Straight off the Vine, the ripest of fruit awarding our labors

This past Saturday comprised a tremendous string of lessons, ones that I will carry with me deep into the future. I had already planned a community cleanup event for the early morning hours. My winter hibernation habits even hit me for the oddly balmy First of February, having hit snooze at least five times, but sleeping a solid 8 1/4 hours. (I hit an all time high of 89% Sleep Quality on my Sleep Cycle phone app!) I hadn’t planned much after the cleanup event, but my day gleamed with color by the next bout with shuteye. 

Past Spring in Our Steps (SiOS) volunteers, new UC Preservation Action Network (UC PAN) cohorts, and I gathered at Rohs Street Cafe beforehand, talking about the scarcity of urban planning jobs in Cincinnati, among other topics. My own financial straits caused by the student loan vultures fueled topic discussion about supposedly bright careers in financial planning. But I wasn’t convinced. Something has to–and will–give with regard to my community ambitions and unrelenting fervor for enhancing the urban experience.

Our enthusiastic for Spring in Our Steps’ second Clip & Climb outing of the season was something to behold. We quickly achieved our largest turnout for a winter volunteer event, this time held at the Polk Street Steps. The street is one of several junctions along Vine Street Hill, between Over-the-Rhine and the Uptown communities, reflective in our 11-minute documentary titled Straight Off the Vine.

I was elated that so many people came out to a cleanup event in early February, on a day when it could have easily rained the whole time we were out there. Two volunteers were prior SiOS contributors, members of a running has group who ran the Polk Street Steps even four years ago! the new UC PAN volunteers had meant to come out to one of our events for a while. Others were PAN alumni and enthusiastic preservationists who care deeply for the integrity of our hillside neighborhoods. I could have asked for a much better team. The before-and-after and group photos speak for itself. I had to include a shot of Diana, who obliged my suggestion to deliver hot chocolate from Coffee Emporium, to the hard working volunteers, in a Pepsi crate found on the bedraggled, perpendicular Van Lear Street. 

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Following the cleanup event, I had a very difficult time trying to figure out what else to do with my day. Having very little in the way of spare cash, I did what I had done several times prior out of boredom: to clean up my own street. Residual, soggy leaf piles had been collecting along the curb lines and sidewalks on my hillside street, really one street up from the previous engagement at Polk. The unpredictable nature of the Winter of 2014 forced my hands at a second cleanup project of the day. More than two hours later, I collected over 95 gallons of wet leaves from the lower half of my street. 

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And then this happened. 

A neighbor who lives across the street approached me about a recent incident, during which I called the police, when his children had been blasting music through the open windows of their upper level apartment. I had avoided contact with that neighbor for over a year, after he had inadvertently backed his conversion van into the front of my Civic, cracking the bumper the whole way through. I was extremely defensive initially, but he then expressed his gratitude for my service in the neighborhood. Magically, in the nearly two years I had been a resident of the street, he became the first neighbor to step up as an exhibitor of Hollister Triangle pride.

The neighbor opened up about his feelings about the street, expressing his feelings that it’s a dangerous one. (I disagreed, explaining that we have it much better than the streets farther west in Clifton Heights, where students are victims of armed robberies daily, which we are not. He also expressed disdain for a nearby property owner who plans to demolish the triangle park within the block for parking. (I told him that I’m working with a longtime landlord in the area to fight it vehemently.) He also guided me through his building’s breezeway to the alley at the rear, explaining that assailants of college student bring their victims through that path to grab their loot. I told him that I genuinely care about him and his kids, that no one deserves to grow up an environment where drugs and robberies appear to be part of a standard upbringing. The neighbor gave me his phone number, and said, “Any time you’re planning to come out here to clean up the neighborhood, call me up. I’m in.” 

During the day that was preceded by a night of dread for the morning ahead, I was graced with the bright futures of great partnerships. With might I might just prevail from my falters. First of February, shadows be damned. I’m already carrying with me big plans into the first week of the month…

 

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Let’s get to work(ing through the muck that leaves us feeling powerless)

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I’m pursuing the personal blogging experience again, it appears. Lots of inspiration to respond to my callings for community service, as of late. It’s interesting that I treat it like a punishment in order to motivate myself to carry out an action. I often instill guilt within me to push through the excuses and reasons why lazing at home sounds like a better option. But I can always recollect a time when sitting home to play The Sims or a DVD was the default, whenever activities were not planned for me or friends were unavailable.

A couple ways I have combated a life of malaise merely distract from my own personal obligations. Whether they help to improve my quality of life is another matter. Rather than clean my house, work on rebuilding a stone wall behind my home, organize papers or CDs in scattered orientation, call a creditor, or even walk to the grocery store, I do the following:

  1. Pick up trash along sidewalks and curblines, in my own neighborhood or along stairways or alleys elsewhere. It feels like I am fulfilling an societal obligation that has not been met since the last caring soul moved on to greener pastures. And that’s just a horrible ending to any story, so I insert myself into those last pages of the book–the ones that are often left strangely blank in many hardcover editions. We all know that no urban tragedies ending with abandonment or demolition get published. If I’m wrong, please send me a link so I can exhaust my apologies. It really isn’t humiliating to pick up someone else’s forgotten mandate, as it seems most of the apathetic believe. On the contrary, it’s the feeling of righting/writing a wrong…a story that’s not right for this world but is told through lore so many times over. 
  2. Engage in conversation to share a balanced and respectable vision plan for the use of neglected areas of our landscape. Yes, it’s a bit selfish and this blog could certainly offset some of those eager outbursts, but I am absolutely guilty of this approach. I am a firm believer in the power of starting a conversation about issues that have not found an audience. Many city residents bicker about things they wish could be better about their neighborhoods, but they often fall upon the ears of a neighbor who is speaking their same language and lacking the same social resources. Often paired with the creation of evidence that neglect *can* be undone, I cite my own proactive measures to–for example–call about a broken streetlamp, report a pending drug deal, email a councilperson, or remove the fast food remains next to a parked car. It’s not an ego boost but I hopeful solicitation for a team effort. I don’t want to be the only one on my block to want safer and cleaner conditions. However, having your cake and eating it too require some compensation in the end, often by paying it forward. 

This lease on life has been inexhaustible when assessed in isolation. The consequences of my evasion of personal obligations speak for themselves. You and I realize that it is very difficult to lead a busy life *and* give back to society. I am just not satisfied with waiting for a retirement that may never come to volunteer to pay my debts. It is the original sin that we all carry with us daily. I am not religious but am a pious investor in the measurement and capacity of WORK.

I see WORK as a innumerable unit of measurement of an amalgamation of what made our great neighborhoods, town, villages, and cities. It’s a calling to carry out the legacy of all those who laughed, wept, hurt, or died in the buildings, streets, groomed hedges their neighbors WORKed so hard to build and rebuild. Such an injustice to even turn my nose away from greatness and toward mediocre city life, a street that’s just okay, and a neighborhood walk that invokes fear of the fearful and my own neglect. 

I am determined to improve even more of my urban experience. Starting now. And now. And NOW. My seemingly tireless WORK building Spring in Our Steps was matched by many others who didn’t seem to tire out very quickly either. But I do want to be able to use my own personal initiative to continue to inspire me to keep moving forward. So many folks in cities I adore do amazing WORK themselves. But it’s often just so subtlety different from how I am able to measure my own WORK output, like power consumed universally but at different voltage, using different plugs and outlets. I can see their success and triumph, but my path to achieve exactly that can only be with accuracy and not precision. This vessel that is my body rides the rough waters a little differently than theirs. I just need, and we all need, to learn that innate flick of the wrist that makes our WORK ours.

This is happening. Right now. Look forward to more about my personal outings to move on what greatness has awarded our cities, and to build on what we have left to cherish. Let’s romance. And WORK for it. There is a path.

Design observations and future pedestrianism

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I feel that I am fairly critical of–or have a strong option about–many types of eye candy, throughout each one of my days. Yet I rarely chronicle these observations. iPhone apps like Instagram have enabled me to link a photo of a place or wonderful thing with the place. Then I can sift through my facebook Timeline to see what kind of a day I was having, when I took that photo. But often, there’s more to say.

When I saw this coffee cup ad sticker on my Coffee Emporium drink, this morning, I couldn’t help but have all sorts of thoughts about the design. First of all, what a stunning design to promote, of all things, a men’s choral concert. But then I was thinking about the seating or bleacher arrangement, taking me back to my years in Senior Choir at Walnut Hills High School.

Wonderment, indeed!

What a stunning setup, if the choral members were arranged like so, in different colored dress shirts and black ties. It certainly would be a welcome departure from the tired black-and-white rigidity of combo, choral, and orchestral concert attire. This advertisement has a beautiful modernity and classic style to it. Plus, the design focused my eye to the name of the event and the beautiful design, just as a beautiful shop window will draw you to it, regardless of what’s inside (within reason).

For more information on the coffee cup ad stickers, drop a comment, and I’ll send you details.

I plan to post more of these pique-tures posts, as they strike me. Perhaps it’ll be a feature called Ad It Up. Or not.

Certainly, my life has changed since the aggravated robbery forced against me, which forced me to start over in many ways. I need to rebuild my music collection, cope with the loss of thousands of photos from November 2008 to October 18th, 2011, and create new artistic and creative forms of expression (five years of schoolwork are permanently gone, save for the files I can obtain from professors or attachments from old emails).

And yet, I realized one thing that nobody could ever take away from me.  My community work I’ve done has created lasting and fulfilling memories: the two Great American Cleanup events in Clifton, this year’s Make a Difference Day, connecting great people with other great people, and so on.

Though the announcement is a bit premature, my fiancee Pam and I have discussed in depth a community project that will fulfill the pants off our bodies. We plan to execute a program designed to clean up neglected alleys, sidewalks, and city steps in Cincinnati. In short, it’s a way to take back the pedestrian realm that no longer serves the users for which it was purposed. The goal is to make these places inviting spaces, possibly causing people to want to use that infrastructure again.

taken November 8th, 2011
The northern section of East Alley, looking north from St. Joe Street into Mt. Auburn from Over-the-Rhine.

Another desired result, with fingers crossed, is an renewed interest in these spaces will cajole the City and its partners to reinvest in them. This is not entirely unlike the benefits of Future Blooms, a Keep Cincinnati Beautiful program that revitalizes vacant buildings with beautifully painted window and door placards. Many of those same properties have been slated for redevelopment and reinvestment around them.

I will have more news on this project shortly, including details on a planned website where you’ll be able to track our pursuits, future sites, and ways to help out.

A by-gone era of Cincinnati and the reintroduction of choice

Over the past week, it seems that there has been some really good op-ed pieces written. Perhaps I should just attribute these great finds to being personally ill, and partially bed ridden, forcing my brain to work through the clouds in a different direction than up. This is a way to allow myself to more properly catalog (and find later) the pieces that I find to be brilliant.

Stunning “old-school” density aerials from Cincinnati

(source: skyscraperpage.com)

Downtown Cincinnati, west of Plum (1958)

This was a wonderful find that was linked through the Urban Ohio forums. Lately, I have been nerding out over photos of various neighborhoods in Minneapolis, my future home. This, however, is a heartbreaking look at pre-freeway and pre-urban renewal Downtown Cincinnati. The worst sight, in my opinion, is the loss of boulevard-like, east-west arteries, which once extended westward beyond Central Avenue. Most Cincinnatians attune to their city’s yesteryear lament the loss of substantial portions of the West End neighborhood. I, however, long for the days when Downtown extended south of Third Street, west of Central, and east of Eggleston. The Downtown Cincinnati of today appears to be bound by a tourniquet of freeways and fly-over ramps.

Visitors of Cincinnati often cite confusion over interruption to the street grid, such as Jefferson Avenue, northward to the EPA Breidenbach Research Center, and over to Vine. However, the most drastic grid alterations resemble nothing of their original formations–namely the Queensgate district that resembles an outdated office park, surrounded by disinvested relics. I can only hope that the Cincinnati elite and decision-makers look toward the future of Downtown, considering the possibility of transit-oriented development (and the accompanying transit) west of I-75.

Explaining Socialism To A Republican (source: Addicting Info)

I am not really a fan of the title of this op-ed, as it really should be called, “Clarifying Democratic Socialism: How Democracy Can Serve without Discrimination.”

This piece has to do with providing services to all Americans, such as post-secondary education and healthcare. We all enjoy trash collection, law enforcement, and fire protection by paying taxes. Taxes, themselves, are payments we must all make, in order to make services available to all. We are not expected to put out our own fires, to patrol our own properties. But we are usually expected to have private medical consultants, or to hire educators within for-profit institutions. This piece argues for a system of shared resources. It argues that socialism does not mean “taking from the rich and giving to the poor.”

The other dimension to Addicting Info piece pertains to entitlements and bonuses awarded to corporate players. Extraneous rewards for playing the corporate game, successfully or not, makes the cost of goods and services higher. So, the low and middle income Americans must spend more of their net worth. Thus, the rich become richer, and the rest either fight to maintain their societal place or become poorer. In order to create more social and economic equity, tax revenues must be collected to pay for public services.

In the case of highways and other roads, conservatives find tax collection and government subsidies to be acceptable uses of tax money. Meanwhile, any other type of mobility is cited as a waste of tax dollars. Not everyone has an automobile, and not everyone can afford the costs of owning one. Corporations within cities are attracted to density and mobility for their employees and executives. However, in Cincinnati, powerful players within the county are an interest to stymie public options, seeking to mold Cincinnati into one that lacks equity and lacks competitive edge. The motives are fishy yet explicit. The image I provided earlier shows what discretionary preference over option and choice does over cities.

Cincinnati and other cities need to regain a fervor to regrow their places and spaces. We will do this through the reintroduction of choice and voice. The bickering is noisy. Let us hope those voices can be heard.

“Don’t wanna see myself losing out in the end.”

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It has certainly been a while since I had felt any remote feeling to document where my life is going and where it is headed. The most resounding clamor for this change has been a new sense of urgency. I am both strongly inspired and captivated by the same things that have held my attention throughout most of my living years.

GENERAL AESTHETIC
sensual qualities that guide me through each day: smells, textures, spaces, places, and more
HORMONAL URGES
how testosterone can be used for personal good, such as admiring the theme of a woman, as well as that of a man, to simply lead to wanting to know someone
DIETARY PATHETIC
though not proper English at all, including all the struggles to live healthily
PERILOUS URGES
anything to which I responded with the urge to fight back, the consequences of even considering resistance, and why benevolence may be a better option

Simply, I have started this personal catalog to start keeping tabs on myself. I want to trust myself again, just as I count on others to trust me. If I say I am going to run four days per week, I want to make it so. If I tell myself or someone else that I plan to spend more time with another, I want to make it so. If I hope to fulfill aspirations that stall because I am afraid of how left-of-center I will be perceived, I want to make it so. Life is short, indeed.

I recall a conversation I had with Erica, a friend with whom I had spent her last night in town, before she left for a school in north central Ohio. We picked flowers from people’s front yards, during the overnight. I appeared uncomfortable with that. In addition, I was preoccupied with getting home before night became morning. I did not want to worry Pam, but I also was not doing anything that would have put me in danger. Lying in the grass of a public park after hours–that was another idea that made me tense (I neither wanted to get wet from the dew nor incurred several mosquito bites). I also refused her plead to smoke a cigarette with her.

On one side of things, I felt like I knew who I was, and I certainly was not going to compromise my principles. On the other hand, I felt like I had a lacking sense of adventure, which she actually verbalized. I am not saying she was entirely correct in her assessment. I followed through with several of those activities, but only after much resistance. But it caused me to question the wall I put in front of me so many times: that I feel so certain of who I am that I will not try the plethora of activities that others suggest. Additionally, I have resisted any serious reading or writing for months, simply because I felt guilty for not having finished my capstone paper for my undergraduate degree. I realized that, because I was facing adversity, I was also making myself unhappy and living my life less fully.

Though I was playing life by my own rules, I have been cheating myself. It is time to celebrate my life, and give myself a reason to rejoice.