike's philosophy is anti-urban, however this past year they have started work in Haiti, and their proposal is to build denser clusters of these self-sustaining "earthships". Now I am interested. We just rented the movie "Garbage Warrior" from the library. It is a documentary about their struggle to be allowed to legally build houses without water, sewer and electric supplies. It is fascinating, and I hope to be able to go out west next year and visit.

18 February 2011

17 February 2011

Fish Out of Water

Monday was a bad day. I had a embarrassing episode in front of a historic review board. I had been helping a neighbor who bought a very small vacant building to rehab. He wanted to make some changes that were not very compatible with the historic nature of the building. I didn't really agree with his proposal, but he is a good friend, and I was helping him turn a vacant building into a home.

So, last fall, I did a quick drawing for him and he submitted it for permit. Online we could follow the process of the permit through the approval process, and in early November we were pleasantly surprised to see that the reviewer had approved the plans and that I wouldn't have to modify the drawing. But it turns out that he didn't even look at the plans so this approval was a mistake that would come back to bite us.

So Monday, months after construction started, my wimpy drawing ended up in front of a discriminating board. I was so embarrassed because I know better. But this was a minor addition on a minor building on a side street, and my friend knew what he wanted to do, so I drew it ...and the board rightly rejected it.

After the meeting, I dejectedly took a walk with my son around the blocks around our house and all the construction sites and vacant buildings. It was a beautiful sunny day, but there weren't that many people around because... well there just aren't that many people here anymore...at least around Washington Park, most of the buildings are vacant and/or under construction. And I had this overwhelming feeling that I was not in my neighborhood anymore, that a wave has washed over the hood and some of us fish are left flapping on the shore.

There was a time when I felt like I knew everyone and everything that happened here. Maybe it was also a time when I was more relevant to the neighborhood. We were doing things, saving buildings, and building a community. But now all that stuff we did seems so small and irrelevant under the wave of huge projects with big 3CDC budgets.

For example, I posted once about a small building that I helped rehab in the 1990's. It was a difficult project: condemned, no money, partially collapsed and a community that sometimes didn't seem to care. I and many others spent a good part of two years on this dinky little project, and at the end the mayor at the time, Dwight Tillery, did come and cut a ribbon. Woohee. Back then, it seemed like it was all a Sisyphean battle. If there were 500 vacant buildings, and each one took 2 years of work, and each month another one was demolished, well.. it just seemed impossible. It also seemed more crowded, and loud... and crazy.

At one time it seemed like not many other people were against demolition. I mean people and groups like the CPA, the OTR Foundation etc were against demolition, but they just couldn't make any headway and their voices seemed drowned out of a bigger political economic picture. But today there are lots of people fighting this fight, ....and 3CDC will rehab a dozen buildings like 1425 Elm in half a year. (They will also demolish a few, which is another story.)

So with feelings of irrelevance in my head, my son and I were climbing around the construction sites and collecting bits and pieces of trashed cell phones and soft bricks for a science project, and I noticed that these unfamiliar people were walking past us. They were youngish with tight pants, dress shoes, sunglasses and talking on their phones. 3CDC just moved into their new offices at 14th and Race, and it was 5pm and they were all leaving for the day. It seems like they just started rehabbing that building a few months ago, and already they are moved-in, fully furnished and staffed.

So here I am feeling a bit down, a bit out of place, when we came upon the Homeless Coalition's fliers that were posted all over and I felt sympathy for their weakness, their powerlessness in the face of this wave. I also felt stupid for being so self-centered in my feelings about the neighborhood. I mean, here I am, secure in my job and house, while others have neither....

But I'm not homeless, and I only had my injured pride to heal. So by Wenesday I was recovered and in a better mood. The sun was out and the hood seems so clean and fresh like spring. And my wife and I attended an event packed with dozens of friendly faces. I talked with others who also feel uncomfortable with some of the developments. It used to be that we would take any improvement, any rehab we could. Now we can be critical of the decisions being made by executives that none of us have even met like: why are they building so many parking lots and why does every storefront have to be bronze aluminum...

I say to myself, face it, neighborhoods do not stand still. They are either moving moving upward and getting more expensive, or they are getting cheaper and suffer disinvestment. Sometimes it may happen so slow that it is unnoticeable, and other times like now it will happen like a whirlwind and knock a lot of people over.

While the changes are happening, it it is an exciting mixed neighborhood. I am attracted to this mix, even one more on the poor side..., but I'm wondering how long it will be before this place has gone too far for me, or am I changing to fit the place?

I love Over-the-Rhine and I love downtown. But no one person owns it or designs it in his own image. The clash of intentions is part of what makes cities so interesting. Yes, I would prefer that development happen one building at a time, one quirky family at a time. But that is a hard way to save hundreds of large vacant and expensive buildings when one organization with all the political and corporate power can make it happen, and they can even make it look easy. Unfortunately they cannot do it right... kinda right yes, but not really right, with the character and passion that this unique place deserves.

16 February 2011

Clooney Studio Vertu

George Clooney is apparently planning on filming a scene at Memorial Hall next week. When he does, I suppose he will be greeted by this on Studio Vertu"s wall:


Closer look

12 February 2011

Eden Park Ice Skating

Maybe the last day of the year for skating? 
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Lincoln's Birthday Today

One day, Lincoln recounted a dream he had that night: In the dream, someone commented on how "common" he looked. In his dream he responded that "The Lord prefers common looking people, that is why he made so many of us". When he awoke he was amused at his dreamed response:

11 February 2011

Patty Berglund

I never read novels. In the last 20 years I may have read two or three long works of fiction. Many times I would start a book that my wife was reading, just to quit after a few chapters.

I had the desire. In high school read science fiction, and I had some great teachers that planted the reading seed. They had me read many classics that I enjoyed. However, later, in college I turned to non-fiction and stayed strictly in that camp with rare exceptions

So last fall, I saw a David Brooks article about Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom. Brooks thought Franzen's view was too bleak and was too demeaning to the American middle class. But Brooks made me want to read the book.

So for $12.99 I downloaded the book onto my phone. This was my first experience with reading lengthy works on my phone, and I found the experience immersive. Throughout the day, I would read sections so that for several weeks my mind was filled with Patty Berglund. I wasn't really sure why I found the characters so compelling. It had something to do with the current nature of their mindset. They are totally of this time, of my people, so to speak. And of course the writing was excellent. And while I found several faults with the plot and even some dislike for the characters, I had a strong longing to know them, really know them. I kept thinking, why do I care about Patty? She is immature and her looks aren't even really described, yet I think I fell for her. It was a strange feeling.

I read the book straight through ... and then I went back and re-read parts, sometimes several times. Then when I was burned-out on Freedom I moved on to some of Franzen's recommendations, such as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and The Great Gatsby (which I had read in high school, but didn't really appreciate). Then I read the Corrections, his novel from 2001. All of this on my phone, and each one a kind of immersive experience.

"They drive past Port Roosevelt and the valley of ashes where Mr. and Mrs. Wilson live and are stopped by a policeman. Gatsby flashes a card and they are on their way again over the Queensboro Bridge, passing a funeral procession, and across Blackwell's Island."

So, the commonality in these books is that they each capture the essence of the time in which they were written. Gatsby the roaring 20s, Gray Flannel Suit the 50s, the Corrections the 90s, and Freedom, the 2000s. They are also all written by upper middle class white men about the same. Another commonality I think is that they would all make terrible movies. Gray Flannel has a sappy ending which probably helped make it a semi successful movie in the 50s, but Gatsby's strength is in the spareness of the writing. Maybe it could be done kinda as a newsreel. Unfortunately, there is yet another Gatsby movie coming out this year.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit:
Total War Total Living 

I plan on keeping on with the novels. I just finished the Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet, and found it very enjoyable. Not sure what is next. Suggestions welcome.

10 February 2011

Second National Bank and Moser Paint Factory

A while back I posted a faded picture of a wall sign that said "PAINTS". A productive visitor researched the address and left the following comment:

Sanborn map says it was the Charles Moser Co. Paint Factory and Warehouse.From 215-227 East 9th st. Also on the Cincinnati Historical Society Library website in their photograph selection.....if you look at the pics for the Second National Bank Building,there are three of them, two from 1914 and one from 1911.For the 1911 pic if you enlarge it (enlarge by 400%)....you can see plain as day your GHOST SIGN...."PAINTS"...on the side of this same building, probably not many years old at the time of the pic was taken. Pretty cool its still there 100 YEARS Later.

So following this lead, I went to the Historical Society website and found the photo:

Second National Bank:

Here is what it looks like today:
Unfortunately I could not replicate the exact angle of the shot because the original was taken from a window of a building that is now just a parking lot.

Here is the ground floor today

And here is a close-up of the old street scene:

[where: 830 Main Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202] SEC Main and Ninth

08 February 2011

Recession Ending Anecdote

About two years ago my classmates from college reunited and began a group email. At that time, much of our email discussion was about the tough economic climate and how construction projects had slowed to a halt. In 2009, we had a reunion, and since then, the back and forth emails have slowed to rare or seldom.

So this morning one classmate sent out a blast email saying his office was looking to hire several project managers. What was interesting was the response. Several other classmates responded by saying that their offices were also getting busy and looking to hire more people. Since these people are mostly architects, developers and interior designers, this tells me that more projects are being planned for construction this year, which should be good for construction and other related industries. It seems a bit tentative, and there are still a lot of people on the sidelines looking for work, but I definitely see the signs of improvement in construction.

07 February 2011

Pruitt Igoe

I would love to see this documentary:


Other historical footage:

Real Film

A friend and neighbor of our took this photo last week of the Washington Park garage construction. The concrete structure being demolished underground is the old fallout shelter which was located under the Washington Park School Gymnasium. Taken from Elm Street looking East:

Photo by Rick Calkins. (hope it was OK that I cropped it) w/1950's Carl Zeiss Contaflex I on Efke 50 ASA 35mm film.

06 February 2011

Free Star Trek

I don't know how they do this legally, but the site has been up for a few months, and they have every episode of all five series here: Watch Trek

05 February 2011

The Senate's Vestibule

I noticed that The Senate has installed a vestibule on the sidewalk. They got a "revocable encroachment" permit from the city to construct this in the right-of-way. (In this part of the city, the property lines are right at the front of the building, and the sidewalk is usually about 11-12' wide and in part of the city ROW). We should encourage more overlap of encroachment between the public sidewalk and the private storefront. Retail stores have long tried to blur this edge and to make it easy to walk into their store while window shopping. Zaha Hadid made a whole building built on the theme of the "urban carpet", and you can walk down to Sixth and Walnut and experience her plain interpretation of this sometimes complicated dance that buildings make with the sidewalk. Anyway, IMO more of this would be ok, as long as the building owners don't just impose on the the public realm, but also open up and let the public space flow inside...  

Other storefronts

04 February 2011

My New Hardware Store

Since Rohs has closed, this is the next closest hardware store at 925 Main. The people are helpful and they have more options on locks and keying, but they are not open on Saturday and they do not cut glass, or cut and thread pipe or a dozen other things Al did. Oh well:

I'll classify them as an old business because they were just a few doors up for many years as Acme Lock, but then they expanded into more hardware stuff a few years ago.

FWIW, the back of the Acme Lock and Hardware building, with a bricked-in cast-iron storefront facing the alley.  

01 February 2011

Beauty Salon on Vine

These kind of places are dissapearing down here:


I've been fascinated with the uprisings in north Africa. YouTube is full of dramatic protest crowds. But there are also people on the street interviews which are inspiring:

Anyplace that does not have democracy, that has had the same dictatorial ruler for 29 years, SHOULD erupt in protests. On NPR this morning the analyst said this will not affect the US unless somehow these protests infect Saudia Arabia... OK, well, that is one self-interested way to view human rights.