The Thrifty BonVivant celebrates in Cleveland

20 Nov

The BonVivant is not a cake lover, but is a cake admirer and wishes these had supplied birthday cheer to all her pals

This past week made me formally a year older, and some external celebrations were in order–I wish I could have had bigger parties, but these little excursions were November delights. So live vicariously, and if you don’t know these Cleveland stops, put them on your radar! And please take a slice from one of these inventive birthday cakes–although they didn’t grace my table, they provided a digital feast for my eyes.

I needed to renew my driver’s license, and my friend Miss D suggested a trip to the Brooklyn DMV might

This gets the idea across

prove quick. It was incredibly fast and pleasant, and–I can’t phrase it any other way, though it does date me–a hoot! Because the strip mall location does not prepare the motorist (no, I don’t drive, but I do have a license and want to keep it!) for the exotically pink, black and zebra-accented interior that is this

bureaucratic stop. It made me grin and I got a great license picture as a result! Why oh why

Buon appetito!

did I neglect to take a photo? You must see for yourself!

After the swift and successful license renewal, it was time for lunch, and three of us decided nothing would do but Bruno’s Ristorante, at 2644 W. 41st St.  From the outside it’s an unpretentious place, and the interior is pleasant and restrained (with a great-

Two-fisted culinary love for perch!

looking bar), but it supplies one of the city’s best dining experiences. Because it’s about real service and delicious food. Not “Hi, I’m your waiter John” pseudo-sincerity of the type that doesn’t mind interrupting an intense conversation for an inane inquiry. No. Real service to go along with your cloth

But not for long, Chicken Marsala

napkin. Service that’s pleasant, inobtrusive, attentive but not hovering. The kind Dino or Peter Lawford would have enjoyed. Professional service. Oh, and fantastic food, beginning with the still fresh-baked warmth of the delicious bread with REAL HERBED BUTTER. Funny enough, I was just talking about how much I liked herbed butter in Europe, where it’s made commercially, wrapped in metallic foil like a bigger version of a diner’s butter. Bruno’s had me so reentranced with it that I made it at home the next day, with a little oregano and garlic powder; I’m thinking of getting one of those small shaped rubber ice cube trays at the dollar store and molding some to freeze and give out at Christmas. Anyway, all the recipes at Bruno’s were concocted by a true Mamma from the Old Country, and she knows her stuff. The table had a variety of tasty meals, all automatically with side dishes (kitchen-made soup or salad with a delicious balsamic dressing plus pasta). I was the veal parm, Miss D was the chicken (or was it veal?) marsala, and Mr D was breaded perch. I was so satisfied that my meal was over before I thought to take a photo, so I will entertain you with theirs. Mr D said he had never had better fish–and he eats plenty of it. Miss D loved her Italian Wedding Soup and marsala–but she saved

The Strange Case of the Vanishing Tiramisu

room for the tiramisu, which she had an intimate acquaintance with. Mr D took a forkful and almost fainted from bliss. Not only did the whole experience please me no end–Italian is my favorite cuisine–I loved the nostalgia it produced. There were a couple of guys (lawyers?) gesticulating in the corner as they wolfed down their food, Frank was playing softly through the speakers, and there were butter mints, toothpicks and MATCHES at the door. I haven’t seen imprinted matches in ages, but everyplace used to. Bruno’s is a place with neighborhood swagger that it well deserves. They cater, toom and are priced nostalgically–thank you, Bruno!

This once was a Walleye Sandwich

Lunch for three was under $45.

This once was Christmas Ale

A few days later was the actual bday, and it was time for lunch at the West Side Market Cafe. I have been there many a time, and never disappointed. Again, excellent service in a busy spot. Mr. D could not resist his favorite, the breaded walleye sandwich, while I embraced the pulled pork sandwich. Everything fresh, hot, plentiful, and with flavor far surpassing what the luncheonette appearance would suggest. This spot, like Bruno’s, piles on the value for money. In a festive mood, it was time for Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewery, but the cafe does something with it that the Brewery didn’t (at least not on Halloween)–they dipped the glass rims in cinnamon and sugar. Yes, ask for it!

Horizontal books--ideal for the thrifty book explorer! Surprising treats!

We roamed about a bit–have you been shopping at W. 25th’s Horizontal Books? They deserve your custom! With both current bestsellers and remaindered works, their size is just right–good selection, not so big that you can’t look at most sections. Their pricing policy allows 50% off the first book, 60% off both if you buy two, and 70% off all if you buy three. And I just noticed as I tracked down the link that they have free shipping. Can’t beat that! Please support them so the city’s easily reachable bookstores stay easily reachable–none downtown except for textbooklands.

On to the Capitol Theatre, the restored 1921 wonder on W. 65th just off Detroit. What a

The West Side's Cedar Lee--but with an authentic early lobby

gem! We were there in the late afternoon on a weekday, so only one other couple shared the viewing with us, and there was a deal on popcorn. We saw Tower Heist, a fun film with Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Heavy D in a small role (RIP), Casey Affleck and Alan Alda–what a distinctive voice that guy’s got! A good popcorn film, and one certainly enhanced by a big

Downtown can't beat Luxe for atmosphere or creative dishes--warm almonds anywone? Veal-stuffed olives?


Dinner? My favorite spot, Luxe. Just across Detroit. I’ve loved it since it opened–it’s an ultra-stylish place that in NYC or Philly would be overpriced because of its imaginative dishes and appetizers–and drinks–and its funky eclecticism. But here in Cleveland it’s exceedingly reasonable. The bar (where one can also nosh) is always hopping, but the dining room is quieter (same great mix of DJ’ed background music, though). If you want fancy cocktails, they have inventive

When pizza is served on a silver salver, it deserves the knife & fork treatment

Hearty onion soup is as Luxe as anything

ones–I opted for a non-alcoholic one this time, and it was equally splendid: lavender-infused carbonated lemonade with a blueberry syrup drizzle. Oh, yes. I wanted the margarita pizza and wolfed its basil deliciousness down like a goat. Mr. D was overfull from the popcorn and stuck with the onion soup, which he drained with deep satisfaction. Lucky for me, they were out of blood orange sorbet, or I might still be there.

I love going to new places and trying them out, but this birthday was about familiar and favored stops. Tried and true, still atmospheric with three moods. You won’t be disappointed if they become your choices.


The New Urban–Boarding Houses?

14 Nov

a 19th century DC boarding house, the Mary Surratt house.

My great-grandmother ran a boarding house. Widowed, she lived in western PA with a bevy of girls and a few little boys–not a lot of options. So she opened up her house in a mill town and took in boarders. These were inevitably unmarried men who didn’t want to cook or clean. They worked hard on their shifts, came back to shovel the food in, and slept; somewhere along the way they probably stopped in the bar. No visitors, no cursing, no public drunkenness. And she survived, her daughters met young men whose characters she quickly knew, she kept her mortgage healthy.

So when I saw this online headline last night I was interested: “Bring Back the Rooming House?”Author Neil Peirce is a metropolitan specialist, and he’s speaking to the “New Millennials,” young grads whose income can’t keep pace with city apartment costs, but who want to live in cities. He jokes that he’s not talking about “tiny rooms with cast iron beds, a shared bathroom down the hall, and meals ruled over by a stern older woman. Shared meals? Maybe not anymore.” No, he’s talking about high density city spots with smaller dwelling footprints.

California's Palo Alto Treehouse an example of talking about smaller units in lower cost buildings, often with green or other elements.

Places like Palo Alto, CA’s Tree House Development, meant for those with low incomes–housing in California is so expensive, lots of folks would love this sliding scale 35 unit spot. It only includes two one-bedroom slots; the rest are studios, with prices that range from $371 to $928, depending on income. The best part? The city council passed the project on the condition that the developer provide transit passes to each resident, so that traffic and parking issues would be lessened.

In the same article, architect/city planner Mark Hinshaw, author of True Urbanism, recommended new smaller units of 400-500 sq ft in buildings with grass roofs, situated

The former Jay Hotel (photo by "Clueless, Ohio"), a transient hotel whose residents' behavior prompted a shutdown some years back

over start-up “commercial incubator” first floors–infill building that might require zoning change.

But why not combine some of these ideas with the old-fashioned boarding house? First,

Wikipedia's take on a flophouse type of room

let’s distinguish the boarding house from the flophouse, like the late, unlamented Jay Hotel in Ohio City. Flophouses were often built for seasonal workers or the down and out; they have minimal amenities and are very small. Districts once full of flophouses, like NYC’s Bowery, offered off-the-street protection for those who today might be in shelters. Drunks, prostitutes, drug addicts–flophouses come to mind. The boarding house, on the other hand, creates images of a woman whose hair was

A cruise ship's balcony stateroom layout

scraped into a bun, allowed no nonsense and ran a tight ship in an environment that flourished through the Great Depression.

How about something that combines modern amenities–high-speed wifi, transit passes, the cool factors of greenness and sustainability–with old-fashioned amenities? That is,

St. Teresa's convent cell in Avila, Spain

meals made by someone else, clothes washed by someone else, room swept/vacuumed by someone else on a weekly basis. Small rooms and larger common spaces–reminiscent of older models, like dorms, ship staterooms, YMCA rooms or monastic refectories–no, no, not prisons.

Not a lot of elbow room at NYC's Hudson Hotel--but still has ambiance!

A small room needn’t be soulless, as boutique hotels have discovered. New York’s Hudson Hotel, where I stayed four years ago, used to be a YMCA. Its conversion kept very small rooms, but each has its own bath and desk. There’s a refectory set-up in the dining room, interesting nooks for chatting with friends, a library with billiards, a bar, a lovely terrace shared space. What if a young

The Hudson's desk, with the bathroom through the curtain

working person closed at 7, came home, had an included meal, flopped into a bed without worries about washing dishes, going food shopping, doing laundry?

I would have loved this kind of city living. No need for a car, even for food shopping. Places to relax and unwind. Attractive surroundings. Lower costs. Complete freedom to

The Hudson Hotel's lobby is full of inviting nooks for conversation.

concentrate on a project, on living. Interestingly enough, this kind of setup is being abandoned by new university dorms, where the tendency is away from shared rooms and shared floor bathrooms to individual bedrooms in a suite set up with a living room. But students want that taste of independence, a feel for what i

The Hudson Hotel has a very refectory-style dining area--perfect for encouraging talking to strangers

t’s like to live like a grown up.

I’d bet many adults would cheerfully chuck that independence for some hired TLC. Some writers are advocating a similar scheme for a kind of fun environment for retirees, and it does have some built-in sociability. Just the thing for the hip boomer who’s tired of cooking and cleaning, and is newly single!

I really like this thought for an urban affordability site. Although the residents would be its main users, perhaps the dining areas or bar could be open to outsiders, for extra income. It could even be a training arena for those in the hospitality arena, or host cooking school internships.

Hudson Hotel's terrace--how about a hammock at your New Boarding House?

And there are a lot of possibilities to maximize small spaces–high ceilings with sleeping lofts, or even Murphy beds and tables that fold up into the wall. The

A contemporary Murphy bed

New Simplicity. Why not?

Flying SoLo! Makeover of a Shoddy City Street

12 Nov

The SoLo temporary storefront at 3204 Lorain--get your two cents in!

Yep. Shove over, SoHo–Cleveland’s now got SoLo (South of Lorain–and Lorain Ave. itself), and the real estate’s far more affordable. Last night I hopped the #22 and rolled over to 32nd and Lorain for another of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative charrettes. I’d found the one for the EcoVillage terrifically stimulating, and this one was to take in my expanded stomping grounds–Lorain Ave between W25

The Guardians should be guarding a treasure--time to treasure up, Lorain Ave.! Shake off the mustiness

and W52, as well as the area south of the avenue up till the freeway. It was really all about the thoroughfare, though, and it needs to be. Lorain is one of Cleveland’s main arteries, and follows the path of an old stagecoach route. Cross the glorious Art Deco WPA-built Carnegie-Lorain bridge, with its wonderful Guardians of Transportation, and what’s your destination? Oh, the West Side Market is terrific, Crop Bistro is urging the W. 25th St. crowd around the corner, but the area between W25 and W.–oh, 80 or so is spotty. Parts are very seedy, full of used car lots, poor lighting, layers of posters on deserted buildings. It has its charms, no doubt about it, but they’re scattered, with plenty of detritus in

St. Ignatius High School--an educational gem on Lorain Ave.--and the boys behave well on RTA, too

between. Many spots are windowless or shuttered, mysterious small factories or warehouses (What IS Seamus O at 4700 Lorain? What do they make? Are they still open?).

For a main artery, it has little consistency. There is the glory that is St. Ignatius, the best high school by far in the Cleveland Metropolitan area, which marks one side of the tract. I wish I had a son just so I could send him to Ignatius, with pocket money to hop across the street for a burger at Wendy’s. I love it that Ignatius has built a performing arts facility, the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, across the street from the main campus, and that other

The Urban Community School

organizations schedule performances there, too–Inlet Dance Company has a performance there at 8 pm tonight, with $20 tickets, and the Polish company Zatanczmy will perform “Let’s Dance” on Nov. 19 at 6 pm for just $15, along with plays and concerts that appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Other arts destinations on Lorain include Morrison Dance, a modern company at 4201 Lorain, Pink Eye Gallery/Rag Refinery hosting funkier events and exhibitions at 3904 Lorain, artist studios, the newly-installed Ohio City Writers, which will be helping K-12ers with personal and academic writing (and is looking like a terrific venture!), and others, dotting the avenue until the sector’s other educational anchor at 4909 Lorain, the

West Side Catholic, without the daytime crowd

newish Urban Community School. This Catholic school has a fine reputation, and it has helped revitalize the west end of this Lorain stretch, with companion developments like Appleseed Learning Center (daycare) and the Open Yoga Studio.

Much of Lorain has its grit because it serves the poor and the sometimes displaced or newly arrived. There are a lot of hard-working agencies and community-oriented centers, like West Side Catholic Center and its neighbors–a place where decent clothes, food, and a shower can be had. The street in lined with other community and social

Voted Cleveland's best thrift store!

service organizations, such as the Spanish American Committee, the McCafferty Health Center, which includes veterans’ services, nearby Providence House and more. There are also many spots selling cheap

Crop Bistro's mural--incredible high ceilings and arched windows, too

furniture, used appliances, and second-hand goods. Some, like Unique Thrift, are a clothes hunters’ dream. Arranged by color, clothes for the whole family vie with small appliances, shoes, toys and other objects.

There are entertainment destinations, like Touch Supper Club (I miss Rain, which also had dancing and live music), and a number of dining options, from the ultra-elegant

This gorgeous, painterly photo is by David Ploenzke--a simple and direct statement that a movie should be filmed here.

Crop Bistro by the Market to Palookaville Chili to the two battling hot dog spots that take you back in time. Steve’s chili dogs are famous, but I like my franks unadorned, so can’t speak for or against. Ohio City Pizza, Wendy’s, the Souper Market–but perhaps you want to make a meal at home or take a little nosh back for dessert?

Lorain’s immigrant-destination status has a history, and its residue includes foods you don’t find at Giant Eagle. Farkas‘s pastries are

Hungarian Dobos torte--I don't even like pastry sweets and my mouth is watering!

Hungarian wonders, the legacy of a Budapest master pastry chef. Hansa Imports has a slew of pickled fish, Bahlsen cookies, German and Austrian beers, as well as every variation of chamomile tea known to man. Supermercado Rico has Latin specialties and the occasional botanica goods as well.

So, all in all, this side of Lorain has some great spots and some big warts, reminiscent   of a beautiful but aging dame who’s removed half her makeup and loosened her girdle. There’s a lot of beauty there and tons of possibilities, but some creative intervention is definitely desirable. Ohio City, Inc. did well to invite in the CUDC. I missed their preliminary meeting, but last night’s presentation wasn’t really an end game–there was less time for the students and faculty to do on-the-spot research and come up with solutions. The process is therefore ongoing, and the pop-up

Standing-room only crowd at the charrette--great turnout for 5:30 on a Friday!

storefront is open this afternoon for a Chili-Off, scheduled for 2. Bring your appetite and share some ideas.

Nonetheless, the intelligence gathered was formidable, and CUDC’s director, Terry Schwartz, ably laid out the challenges and potential solutions, always keeping the comments and desires of the citizenry at the core. She divided the endeavor into four sections: Public Infrastructure, Green Space Connects, Real Estate Development and Wayfinding/Marketing/Identity.

Public Infrastructures: Some big ideas here. One of the biggest is the proposal that Lorain Avenue might abandon its rush hour ban on parking and become less of a throughway. This would enable parking for the growing number of businesses, and slow down traffic. Corner bumpouts would allow for some tree clusters (many of the previous plantings have died) and creating some gateway impulses. This effective reduction to two lanes would provide a safer environment for students and other pedestrians, and also allow for a cycling lane. This would also allow for some designated bays to serve as bus pull-outs. I was delighted to hear my W. 25th/Lorain/W. 65th/Detroit trolley circuit idea mentioned, with a great coda–an EVENING trolley. Perfect! Ohio City Inc. director Eric Wobser clarified this wouldn’t be anytime soon–that RTA wanted to expand their trolley service in a ripple-like manner, first connecting downtown with W. 25th, then the Market Area with EcoVillage/Gordon Square. Encouraging nonetheless.

Residents had concerns about sidewalks and streets–not just potholes and maintenance problems in and of themselves, but unequal code enforcement.

Monroe Street Cemetery in Ohio City

Green Space Connects: Connecting pocket green spaces with parks like Fairview Park and Monroe Street Cemetery could be a matter of posting signs marking a trail route and mileage of a walker or runner, with a possible extension to Zone Rec in EcoVillage. Major intersections could have corner bump-outs to both slow traffic and provide mini green  spots, visually softening the corridor. CUDC suggested Fulton and Lorain be realigned so as to create a tiny park that could also serve the transit population. Residents put in bids for a dog park, bike paths and biking repair stations.

At night, few cars on Lorain and rarer buses--can be creepy for the pedestrian.

It also might be a matter of greater safety along the road. If those at the Urban Community School are afraid to have their kids walk the short distance to EcoVillage’s Zone Rec Center, there’s a safety problem. If parents of Ignatius kids are stretching to even let their kids cross the street to go to Wendy’s–forget about further afield, there’s a safety problem. And it’s not just a matter of perception, as one meeting-goer put it: two rapesalong western Lorain have occurred in the past month, and there have been attempted and successful child abductions along Lorain as well. Robberies by and of pedestrians and cyclists are not an utter rarity. Sections of

the street have abandoned structures and narrow passageways that allow for lurking, as well as numerous other unsavory activities. Waiting for the bus in the winter mornings can be a frightening exercise.

Gather 'Round farmers as they transform asphalt to soil.

Real Estate Development: Further discussion is ahead regarding attracting business, the area’s potential as a SID (Special Improvement District), marketing initiatives, etc. The SoLo storefront had a fun concept–speed dating for properties. Photos of vacant spots with their price and profiles were posted on the wall, in the hope of generating suggestions or even a match. Community suggeations for numerous types of new businesses include a pharmacy, a business center, a hardware store, garden center, health food store, art/craft supply store, outlet stores, community center, outdoor music amphitheater. A sub-post office might be useful, too.

CUDC suggested a multi-storied combo police/fire station in front of Unique as a possibility, though that would rob Unique of both its visibility and parking lot. The vacant Hollywood Video site was proposed as a mixed use site: retail ground floor, residences above, as were areas around Friedrich Bicycles.

Agrocentric development, a key point of CUDC’s EcoVillage thoughts, was a central idea. Grouping homes around a farm is becoming a popular direction in some regions, and they suggested that if the Bodnar Funeral Home is indeed coming up for sale, this would be an ideal spot for such a core–and one that would generate interest from its street visibility. You think you know your neighborhood? I’ve been busing down Lorain for eight years and had no idea 3919 Lorain housed Gather ‘Round Farm, which is five years old. This is a grass roots, volunteer-run place that transformed a parking lot into a rich garden of vegetables, flowers and chickens,

Portrait of a vintage Lorain Ave sign by "Scottamus"

pulling in adults and kids in a Whole Earth Catalog kind of way. That’s one of the things I love about Lorain–it’s a place that demonstrates a lot of personal initiative, with a lot of seat-of-your-pants efforts–the type that builds true community.

Wayfinding/Marketing/Identity: Branding a neighborhood as hip, trendsetting, green, what-have-you is a real estate agent’s dream–as long as the adjectives stay positive. CUDC reported that residents love their distinctive retro signage and historic architectural detailing, and some TLC has transformed certain blocks, such as those anchored by

Many intriguing architectural bones on the Avenue

the West Catholic Center, Palookaville Chili and, now, Ohio Writers. The more infill and retail, the more Lorain will be less a throughway, more a destination.

Certain quick, low cost measures can make a huge difference. The quirky alleys could

Ikea solar lights could be installed innovatively to illuminate alleyways

be better lit to celebrate them (and discourage professional loiterers). Additional signage could alert visitors to neighborhood sights. Hanging baskets and window boxes are a perfect way of inserting color, an organic touch, and beauty into a concrete haven.

Hanging flowers give Cleveland Hts Coventry a welcoming Old World feel

The water tower visible from Ohio City came up as a branding opportunity. Though some residents liked the thought of it draped in greenery,

The area is being marketed as foodcentric, so some of these water tower ideas link in. Examples from Sweden, Lakeland FL, Stanton IA and Junction City OR

CUDC director Schulz pointed out this might create maintenance problems. She showed some painted towers from other locations, suggesting the varied Ohio City population might brand the tower through a series of neighborhood faces. I’m wondering whether LED illumination might work, and one resident suggested that windmills, a la the CSU engineering project, might dot the surface.

Other Thoughts: Ohio City Inc. wants to create a rec program, even if sans building, and build youth baseball, soccer and other league teams. A businessman got to his feet and vowed he would pay for referees and uniforms for a team, and there’s

There's something so visually appealing about the Lorain & W 26th Allstate Hair Styling and Barber College

likelihood others would join in such an endeavor. Residents want more art programs. They’d like Tri-C to fulfill a thought by its president, Jerry Sue Thornton, to put in some satellite restaurant training in Ohio City (sorry, it’s already downtown), or hold some English as a Second Language courses; it’s be the perfect lab for CSU’s Urban College, as well.

CUDC is going to continue developing and refining its report, and plans on pulling in more of the community, as well as emailing the draft out to those who participated. Other forums for public discussion are on Internet bulletin boards, and Joe Cimperman, the region’s councilman, is a responding tweeter @joecimperman

Lorain Avenue has many desirable destinations, many notes from the ages. It wouldn’t take a lot to push it from gap-toothed ragamuffin into a boulevardier, worthy of a stroll, flower in buttonhole.

Chronic Gloom in Wintry Months

11 Nov

The bright band at the right shows the time on this futuristic sundial

It’s been a fairly bright Fall in northeastern Ohio. I love light. Sundials are a lovely anachronistic way to tell time, and they don’t have to look anachronistic (though that has its charms). Here’s onethat’s precise, within 30 seconds of the atomic clock. Plus it adjusts for latitude and Daylight Savings! Nonetheless, it requires those rays

A touch of Cleveland color in this great shot of Tony Smith's "Last", on Superior. Photo by Rob Corder

to pierce through the firmament. And that’s usually a tall order in Cleveland, once November kicks in. This week has vacillated between the cheery, the overcast, and the clouds of doom, and expecting more of the latter isn’t pessimistic, it’s just what the almanacs of yore support.

My townhouse has plenty of windows, but they seem veiled on days like this. As I’ve mentioned before, a dose of color can help, both indoors and out. And our downtown is fairly devoid of color, with the exception of a few doses of flat reds, like Oldenberg’s Free Stamp or Tony Smith‘s Last. The Belgian sculptor Arne Quinze created an installation that extends the glorious foliage of autumn—his 2008 installation The Sequence, brightens a corner of Brussels, another frequently gloomy metropolis, with a

This Belgian installation brings not only color but an intimate interconnectness to an urban street.

wooden canopy. Because it interacts with the small urban trees, its palette gets a chance to change throughout the year. I like the way it creates a new sense of street, and imagine how, on the rare sunny day, dappled light would stream down through it. It’s been up for three years, but it won’t be permanent–it’s made from wood, so its shelf life is limited–knowledge that contributes to its organic feel.

A relic! The first street lamp in the U.S., on Cleveland's Public Square.

Of course, we’re used to artificial light to banish gloom, and this can also be an uplifting experience. The antique lighting fixture on the corner of Public Square’s Key Bank is a classic example–it’s not just a fabulous cast iron Art Nouveau form, it marks the first American street lamp, the invention of Clevelander Charles Brush in 1879, If Cleveland is the U.S. birthplace of public electric lighting (he improved significantly on a British invention), and East Cleveland’s NELA Park was the first industrial park, based on GE’s buyout of a local lighting company, then one would think Cleveland should remain a leader in urban lighting–and not just at Christmas time.

It may seem that Tower City is doing its part here. Illuminated in lurid red and green during December, iit’s been branching out–green for St. Patrick’s Day, for example. It’s currently a curiously livid purple, which I

Public Square chameleoning it for varied purposes

thought was perhaps a Halloween whimsy–very wrong. The purple is a greater-than-Cleveland October initiative, meant to “shine the light” on domestic abuse. Noble though that may be, conventional lighting isn’t really what I’m thinking about. It can be sprightly, such as the simple lights that make 4th Street such an alluring nighttime destination, or snazzy, like Playhouse Square’s marquee and it RTA lighted sculpture.

Shanghai's nightlights make you want to put on party shoes!

It’s difficult to compete with some cities–Shanghai has an illuminated skyline that would make Las Vegas feel toned down. But what I was thinking about wasn’t necessarily this unrelenting drive to create a frenzied nightlife (though I appreciate that), but rather a way to illuminate in both temporary and permanent ways, ways that exploit new technologies and create a sense of place–sometimes intimate, sometimes celebratory, and sometimes mysterious.

Okay–like what? All right class, let’s look at a few examples. Some are art installations, some functional only. Let’s get creative in Cleveland–everybody needs to feel the glow in the winter. The Cleveland Museum of Art has its Lantern Festival every December, and occasionally it’s aligned with the downtown Winterfest, but everything doesn’t have to be institutionally driven. How about a competition along Euclid, or those dark stretches of Lorain Avenue?

CO2LED in Virginia

Example One: This is an elegant installation that occurred in Rosslyn, VA, a waterside town by DC. Echoing the Potomoc’s reeds, it’s made from 522 rods, each topped with a recycled plastic bottle that encloses a solar-powered LED light. Artists Jack Sanders, Robert Gay and Butch Anthony dismantled the project after its summer run, with the plan of recycling all of its components.

Solar plastic trees that hold real foliage

Omar Ivan Huerta Cardoso, a Mexican designer with Milan, Spanish and Mexican training, created solar trees to replace street lamps. The plastic “tree’s” extremities have cavities for seeds to be planted, which grow hydroponically from water in the trunk and limbs. Solar-powered LEDs in the base throw light that diffuses through the water to create a glow. These have their critics–one comments, “Who maintains the plants when they grow, a service team who has to cone off the road to gain access to each tree. very expensive. 2m high so this is easily climbed not good. most authorities have a 2.4m minimum height before banners to deter climbing. it is not one piece so lots of castings that marry up with glass or acrylic. going to be hard to marry the tolerances, and the weight will cause stress fractures on the glass, esp with wind loading.” Unlike the installation above, this project is intended to have a practical side, but I think it’s more suitable as niche lighting, rather than a citywide endeavor. Still, has an intriguing side.





While a solar-powered “brick” with illuminating powers in any color is coming down in cost as a building envelope component, it isn’t quite in the affordable range yet. But solar-powered, cordless LED pavers are, and could be creatively used in, say, the upcoming rework of Public Square as a traffic-free zone, or as part of CSU’s new Campus Village.




Using light to create a new interpretation of daytime space can be extremely transformative. Rotterdam had a competition that featured the potential of light, and the project-winning design creates a mood that both illuminates and changes the familiar streetscape of Atjehstraat.

Entitled Broken Light, it projects columns of light onto building facades, and creates tesselated patterns on the sidewalk. The projections can be changed as desired, allowing for variance. A lyrical video contrasts the day and nighttime appearance of Atjehstraat; there’s a lengthy description of the project in the YouTube “show more” area. I’d love to see something like this in Cleveland.

This is Kansas, not PA, but the luminaria lighting effect is the same.


In my home town suburb, there’s an annual Christmas tradition of luminaria–each family donates some money, distributors set up paper bags with a little sand on the bottom and a lit votive candle inside, and they’re spaced along the sidewalks up and down the streets. Some cities have them as part of a relay fundraising drive. It’d be

Solar-powered commercial lantern, with LED light inside

great to see them lining Euclid on a cold winter’s evening–better yet, Lorain, as it needs a facelift and could accommodate driving viewers more easily. Luminaria and lanterns can get quite fancy, but even the simplest light up the night and make the heart glow. I’ll be looking for more Cleveland illuminations–it’s a long winter.


10 Nov

The Nittany Lion

I was an undergrad at Penn State during Joe Paterno football glory years, and a grad at Indiana when Bobby Knight ruled. In both schools, I was an editor on the school daily newspaper, the Collegian at the former and the Ids at the latter–this meant I heard plenty, even though my area was the arts. When the Penn State scandal broke, I was called by friends who knew that was my alma mater, and by my older sister, who also attended. Unlike her, I was never a football fan. Students got free tickets then, and I occasionally accompanied friends, but always with a paperback book. Paterno? I liked the way he pushed his students to take academics seriously, and I liked the way the NCAA never found any problems with monetary lures to recruits–he didn’t need to hold out those temptations. I’ve heard my mother (a well-informed sports fan in her 90’s) say for years that Joe should go, but I know how colleges work, and I know how the Penn State Alumni Association works–football pays for plenty in Happy Valley, its rep keeps the alumni buying special Nittany Lions license plates, and Joe Paterno was its high priest. I’m no acolyte, however. Did I used to hear about football players and other athletes date raping girls at drunken frat parties (albeit in the years before “date rape” was a term)? Yep. Did I used to hear about girls who weren’t raped making accusations just to get some guy in trouble after rejection? Yep. And I believe both types of incidents occurred multiple times, as they have also played out in many other universities across the country. Did I believe Joe Paterno was personally responsible for getting to the bottom of these incidents? Nope.

And now to the present. If you’d asked me last week about Joe Paterno, I would have been indifferent towards his presence and his legacy. I got a

Overturned news van due to rioting student Paterno supporters

solid education at Penn State, and remember my professors with fondness. Maybe his winning football team enabled some of their hires; if so, I thank him. But the present actions demand something besides indifference. I’d like to give the idiot students who rioted on his behalf, overturning a news truck and attempting to interfere with firefighters’ attempts to clean the resultant oil spill a kick in the pants and suspension. Their sophomoric antics (irresistible word choice) makes Happy Valley look like an asylum for idiots. Doesn’t shock me–there;s always been a lot of drinking there, and it’s a powerful fuel. But when I read that tear-stained girls are sobbing that JoePa WAS the university–well, it makes me want to puke. That demonstrates such a skewed image of what a university should be and who makes it–but it’s a view many Boards of Trustees have themselves endorsed.

The incidents involving former assistant coach Sandusky are criminal, disgusting and well deserving of investigation. But the results of investigations so far have not all been published, and they are ongoing. Like others, I’m going to jump in with a knee-jerk reaction, based only on what I know. Who cares? Nobody, nor should they. I’m neither a member of the judiciary nor of law enforcement. But here, the result of numerous conversations, are my thoughts on the matter nonetheless:

1. The Republicans will put up a secret shrine to Joe and PSU in general. The press has honed in on this as if no University has hosted a serious crime of any type before, and distracted from election losses and fumbling presidential candidates.

Joe Paterno with team

2. Joe Paterno has a national name, recognized by many who never attended Penn State; that makes him a story with legs. Though I heard about the following stories, they never became the topic of everyone’s national conversation: former University of New Mexico ex-PRESIDENT being arrested for running an online prostitution ring, along with a Fairleigh Dickinson physics professor; University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business prof arrested for his own filmed pedophilic sex acts on a laptop he traveled with; another Wharton prof (remember, Penn State is the state flagship school, Penn–or U of P–is the Ivy League institution) murdered his wife; there’s the University of Alabama prof who went on a rampage, killing three and shooting three more; and, just to add more to a far-from-exhausted list, there are many rapes, reported and unreported, of students by campus professors.

3. Joe Paterno, unlike his superiors to whom he reported an incident he didn’t see, has not been an investigative target. Reports vary; in some, he told only the Head of Athletics what a grad student had told him; in others, he told both fired University officials. If the latter is true, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz was ultimately  in charge of the campus police, who number over 50 and have 150 auxiliary members (State College town police include 65 full-time officers,  14 full– and part-time civilian employees, plus crossing guards). Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley have been arrested for perjury, and did not report the case to the police; they apparently told the university’s president, Graham Spanier, who was sacked by the Board of Trustees yesterday, as was Paterno.  Should Paterno have been fired? I don’t think so. He followed an established chain–they failed the university, their consciences, and the child, and deserve to go down. USA Today reported, “Paterno informed athletics director Tim Curley but didn’t follow up when Curley, Spanier and others failed to go to police or child-protection authorities.” How would Paterno even know that they failed to go to the police or child protection agencies? University officials are far from transparent and forthcoming regarding their actions.

4. Could Joe have done more? Many say he deserved the firing because he was part of the cover-up. He reported it to his superiors, so I don’t see

Mike McQueary, witness to the incident when a grad student

how he was part of a cover-up. The direct criminal was already an ex-employee at the time of the incident. While in retrospect I’m sure he’s sorry he didn’t take out public ads in the newspaper at the time, viewing things in retrospect is not all that helpful. And if one does so, one figure emerges as problematic–and it isn’t Joe. It’s the grad student Mike McQueary who saw the incident, and didn’t interfere–yet the only mention of calling him out that I’ve seen is in a group of internet comments on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website. Why didn’t he at least shout or shove when he saw what was happening? McQueary was a former player and grad student then, but currently the recievers coach at Penn State. After his hiring–or before–why didn’t he go to the police or child protection agencies to find out what was what? He was, after all, more directly involved, and was 28 years old at the time–hardly a kid. If Joe has to go, why not McQueary?

5. This is not an excuse, just an observation–Paterno is in his mid-80’s. His generation didn’t grow up hearing all about sex abuse, beyond “don’t take candy from strangers.” They aren’t comfortable talking about homosexuality, pedophilia, and other issues beyond adult male-female bed bouncing. They often show greater loyalty to friends and family than circumstances might warrant. The possibility of an ex-associate behaving so shockingly must have been horrifying to Paterno. After reporting it, it is not surprising that he might shove it into a dusty corner of his mind and turn his attention elsewhere.

6. Why did the charity the criminal Sandusky helped found, The Second Mile, not go to the police and child protection services after an earlier incident was reported to them? Surely their complicity was far more noteworthy than Paterno’s, and far more dangerous. Predators groom their victims, and this non-profit was ideal for Sandusky’s purposes. It is sickening to read that Sandusky’s six children were all adopted, for it makes you wonder (not that birth children aren’t sexually abused, too), and that he fostered several others. Some wonder what his wife might have been aware of, but pedophilic abuse cases rarely investigate spouses, unless they took an active role.

Penn State grad burning his diploma

The whole is a sick mess. I understand why the Board of Trustees felt Joe had to go, and believe the university president really did deserve to go. But legally speaking (not that I’m a lawyer!), does the Board of Trustees have a case with Joe? And is he likely to fight back later? I’m no advocate of big-time university sports and the fact that schools become so financially dependent on them,  but I think it’s ridiculous to tar the entire  institution because of what happened–that former students are burning their diplomas is outright ridiculous, unless they feel that their university experience was football.

What do I hope will emerge from all this? That those in positions of entitlement (university administrators, winning athletic coaches, politicians, church fathers) will drop their arrogance and realize they are accountable for their actions? Ha! I can wish it, but the world has shown no inclination to work that way. I hope Penn State and other universities will do even more research on pedophiles and preventive measures–since pedophiles were almost always themselves abused as children, they produce “offspring,” creating exponential growth–and finding out why some victims are able to resist this mental path would have enormous benefits. I certainly hope all universities will consider what the downside of sweeping things under the rug may be, and act differently. And I wish the victims of Sandusky the very best, and hope they will be able to cope with the memories they have, and the barrage of news items this scandal has raised. They were hit hard–betrayal by a trusted adult, threats in a vulnerable position, abuse, moral abandonment. May they find relief and comfort.

Cleveland as the New Urban, pt. 2

7 Nov

Kent CUDC students talking to residents about the neighborhood

A few weeks ago, Kent State‘s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative held a design charrette in Cleveland’s EcoVillage. I wrote a little about it then, but they hadn’t yet posted their images, so I didn’t go into too many details. They’ve posted their PowerPoint, though the report will be out later–check back on their website.  The charrette involved their document and original research, a public meeting, informal conversations with neighbors who where out and about, and three days of furious designing, meant to help reinforce the EcoVillage’s credo: “To develop a model urban village that will realize the potential of urban life in

The solar-powered RTA red line EcoVillage/W 65th Rapid Station

the most ecological way possible.” The EcoVillage was first conceived of as a model project, involving the construction of twenty townhouses on W. 58th St that were made from recycled

For a long time, the demonstration townhouses were the public face of the EcoVillage

materials with careful considerations of energy usage (the first four units were built with solar panels), as well as several rehabs, additional cottages, a new solar-paneled RTA Rapid station, a solar-paneled school (Gallagher Middle School), bicycle paths and a community garden. These measures were meant to seed the neighborhood; developers earmarked numerous plots for further homes, but the recession hit and things stalled.

I moved in in 2003, amongst the first batch. Why? I’m not Miss Green by ideology (let me confess here that without Liquid Plumber clogged hair would create flooding in my bath in no time at all), but by default. I love the idea of solar power, and delighted at the thought my house might run on it. I like small houses, which coincided with the growing houses smaller idea. I don’t drive, so my carbon footprint is smugly smaller than most of my neighbors–but that’s because I don’t like

As the CUDC showed, it needn't remain a "BleakoVillage"

driving. I have no illusions about saving the planet, but I don’t have to make things worse. I suppose I’m a passive green–and like passive solar, it has plenty of benefits. Anyway, in the eight years I’ve lived here I’ve learned much more about my neighborhood, both good and bad. I love its diversity–Puerto Ricans, blacks & whites, Vietnamese, Appalachians, Guatemalans, Congolese and much more. I love its proximity to downtown and major transit routes (the RTA red line and the #22 bus). I love the physical beauty of St. Colman’s and St. Stephen’s, two of the most gorgeous churches in the city. I don’t like its crime (it’s mostly property theft; not that much is physical, and I still think we’re safer than Ohio City), or the number of registered sex offenders that live in the environs. I wish it were easier to get to the other side of Detroit Shoreway without a car, and wish someone would take my plea for a trolley that circles Detroit Ave, W. 25th, Lorain and W. 65th and run with it. And I grew tired of the visual grittiness that dominated the area. Does it have to be so grim looking?

Metro Catholic's Peace Garden on the St. Stephen campus encourages urban farming

No. And it could be a real neighborhood rather than just an artificial enclave. Many of the people who live within its boundaries don’t even know it. As noted at one of the public meetings, one resident had done a film on the EcoVillage, but didn’t realize he lived within it–that’s a big branding issue. Most neighborhoods evolve naturally and take on an identity defined by employment type (Columbus’s Brewery District or NYC’s SoHo), local landmarks (University Circle) or ethnicity (Little Italy, Chinatown). The EcoVillage as it had been was predominantly a gentrification scheme with noble ideals. Not to say that there weren’t buy-ins–Metro Catholic school at St. Stephen’s is teaching students about the environment, and has a garden; the church itself has launched a “Growing the Neighborhood” program that has refurbished a greenhouse, provided gardening q&a, held a

The EcoVillage's proximity to Gordon Square Arts District, the antique zone, W. 25th and downtown are all selling points for the neighborhood

plant swap and encouraged involvement among neighbors.

But a real neighborhood built around EcoVillage goals? One meant to realize the potential of urban life? It’s a tricky proposition in an area with a high percentage of renters who might have little investment in neighborhood. But renters can be highly invested! it all depends on the where, the who and the how. The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative asked citizens about local spots that were important. The two landmark churches were mentioned, as was Zone Recreational Center, currently undergoing a circa $3 million eco-friendly renovation that will turn it into a model. I mentioned the Lorain Ave.

Some green walls are already in place. While some ivies and other vines can be hard on structural integrity, many modern green walls are built on a framework that protects the structure.

Supermarket, a convenience store that actually does act as supermarket to the many residents who rely on foot power for their shopping, and the CUDC folks, after their neighborhood walks, pointed out that neighborhood barbershops are likewise destinations and centers of community conversation.

A vine overpass supports agriculture and visual charm

With citizen input, research, and fresh sets of eyes, the Kent Students broke up into groups, dedicating themselves to varied goals. Their resulting designs were broken down as follows:

Identity and Wayfinding: These include ways to integrate residents into the concept of the EcoVillage, as well as to pitch it to visitors as an interesting, compelling, integrated neighborhood. CUDC suggested numerous strategies to encourage resident participation and ownership, including increased

I've seen groundhogs and deer on the RTA Corridor; how about more birds?

commerce on Lorain, block systems, and ways of promoting education and heightening eco-identity. Some things are already in evidence and just need further encouragement, such as the use of native plants in yards and treelawns, green walls, larger and broader tree canopies (more difficult on north/south streets because of power lines), rain gardens, and forefronting some neighborhood assets, like brick streets (and considering exposing some that are tarred over). Banners and

We don't seem to draw the pictorial graffiti--CUDC says, "How about green graffiti?"

innovative lighting, bird boxes on the RTA corridor, green rather than gang graffiti, and signage for key spots are easy but visible solutions. Some intriguing possibilities were raised, such as benches whose arms could incorporate solar cell phone rechargers, or an advertiser-sponsored solar bus stop that might provide a series of free WiFi signals up and down Lorain Ave., as well as on W. 65th.  W. 54th was suggested as a great

Based on a British design, what about benches that are branded and include info for neighborhood cell phone tours?

sample street, with St. Stephen’s (and some fabulous plantings) as a landmark. A quickly-embraced CUDC suggestion involved the use of fragrant trees, bushes and plants–factors that make strolls or bicycle rides distinctive and memorable. The two newly-vacant lots on Lorain at W. 58th could be transformed into temporary wildflower gardens until a potentially-commercial purpose emerges; these could be visually linked to wildflower scatters near the Lorain transit bridge, where greenery could provide a more attractive setting (note to councilman Matt Zone, highly involved in the proceedings–the sidewalks on the bridge are the iciest in winter, never snow free, and all puddle after a rain–perhaps some solar device or simply a better banked walkway could assist here).

Proposed townhouses, apartments and low-rise retail along Lorain

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD): This concept relates to a density that isn’t yet present; TOD is meant to encourage use of public transit, both cutting down on fuel consumption and benefiting the many EcoVillage residents who are car-less. At the moment there are few benches and one bus shelter, despite wide Lorain sidewalks. While the new Rapid station is attractive and solar, it’s risky (someone tried to rob me at gunpoint on a sunny June evening there two summers ago)–it has a police mini-station but irregular staffing; it includes space for a coffee bar, but no proprietor takers yet. To accentuate the possibilities of creating a TOD, the Kent students proposed new mixed-use, phased construction of townhouses, apartments, and some low-rise commercial establishments

The proposed EcoARC zone by the RTA rapid station

along Lorain (north) between W. 58th and W. 65th., so that it could reach a density of 26 residential units per acre–15 units per acre is the minimum for such a designation. Solar panels and green roofs, as well as additional trees and green spaces, would visually integrate it into the neighborhood.

EcoArc–Agrarian Resource Center: This was an intriguing idea for building

Espaliered trees are trained to grow along a flat surface--spartially easy for small greenhouses, easy to pick

neighborhood ties, identity, jobs, and community purpose. Building on the growing popularity of urban farming in Cleveland, this would center on the area bordering both

Intriguing urban greenhouse; click pic for a forum chock-full of related urban farm stories

sides of the bridge at the Madison Ave. exit of the RTA rapid station. It would incorporate orchards, community gardens, a composting facility, an urban farm and a community kitchen. The kitchen would be a place of education as well as sales. I could picture a great interaction of produce and recipes here, but I’d love the addition of a winter greenhouse to provide fresh produce throughout the year. Espaliered fruit allows for maximization of small spaces, and these kinds of small production centers have been part of the American landscape since colonial times. We have a lot of residents with agricultural backgrounds–this sounds like a natural.

Lorain Ave Gateway: Recognizing that entry into the EcoVillage is not solely via the RTA, the CUDC suggested orienting visitors via a stretch of Lorain beginning at W 54th and extending across the RTA bridge. The cosmetic changes made here would visually enhance the neighborhood and help create its identity, as well as promote safety and a pedestrian level-

Proposed EcoVillage gateway at W 54th & Lorain

designed experience. I love the way the new crosswalks up along Detroit Ave at Gordon Square transform the walking experience,

How the Lorain Bridge area might look

and would love to see it something along similar lines here. The gateway idea would also mark the bridge with a living green wall and some wildflower sectors, again visually uniting it with the current empty lots astride the old grey building (currently looking like an old man’s last tooth) at W. 58th. Imagine them blanketed in native wildflowers! I will admit I’d want to be sure the situation did not imitate that of a grad school friend in Bloomington who transformed her large backyard into a “natural meadow”–she forgot meadows are homes to mice and rats. But I hope that’s not inevitable! It would seem as if collaborations with the Great Lake Science Center or the Cleveland Botanical Garden would be a natural. The Garden already partners with a lot of urban kids in the creation of their own green patches–their involvement in the

Site for a potential intervention--the Madison Ave. Bridge

proposed EcoARC could be very productive. A herd of goats was suggested as both an alternative to city expenditure and to trash–live branding, as it were. Solar lighting and banners would reinforce identity and add a touch of color.

Madison Ave. Bridge: CUDC has taught me some great new terms. I love “charrette,” and intend using it as much as possible. And who wouldn’t love “woonerf”? The ever-useful Wikipedia reveals that this is a Dutch term, meaning “a street where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. The techniques of shared spaces, traffic calming, and low speed limits are intended to improve pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile safety. Madison Avenue’s bridge between W 65th and W 58th is a permanent woonerf. It’s been shut for years, and a public meeting

Day and night on Madison Ave., envisioned by the CUDC

back in 2002 or 2003 included a vote to keep it that way–an old-timer reminisced that a number of drivers had previously raced down Madison and ploughed directly into the houses that formerly stood on the townhouses’ lots. The bridge section is near the RTA station’s pedestrian bridge exit, where concrete rules. This is a transit gateway, and while plantings will soften the area and make it more attractive, the CUDC suggested it host one of their interventions–some intriguing but inexpensive overhead structures and lighting, and voila! A party!

Murals, green walls, benches, recycling on W. 65th

W. 65th Eco-Art Corridor: Connecting the EcoVillage with Detroit Shoreway’s Gordon Square Arts District should be a must. But while young

How great to have visits on the regular from tasty food trucks!

CUDC feet might find it an easy walk, those of us with (alas!) plantar fascitis, or with babies and toddlers, or with frozen noses don’t find it so–and the EcoVillage has many low-income residents for whom bicycles are for transportation, not recreation. That’s why my plea for a trolley is so heartfelt. There’s a dollar store and a Sav-a-Lot up on Detroit, as well as my favorite restaurant Luxe, the theatre, the movies, etc. And, if the poor aren’t enough to convince, connect not only our two neighborhoods, but Ohio City! And keep us out of cars.

Anyway, the CUDC didn’t talk about the trolley. They were thinking of ways of making big, broad W 65th a great connector by continuing to

Zagar's Philadelphia mosaic mural from recycled materials--why not the EcoVillage?

emphasize the visual arts–benches with paintings, a green

The pineapple: a fine sculptural material for food art

wall that shows the EcoVillage logo in various leafy shades, murals, signage, live/work space for artists, eco-friendly businesses like a sustainable car wash and laundry. They suggested scheduled food truck visits–a great, temporary solution to a lack of restaurants, and one which might inspire entrepreneurial residents. In keeping with the nearby ARC, there could be not only pop-up art exhibitions, but pop-ups featuring food art. One thing I really think the neighborhood needs is a non-profit arts center that could feature both the visual arts and music. Ohio City used to have Escuela Popular, a place to learn drumming, speak Spanish, dance–it’s been gone a while. The EcoVillage used to have the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, where students strummed guitars, made floats with me for the Puerto Rican Parade, and ruffled up for folkloric dance, but they left Lorain Ave for 52nd and Detroit. Ohio City Writers is a great new program for kids (potentially expanding to adults) on Lorain near St. Ignatius, but where are the art and music programs for Detroit Shoreway kids? Not everyone wants to play soccer, basketball and softball. W. 65th as an art-oriented space would be perfect.

A sculptural windmill that would make a great EcoFair demo.

Activities/Temporary Uses/Events: This was a still-in-progress elements, with residents pinning suggestions on large neighborhood maps, noting things that were already in place (swimming, voting, sports at the rec center), church or school activities, pop-up thoughts, etc. A food festival would bring our international culinary talents to the fore, certainly. CUDC mentioned holding a regular farmer’s market on W. 65th. I think an EcoFair would work, too–maybe on the grounds of Zone Rec. Because we have such a mix of interests, tastes, incomes, green dedications and inclinations, this could run a whole spectrum, and be a draw to others in the metropolitan area. Want to find out about rain barrels and the most efficient solar panels? EcoFair. Want to build

Lamp shades made from sand and glue...fairings from an EcoFair, anyone?

something that will enable you to create a home-made windmill? Look to low-tech solutions made for Third World countries. Ditto solar ovens, and many other inventions often called “appropriate technology.” Demonstrations of canning, smoking and pickling could entertain both gourmets and those who need to save. Seeds and cuttings for climate appropriate plants could be little prizes for games. Artists could sell solar fountains or sculpture from recycled objects. I’d go to this kind of EcoFair, with a mix of exhibit, demo and objects that aren’t just tree-huggy. I’m sure the final report will have other great suggestions.

What heartened me is that the reporting meeting drew more residents, whose enthusiasm level was

Councilman Matt Zone with residents at CUDC presentation of designs

high and rising. The director of Detroit Shoreway, Jeff Ramsey, said that many of the small changes could quickly be addressed by the current budget–a wonderful thing to hear! Councilman Matt Zone , who ensured public participation on the Zone Rec Center and other EcoVillage initiatives, has been instrumental in developing the Gordon Arts District, and his transformational powers may indeed help create an enviable neighborhood. Thank you, Kent State Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative! You lit a fire, and I can’t wait to go to your next endeavor this week–a charette for Lorain and south of Lorain in Ohio City. The first meeting will be at 5:30 Nov. 9 (Wed) at 32nd & Lorain, the design presentation next Friday at the same time, same place. Let’s create a mega-neighborhood with benefits for all (like that trolley), yet distinctive characters.

To be Middle-Aged, Gifted and Black

6 Nov

So young and spirited and expressive!

Cleveland has a great thing in the American Music Masters series, tribute concerts produced by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last night’s event at the State Theatre on Playhouse Square honored Aretha Franklin, and the packed crowd was hooting and hollering (and also eating popcorn and Chinese food, and getting up and down for frequent potty breaks–hey, since Andy Rooney died, this is my tribute to his crankiness. The theatre is supposed to showcase elegant audiences behavior, dammit!). I saw Aretha perform at the Sam Cooke American Music Masters concert in 2005, a great concert that also featured a star-studded lineup, including artists as diverse as Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke (so glad I saw him

The full house shuffling in. The crowd was predominantly middle-aged and up.

before he died, The Blind Boys of Alabama (when they were still intact), Peter Wolf (Centerfold!), Taj Mahal, among others. Part of the grace of these events is the unexpected affinity some performers feel for the awardee, sometimes it’s their wildly different interpretations of the honored one’s songs: Chrissie Hynde and George Thoroughgood at the Jerry Lee Lewis concert, or Nona Hendryx at Janis Joplin‘s, for instance.

Dr. Franklin & family--she's got no height at all!

The full line-up for Aretha listed Patti Austin (canceled due to flu), Dennis Edwards of the Temptations, Ron Isley, Jerry Butler, Spooner Oldham, Chaka Khan, Lauryn Hill, Carla Cook, Kris Bowers, “Twinky” Clark, Melinda Doolittle, Mike Farris and Cissy Houston. But before the party had started, the Rock Hall had a week full of educational events at Case Western (why not Cleveland State?) in the form of symposia, interviews and seminars. The concert itself kicked off with Case’s president, provost and dean of arts & sciences stepping on stage in academic gowns (Why no caps, folks? Like elephants without tusks) to award an honorary degree to the Queen of Soul (Does “Dr.” outweigh “Queen”?). Her family was gathered round, and Dr. Franklin was pleased, gracious and warm. Amid shouts of “We love you, RiRi!” she gushed endearingly as she welcomed the Attorney General, Eric Holder–a mutual crush is very cute to see.


Chaka Khan last night! No, not my photo--click through!

Mike Farris, a self-proclaimed “cracker”, started the music with two rock numbers–I’d never heard of him, but he did a great job, backed by a terrific house band. Everyone was good–Jerry Butler at 71 worked the stage effortlessly. The standout performance was by the still-voluptuous Miss Chaka Khan–I heard her in the 1970s at Penn State, and she’s still very much a powerhouse. Was a mic even necessary? While Dennis Edwards might not have been stepping and twirling as he once did, his styling hasn’t changed, and the crowd gasped appreciatively at his tuxedo, adorned with a sequinned motif. The intervening videos were absorbing, as we saw Aretha sing R-E-S-P-E-C-T or duet with Smokey Robinson on Soul Train.

Rock Hall President Terry Stewart said the artists picked their selections from Aretha’s broad catalogue, and many took her gospel route (or root). Daughter of a prominent clergyman, the church was the source for her emotion, her pain, her controlled wails. Some were covers, but “Spirit in the Dark” is one she penned herself, and it was superb.

Miss Lauryn Hill hatted up for her indifferent performance. Again, click through for photo source.

The only disappointment was Lauryn Hill. If The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had been a record, I’d have worn it out. I loved the Fugees, I was excited when Dave Chappelle’s Block Party reunited them, albeit temporarily. She was the last performer of the evening and my excitement was building–then was dashed. Not that her voice wasn’t fine–she just seemed out of sync with the band and irritated with them. She kept turning towards them (and away from her mic); luckily the back-up singers could carry anything. Her last song, a cover of Aretha’s cover of “A Rose in Spanish Harlem” went on and on and on….and on. It went on so long that I was sure Aretha was going to come out and do a duet–the Internet ad for the concert had stated “Miss Franklin will appear but is not scheduled to perform,” but I remembered the energy from other concerts and felt sure she wouldn’t be able to resist. But no, it was just Miss Hill, going on and on. At the conclusion of her performance, however, Terry Stewart hurriedly asked folks to be patient for a little while for “a surprise.”

The grande finale! Sure glad real photographers were there.

The interval was fairly long (there had been no intermission), but this was a sure Aretha sign. You could hear some hasty rehearsing backstage, and, sure enough, there she was in an aqua dress, seated at the piano. Ron Iseley and Dennis Edwards stood nearby, and Cissy Houston and Jerry Butler were behind her. She and Dennis Edwards did a great duet–it had something of the impromptu yet magical about it, as if you’d stepped into a studio rehearsal room and caught two voices having fun with one another. She was in fine voice (better than her performance at the recent dedication to the Martin Luther King memorial), and that piano knew its mistress. A beautiful finish to a wonderful three-hour concert–well, not quite the finish, since a blushing Mayor White came out and handed over the keys to the city. Aretha’s said she doesn’t have pancreatic cancer, despite last year’s rumors. It’s hard to believe a voice I grew up with is 69, but I’m hoping she’ll be belting out plenty more, full of grace and passion.