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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.

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.