Saturday, December 19, 2009

Do This: Shop local for Christmas gifts!

Because we all know that local is always better, I'd like to share my favorite places in Cincinnati for purchasing gifts:

(in no particular order)

Park + Vine- Cincinnati's "green" general store. Purchase locally handmade and recycled goods, eco-friendly baby/kids' stuff, pure and natural homegoods and toiletries, locally-themed shirts and bags. You'll find rainbarrels and clothes drying racks a-plenty and the word on the street is that the whole store is vegan.

Ten Thousand Villages- You'll find fairly-traded handmade goods from artisans around the world. Though it's not a locally-based organization, one of their retail shops is in O'Bryonville. My favorite item? The Christmas decorations and toys!

The Ohio Bookstore- With five floors of used books, you can find something for every book lover. (Check out the collections in the glass display cases on the street-level floor!) I've been meaning to have a book or two of my husband's re-bound in their bookbinding shop...

Shake-It Records- I don't go to Shake-It for the music; I go for the (seemingly) endless shelves of designer toys, magazines and 'zines, books, graphic novels & comics, and other assorted "won't find anywhere else in town" items. Wind-up sushi--need I say more?

The Blue Manatee- The kind of bookstore that makes me want to be a kid again...

Market Wines
at Findlay Market- Nothing goes better with a holiday meal catered by the Market than a fancy-pants bottle of wine. The folks at Market Wines will help find the perfect bottle for your dinner party or for a hostess gift. It's so nice to talk to people that know a thing or two about what they're selling!

Mica 12/V- Mica never fails to deliver the perfect gift for my mother--the woman who has everything: something shiny, well-made, distinct, and original. I usually have to keep it small (the place isn't cheap), but I can always find something great in my price range. (To top it off, they carry various pieces by local artists Visualingual, who probably deserved a spot of their own on my "favorites" list.)

Duck Creek Antique Mall
- I bought most of my bridesmaids' gifts at Duck Creek, and intend to make it there sometime in the next few days for last-minute Christmas shopping. My favorite finds? Mid-Century Modern furniture, vintage children's toys, and fancy ladies' pocket mirrors.

So, if you're like me and just realized that Christmas is *gasp* less than a week away and you've neglected to start your Christmas shopping, skip the corporate chains and keep it local.

Does your sister really need another sweater from the GAP?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Local Issues: 3CDC, Gentrification, Mixed Feelings...

I know this might be a tired issue to some, but I've been re-thinking my position on 3CDC's development of Over-the-Rhine--the "Gateway Quarter."

(photo courtesy of

Among those concerned with the welfare of Cincinnati's urban core and its residents, there has been a lot of talk of the ills/benefits of gentrification, the implications of a rising cost of living in Over-the-Rhine (OTR) and the Central Business District (CBD), and what the displacement of the characteristically urban residents means for the surrounding areas (CUF, Mt. Auburn, the West End, etc.). In the past few years, I have gone back and forth about 3CDC, its takeover of the neighborhood, and its methods of achieving (what appear to be) great development goals. I don't want to get too personal here, since I'm still new to the Cincinnati blogging community and I'm not quite ready to make enemies, but I do want to share some thoughts on a few specific issues.

The "socially-conscious" side of me is very sympathetic to those who may be displaced from their current homes because they (like myself) may not be able to survive the rising rent costs. I understand how it feels to have a strict budget, one that can't lend itself to an extra $200 a month in rent. And now that my husband and I are beginning the search for our first house, we understand how difficult it is to find a single-family home that is safe, affordable and where the amenities of an urban life are still accessible. Because we believe in the inherent value of having a large family, yet we are not a part of the upper-class, we may never have the expendable income necessary to adapt to living in an up-and-coming neighborhood. (I've had to reconcile that my life will probably never resemble the Huxtables'. Bummer, right?) And, so, it does sadden me to think of all the families in much worse financially situation than us. It's only a matter of time, I'm sure, before there are simply no options for the true "working poor," and they will be forced to move out of OTR and the CBD in search of apartments with more than two bedrooms, for less than $1000 a month in rent.

I must admit, though, that my sympathy only reaches so far.

I know what sort of living conditions often come with "affordable rent," and I know that poverty in an urban setting is inextricably bound to issues of blight and crime. So, although I am sympathetic to the family who will be displaced because of rising rent costs, I am not sympathetic to the drug dealer who used to sell on their doorstep but is now struggling in his new "market," the absentee landlord who had (until now) refused to turn on their heat before December, and the owner of the (now closed) corner store a block away who made a good living selling malt liquour beverages that feed addictions and destroy lives. If keeping this hypothetical family in their home requires protecting the "rights" of those who also live in the neighborhood and who are victimizing the family every day, then I'm not certain which cause deserves more attention. Which is a greater quality of life issue: the right to poverty or the right to progress?

Along these lines, I appreciate what 3CDC has been able to do to improve the quality of life for residents in Over-the-Rhine and the surrounding area.

But, let's take this a step further.
I believe that economic development would, in a perfect world, benefit not only those with the resources to facilitate the development, but also those who currently reside in the area being developed. The goal, then, is not to develop an area in a way such that people are forced to leave, but in such a way that they are allowed to develop and grow with the neighborhood. So, a truly benevolent investor would pour his/her money into the community in such a way that makes accessible the education, jobs, and resources that will make the people--not just the buildings--better. The catch is that people, unlike buildings, cannot be forcibly altered. And for every family that would like to progress toward purchasing a quality home and will work hard to maintain its quality (for the benefit of the whole neighborhood), there is another that is too loyal to the current regime of the neighborhood to allow themselves to participate in the progress. The same goes for business owners: some current business owners deserve to stay while others, I am bold to say, do not.

Then, on top of the actual ideological issue of gentrification, we could add the questions of economics (What exactly is "poverty" and what should be considered a reasonable cost of living for a thriving neighborhood?), culture (Who decides which cultural expressions/institutions should remain as an area develops?), and praxis (Who should design the development, what should it look like, who should be contracted to do the work, etc.?), but I don't want to get into those now.

At the end of the day, I still have mixed feelings about gentrification in general and Cincinnati's current urban renaissance specifically (a la 3CDC, Urban Sites, and others). I suppose that, like most things, we will have to judge the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine on a building-by-building, case-by-case basis; We can talk about gentrification, ideologically, until we're blue in the face and never actual address any real issues.

On that note, there are two specific criticisms of 3CDC that I'd like to express, before I retire the issue altogether.

Was it really necessary to close both sides of the sidewalk on Vine St. at the same time?
I understand that streetscape projects like planting and concrete work require proper timing and weather conditions, but a little common sense would have told the developers to do one side at a time! There are tons of folks who walk up and down Vine St. every day on their way to work, school, the grocery store, the bus stop, etc. and it's not only a major inconvenience, but it speaks volumes about the developer's lack of regard for the people who already live in the neighborhood. Did anyone else notice this problem? I know I wasn't the only one dodging traffic with a stroller the past few weeks!

I am thankful that much of the new development involves condo living, rather than rentals, but the actual living spaces themselves and the cost of living in them send another message to potential buyers: families are not welcome. I understand that it's really fun and exciting to fill the neighborhood with uppity young professionals who will spend their nights sipping wine on the balcony and decide to have their first (and only) child at the age of 45 but, frankly, you cannot build a community with only these folks. A quick search on 3CDC's website for units for sale with 2 or more "sleeping areas" yields only 28 options, most of them hovering around 1000 sq. feet and over $200k. The mortgage, together with the condo fees, parking fees, etc., would require (in my opinion) an income in the range of $60-80k a year, at least. Although many folks in Cincinnati may fall into this income bracket, why in their right mind would they choose to live in a 1000 square foot condo where the second "sleeping area" is actually a corner of the room with a privacy wall when they could just as well live in a 3 bedroom, 2000 square foot tudor in Pleasant Ridge on a .5 acre plot of land? And that doesn't even take into account the families that need to live downtown because of the availability of public transport and employment opportunities and make closer to $30-50k (or less). They will be stuck in apartments forever.

I know that 3CDC is working the OTRCH to subsidize a few of the rowhouse properties they're building. I don't know, though, that this will even begin to solve the problem. What message does the subsidy send? It tells these potential homeowners that they can only have a decent, affordable home when it comes in the form of a handout. It says, "These homes are not for you, but we'll let you live here."
But, this is an issue for another time...

Am I totally wrong here?
Do you have specific praises or critiques for urban revitalization here or elsewhere?
What's your experience with gentrification?
(Note: unwarranted, cruel comments may be deleted)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do This: Cincinnati Unchained!

I am a firm (very firm) believer in supporting local businesses.

BuyCincy, a blog that is dedicated to supporting the best of local business in the Cincinnati area, has organized an event called Cinicinnati Unchained. It takes place tomorrow (November 21) and is a great way to put your money where your mouth is in support of our local economy. View the complete information here.

(BTW: Does anyone else think it's CRAZY that tomorrow is already November 21st? Geez!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting Around: Walk!

According to, I live in a "Walker's Paradise," scoring 92 points out of a possible 100. Before I look further into why my address gets such a high score and why I think it might be a tad unrealistic, let me tell you why the "walkability" of my home is so important to me.

1. It familiarizes me with my neighborhood and familiarizes my neighbors with me.
Case in point: when I moved into Cincinnati and lived in the Northside neighborhood, my parents worried that it was unsafe. Although I'll admit that I had a few uncomfortable situations there--mostly involving the vacant lot across the alley from my backporch--I realized something very important early on: Safety, in many ways, is a byproduct of living as if you belong where you are. For example, I took opportunities to familiarize myself with my neighborhood, get to know the streets, smile at the people next door (and say "hello!"), walk a lot, and begin to see my enviornment as a part of my life and not just something I drive through on my way between home and work. The same is definitely true living in Over-the-Rhine. Though the environment may be a bit more volitile, I've learned to take advantage of every opportunity to own my neighborhood. My hope is that as I walk up and down the street on my way to the Market or down to the library, I become a familiar face. Then, my neighbors will see me as less of a threat and I will become a part of the neighborhood.

2. The charm of a car-free life!
Right now, my husband and I each have a car that was brought into our marriage. Because both cars are completely paid-off, we have free off-street parking at home, my mother in-law is 20 minutes away, my parents are 300 miles away, and some dear friends live in the farther parts of the Cincinnati area, we have no immediate need/desire to get rid of our cars. But, we have often considered what our lives would look like as a one-car family, if we traded in both for one newer, more reliable family vehicle. This begs the question: could either of us survive the day without a car? I am a bit more excited about the prospect than my husband does, since I have come to love the days (like today) when my son and I go on an adventure around town--all on foot. Living in a place that is easily navigable on foot (or bicycle) means that I don't have to mess with loading a baby in and out of a car just to pick up my few missing ingredients at the grocery store, check out the library's most recent DVD purchases, or sneak into that corner store for a can of Diet Coke. No traffic. No parking tickets. No car insurance bills, registration fees, taxes, etc. It sounds great, doesn't it?

3. I need the exercise.
I have never been a thin or particularly physically fit woman. That said, ten months after having a baby I seem fairly unscathed physically. I chalk that up to walking, and often carrying my child, around town. It's that simple: I need exercise and if the only walking I do is to and from my car parked in the grocery store parking lot, I don't get enough. It's good for me to use my legs every once and a while, and it's good for my son to get used to an active lifestyle while he's young and can see it modeled in his parents.

4. What's within walking distance says something about the values of the community.
With few exceptions, most folks don't live near amenities such as locally-owned businesses, restaurants, cultural/arts institutions, colleges or universities, public parks, etc. unless they appreciate and intend to use them. Stated plainly: I choose to live within walking distance of Findlay Market because I want to spend time at Findlay Market and with other people who like to be at Findlay Market--these are my people. It seems obvious, but we often forget that we naturally gravitate to the things that are most important to us. And, where you live influences the way you spend money, which says a lot about what you value. Folks who live near Kenwood Mall should not be surprised if their neighbors spend more money at Nordstrom than they do downtown. And if they would rather spend time with people who spend time and money downtown, they should just move nearer to downtown. It seems pretty obvious to me.

Now, let me explain why the Walkscore of my Cincinnati home is a little misleading.

My walkability score is based on how close in proximity my address is to things like clothing stores, restaurants, grocery stores, and public transportation. Yes, I may be very near most of these things, but they aren't all what they're cracked up to be. For example, I don't frequent "Bills' Supermrkt" very much, since the majority of his inventory consists of malt liquor beverages and bagged potato chips. And, his close proximity helps bring up my walkability score even though his presence here actual diminishes my ability to walk down the street after dark. So, the score needs to be taken in context and with a grain of salt. For me, my interests, and my personal taste, my home would probably score more like 80 out of 100. That is still pretty amazing if you ask me.

Heck, if I were still in college, that could be a solid "B."

My former address in Northside scores an 88 out of 100.
My former address in Elgin, Illinois scores an 89 out of 100.
I think those scores are probably more accurate.

What's your score?
Do you think it's accurate?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Urban Gardening--In a dumpster?

I came across an interesting post on Apartment Therapy's Re-Nest blog.
Has anyone heard of Dumpster Gardening?

(Photo courtesy of the brilliant minds at Apartment Therapy.)

Click here for the link.

The idea, I suppose, is to transform abandoned trash dumpsters into planters for urban gardening. It seems like a good enough idea for someone like me with a couple empty parking spaces in my lot, but not a single blade of grass. But, are there really a multitude of abandoned dumpsters hanging around in your city?

Let me know if you spot one!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting Around: Baby-Friendly Biking

Although I've never been a "serious biker," I have enjoyed periods of my life when I commuted either to school, to work, or on errands by bicycle. Here in Cincinnati, the downtown business district is easily navigable by bicycle (although the area surrounding downtown is riddled with hills that, I'll admit, I have dared not climb).

I would like to resurrect the bike-riding part of myself, but there is one problem: a nine-month old baby.

I've been told that I'm crazy to think of letting my baby anywhere near my bicycle, let alone let him ride along with me. Still, I can't help but fantasize about strapping him in a little bike seat and pedaling down the block for a cup of coffee or to the library--it seems a bit more efficient than walking with a stroller. Heck! I could pedal that thing clear across the river if I wanted to!

In many other parts of the world, family bicycling is not only acceptable, but it's perfectly normal. A quick Google search online yields an amazing array of family bikes, some homemade from unlikely and *gasp* possibly unsafe materials and others fancy, special-order types that cost as much as a cheap car. I'm interested in what other people have discovered as the best option for commuting by bike with a child who is too young to pedal along.

Have you seen or used any of the products pictured below?
Do you "serious" riders have any suggestions for those of us who are ready to get back on a bike?

Most of us are familiar with traditional rear-mounted bike seats, but I've recently discovered the front-mounted variety which seem to make a lot more sense to me: the iBert Safe-T-Seat

Another familiar product, I grew up riding behind my father in something similar to this trailer (although I think my dad made ours himself): the Burley d'lite ST

This is a front-mounted spin on the traditional rear-mount trailer: the Zigo Leader

And a cooler version of the front-mount trailer: the trioBike

And what is, perhaps, my favorite family bike option from what I've seen: the Madsen Bucket

One question, though: If I saved my pennies to buy the Madsen Bucket cycle, where would I park the darn thing? Do you think it requires a parking space? Geez...

Until I can figure out where my son and I fit into the bicycling world, I fully support making our city more bike-friendly and I try to do my part to drive with cyclists in mind. Ride on, my friends. Ride on.

Go Play Outside!

My son's generation (and possibly mine before his) has a problem: kids just don't play outside anymore.

Either they have no place to play (no public greenspace, no accessible virgin or natural spaces, fenced backyards), they aren't allowed to play (it's too dangerous--whether realistic or imagined), or they have simply forgotten how to make their own play (their natural creativity has been dulled by contemporary toys and play-places).

Richard Louv
, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the term "Nature-Deficit Disorder" for this problem. I saw Louv speak at a conference a few years back, after his book was first published. At the time, I thought he was a bit long on diagnosis and short on cure, but I do think that his diagnosis is spot-on. (Though I could do without the hype surrounding this "disorder," the book is good reading for anyone who is now or will ever be responsible for the life of a child.)

One evening, when my boys were younger, Matthew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant table and said quite seriously, Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid? - Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

This isn't just an urban phenomenon, of course. It crosses all socio-economic boundaries and is just as prevalent in the city kids who have never been to a working farm as it is in the rich suburban kids who don't know what grass looks like when it hasn't been mowed lately. Unless you are intentional about the way you expose your children to the natural world, there's a large chance they will grow to prefer an hour with the latest video game over a hike in the woods or a chance to watch a thunderstorm on the front porch.

I am not a fanatic; I do not believe the world is going to Hell in a hand basket because some kids can't identify trees. I do, though, think we have a problem on our hands and it's affecting our kids' health, creativity, and the very depth of their experience of life.

My husband and I revisit this issue often: how can we give our city-raised, concrete-walking kids a love for nature?
Without a backyard or nearby forest for exploration, how can we guarantee that our children grow up with a basic understanding of natural science (something that was once considered basic human knowledge and a matter of survival) and the beauty of nature's rhythms (which births a sense of awe and wonder)?

And while surrounded by urban crime and blight, how can we give our children the wellness and bravery that naturally rises from experiences in natural spaces?

More so, how can we cultivate their young, creative minds when all our neighborhood offers are restrictive city streets and plastic, pre-fab public parks as play places?

In the past five or ten years, with an eco-renaissance of sorts in popular culture, the tides are beginning to shift and parents are becoming more intentional about recapturing the wild, outdoor experiences that used to be the norm for all children. Although purists are skeptical of the popularity of "going green," this popularity has benefits. Namely, the opportunities that were once reserved for "weird" and eccentric parents are now being embraced by soccer moms and public schools alike.

Because this issue is so dear to me, I want to make it a regular topic on The Walking Green. Every couple weeks I'll be introducing an opportunity, local organization, place, person, etc. as a resource for families who care about providing these important outdoor experiences for their children or the children they care for. Let me know if there's something that you believe deserves some attention and I'll try to feature it!

In the meantime, shut down your computer, grab the kids, and go play outside!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

About Cincinnati and how I ended up here.

According to the source of all human knowledge (Wikipedia):

Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County. The municipality is located north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border. The population within city limits was 333,336 in 2008, making it the state's third largest city. In 2008, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area had a population of 2,155,137 making it the largest MSA in Ohio, and the 24th most populous in the United States. Residents of Cincinnati are called Cincinnatians.

Cincinnati is considered to have been the first American boomtown in the heart of the country in the early nineteenth century to rival the larger coastal cities in size and wealth. As the first major inland city in the country, it is sometimes thought of as the first purely American city, lacking the heavy European influence that was present on the east coast. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, Cincinnati's growth had slowed considerably, and the city was surpassed in population by many other inland cities...

Cincinnati is also known for having one of the larger collections of nineteenth-century Italianate architecture in the U.S., primarily concentrated just north of Downtown in an area known as Over-the-Rhine. Over-the-Rhine is one of the largest historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Read the full article here.

How did I end up Cincinnati?

I grew up in the near southwest suburbs of Chicago, in a small city called Palos Heights. I am a bonafide Midwesterner, with the first eighteen years of my life contained within the southern half of the Chicagoland area, and summers spent between our family's small lake cottage in southwestern Michigan and a camp in the northwoods of Wisconsin. Until I was about sixteen years old and allowed brief day trips downtown with my brothers or friends, my experience of real urban life was limited to school field trips, visits with friends who lived nearer to the city, and the occasional family drive downtown.

I attended college at a small university in Elgin, IL, a city 40 miles west of Chicago and ten times the size of my hometown. Elgin is not exactly a booming metropolis, but it's a city nonetheless. With it's official population hovering around 100,000, off the record are the (I'm guessing) thousands of illegal immigrants and hundreds of homeless that live there. The city, at the time I lived there, was almost a Little Mexico, with just as many signs in Spanish as there are were English, and Cinco de Mayo was a hell of a party in town.

The summer before our senior year of college, two friends and I moved into a small loft on Chicago St. My bedroom was extremely cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and we could hear everything our downstairs neighbor did (and smell every drug he smoked). We were on the third floor, two stories above a tattoo shop, nextdoor to the YWCA, two doors from the public parking garage (where we parked), and a few blocks from the public library. Our favorite bar--The Gasthaus--was three blocks away, my bank was on the corner, Akina's was a few blocks away if we wanted Thai food, and so was Al's Cafe (for sandwiches and milkshakes). We walked down to Cafe Magdelina for wine and creme brulee, and I rode my bike to the grocery store (where half the signs were in Spanish) for groceries. I bought fresh cookies at one of the local Mexican bakeries and I shopped for gifts at Keeney's--the old-school sporting goods store with a treasure trove of vintage goods in the basement. I worked at a local coffee shop and rode my bike to summer classes. I took the train--from the station on the river--to Chicago.

Elgin may not be a booming metropolis, but I loved it there.
After growing up in a neighborhood where the more urban areas 10 miles away were considered "dangerous," Elgin liberated me of my suburban bias. I experienced what much of the rest of the world experiences--loud streets, street parking, public transportation, homeless neighbors, etc.

In the summer of 2005, in an effort to sustain a oft-wavering relationship (that ultimately failed), I moved to Cincinnati. My first apartment was a tiny, 2-room, studio in the back of a house. In the unit next door lived another local musician. I had a separate entrance with a little patio and a plum tree outside my window. I slept on a loft built into the corner of the living room, and survived the misery of my first hot, humid Cincinnati summer without A/C. The apartment was in the Northside neighborhood of the city and I lived a block off of the main street, where I could find just about anything I needed--veggies, beer, ice cream, breakfast, an indie flick, records, or vintage clothes. I think the only thing Northside doesn't have is a full-service grocery store, but one of the best ones in the city is only a 5 minute drive away.

After a year in Northside, I moved to Norwood to live with some friends in the same neighborhood as our church community. I lived there--without the amenities of a hip, urban life but surrounded by the same urban blight--for almost two years.

Then I got myself married and moved to Over-the-Rhine.

My husband and I are now almost a year and a half into our marriage and almost 8 months into parenthood. We rent a large loft apartment north of Liberty St., in a part of OTR that hasn't yet been gifted with the development that our neighbors below Liberty have. In the next year, we hope to purchase our first house. For now, we invest a lot of time and energy in improving our apartment in whatever ways we can, for as little as we can, so that the hostility of the neighborhood doesn't seep into our home.

The city is a difficult place to live.
I am the first to admit this.

My husband and I sometimes dream of a rural homestead, a place where our family can have some privacy, peace & quiet, and be surrounding by natural spaces instead of concrete. And we often admit to each other that the suburbs have a certain charm--clean sidewalks, backyards, and friendly neighbors. But we have, at least for the time being, committed to living as near downtown as possible. We believe that the city needs families and that families need each other, so we've put ourselves in a position to be a part of a renaissance that calls families back to our urban core. I can't guarantee how long our time in Cincinnati will last, but for the time I'm here, I have chosen to dive head-first into my new hometown.

I want to share the wonderful things I've discovered about my city and the life that cities in general offer. Maybe I can paint a picture of city living the way it's supposed to be--vibrant, creative, friendly, and POSSIBLE--so that someday, I can call you my neighbor.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Walking Green Manifesto

The Walking Green Manifesto:

The Walking Green believes that families are the foundation of society and that a city cannot survive without this foundation. More so, a diversity of people in all stages of life can benefit from the wealth of opportunities and experience which urban areas provide. Therefore, it is in the best interest of everyone for a city to provide the amenities necessary to attract families and for families to respond by moving closer to the urban core of their city. Once there, families can more easily invest their time, energy, and money into the local community and economy by supporting local arts, local business, and purchasing locally-made and grown products.

This blog exists to celebrate my city—Cincinnati—and cities in general by discussing issues related to urban living and to promote the tools, amenities, design concepts, products, businesses and opportunities that make urban living easier and more worthwhile.