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31 March 2009

Good News for Ohio (and those traveling to and through it)

A few updates:

Look above: what do you see? That is a map of proposed passenger rail service in Ohio by ODOT. Ohio Republicans and Democrats came together, along with Governor Strickland to write a $9.6 billion state transportation budget, including funding for building a $250 million passenger rail project. I must say that I'm proud of all state representatives for coming together in a bipartisian fashion for the betterment of the future of Ohio.

This is especially significant because the state legislature needed to come together to pass this bill in order to remain competetive for Federal Stimulus money, which will be needed to bring the Ohio Hub project to fruition. Above is a map of the proposed project. The first proposed corridors are denoted in blue and the corresponding number shows the amount of daily trips on each leg. Future corridors are in orange and purple. Ohio just became one step closer to high speed passenger rail service, which will enable people to travel between Ohio metro areas easily and cheaply and without a driver's license. An added benefit includes updated crossings and infrastructure that will enable Ohio freight railway lines to remain competitive as well. Here's to moving forward!

On another note truckers will be able to drive 65 mph, as opposed to 55mph on Ohio's interstates. This is included in the state transportation bill and is well overdue. According to one of my truck driving friends: Ohio is one of the worst states to drive through due to speed limitations. It is one of few states to have a lower truck speed limit. I am unsure of the safety issues involved, but am sure that Ohio businesses along interstates will receive more traffic due to more companies choosing to drive through Ohio if possible. The only downside may include safety issues and more crowded roadways. This section of the bill may be vetoed by Governor Strickland.

Lastly...and on a happy note: Ferry service from the Port of Lorain to the Lake Erie Islands is underway. The Lorain Port Authority has accepted two bids, of $1.6 million and $1.9 million, to purchase a ferry. The service will be 70 minute trips (each way) to and around the islands once daily Friday through Sunday. The ferry can hold 149 passengers and should begin service by the Fourth of July this year. The service is undoubtedly beneficial to the Greater Cleveland and "Vacationland" areas of Ohio, as it will allow transportation options between the areas and will increase activity in Lorain and the islands. Increasing connectivity between destinations will undoubtedly contribute to Ohio's economy and will make enjoyable local vacationing for Northeast Ohioians that much easier.

09 March 2009

Ohio Wins Expanded Facilities Award

Congratulations, Ohio, and Governor Strickland...for the third year in a row you've won Site Selection Magazine's coveted Governor's Cup Award for new and expanded facilities. See here for full story:
Overall Ohio had the most amount of new/expanded facilities in 2008: 503. Governor Strickland and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher are gaining praise from the Ohio Economic Stimulus Bill, passed in 2008, which put an economic plan into place that included incentives and investments in the facilities industry. The plan also puts resources into education, energy as well as infrastructure projects. Similarly the State of Ohio will receive 8.2 billion dollars from the Economic Stimulus Plan. This money will go towards like projects in infrastructure and education.
It should be noted that Michigan and Pennsylvanian Governor's received high marks as well, with Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan in 3rd place and Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania in 4th place. Indiana and Illinois were also in the top ten. GO RUST BELT! Way to be innovative!

28 February 2009

The Great Streetcar Debate

Recently I attended a debate on streetcars in Cincinnati. Streetcars have been heavily debated in Cinci and Columbus for years. Cleveland has the Rapid, which is a train that runs from the airport to downtown and east past Shaker Square as well as to University Circle. Pittsburgh has the T, which connects communities in the South Hills to downtown.

Cincinnati currently has an abandoned underground subway tunnel which wasn't completed due to extreme inflation after World War I. Now that the economic stimulus plan has been passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, the debate about completion of a rail transit system in the city is underway. The proposed streetcar in Cinci will not be underground, where the subway was proposed, but above ground. The underground tunnel is slated to hold new sewer lines. Following are arguments for and against the streetcar in Cincinnati, as well as some of my notes on the topic (in blue).

Arguments Against the Streetcar:

-All electricity in Cincinnati currently comes from West Virginia coal, which isn't currently "clean coal technology." So, would it really be sustainable? Perhaps THIS is the best argument against streetcars in Cincinnati. If the energy supply is going to become more sustainable then the streetcar would be a viable solution.

-Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) are usually used...the speaker felt that TIFs inappropriately distribute funds to private developers. TIFs have proponents and opponents...generally falling upon liberal/conservative lines. They don't always work, but shouldn't be a concern with Streetcars as it's a given that feasible development will occur near stations.

-Streetcars aren't transportation, they are treated as development plans. Is the encouragement of development in urban areas such a bad thing?

-Annual defecits increase due to subsidizing for lack of ticket revenues (ridership revenues are generally set lower than operation costs). This is a legitimate concern, but what is wrong with providing affordable transportation? Tax revenues from new development will overcompensate for operational cost subsidies.

-Railed systems are much less flexible than buses. Rails laid in between two hubs of activity (downtown and Clifton) will not need to move for several years, as these two hubs contain schools, jobs, businesses and cultural amenities that will not leave anytime soon.

-Gentrification may occur in areas near the streetcar, which hurts lower income residents. Gentrification is good in certain doses. The City can maintain or provide enough affordable units by amending the zoning code.

Arguments For the Streetcar:

-36% of jobs in the Cincinnati Metro are located downtown and 20% of jobs in the Cincinnati Metro are located around the University of Cincinnati, making the Streetcar available to at least 56% of the region's workforce as well as residents who live in the area. More than half of the region's workers/residents will have access to rail transit options in their daily lives.

-Market Rate housing could be built downtown if decent transit available. Many people are inhibited to move downtown due to lack of parking. Studies show that access to rail transit in dense areas allow households to go from two to one car.

-Parking demands downtown make projects/activities there difficult and the streetcar would alleviate some of these hassles. Access to visable rail transit allows residents another option. Cars can be parked elsewhere and destinations can be accessed through rail transit and walking.

-Development typically occurs and is concentrated near permanent transit stations/stops. Concentrated development is a natural product of rail transit. Stations/stops are opportunities for service businesses in particular.

I am a proponent of Streetcars. They are not necessarily the entire solution, but they are one link in the chain of multimodal transportation.

Similarly the Ohio Hub, an ODOT study of high speed rail trains between Cleveland/Columbus/Dayton and Cincinnati (just to start) is in the planning stages and construction can start as soon as 2010. An innercity rail system in Cincinnati will eventually be part of a statewide service allowing Ohioans to travel across state or a few blocks away without the stress of buying gas or looking for a parking space.

12 February 2009

Ruminations on Urbanism

Or, "What We Wish We Could Get Paid For"

Amy: I HATE articles like this. What the F are you trying to accomplish by publishing reports like this???

Cleveland is one of the most miserable cities because it snows a lot and because Lebron James will be a free agent soon?!?! I want to bitchslap the people that did this. Give me a freaking break.

Josh: Okay, America, some of the shittiest places to live are:

St. Louis

Which leaves me with the following options, apparently:

Move to NYC, the only acceptable city or move to a suburb where everything is covered in gold and it rains skittles and nobody has to lock their houses or cars and there is no weather or racism or unhappy feelings.

Amy: NYC thinks they are magic. It would be OK if they thought they were magic if they stopped writing articles about how the rest of the world sucks! Plus, I hate Skittles.

Paul: My definition of magic doesn't involve piles of garbage bags on every street with urine running out of them.

Erik: Paul, every (inner) city over 300,000 people smells like urine. For me, a city is livable if can you walk less than 50 yards to a deli at 2 AM (safely) and get beer and cereal, while actually passing normal people who are also still awake. Jane Jacobs 101.

That was not meant to sound like pretentious New Yorker-ness. But it did, and I'm sorry for that. We do have to figure out the trash problem, though. Good call. We should do it like medieval Europe, and just let pigs and goats run around in the streets.

Amy: That's not really Jane Jacobs 101. Jane Jacobs 101 is more like...people actually look out their windows and care about what's going on in the street.

Anyways...New York is indeed awesome, I just wish all the people (that most likely live in New York) that write these articles would just stop. It's not helping anything and their criteria for sucky cities is always ridiculous...because the criteria is always something that exists in EVERY SINGLE CITY.

Erik: Actually, to be technical then, JJ-101 is probably "how to encourage diversity in cities." JJ102 is probably safety and civic pride.

I agree that those rating systems are complete crap. Like, is it some sophisticated algorithm of crime, real estate, amenity, blah-blah...? And even if so, it's still brazenly inaccurate.

Amy: point was that I've always interpreted Jane Jacobs' theory as being that great cities come from the history of the mix of the PEOPLE living together, not really the mix of amenities and proximities. It's the relationship and attitudes of people that build over time, not necessarily that your deli is downstairs and the bar down the street.

I just think all this stuff being published lately is completely discouraging people from living in ANY city. (And doesn't seem like it's totally more frequent lately? WTF?) It's like they are just going through every "bad" aspect of life and being like "Does that exist here? If yes...then let's publish it in Forbes about how things SUCK right now!"

Bla. Makes me mad.

Paul: Well said, Amy. I wasn't so much making a commentary on NYC itself (maybe a little) as pointing out that there are horrible features in every city. There is no Utopia. So I agree with Amy: Stop trying to make yourself feel better by writing denegrating articles about other cities. It's not productive. I've wasted too much time addressing this already when I should be doing something positive.

Erik: True, Amy. I agree. But she does mention proximities quite a bit, when talking about how to keep a street lively and therefore "self-policed." That was my point about the deli -- the fact that it's safe to walk there at all times of day. For me and for kids. But it has TONS to do with residents watching the street and giving a damn, that's very true.

I do think there is a recent mini-movement to discourage city-living. There is also a common fear that you can't raise children in cities. I think that's complete and total crap. People jump to such hasty conclusions.

Amy: Oh yeah I know...she's all about proximities, technically. But she always brings it back to the long history of the specific neighborhoods (and specific residents) and wraps it up by telling the personal stories of how each person contributes somehow.

I think the fear that you can't raise children in cities comes from the fact (yeah, it's basically a fact) that large city school systems are crap. That's definitely a huge problem.

Paul: It's a perceived problem, not a genuine problem. The fact is that less than 1/3 of people have school aged children; the rest are empty nesters, single people, or career people, all of whom can easily be convinced to move into a city regardless of school performance. While schools can't be ignored, there are plenty of other tasks that can be done to build population and encourage diversity, safety, etc.

I have recently gotten the opposite feeling, Erik, that there is a trend to move back into cities. My perception is perhaps skewed by the amount of work we are doing in Youngstown to encourage city living, but I still feel that the promise of easy suburban living is breaking.

Amy: Well, it's definitely a problem in Cleveland. I still think it's the main reason that many people think that you can't raise kids in cities.

There might be actually be a trend to move back into cities, for sure. But I think there's a definite trend in the media right to portray cities in bad light more than suburbs. And it's a trend in the NATIONAL media...not in the individual media of the cities. Because I know Cleveland, and Youngstown, and Pittsburgh are really trying to get positive news pieces out there.

Jim: Yeah I am tired of the national media ranking cities. We all know that they are all different for many reasons. The thing is that the media doesn't put weight on any of the indicators they use...and people weight all of the indicators differently anyway. Not to mention the fact that they can't put every indicator into the study. People have many reasons for living where they live...not just the 5 that are used in typical studies.

And they never rate the suburbs...unless it's for the "best in the USA." And...those are all suburbs that are rich ones anyway.

Really the studies all come down to money usually...and which place is nicest...because it has more money...and less maybe a bit less rain than a competing city....well I like rain, it allows us to use our own water and not run out!

(I just realized I sounded a bit like Sarah blaming the media. I only blame Forbes Magazine...not all media ;)

Paul: No no no, I understand schools are an issue in that many people with children are fearful to put them into those schools, but I don't define it as a problem because, when it comes to city revitalization, there are many other avenues city planners can take that will draw other demographics in. In that manner, you can begin to stabilize/gentrify the city, which inherently has a positive impact on schools. Again, schools can't be ignored, but the view shouldn't be taken that without good schools, we can't have a healthy city. That's all. I mean, trust me, Youngstown City Schools aren't doing so hot, either. :(

Erik: It's so funny how little architecture has to do with all of that, too.

If you make those vacant lots tax-free and at low-cost (on tax-payer's dime) for 20 years, they'll fill up. If white kidfollow them and the s went to inner-city public schools, the money would
schools would get better.

Way too over-simplified, I know. But it's amazing how much it comes down to tax policy and economic incentive. Undeniable.

I argued with a professor during 5th-year about how Pittsburgh was doing a great job with tax policy reform (by taxing the land instead of the "improvements" on the land), but he refuted me like it was his job. (fart noise with mouth)

Paul: I dunno, I don't think cities have necessarily been getting more bad articles, but rather more articles in general. Again, that's only my perception, I don't actually keep track of it. I would attribute it largely to Obama's long background as a community organizer. People have recently become more interested in that topic, and by translation, cities in general.

Erik: Let's do a "10 Worst Suburbs" in the USA article. We can post it as a big blog. And the 10 we choose should be really cute-looking, but we can say things like, "Aurora Illinois has a severe imbalance of land-use and zoning; it has such-and-such kidnapping rate per capita (more than Chicago's inner-city); its watershed is completely destroyed from mis-managed development; it's housing values have done such-and-such despite it's peaceful atmosphere; it costs $4.19 in gas to go to Wal-Mart; etc.

I think it would be funny.

Amy: There's definitely been a surge since Obama's been in the news...I hadn't even noticed the correlation until you pointed it out, Paul. I thought maybe it stemmed from all these people in the suburbs not being able to afford their McMansions anymore and being "forced" to live in the city...and instead of seeing their own ridiculous spending as the "negative", they see the city as the negative.

Of course I'm not keeping track either...but it just seems that way to me (that they are mostly negative). I guess that it goes along with what Jim was is easier to track NEGATIVE aspects than the positive. But really I don't think there's a way to quantify "good things" and "bad things" in the first place. So I guess I just wish they'd write nothing at all rather than try to rank negativeness.

Seriously we could make anywhere seem like hell on earth just by the criteria we choose.

Brandon: The school discussion is really interesting. We had a large discussion about it at work not too long ago. One of our co-workers isn't comfortable in sending his daughter to Pittsburgh Public Schools...even with the Pittsburgh Promise pledge. In the few meetings where I met the principals of the Pittsburgh Carrick Schools I just don't believe that sending your kid to the city public schools will automatically mean that they are receiving less of an education than they would receive at suburban schools. It depends greatly on parental involvement. Many intelligent people come out of city schools, go to college and make something of themselves. I know the city schools here aren't doing well...but is all measured in standardized tests...etc. That brings along the data discussion that Jim brought up earlier.

Paul: Yes, the foreclosure crisis is another likely causal attribute. I thing the blog would be funny, too, Erik, but it would only reinforce the us vs them mentality. :( I don't have anything against suburbs in theory, but in practice, they are leaches.

Jim: I understand that, Paul...but suburbs give people options of tax structures. They can choose where to live and they pay for services...i.e. pay tons in a nice suburb and get nice schools and a nice community center or pay less and get a nice house but you don't really care about the school district. This isn't my how I want I think everything should be equal..but without competition or choice everything may be worse off.

Amy: And there are definitely good suburbs! Technically Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and even places like Mt. Lebanon...they're all suburbs. But they are phenomenal cities by themselves now.

Really, I think the big problem in Cleveland Public Schools right now is safety. Even ignoring whether the kids get a good education. Most of the schools don't have buses serving them so the kids have to walk along busy streets during rush hour. The schools are falling apart and sometimes don't have heat. Many still are filled with lead paint. It's just not somewhere you want your kid spending their day, you know? Plus, Cleveland schools have a TON of money. It's not even an issue of property value, foreclosures, not enough money going into the system, etc etc. They have money! But you have NO IDEA what the money is going towards! It is all corrupt. So, that's why it's such a problem.

Jim: Cincinnati doesn't have the nice inner ring burbs Cleveland and Pittsburgh have...unless you count Covington Ky...but it does have nice neighborhoods in the city.

Columbus is a giant suburb...with the original city in the center. I love the Short North and German Village and Clintonville...but dislike the suburban Easton or Polaris areas. They were smart, annexing tons of land...they have more tax revenues in new and old areas, unlike Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati which are landlocked. Youngstown isn't...but the burbs there would never allow annexation. I think that is a problem though...because townships like Boardman shouldn't have as much power as they have without becoming a city.

Amy: I kind of think that often it's the people in suburbs that suck...not actually the policies or the structure of the suburbs themselves. Like the kind of people that GENERALLY (I'm not saying everyone) move to the suburbs just don't really like other people. They only care about themselves and their own kids and want "space" away from other people. They only want to interact with other people when they absolutely have to.

Paul: Wait Jim, I said suburbs are good, just that they often go awry. I'm all about choices and competition.

Oh, I guess I generalized when I said "they are leaches." I should have said "they are [often] leaches.”

Erik: Sometimes I wonder about the following:

If you consider humans to be -- by nature -- social beings that prefer to be communal, then their natural state would be to live close together, not mind riding mass transit together, not mind walking a crowded street, etc. I sometimes think that the exclusive, "separative" nature of suburb living makes people unhappy without them really knowing it. Suburban folks usually talk to neighbors, yes, but only a handful. And even though "urbanism" is, generally speaking, a relatively recent phenomenon (compared to agrarian cultures of the past), all major civilizations in history can be attributed to a large city (Cairo, Rome, Jerusalem, Istanbul, ...), hence adding to the argument of human nature becoming more functional in denser environments.

Obviously this statement can go in a dozen different directions (transportation revolutions, race, etc.). But I'm trying to get at the root of "being happy" and how it relates to lifestyle and the environment you're in. Sometimes I think my dad, raised in an actual small "town," is now paranoid and elitist now that he's in the suburbs. He's still social, but there was a strange transformation that took place. My point is, maybe it's totally a subconcious thing, something deep within.

Anyway, maybe too dense for work-time hours.

Amy: No, I think about the exact same think Erik. I just tried to keep it light by saying that people that live in suburbs suck because they hate other people.

Erik: Haha, I know. Light is probably good. It's 2:20 and I'm in my post-lunch coma phase.

Amy: Oh and totally going to throw is out there too:

I think a huge reason that there is (sometimes) a backlash against cities is because of Christianity/Judaism...other monotheistic powerful religions. Because when people in cities realize how powerful they are when working together as opposed to start to realize that you don't need God. And God probably doesn't least not in the way your pastor is telling you he does. And that humans are really quite useful, smart, and important on their own.

But...I tend to think that religion is the root of most problems, so, yeah.

Paul: I think you are overemphasizing the role of being social and underemphasizing the role of egotistics. More than wanting to be close to other people, humans want to be better than other people. They demonstrate their perceived status by buying a house away from the mills, where it is cleaner. Then they buy a house that is bigger. Then they buy a house that has acreage. It pushes them ever further from the city. It's all an attempt to impress. Maybe if we all had plumage sticking out of our butts, we wouldn't have to buy bigger/better houses to impress each other; we could just sit back on our haunches, inflate our throats, fan our plumage, and make deep gutteral noises.

Amy: I would trade a big house for permanent plumage any day.

Jim: We are forgetting two things:

1. Undeveloped land is cheap and generally doesn't need cleaned up (like greyfield and brownfields).
2. Americans like new things...that's how we are. So we'd rather buy a brand new house instead of an older house that is better built. New trumps quality.

Brandon: It's also interesting that with that mindset that we have crumbling old infrastructure and many of our cities are much older (building wise) that European counterparts. Yet...even though Americans want “new new new”...they don't want to destroy our old cities, yet also don't want to live there but still want them to be kept in tip top shape. Now...we didn't have a world war here that destroyed huge parts of cities...but it's just interesting. It makes me think of our European Cultures professor in Italy that stated that the US has the oldest government now.

Erik: Amy, your point about the big religions is really interesting. Also Jim, you're right -- there is financial incentive to be in suburbs -- and that's the problem. We should make it so that virgin land (or even farm land) is super precious and expensive. Then you'll see the REAL flock to cities, haha. We do have the oldest government, don't we? I never really think about that. Paul, in terms of egomaniacal "being-betterness", you could still buy a 30th-storey penthouse loft and throw mad roof-top pool parties, but your argument still holds in general. Because it's about perception of what is actually better. Personally, I'd take the penthouse before the psuedo-plantation, but then again, I'm a latte-sippinng urban lefty. ;)

Amy: I would like to expand on the religion thing right now but I'm currently working (at actual "work") on a masterplan and I should concentrate on that.

Jim: South Paw, eh Erik? ;) Yeah we need to have laws on conservation...or how about an urban land boundary? I understand letting the market handle we are a capitalist country...but in terms of land values that has just aided suburban sprawl. Now land values in inner cities are cheaper than a lot of land on the fringes...but it's not large enough for development or needs to be cleaned up. We need more regulation and incentive to help us along...

Paul: Game, match, and set, Erik. Your point is well taken, and I, myself, could be called the poster child of flight. I moved into a place that is better than most in a neighborhood with few inhabitants in an effort to distinguish myself from other people. Granted, my flight was in reverse, but the point remains that I am pushing away from the norm as a way to fan my feathers.

The idea of ego playing some role is an associative one, applying equally when moving out of the city, or back into it. The direction of flow depends on lots of other factors I suppose. We could probably continue this and write a thesis, using this discussion as a source.

Amy: Generally, my thesis is:

Life's a bitch and then you die.

I can even come up with BILLIONS of examples proving my point.

Paul: I question your ability to come up with billions of examples. You're gonna have to prove it.

Amy: You might be right. Maybe millions. Because I don't think billions of people have died yet.

02 February 2009

Set it aside for PRIDE

Did you see the superbowl? Oh you hadn't?? Well...let me tell you this: The Steelers won. I am proud that they won. Very proud. But...wanna know a secret? I'm a Browns fan. And I typically do not like the Black and Gold. So as much as I hate that they made it to the playoffs, to the superbowl and now have won 6 superbowls...more than any other nfl team...I am proud.

Pittsburgh is a great football team and always has been...and they are something to be proud of here. But if you think about it, we have a lot to be proud of. LeBron James is from the A-K Ron and plays for the Cavs. And Jimmy Tressel, coach of The Ohio State University football team? Well he's originally from the Cleveland area and coached at Youngstown State before OSU. We have many of sports-related things to be proud of here. So for one day, maybe... Browns fans can put aside the differences and be happy that a team with a long tradition and pride from the Rust Belt has kicked a Sun Belt team's butt. A sign of things to come?

31 January 2009

With Much Fondness

Ok, so I've been thinking of something to write about for my first post about Pittsburgh. There are so many things to talk about, so I thought my first story would be a story about things that make me go...."Hmmm...this is why I love this city." This happens quite often to tell you the truth. It even happened when I was a small child.
Let's go back to the time when visiting Santa was, what some might say when they were a child, the most exciting part of the year. I think the most exciting thing about seeing Santa when I was younger was the fact that we used to go downtown to the downtown Kaufmann's (which is now Macy's.) This is a fun store, especially because it has many many shopping floors. If you really want to have some fun you can ride the elevator to the furniture gallery which I believe is on the 10th or 11th floor and ride the escalators ALL the way back down. The top floors still have the wooden escalator stuff. Anyway, back to the story. Once I put on my suit, which included a matching coat and shorts with knee high white socks and saddle shoes we got into the Mercury and headed (a short drive) downtown. Now to get to downtown from the south of Pittsburgh you must drive through the Liberty Tunnels which I have to say are creepin long. The best part is when you explode from the other end to cross the Liberty Bridge and the city jumps out at you. Nothing is more exciting for a kid than to see the dazzling lights shining from all of the tall buildings and reflecting on the rivers below. "The birthday cake building Mom and Dad" I would always say...referring to the PPG Building. I used to love seeing downtown like was up there with visiting the mall with your mother in one of the anchor department stores and peeking out into the mall to see the fountain with lights and palm trees and food stores and people. This of course always ended with the same response "we have bologna at home...we'll make sandwiches there so we won't need to go to the food court." This of course is another story altogether. So...seeing Santa downtown after seeing the city from the tunnel was one of my "Hmmmm...this is why I love this city" moments.
I think another one of those moments would have been just a little while back when I was visiting a small hole in the wall bar on Mt. Washington with some friends. We made our way up the mountain heading under the Monongahela incline as it crept to Station Square below and then slowed at the top of P J McArdle Roadway where it curves at the last second only to make it look like you will fly off the mountain into the rivers far below all the while staring at a beautiful view of Heinz Field. Anyway, we parked the car on the Shiloh Street parking deck and stepped out into the frigid night. While walking to the bar the bells of a nearby church start to chime. This combined with the small dense shopping district and people walking home from work after their incline ride with the City of Pittsburgh as the glittering backdrop made me say "Hmmm this is why I love this city."
Lastly, because I know people are tired of reading, would be similar to a comment from Amy from Cleveland. She mentioned her neighbors helping to un-stick her car from the snow. I looked out my dining room window the other night to see my elderly neighbor Pat who lives two doors down shoveling away at my 93 year old next door neighbor Mrs. Slezak's sidewalk and front stairs. Now...after thinking she should stop before she falls and breaks her hip I remembered a picture that I have from my mom and dad's wedding day. They didn't have a large reception following their wedding, just a small party at my grandparents' house, where I now live since they have both passed on. In the picture my mother is kissing my grandfather goodbye before she heads out of the house with my dad. The best part about the picture is that my neighbor Pat and my next door neighbor Mrs. Slezak are both sitting behind them in this loving scene. They have been neighbors and friends for such a long time and the fact that Pat risks falling in the snow for her Pittsburgh neighbor and friend for decades makes me go "Hmmm...this is why I love this city."

30 January 2009

Take a Peak at Erie....

Let me tell you a little bit about one of my FAVORITE cities: ERIE PENNSYLVANIA. If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting this city on the bay, I would bet that you share my feelings of fondness for it. Recently, a few friends and I ventured to Erie for a yearly ski trip at Peek N Peak Ski Resort. Peek N Peak is technically in Western New York, but it's within a 25 minute drive of Erie. It is just one of the several adventurous activities one can enjoy in greater Erie. Yes it was January and YES there were about 13 inches of snow on the ground...but that's just part of the excitement of the snow belt areas of the rust belt. My boyfriend thought he would be impaled by a 5 foot long (and growing) icicle, yet thought nothing about standing below them and taking about 15,000 pictures. I guess we just don't grow'em like that in Cincinnati...
A few summers back I had the pleasure of renting a bike (albeit, bright yellow) and riding with friends and family along Presque Isle, the state park located on a peninsula that shields the city from harsh Lake Erie wind and waves, creating a large sheltered bay. The park is spectacular and is hopping with life on a warm summer day. Fishermen, boaters, sun bathers, houseboaters, volleyball enthusiasts all juxtaposed and enjoying the outdoors. After the bike ride we just HAD to eat at Sally's Diner, which is a Presque Isle has DELICIOUS burgers and ice cream treats. And it is soo cute and retro...seriously, check out the pic.

At the entrance to the state park and across the street from Sally's Diner is Waldameer Water World. It has over 75 rides, slides and attractions according to its website...and let me tell you, the site of the Ravine Flyer II rollercoaster crossing over the entrance to Presque Isle makes my stomach churn with excitement. And...nearly brand new is the Tom Ridge Environmental Center which is a certified LEED silver education center focusing on the preservation of Presque Isle.

Erie boasts a nice downtown core which includes Gannon University, a convention center...several banks, pubs, restaurants and a museum on Lake Erie history...mostly focused upon Oliver Hazard Perry's naval battle which occured near Sandusky...but Oliver docked his fleet in Erie. Also downtown is a Children's museum and a maritime studies center. History and maritime enthusiasts alike can surely spend an entire weekend here buffing up on Lake Erie facts. Oh and out-of-staters make sure you enjoy some the much-covitted Yuengling while in Erie. Supporting Great Lakes brewery will also fair well with the Erie crowd.

Erie has a collection of BEAUTIFUL homes and neighborhoods. Many different churches and places of worship dot the community. There seems to be a school/university on every corner. One thing to note are the small neighborhood parks and the mature neighborhoods with character...many of which have tree-lined boulevards.

Here's a rundown of activities:

Art Galleries
Many Museums
Perry Monument
Skiing (Snow and Ski)
Local Restaurants
Building sandcastles
Take a Class at Mercyhurst, Edinboro, Gannon or Penn State Erie

I can go on and on about Erie...and plan on visiting again and learning something new. Feel free to check it out for yourself on the internet superhighway or with a short road trip. There are multitudes of exciting things to do in Erie...from tasting local wines to enjoying local music...just make sure you plan on spending some time most activities seem to be outdoors...just be prepared for Erie's notoriously extreme weather changes.

Check out this site before your trip:

29 January 2009

Toledo and the MOAD

I've been asked/targeted by a friend to write my thoughts on the Rust Belt cities of Northwest Ohio (affectionately known as Table-Flat) since I've had the pleasure of growing up here. I won't pretend to know everything about the region...but I'll try my best to show its hidden treasures. Which brings me to the first. Tony Packo's in Toledo, Ohio. If you've never had the distinct pleasure of visiting a Tony Packo's restaurant I urge you to take the Ohio turnpike to Toledo..immediately (don't forget to bring your heart burn medicine of choice).

Tony Packo was the son of Hungarian immigrants who lived in East Toledo. He started his Hungarian hot dog stand in 1932 during the Great Depression and the restaurant exploded from there. Currently Tony's has five locations (two are express stands) in the Toledo area.They also sell their products in grocery stores all over the United States. Now onto the good stuff.

Tony's is famous for it's MOAD (the Mother of All Dogs) or the Bunker Buster...which my aunt famously shouted upon our order arriving "That's the biggest weiner I've ever seen." No joke, I couldn't make that up if I tried. They also have some intensely epic chili, not to mention peppers and pickles. The actual restaurants have really awesome interiors and they have a tradition of asking famous patrons to sign hot dog buns which they then showcase on their walls. And where did Ohio State University president Gordon Gee ask NW Ohio students to meet him for dinner and a "pep rally" of sorts? Yes. Tony Packo's.

Because I am quite possibly the luckiest gal in Table Flat, I will have the pleasure of eating at Tony's this weekend for my sister's birthday. Like a steward of hotdog goodwill, I will bring back more stories and pictures of Packo's (and Toledo in general as the restaurant is part of a revitalization plan for the downtown). I think there is nothing more heroic than sacrificing oneself to save a Rust Belt city by eating hotdogs, chili, and deep-fried pickles.

It snowed. Observations:

If you are reading this from a warm, far-off place...just to let you know: It snowed here in the Rust Belt. A lot. And it iced. And rained. And slushed. This storm is not that different from others...other than hey! We're coming up on a record here in Cleveland! Records are fun! Only a little more than 2 inches in the next few days and January 09 will be the snowiest January on record around here. So, I give you my observations and thoughts on this record-breaking January:

1. Slighty-wet snow mixed with dirt and footprints sometimes looks like chocolate chip cookie dough, sans the chips.
2. Recycling collectors in Lakewood, Ohio will climb atop 6' high snow mountains to collect their prizes. They are serious about recycling.
3. Helpful neighbors will help you get your car unstuck on the way to work in the morning. This is annoying...because deep down (OK, really more on the surface) you are really hoping for an excuse to not get to work.
4. OMG...the weather forecasters have been ridiculously correct with their forecasting this month.
5. People in Florida, and Washington D.C., are pansies.
6. Shout out to those drivers on I-90 east driving with me from 8:00-9:00 yesterday morning! I did not even see ONE jackass trying to pass me on the left shoulder.
7. The Innerbelt Bridge is terrifying no matter what the weather conditions...but the snow that is currently sitting on the bridge will ensure I will not be crossing it until least. (Can we get an infrastructure stimulus up in here?!?!?!)
8. I still don't want to ski.
9. Every child should experience the delight that is a snow day.
10. Winter in Cleveland is part of what makes us suck it up, bitches!

Rebranding OR Debranding?

The Rust Belt is a region of extremes when it comes to economic success, weather and everything in between. Diversity also lies in the opinions of its inhabitants. Why is it that the "grass is always greener" mentality is stronger amongst the inhabitants of the Rust Belt? Cities such as Cleveland and Pittsburgh have been rated as some of the most livable cities in the US by The Economist and Places Rated Almanac. Yet as recently as today there was a report on about which cities people most want to move to. At the bottom of the list, you guessed it: Detroit and Cleveland (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were also near the bottom).

Report after report seems to be deliberately attacking our beloved Rust Belt cities. I, for one, do not usually agree with these findings. Why do people want to leave our cities? Perhaps it's more about bad media and branding than the cities themselves. If weather affects people's happiness, then perhaps they have reason to feel such disdain for the cloudy and precipitation-friendly Rust Belt. I, for one, love rain and snow and am happy to be living somewhere in which life can sustain itself...unlike places such as Phoenix, Vegas and Southern California where the cost of having so much sunshine is that of not having enough water for the population.

Perhaps people feel that there aren't enough jobs in the Rust Belt. Well it has been shedding jobs for decades now, but there is hope: Pittsburgh has recently seen an increase in jobs in 2008...YES 2008! While America has seen more job losses in 2008 than it has seen in decades, Pittsburgh is gaining jobs.

So I ask this of you, fellow Rust Belt Friend: help Debrand the negative stereotypes of our beloved region. Every time you hear one "That place is the armpit of America" reply with a "Well, actually it is swarming with cultural institutions" and another "When is the last time you've been to Akron? It's actually fairing pretty well these days." Albeit, try to back up your opinions with facts...and keep them updated. We love our beautiful industrial cities of the past that have so much to gain in the future.