Thursday, December 13, 2012

Go Play Outside: In The Cold

It's been a while since I've written anything but, boy, things have been busy!

I've been wrapping-up the 2012 cleanup season at work. My husband has been working on finishing his houses before the end of the year. Our kids never stop moving and I spend all my non-working moments trying to keep up.

On mornings that I don't work, when I ask my (almost) 4 year-old son what he wants to do with his day, my favorite response is "go for a hike!" My kids love exploring outdoors and I've tried to offer as many opportunties as possible for them to do so. Living in the city doesn't have many built-in opportunties, which makes it hard. But it's not impossible. If we want to play outside--whether we're looking for a playground or the woods--there are a handful of great places within walking distance and a few within just a few minutes' drive. If I'm willing to go an extra 10-15 minutes, we can find a million places to explore.

With a few exceptions, this season has still been pretty warm. But I don't anticipate it staying warm all Winter! The trick to keeping kids happy outside in the cold? Layer-up, keep moving, and bring snacks.

Rather than wearing one huge, puffy jacket, invest in multiple layers of clothing that allow you and your kids the freedom to remove only one layer as the sun comes out or your body warms up. Bring hats, mittens, and wear a nice pair of wool socks. Kids who are used to being outside will usually be more adaptable than their parents, so you'll notice your kids become more comfortable in the cold as they get used to dealing with it.

On colder days, find something to do that keeps you all moving (like hiking) so your blood keeps flowing. You might actually be surprised how warm you get! Standing watching your kids play on the playground is sometimes a bore. Every once and a while, pick an activity that gets you moving, too.

As always, kids are very sensitive to hunger. Keep a few small, packable snacks in your pocket or backpack, as well as a bottle of water. If hunger strikes, and your child starts to whine, stop for a quick snack and then get moving again.

Get your kids outside now, while it's still comfortably chilly. You'll be thankful for the practice later, when it's really cold!

In the past few weeks, in addition to our normal neighborhood playground expeditions, we went to Sharon Woods. It was a chilly day, but we took a lovely hike around the lake, which we've never done. We've also been back to Lindner Park in Norwood recently, and we explored a new place in Florence, KY.

The other day, on our way home from running an errand, we visited a park on Linn St. in the West End. It's a tiny little pocket park perfect for my kids' age group. And there's a dinosaur!!

Enjoy the season and GET OUTSIDE!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Urbanism, Sub-urbanism, and why I’m tiring of the Streetcar debate.

I’ve lived in Cincinnati for 8 years.
My first job was at Kaldi’s on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. Those first few years, I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood. I met my husband there and we were married a few blocks away.
Our first apartment was in Over-the-Rhine.
We decided to plant our roots downtown for multiple reasons, many of which I won’t get into here. But, basically, we love Cincinnati and we believe that a strong urban core is the foundation of a strong city. There are other neighborhoods that we love, neighborhoods that might become our “home” someday. But, Over-the-Rhine was where our heart was.
The first two years of our marriage made me an “urbanite.”
We lived in a large, industrial loft space in a barely habitable old brewery building. Both of our work offices were a mile away. Our church was a mile away. I learned to shop on foot, in small trips. I got used to the sounds of street life. We got to know our neighbors. We learned the history of our city, the feel of the streets and alleys, the loom of the buildings as we walked by.
We didn’t do touristy, out-of-towner things in our neighborhood; we learned to live there.
When we first felt the call to purchase a home, we talked about multiple options, and multiple locations. I had one simple request: I must have either a walkable business district or lots of greenspace.
We tried to buy a monstrous estate on Dayton St. in the West End, but they refused our offer. (A friend bought it, instead.)
We looked into purchasing a dilapidated old estate tucked away in North Avondale on 2.5 acres, but they weren’t interested in us as much as we were interested in them. They wanted to “develop” the land.
We walked through a few homes in Betts-Longworth; we walked through a few in Mt Prospect.
And then we got an email from an acquaintance saying that he was selling his home in Over-the-Rhine and we called him right away.
The short version of the story is that the owner liked us. He liked that we are people of faith (like him). He liked that we were going to be raising a family in his old home, where he raised three children with his late wife. He liked that we are committed to a similar vision for the city as he had been for his 40+ years in the neighborhood. So, he reduced the price of his home to something we could afford and sold it to us.
That summer, we made the transition onto Orchard Street, which is perhaps the most beautiful street in the city. The house itself if a labor of love and a work-in-progress, but it offers plenty of space, room to grow, and everything an urban family could desire including a backyard (which will someday be functional as such).
I love our life in the city. I love the wealth of opportunities and experiences that it offers our children. I love the warmth of neighbors and passers-by. I love the architecture and parks and noise and lights. As a severe introvert, I love the ease of daily contact with other people, both friends and strangers, and the feeling of a city alive about me.
Living in the city is not always fun. It sometimes requires more work, especially with kids. So, I am sympathetic to those who say, “Oh! I could never do that!” And I am very sympathetic to parents who want a neighborhood where their young children can play outside unattended, where they can unload groceries from inside their garage, and where they don’t need to worry about issues like lead paint and air quality. And I believe that there are many legitimate reasons to live in sub-urban areas—closer proximity to family or work, for example.
There are times when my husband and I stare at each other from across the room and quietly suggest: Wouldn’t it be nice to park in front of our own house?
And we often dream together of leaving the city far behind and relocating to a rural space where our kids can be wild and reckless in the woods and come home at sunset with dirty hands and muddy boots.
But, at the end of the day, I am officially an urbanite.
And though some wild, faraway place may be in the cards for us someday, choosing against the suburbs is now a matter of principle for me, not simply preference.
What does this have to do with the infamous, polarizing issue of the Cincinnati streetcar?
It’s become pretty clear to me that Cincinnati residents are not only divided on the issue, but that no one is budging. We’re at an impasse and the only deciding factor at this point is that the public voted a majority of pro-streetcar City Council members in the last election, which is why the streetcar continues to move forward.
The difficulty of the debate is that one side sees the development of a streetcar system as a legitimate investment in the future of the urban core and the other side sees it as frivolous spending on a pet project—“a streetcar to nowhere.” These are ideological issues, not issues of preference.
Basically, we don’t simply live in different neighborhoods; we live in different worlds.
There are legitimate reasons to oppose the streetcar. Heck, I’m a Conservative! I understand the need for fiscal responsibility and responsible spending. But even a fiscal conservative believes in the importance of sound investments, building a future, and creating a foundation. And even the hesitant supporters—those who support pursuing the streetcar project at a future time, though not now—would agree that a project like the streetcar has the potential to strengthen the urban core, bring economic prosperity, and offer opportunity for further development.
The problem is this: the majority of those in opposition to the streetcar have a fundamentally different view of the urban environment, its infrastructure, and lifestyle, than do its supporters.
They see the city as a holding place for poor, homeless drunks and a recreational facility for wealthy yuppies. They do not believe that normal people actually live here. They do not believe that people with their level of wealth or education would choose to live here.

They do not understand the design of cities and do not share the vision of car-lite, rail-strong city. They do not care about the thousands of Cincinnati residents whose lives would someday benefit from affordable, convenient public transportation. (How other people find their way to home and work does not worry them, so long as those people don’t end up living in their neighborhoods.)
Their lives are dependent on cars and highways. They have not conceded the high costs (physical, social, and environmental) of car-dependent communities. They do not know a world without a 30-minute commute.
They do not share parking spaces, driveways, sidewalks, front porches, or front yards; of course they cannot imagine sharing transportation.
They are willing to invest billions of dollars in improving over-used highways and bridges surrounding the urban core, while neglecting characteristically urban transportation options which bolster urban life.
They do not see the streetcar as a sound investment because they do not believe that a pedestrian, urban life is a legitimate lifestyle choice of rational people (and families). So, they refuse to relinquish their control of the urban core to those who actually live, work, and play there.
And no one is going to change their minds.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a die-hard streetcar supporter. As I said earlier, I believe there are legitimate reasons to oppose—or perhaps postpone—the project.
But, I am an urbanite.
I believe that a strong urban core is the foundation of a strong city. And so I have to trust the history of cities and contemporary experts of urban design. They both agree that a streetcar system is a solid investment for our city.

So, I am tired of the debate.
We don’t simply live in different neighborhoods; we live in different worlds.
I have chosen to invest in a historically-significant shared built environment.
Many others took out a half a million dollar loan for a private, .25 acre plot of former farmland.

I have already said that there are legitimate reasons to choose a sub-urban lifestyle. But, to oppose urban development because you do not believe that there is fundamental, inherent value to the urban core of our city shows a complete lack of understanding.

The strength of our urban core is the only thing that makes your comfortable life in the suburbs possible.

And, until you believe that, we have nothing more to discuss.

And, by the way--
Stop calling it a “trolley,” for pete’s sake.
It’s a damn streetcar.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wait. What Happened to Summer?

You may have noticed we've been a little MIA this summer on the blog, but we've been plenty busy!

What have we been up to?

Like the rest of the neighborhood, we've been enjoying the new Washington Park. Between the fabulous playground, the water features, and the great public events, we've spent a lot of time exploring our new backyard.

I've been taking the kids hiking around town, both on our own and with some other local families. I just strap baby E on and we take to the trails! It's amazing how many natural spaces there are in and around the city, so we've been working on familiarizing ourselves with the variety of options.

At the end of June, we took a week-long vacation in SW Michigan, where my family has spent summers since I was a kid. My oldest brother lives in the area now, so my kids were able to spend quality time with their cousins. And we took a sidetrip to Chicago, where the rest of my family lives, at the end of the vacation.

We've spent a lot of time at my mother in-law's house in Northern Kentucky, where my husband grew up, rainy days at the Museum Center, and the cooler mornings and the Cincinnati Zoo. We took the kids to a Florence Freedom baseball game and spent plenty of time at the public library. (I think my son has now seen every book they have about firetrucks, firemen, and fire safety.)

At work, we did a ton of beautification projects leading up to the World Choir Games in July. It as amazing to see such a transformation in our city and fun to have so many people visiting for the event.

The perfect capstone to the summer was my beautiful baby girls' first birthday party. (You can see it featured on Apartment Therapy here!)

Summer is great, but I don't like the heat and I'm looking forward to fall, when we pull out our sweaters. Next season I will (hopefully) have the energy to work on a few projects around the house before winter hits.

Time goes quickly, doesn't it?




Enjoy these last few days of summer!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Go Play Outside: the 45202 Family Hiking Club

The 45202 Family Hiking Club: Out to prove that you don't need to leave the city to GET OUTSIDE.

Last month, I initiated a hiking club for families (and friends) in and near downtown. We'll be hiking together once a month, year-round (yes, four seasons), and the goal is to stay within the city limits or in urban Northern Kentucky. Every month, a different family will choose the location and lead the hike, to help the rest of us familiarize ourselves with places we may have never been before.

In May, for our first meetup, I led us on a hike through the trails at Imago in Price Hill.
This month, we'll be meeting at Fernbank Park out west on River Rd.

If you are a family committed to both urban living and to providing your children with experiences in nature, even if you can't make it every month, you are welcome to join us. As of now, the event details are being communicated via Facebook, and the group is invite-only so there is some level of confidentiality about locations, times, and such.

Let me know if you'd like to be included!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Boy's a Star!

A month or so ago, the kind folks at Lauren Edward (a husband/wife film production company currently residing in our neighborhood) spent a few hours filming my son for the opening video for this week's CEOs for Cities conference, hosted in Cincinnati. Not only does the conference look awesome, but the video really makes our city look like magic, doesn't it? (And my son looks pretty awesome, too...)

This week, our city also hosted a GOOD Ideas for Cities event. I RSVP'ed for the event, but did not end up attending. I opted, instead, for letting my son play with the kids on the street while my husband and I chatted with our neighbors.

It's a great time to be in Cincinnati, isn't it?

Did anyone attend either of these events?
Tell me what happened!
Any good ideas going around?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Check This Out: Humans of New York

Design Mom just turned me onto this wonderful Tumblr feed...

Photo property of Humans of New York

As if we needed to be reminded the depth of people-watching available in cities.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Go Play Outside: Sharon Woods

Did you know that it's only $10 a year for access to all of Hamilton County's amazing parks!?

Since I moved to Cincinnati nearly seven years ago, I've only gone two years without a Parks pass. But, to be honest, I haven't used any of the passes very often. I usually just consider it a $10 donation to the Park District. This year, though, I'm making an effort to explore the parks with my kids.

Recently, we took two trips to Sharon Woods, which is the park I know best because we have some good friends whose property abuts the park.

Wanna see some photos of trips!?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Check out this AWESOME blog.

I discovered a new(ish) blog a while back and am LOVING it. It chronicles a family's relocation to Manhattan and their adventures as they acclimate to city life. Not only do I love their style, but I absolutely love that they are a family of five!

Check it out: nyc taught me

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Go Play Outside: Sculptural Playground

Check out this amazing playground in Germany. Amazing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The "F" Word.

Here in the Twenty-first Century, there are still a few taboos that our enlightened society can't seem to rise above. One of them: Faith.

This seems particularly true in areas like architecture and urban planning, where it's presumed that all "people of faith" have bad taste, are afraid of progress, hate cities, and want to live in McMansions in the suburbs. These stereotypes are not completely unwarranted; there are factions of the Christian faith that are in opposition to contemporary voices in culture and urban life. But this small percentage does not speak for the whole.

Faith is particularly taboo in the academic realm where students are told to check their religious lives at the door and, consequently, never have a chance to develop the relationship between their private faith and their career. (Check out Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed for his perspective on how this plays out in the realm of science.) This produces a lot of young people who believe they have to choose between two things they are passionate about: their faith and changing the world.

Is it possible to have both?
Some of us believe so.

A friend of mine, an urban planner in a moderately large city, recently asked me how I navigate my work in the public realm as it relates to my faith. Her experience is that Christians (especially of the conservative vein) are, at best, a joke in the city planning world. Now, my work in community improvement is not nearly as "public" as her position with the city. But, she has heard me speak (and write) quite a bit about how my faith informs my views on politics, community development, and urban life. And she was curious how I manage being an "eco-friendly, urban, transit-loving, libertarian Christian" (her words--not mine) without feeling emotionally crushed while working with my peers.

A blog I frequent--Urbanophile--recently posted a link to an interesting podcast on this issue. You can access it here.

The basic gist of the podcast is this: historically speaking, faith has always been a prime motivator in public life, for progress and justice. So, why do we ignore this connection when training those to whom we entrust our public life?

There is a lot of discussion in Christian circles these days about urbanism and how the Church should address issues related to city life and urban culture. But, the secular arena doesn't seem very educated about the contemporary Christian perspective--and they definitely ignore the historic one.

I'm fairly new to the conversation and definitely don't claim to have all the answers for how faith and public life are supposed to intersect, but, I am convinced that I need not "check my faith at the door" in order to have something to contribute to the broader conversation.

And I would encourage any young, passionate "people of faith" to pursue the health of their faith and the welfare of their city.

Maybe we can have both.

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." - the prophet Jeremiah, Old Testament.

Monday, January 2, 2012

45202 Families

Parenting in an urban area can be a little isolating.
90% of the peers you see on a daily basis are either child-less or live 20 minutes away. It can be hard to make friends and stay active in your own community.

But most of us are on Facebook these days, right?
A few weeks ago, I started a Facebook group for "45202 Families."I'm hoping this group will be a way to connect folks who live, work, or play downtown so we can share recommendations and plan events.

The group is "invite only," so let me know if you'd like to join!

And I'll try to get around to blogging again eventually...