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19 October 2010

Bike! Bike! Bike!

Remember those days of riding your bike around the neighborhood with your friends? You'd bike up to the corner store, spending your allowance on 5 Butterfingers, a few 50 cent apple pies and a 20 ounce cherry coke. Then you'd ride on the trails in that patch of woods a few blocks over until you got a flat tire from a menacing thorn. It ruined your day.

Eventually you turned 16 (or in some cases 18, 22, or some insanely inappropriate age) and you got your driver's license. Your bike was set aside in your parents' garage...and eventually made its way to its dusty grave next to a scarecrow and a herd of mal-nourished reindeer. And now, years later, you fear to take it down, realizing that the neglect has probably left it with no reflectors, a rusty chain and rotting tires.

FEAR NOT!! You live in the RUST BELT! This is a place where folks respect such activities as hot yoga, going to orchestra concerts, and biking! Here in the Rust Belt we are fortunate to have a thriving biking community. Biking is an efficient form of transportation, it's good for your body, and, as I recently realized, it can make you feel like a kid again.

This summer my roommate wrote a 50 word essay about my obsession with sustainability. With one-liners like "a part of him dies every time he turns the key" and "his pledge to eat only food he grows himself has made him anemic,"* she certainly won the sympathies of Bike Week magazine, who awarded me with a fancy new bike (shown here, with model biker lady "M.T.").

Since getting this amazing (and free) bike in August, I've ridden to work a few times, ridden on the Towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park from Rockside Road in Valley View to Peninsula and back, and ridden in one Cleveland Critical Mass event in September. I've also ridden my longest ride yet! This was a 45 mile journey from Ashtabula to Warren on the Western Reserve Greenway. This photo was taken at the mid-point of that journey.

I am not a biker. After two years of running consistently, I can now call myself a runner. But, for various reasons, including my hatred of fossil fuel dependency, the thrill of going down hill, and my desire to have great legs, I plan on being a biker again. I took baby steps this summer and will make larger strides next year (I don't trust myself on ice/snow yet...). If you are a novice biker like me, there are multiple opportunities awaiting you:

Critical Mass is a group of bikers who meet on the last Friday of the month at a certain location and ride around town together. Novice? No worries. This group is very friendly and varies from Lance Armstrong to Betty White and everything in between. The rides are typically 5 miles long. I know they happen in Cleveland (starting at public square at 6:30pm), Columbus (Statehouse lawn at 5:30), Pittsburgh (Carnegie Library on Forbes Ave @ 6pm).

There are many bike trail options in the region. You can check out the Western Reserve Greenway from Ashtabula to Warren, which is a 45 mile trail that used to be a railway. Now it is a relatively flat and straight ride through the forests and farmlands of Northeast Ohio. I went last weekend in mid-October, and couldn't have asked for better scenery. If near Youngstown you should give the Mill Creek Metroparks Bikeway a shot. This is an 11 mile trail stretch through the western burbs of Austintown and Canfield which is much like that in Ashtabula and Trumbull Counties. It starts at the OSU Mahoning County Farm, goes through neighborhoods and forest and ends at the Trumbull County Line. Not to be forgotten is the Towpath between Cleveland and Akron in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here you can see great treasures such as downtown Peninsula, Boston Station and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Other opportunities to look for include those nifty bike lanes showing up in our cities. Euclid Avenue in Cleveland (shown here) is a great example of incorporating bikes into street design (as well as buses, pedestrians and cars). So get out there and try to bike. I'm making it a personal goal to bike at least once weekly during nice weather. OK...I know that being a fair weather biker may seem like a cop-out, but I feel that lifestyle changes become more permanent if they start with small habit changes. With all of the biking opportunity and an amazing culture of biking at my fingertips, why wouldn't I give it a shot?

*these lines from my roommate's essay may have been exaggerated for effect.

16 October 2010

Food Is Part of the Economic Solution

What are our biggest problems in the Rust Belt? How do we solve them?

I want to preface this post by acknowledging that I am not an expert on Economics, Education, Energy or any other important issue beginning with the letter E. I am merely an enthusiastic engaged resident of Northeast Ohio who spends many waking nights considering how we can solve our problems. These "solutions" aren't new, they are not necessarily exciting and they certainly may not work. I just wanted to throw out some of my ideas and see if any of them can potentially evolve into a solution, make a few others think of better ideas or, at best, spawn meaningful conversation.

Let's Tackle High Unemployment and Poverty! Easy, right??

These two demons have plagued the Rust Belt for decades. They are not mutually exclusive; they are inter-related and get their jollies off on affecting nearly every other issue that politicians, cranky uncles and songbirds have debated since before capitalism was even a glimmer in some medieval Dutchman's eye. How do we solve them, then? "Tax Cuts, Tax Cuts! Tax CUTS!!!!!!!!!" may be a familiar hymn that can be heard being chanted from John Boehner's castle in West Chester, Ohio. Well, Mr. Boner, I think your solution would work well if intended for Joe Six-Pack and not solely for the likes of the John Rockefellers out there. Specify who is getting these tax cuts, my friend....Businesses? Poor folks? Everyone? Now, that would just be silly.

Many conservatives feel that lowering taxes would be great. Being a poor man myself, I realize that I already pay very little in Federal Income taxes. If I made 200K a year, I'd be OK with paying a bit more. So let's keep taxes where they should be, with a progressive model in which the poor pay a lower percentage of their wages and the rich pay a higher percentage.

Let's also be supportive of policies and programs that are a good use of these taxes. How about we invest in our crumbling infrastructure? How about more rail options, so I don't have to drive to Columbus every time I want to see the Buckeyes play? Or maybe so those without cars can travel in general?? How about we spend it on switching to alternative energies that are sustainable and locally generated? Education? Housing for the poor? Yes, efficient government is important. Acting as if taxes are evil and should be eliminated is foolish. If used wisely, tax dollars can ensure that we maintain a high quality of life here in the good 'ole US of A.

Taxes aside, how about we actually tackle the real problem: NO ONE IS HIRING! How can we encourage businesses (small and large) to hire, especially in THIS economy? If I were a businessperson I would focus first on ensuring that I could run my operations and make a few bucks to pay my employees and a few extra for profit. Businesses need to be innovative, smart and flexible. They also need to have morals. We need to focus directly on local businesses who have an actual presence and are vested in this region.

The City of Cleveland passed legislation in March giving preference to contracting with local businesses. They provide a 2% bid discount to local businesses which are sustainable, locally-based, and/or purchase at least 20% of their food locally. The total discount available is 4%. How about that? It can certainly be implemented in other municipalities.

Think LOCAL. Luckily this is a movement that is gaining ground in the Rust Belt. Poverty and high unemployment won't go away soon. But let's invest in those with the best ability to combat it: local businesses. One way to chip away at our economic woes is to support local food initiatives. Really, DO IT, it has more of an impact than you currently realize.
Northeast Ohio is focusing on local food to create jobs. This movement is gaining momentum as entrepreneurs are starting urban farms in Cleveland, such as the Stanard Farm, which is a collaboration between the Department of Developmental Disabilities and local growers. DD provides the land and the workforce and urban farmers lease the land. The workforce learns valuable skills and makes a few bucks while doing it.

There is also the Ohio City Farm, which started in June at Riverview Towers on W. 25th Street.
It's a 6 acre site which is a collaboration between the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, Ohio City-Near West community development corp and a few others. Urban Farmers can lease land here and grow within a few thousand feet of where the food will be sold. Refugee Response is currently training refugees there how to farm in our climate.
Nearby, at the West Side Market, you can purchase arugula or tomatoes grown down the street. Great Lakes Brewery purchases produce from The Ohio City Farm for its restaurant. This and the Stanard Farm are two urban examples of entrepreneurship at its very roots in the city. They are co-operations between people with great ideas and the nerve to jump in, but also with patience, realizing there is a learning curve along the way. They are local pioneers showing how vacant land can be made useful once again.

Also in the works is a space where growers can rent kitchen space, storage space, flash-freezing capabilities and several other value-added options in a one-stop shop. Look for this incubator of local food processing in Cleveland in the near future.

Is food the only solution? Certainly not. But if you consider that in Northeast Ohio we spend 1% of our food dollars locally, you realize that there is a lot of potential out there. So check out local CSAs such as City Fresh, which bring locally grown food to your neighborhood once a week at a cheap price (starting at $12 per share weekly).

Go to a farmer's market. Join a community garden. Go to an Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) event at the Great Lakes Tasting Room ( Or, if anything, support a local restaurant that purchases food grown locally. Why not? If we make it a goal to spend just 10% of our food dollars locally, as opposed to 1%, it will make a significant improvement in our local economy as well as lower our carbon footprint, which improves national security (or so I'm told).

For more information, check out the new Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition Website at:

14 September 2010

Value Buildings Built With Value

I need to take a moment to vent on a topic that affects all of us. Something missing today in new construction is building for longevity. I know this doesn't pertain to every project, but it could easily be argued that most construction projects today are built with a shelf life of 60 years or less. Why do big box stores go up in the suburbs, are occupied for 15 years, and then left behind for a newer and larger location less than a mile down the street? Something has happened to the mentality of those who pull the purse strings of these projects: they only think short term.

Have you ever taken a walk in one of your city's oldest neighborhoods? Have you been to Lawrenceville or the Mexican War Streets (pictured above) in Pittsburgh? How about Ohio City in Cleveland or Crandall Park in Youngstown? You will find beautiful buildings clustered together that have been around since the nineteenth century in most cases. That's probably 150 years on average compared to places built after World War II, which are starting to show their age.

Old commercial districts functioned well with a human scale. They are still intact in most cities, regardless of vacany rates. Compare these charming business districts with today's strip malls and big box stores out on the fringes. Developers and big box retailers consider their buildings "throwaways" for the most part. Consider the Walmart in Warren, Ohio, which was built in 1994. Within 10 years of opening this store, plans were in the works to open a newer Super Walmart across the street. This store was vacated in 2008. It currently sits empty on Elm Road with a few small stores barely hanging on in its parking lot. If you look 1/4 mile to the north and across the street, you will find Super Walmart flanked by a brand new strip mall. This land backs up to Mosquito Creek, part of Trumbull County's largest watershed. Less than 5 years ago it was a forest. The first Walmart site was thriving. Downtown Warren was and is experiencing a lack of activity. Today the forest was bulldozed and we have yet another vacant greyfield on our hands and another downtown not living up to its potential.

Now I don't want to sit and rant about Walmart any longer, as I'm sure this is one of hundreds of cases of this situation occuring all over America. The real problem is the mentality that new is cheap. Old was built to last. In some neighborhoods, such as Italian Village in Columbus, urban infill is occurring as it should. Developers are building hearty homes and businesses which are designed to fit in with the existing context. The new row houses above match the
integrity of the existing neighborhood, which originally contained modest two and three story Italianate brick buildings. Meanwhile, ten miles north at Polaris in exurban Delaware County, you'll find new cookie-cutter homes going up. They have vinyl siding, a large attached two car garage in the front of the house and virtually no architectural detailing. Homes like this only sell because they are new, not because they have value. Cheap materials and poor site location have deteriorated the quality of most new American neighborhoods for decades. New is nice, but what happens when new becomes old? What happens when these homes are 100 years old and cannot be renovated? They will have to be demolished, and we will be left with places that resemble some of our inner cities, but for different reasons.

What are the places in your city that make you proud? Which neighborhoods are rich in character and quality? Which "neighborhoods" were built for the sole reason of filling the developer's pockets while selling out the greater community's potential for quality?

28 June 2010

Cleveland: Local Food LEADER

Check out the AMAZINGLY clear graphic above! What do all of those blue balloons represent?! Dive bars? Could be. My favorite restaurants? Possibly. How about FARMER'S MARKETS!!?! Yep...there are at least 24 farmer's markets on that map...All in Northeast Ohio and all looking to gain a little bit of market share (hint hint, from YOU).

Now I'm not sure where all of the veggies at your local grocer come from, and I certainly don't expect you to stop shopping locally. But what about this: If you shop from your local farmer's market, you are certainly supporting local agriculture. If you shop at a national chain, chances are you're supporting farmers in California or Argentina instead. Not to mention paying for the fuel costs to transport that Romaine Lettuce 4,200 miles from the hills of Buenos Aires to your Cleveland crisper. Check out the website to learn nearly all there is to know about local food in Northeast Ohio. Here are some facts:

There are currently 23 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in Northeast Ohio (located on the Local Food Cleveland website). Community Supported Agriculture consists of a group of individuals who support local farms, usually by purchasing shares in exchange for fresh produce and meat products throughout the year. The farmers are assured sales of goods and the purchasers are assured a quality local product.
Check out the local restaurants/caterers and retailer pages as well on the website, as they purchase local food and products to create their value added products. Many restaurants purchase only locally grown food to prepare for their patrons.
Local Food Cleveland has a plethora of great information. There are communities who support chicken and bees (in 2009 Cleveland legalized chicken and bee-keeping), community gardeners, market gardeners and permaculture supporters to say the least.
Currently in the works in the City are two new pieces of legistlation which will continually support Urban Agriculture. One piece would be a change to the permitted uses in residential districts. Urban Agriculture would be a permitted use, along with appropriate restrictions dictating issues such as structure setbacks. Secondly an Urban Agriculture Overlay ordinance may go into place, including information about larger parcels used for urban farming parcels. Keep your eyes open in August for formal proposals made to the Cleveland City Council. If you are a supporter of local food and urban agriculture, please contact your City Council member and let them know how important it is to grow and process food locally. Though we can already eat eggs from Edgewater, we could potentially be eating an entire meal grown within the City limits.

27 June 2010

Updates has been far too long since I've blogged and I must apologize full-heartedly! I moved to Cleveland from Cincinnati back in January and have enjoyed many many many days soaking up the culture here in the CLE. Let me tell is amazing. There is so much to do here and the people have welcomed me with open arms.

Cleveland is truly beautiful in the summer with breathtaking sunsets on the lake, hundreds of parks to enjoy and daily outdoor events throughout the region. The opportunities here are limitless. Since there are too many exciting things going on here to name all at once, let me name a few of my favorite hangout spots to get started. In the future I'll keep you all up to date on what is going on here.

Just to get things straight, I live on the east side. Now, I know the west-siders are gawking at the thought, but Cleveland's east side has a plethora of good eats and great atmospheres to enjoy. Lee Road, Coventry, Little Italy, University Circle and Shaker Square are all great places to find a patio and sip on something cold with friends.

Now to narrow it a bit further I'm only focusing on Shaker Square, my chosen place of residence and one of the best hangout spots in town. Personally I cannot get enough of Sasa on Monday nights. Sasa is a Japenese restaurant with a high class atmosphere. Monday nights are great for the thrify becaues they have $5 small plates and $5 half pitchers all night long. I suggest the Sasa fries (above)which come with a mustard sauce and a tangy bbq sauce. Sasa is perfect after catching a $5 movie at Shaker Square Cinema next door.

Also great is Sarava, a Brazilian restaurant with an amazing atmosphere. They have a wonderful happy hour on Friday nights and a large patio which plays Brazilian-themed music. Don't forget Grotto Wine Bar, which has a great atmosphere on a Winter night or a Summer evening. Coffee lovers will enjoy hanging out at Dewey's, a fair trade coffee shop with amazing muffins (calm down Betty White fans). Yours Truly is a local favorite; a wonderful diner with amazing sweet potato fries. Saturdays are great at the Square in the summer, because the farmer's market is buzzing in the morning and there are bands playing in the evening.

So, check out my neighborhood: Shaker Square; it's a wonderful atmosphere any day of the week.

05 January 2010

Let's move forward on transit

Slowly but surely transit option advocates are coming together to lobby for their cause. With an aging baby boomer population and rising fuel costs, doesn't it just make sense to invest in public transit options? Advocates say: YES! So the umbrella group, going under the battle cry "Save Transit Now, Move Ohio Forward" is looking to change Ohio laws reguarding taxation and funding and how it relates to public transit. Here are a few of the suggestions:

1. Update gasoline taxation laws. Currently tax revenues go solely towards highway improvements. Transit advocates are hoping to funnel some of those funds towards mass transit.

2. Getting other revenues from Vanity Plates and gas taxes collected from off-road vehicles.

3. Letting the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MORPC, OKI, NOACA, AMATS, Eastgate, etc) use flexible highway funds for mass public transporation. ODOT would have to allow this.

The advocate groups, including All Aboard Ohio, Environment Ohio, Bike, Walk Ohio!, GreenCityBlueLakeInitiative, and others are coming together to pull their voices and supporters for the betterment of the state.

This issue is certainly a hot topic in the state of Ohio. In 2009 the state passed legistlation to go forward with the Ohio Hub Initiative (3-C passenger rail corridor project) and is currently awaiting Federal Approval of the project. In November Cincinnatians approved the Streetcar ballot, allowing the first phase of the project to begin, which will connect downtown with Clifton, the neighborhood 2 miles north of downtown containing the University of Cincinnati.

So passenger rail projects in Ohio seem to be headed in the right direction. Cleveland has had the Rapid system for years, and has recently completed the Euclid Corridor project, containing express buses from downtown to University Circle.

Keep up the good work Ohio.