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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.

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.

NaNoWriMo, last year and this

1 Nov

The website where daily word counts are posted!

I’d been tempted by NaNoWriMo for a long time, but last November I plunged in. For those unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month is an international self-challenge for writers, deviling them to see if they can reach a total of 50,000 words in a month–a novel-in-the-rough, as it were, something to be polished later. I began last year as an undercover collaborative writer–an online British friend and I were to write a joint novel with a 100K goal. Our pen names, Vyvyan Smythe and Smythe Vyvyan, demonstrated our mirrored goal. Alas, what I thought an excellent beginning drove poor Smythe mad. He could not stand not having total control over the characters, and dropped out early in the game. I thought our styles meshed extremely well, and assured him that one day we would both finish and publish American and British, male and female versions of the joint story, and hope that will still come to pass. While I didn’t meet the 50K goal (and thus “win” NaNoWriMo), I made it more than half way, and hope to finish the first draft this summer. It’s set in the near future, in a world where there is no fossil fuel, and its common contemporary byproducts, such as plastic and polyester, are sought-after collectibles.

Good God, It’s Plastic! was Smythe’s title, but I had great fun researching possibilities of what travel might be like, how jobs and cities and apartment buildings might function (the return of the pneumatic tube for the mail!). And I loved our light-hearted rollicking tone, as a spunky Philadelphian researcher/tailoress joined forces with a haughty English nouveau aristo in hunt of a great treasure thought to be in West Africa. Adventure, cautionary tale, futuristic look, it was a mashup of Neal Stephenson (early) and Douglas Adams, with a little jasper fforde and Georgette Heyer thrown in. An extract is below.

In April, the same organizers sponsor a screenwriting challenge known as Script Frenzy! and I threw myself down that rabbit hole, too. I hadn’t written a script since I was in my 20s, and conceived this as an HBO-like series. Three episodes are written, all fact-based, regarding New Orleans in 1845, in all its Creole glory. I pored through research to base it on reality, dredging up records from and looking at links to Cuba and Haiti. I love a great research project in a new direction, and I’m hoping to pitch this at someone. If nobody catches, perhaps it will metamorphose into a novel.

I proudly finished ScriptFrenzy!, and I hope to make it through NaNoWriMo this year. Both of these projects directed me toward writing discipline; I not only worked on them, I concurrently whipped out a great deal more professional writing than usual. They also created a hunger for writing companionship. There are large online components, where you can interact with other writers having common interests, as well as write-ins, where you can meet up with others in your region for companionable tap-tap-tapping in libraries and coffeehouses. I didn’t get to any of the write-ins for last year’s NaNoWriMo–bad weather and my schedule, plus non-driving, put the kabosh on that. When ScriptFrenzy rolled around, I organized several write-ins at the Old Arcade, Trinity Cathedral’s Cafe Ah Roma, and the CSU library, and met some interesting folks whose company I really enjoyed. I’m hoping Ohio City or downtown might be destinations this time around, too.

So am I writing about Cleveland? About New Urban issues again? Nope. This is a historical novel, the second in a series of mysteries set in West Africa in the 16th century, the broad historical facts providing a framework for mostly invented characters. It seems appropriate to mention on this All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, that witches will figure prominently in this novel. I’ll share some nuggets with you along the way, but don’t worry–the blog isn’t going to contain my daily paragraphs.

Are you NaNoWriMoing? Do you need a writing buddy?

Okay, okay–here’s a taste from last year”s novel. This is from the middle of Chapter Two, and provides a taste of the main characters, as well as casual references to the world they find themselves in. Remember–it’s unedited!!!

Now Kitty (for Katherine Marie Bolitho was her formal name, reserved only for moments of severity) was not feeling as self-possessed as she appeared, though her impatience was genuine enough. She had endured an Atlantic crossing that had tossed her from one side of her stateroom to another, and if she were never to suffer the vagaries of the wind again, it would be too soon for her. She had been forced to abjure the many delicacies and luxuries of the voyage, forced to listen to gay laughter and flirtatious conversations as her fellow passengers swept by her door to reach the lounge and bar. She had risen early (for really, he surely hadn’t expected her to rush over the minute she arrived!), and left the hotel as soon as the dark lifted, hoping to banish any thought of tardiness from the mind of her erstwhile patron. This barechested, pale-skinned youth countered all her expectations – was there really no other Thompson Davis in this house? ‘
A kindly father perhaps, or, better yet, a grandfather to chuck her under the chin, outline his requirements, then urge her on to excesses of tailoring?

Thompson exited, presumably to fetch the tea, and Kitty gave full rein to her disapproval. Lights were blazing, even in upper hallways (of course, she thought, it was possible there were little Davises and a spouse roaming around, as yet unseen, though a wife surely would be up and about) and a steady source of heat could be felt, emerging from hidden ducts – a surfeit of it, in fact. She was conscious of feeling some of the discomfort the American Middle Class often feels in the strongholds of the Very Rich, though she otherwise felt cosily warm in a rather delightful fashion.

In Thompson’s absence, she peeked into the hall, seeing some open rooms beyond – all well lit, by neither candlelight nor oil lamp. There was nary a coin-fed heater nor a gridcycle to be seen. Aside from hospitals, the clipper, and her current hotel, Kitty had never been in venues without any source of self-generated electricity – it was strangely unsettling. Perhaps the man had a phalanx of servants cycling in his basement, but she suspected not. Who was this Thompson Davis to thumb his nose at the necessary conventions that bound the whole world? She had assumed, given his interest in her dressing gown – and yes, if he liked her dressing gown so well, why was he wearing an ancient, threadbare model? – that he might be a fellow neo-Baroquian. Perhas she had built too much on the assumption that his careless expenditures – five overseas telegrams in the two days it took her to prepare, the grand cabin on one of the Baltimore Clipper Line’s best ships, the charming boutique hotel with its Czech & Speake toiletries – were the whims of an older eccentric (perhaps a famous stage actor or other performer with money to burn on the quest for distinctive new attire). Kitty had had customers like that before, and the part of her that had managed to push herself to attempt that one abortive shipboard dinner was the part of her that hoped to encounter Richard Jametal, dazzle him with her own costume, and convince him he needed a new ensemble for his next round of stage perfomances.

Kitty found the appointments of the room before her startling in their lavishhness. Antiques (admittedly dusty or cluttered with books) littered the room. Her brows lifted when she realized the chairs and sofa were upholstered with patterned polyester, rather than the polished cotton she first had supposed. The fabric could have been salvaged from some attic’s abandoned textile bolts, but if Kitty knew her Visual Culture (and she did, having excelled in her graduate studies), this set dated in its entirety from the Oil Age.

The warmth began to unmake the practicality of her cozy woolen gown, if not its quirky splendor. She regretted having left her fan back in Philadelphia, never having expected near-tropical conditions in London. She sought her handkerchief and began to dab daintily at her forehead and chest.

While Kitty was making her observations, Thompson was bustling inefficiently about in the kitchen. He remained puzzled why anyone would want to drink anything but his excellent coffee, but wanted to make up for his faults as a host. Admittedly, he could never recall if the tea went into the cup or the small pot (he decided on the pot), whether milk or lemon should be presented (neither were in his refrigerator, neatly solving that problem), and how long the leaves should remain (let them stay for a while!). In the meantime, he made a healthy start on the paper’s crossword. Eventually he foraged for a tray (only one, his own breakfast tray, usually got an airing, and he was uncertain at first where he had stored the others), fished out a cup from the drying rack, and headed back to Kitty.

“I rang round the corner to the patisserie, thinking you might like a croissant with your tea.” Thompson was impressed with his own thoughtfulness, but his visitor seemed distinctly unimpressed.

Kitty despised his French affectation – possibly because his accent was execrable – even as she admitted to an affection for croissants themselves. Certainly there were French emigrés everywhere (Philadelphia was awash in them – how much more so this nearby haven?), and they were putting their linguistic stamp on those around them, but she suspected the shop he had telephoned was probably called Joe’s Bakery or something similar. This Davis with his self-satisfied smirk would of course insist on calling it a patisserie, if only to emphasize the divide between them. He no doubt considered her nothing but a seamstress, albeit an extraordinarily skilled one.

He set the tea tray down and poured out, presented her with a cup after slopping some of its contents all over his dressing gown in what most certainly would have been a painful fashion, though it could hardly distress the garment itself any further. She sat and gazed into its frightful depths – had the man actually steeped the tea for the full ten minutes he’d been gone? Or, considering its tar-like state, had he actually percolated it? She skimmed the numerous tea leaves still floating on its surface (truly, what was wrong with a tea bag?) without even a blink. In fact, the tea itself had receded immediately from Kitty’s thoughts, for the unworthy brew was sloshing about in a metal container that was considerably more notable. A tall, slender, brushed steel mug, it was lined with plastic and an insulate meant to keep its contents warm. It was an exceedingly rare antique example, trademarked with the red shield and cannon that stood for one of those damned British soccer teams – Chelsea, was it? Or Arsenal? He probably had a complete set emblazoned with every world club somewhere in this hothouse. Unlike similar ones belonging to other collections, however, this one was not locked away, emerging only for regular dusting. No, it was casually presented to her, as if it were a chipped ceramic cup. Ostentatious as could be.

It was then she decided she might have to hate him, though his tea (strong enough for Christ and all the Apostles to walk on!) did smell unexpectedly delicious.

With his visitor apparently in a stupor, gazing fixedly at her tea, Thompson turned his mind to more pressing matters, such as a swift return to his library and the atlas. A plan had begun to coalesce in the kitchen, and once the patisserie’s delivery boy had been, he could excuse himself to dress, leaving Miss Bolitho to her breakfast (he’d yet to meet anyone who didn’t get lost in a tray of Aimée’s pastries). That was sure to give him a few moments to pause in the library, plot his next movement vis-a-vis the breaker yard, and devise a scheme to get this admittedly skilled seamstress out of his house and to her needle, while he dealt with more important issues.

Truth be told, Thompson had more than a slight blind spot when it came to the fairer sex, alternating between considering them impediments to his daily progress and becoming dumbstruck in their flowery, fulsome presence. He had, in fact, something of a blind spot with people in general (his mother attributed it to having been tutored at home, while his father considered it part of general ineptitude), but his ineptness when it came to women went a long way toward explaining why he had never realised that Aimée did not actually have a delivery service – except to his house.

Autumn on Cleveland’s Near West Side–Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

31 Oct

A small splash of color on my street

Did the Halloween eye result from the Curse of the Mummy Pumpkin?

Seasonal. That’s the word that kept flitting about in my mind today. It’s been a true autumn day, and a real Halloween (that’s opposed to a sprinkling of unseasonable 60 degree Cleveland Halloweens in the past decade). Admittedly, the foliage is wonky; plenty of trees are still green and vigorous, and relatively few are colorific. Still, there’s a rich, earthy scent in the air, a golden glow around dusk(when it isn’t raining), and enough of a chill in the air to keep the RTA fairly spare of bus stop malingerers. I don’t remember many Halloween decorations in my PA childhood–with the exception of a tp’ed house, soaped windows, or chalked sidewalks (we had both Chalk Night and Mischief Night the two days before the holiday, and I would trick myself out in dark clothing, armed with the hose, ready to face any miscreants who might be walking by, egg in hand. Unfortunately, my night as protectress never garnered any young hooligans). Of course, we did have real pumpkins with real candles–I have a fabulously malicious demonic pumpkin right now, courtesy the art students’ organization at CSU–though he is not a lantern, I love him nonetheless.

The Thrifty BonVivant earlier this week, looking mysterious for Halloween--eye intact

The shudderingly gruesome Halloween Eye

I discovered my first year on the Near West that kids in this neighborhood don’t trick and treat–they go to the now-renovating Zone Rec Center for a big party (in fact, I can hear the little ghouls passing right now). Is it because of chainlink fences and nasty dogs? Too high a percentage of registered sex offenders? They sound cheerful, but I miss seeing costumes. No matter–I’m going out in a minute to light the grill and enjoy a last non-shivery barbecue. But I’ve already had plenty of Halloween today. This weekend I discovered a…ughh…lumpy pimple near my eye, along brow bone skin. Did I remember my mother’s dictum to “just leave it alone”? Of course, but I ignored it–though I was not too interfering with it. But it hurt, and I took advice to regularly clean it with alcohol (being careful not to get it in my eye, of course), and dab peroxide on it. This would weed it out! I complied–ouch. But it was a mistake. By yesterday, the skin below my eye and the lid had swollen, and had not receded  by this morning. Since I couldn’t get to a CVS Minute Clinic yesterday–talk less of Kaiser–it was time to visit the clinic at work this morning. My doctor checked me out thoroughly, told me to listen to my mother, and said it wasn’t really an allergic reaction–that my body had perceived my gentle prodding as trauma, and promptly padded itself with edema, much like a boxer who’d taken a punch. A mild antibiotic (for the gross and disgusting pimple) and cold compresses were advised. Nonetheless, said swelling has presented me with a built-in, evil makeup job a la Lon Chaney. I could definitely scare children with this temporary eye. Look at the picture!!! Still shaking?

But to fiendish bank robbers, isn't every day potentially a holiday?

Ohio City's Market Ave--treat for the eyes in sun-dappled summer, snowy winter--anytime.

But the medical jaunt had me out and about, and I decided to see what Ohio City was up to on a fine Halloween. Ohio City Burrito‘s skeleton sign looked mighty chipper, and even the warning on the Ohio City Savings door was tricked out in seasonal colors.  A festive lunch was in order! And what better place than Great Lakes Brewery, just as it opened. Actually, I was there before it opened, as were quite a few other people. A chilly day and 11:15 in the morning, and customers are already clamoring? Oh, you’re doing something right! The Brewery’s a great choice for Fall. Not only does it have a cozily warm atmosphere (the indoor/outdoor room has a lovely fireplace in cold weather), but the street view is enchanting. Its short, narrow street, Market Avenue, is terrifically inviting. Part of that has to do with its destinations: the Cleveland Film Society, The Flying Fig restaurant (had a great duck dish there last winter), the Market Avenue Wine Bar (another cosy place, best a deux), and a cafe I’m dying to try. But even before all these were in place, it was still inviting. It’s the proportions, the architecture and the view, for it looks onto the Market Square Park (which is under mysterious reconstruction right

When colors and textures align, it's time for placemaking! Djenne, Mali

now–however, a small cement stage has already been created on the north side). It’s not that the architecture is so spectacular in and of itself, it’s that it has a consistency of color and texture–old red brickwork. All the best places have that kind of consistency, with variations in shape, proportions and details to keep things interesting. In Italy’s Assisi, everything is made from the same pink stone. In Mali’s Jenne, the buildings earthen walls match the ground, and seem to emerge from it organically. This is something contemporary architecture can rarely match, because its growth patterns and standard materials are so different. But when you stumble on it in a city, its allure and charm ensnare you.

James, one of Great Lakes Brewery's kindly yet gruesome (today) waiters

Oh, and seasonal? It was a tough choice between a glass of Nosferatu ale (and the extremely pleasant and competent James was my waiter, all tricked out like Nosferatu himself) and the now-available Christmas ale, but the latter’s lovely red tones won out. Matched with a margherita pizza, a splendidly hearty choice. Side notes–why do most American versions of the margherita use sliced tomatos? That’s not the Italian way–though it tasted just fine. Why margherita? After Italy’s one-time Queen Margherita and the patriotic colors oThe pleasures of the season at Great Lakes Breweryf the Italian flag: red sauce, white mozzarella, green basil leaves. Which makes me digress once again–a first date took me to Luxe some years back. I love Gordon Square‘s Luxe (my favorite Cleveland restaurant, which I persist in pronouncing the French way, counter to the restaurant itself). I’d been raving about Luxe. In my verbal anticipation, I kept repeating on the way, “Oh, I can’t wait till I have a margherita!” When we were seated and the waitress came for our order, I puzzled him when I asked for iced tea. Words and their confusionistic power! Anyway, the pizza at the Brewery is delicious! Luckily for me, the waiter tried to tempt me with cheesecake, which I don’t like. In checking the website, however, I see there is now, courtesy of Mitchell‘s, a new seasonal ice cream to be had: Christmas Ale Gingersnap Ice Cream. Now, I know I will be putty in its hands–and will visit it on my

Yes, they have taffy apples, too. But there's a reason the lipstick color is called "candy apple"! One of the red beauties is now mine, all mine.

next round of seasonal lists.

After lunch, a quick round at the West Side Market. I needed my dried peaches from the dried fruit girls–far better than dried apricots, and for under $17 you can get a huge quantity that will last even the profligate  bon vivant for over a month. I also needed a Halloween candy fix, and only one thing would do–not the Midnight

Heart-warming mice at Campbell's Popcorn in the West Side Market

Milky Ways that I could get anytime (frozen….mmmm), and that aren’t available at the market anyway. No, it’s a red candy apple or nothing. For some reason, these are hard to find in Cleveland, which apparently prefers caramel (or as we used to call them) taffy apples. But Campbell’s Popcorn, an indoor stall near the Lorain side), has them year round, and one is awaiting me on the counter right now, its glossy cinnamon crust calling a siren song. My eye was caught by their adorable cookies–particularly the mice with almond ears. There are some real artists in the world of Cleveland pastry, and I will update you on their offerings as the seasonal marchdown continues.

A Halloween feast for the eyes at Campbell's Popcorn

What then? The bus stop and home, James. I see Ohio City has fixed some Halloween/Thanksgiving decorations along Lorain in the form of cornstalks. It really is a beautiful thing to mark the seasons, and is yet another reason W. 25th is a great destination for a stroll and several stops. If only there was destination entertainment there…just think if the wine bar or cafe hired Cleveland Institute of Music students or CSU music majors for regular background performances? I know I’d want to linger to hear a violinist one night, someone singing bossa nova another, a klezmer clarinetist a third. Or put that trolley in and make it easy to jump from lunch to a movie at Gordon Square’s Capitol Theatre, or from dinner to a play! In the interim, Happy Halloween! Rustle a leaf pile and breathe that bracing air.

Tasty Cleveland enclaves in the New Urban: a corner of Old Brooklyn

29 Oct

There's nothing like a place with character--Murray Hill's Algebra Tea House has plenty of it!

Part of what makes mostly-residential neighborhoods destinations are the little shops and restaurants that dot them. Not chains–chains are deadly, and they only (with the exception of fast food) avoid cities like the plague. Is there an Olive Garden or Outback in any American downtown? I’ve never seen any, and I’m delighted. These are the places that create pleasant little surprises for visitors, and oases for residents–a favorite luncheonette, a great ethnic food supplier, some middle-aged lady with a dream and a little money put by who finally decides to open that quirky shop. This is what made W. 25th before lots of restaurants moved in–you could swing into City Buddha and drool over a hand-painted Indonesian film poster and grab your Temple Spice incense and some fascinating little tschotchke to brighten up a room at home (City Buddha left us some time ago, relocating to suburbia with none of the dimly-lit mystery they used to have in Ohio City).  It’s what made Coventry back in the day before some chains and higher-end spots moved in. Little Italy has a lot of it, as does Tremont. Reasons to go someplace other than visiting family or friends.

A cycling event last summer sent pedalers to Old Brooklyn's Michael's Bakery

One of my pals recently moved to Old Brooklyn, which I knew only from Art House and the zoo. She’s still settling in, but her foundational sense of gastronomic inquiry had already enabled her to uncover two treasures on Broadview Road, which she introduced me to yesterday. One was Michael’s Bakery, at 4478 Broadview Rd. Obviously its charms are known to residents–it was packed at 3 pm on a work day, full of folks getting bread, kuchen, other pastries and cookies. Why oh why didn’t I take photos of the adorable Halloween sugar cookies? Yes, there were purple-sprinkled moons and other delectables, but the giant ones shaped like candy corn and delicately colored with an ombre progression of yellow through orange…oh, that deserved visual commemoration. The place made me realize how long it’s been since I was in a real, old-fashioned family bakery–small, packed, and full of its own treasures. No one wants a calorie count on the cookie “sandwiches” packed with delicious creamy goo! Luckily, my downfall does not come in these forms; I was a virtuous bread buyer. Even the outside has its charm–late-blooming fuschia geraniums were nodding at hot-pink benches, and they gave the place identity.

La famiglia Gentile (it means "nice", and they are)

A miniscule stroll away is Gentile’s Imported Italian Food–a danger zone for me in every way. I’m not Italian, but I grew up in an Italian-dominated area, food-wise, and it shaped all my tastes. College? Study abroad in Rome. Grad school and after? Research trips to Venice, Siena, Limone, Naples, Florence, Turin, and many little towns–and the big one, food-wise: Bologna. Did I have a week’s flirtation with the cutest Italian waiter ever, Agostino Caputo? I sure did (and remember his name 30 years later)! Did his sympathetic boss at one of the best high-end restaurants in the city allow me to eat highly-subsidized meals my student budget would have never been able to afford. Si!  Well the Gentiles senior aren’t from Bologna, but they did come to Cleveland from Molise province, southeast of Rome, and whoever taught Mama how to cook should be beatified. Two generations work in the place, which has several divisions–the bakery, full of many a cookie (my friend Miss D had to have several types of almond temptations, including one punctuated with pignoli (pine) nuts) and with attractive sample wedding cakes on the counter; the store (imported pastas, olive oils, bruschetta spreads, balsamic vinegars); the deli (a genoa salami tempted me, but there were many cold cuts); a catering operation (I wish I had an occasion for them!); and…pizza. What care I for any of the rest, if pizza be present?

After lunch, not a pizza crumb remained on our Gentile's table

Now, Cleveland and I have our pizza differences. That anyone could think Mama Santa’s in Little Italy even has EDIBLE pizza is beyond me. A disgrace, with its oversweet sauce and rubbery crust. I’m happy with Angelo’s in Lakewood or Rascal House during moments of intense hunger, but can they stack up with the most average Philly or Jersey Shore pizza? No, they cannot. Any spot with a wood-burning oven (even Macaroni Grille!) does a respectable job, but, in general, Cleveland’s pizza makes me wary. As we placed our order, my head snapped: I saw the generous cheeseless rectangles (can be bought as singles), I’ve seen in Italy’s tavolas caldas; we weren’t getting that variety, but this was promising. And it delivered. By far, my plain old cheese pizza (the best way to comparatively test) was the best I’ve had in Cleveland–by far, I say (Miss D was scarfing down her artichoke number, and seemed deeply satisfied, but had no inclination to talk). The cheese was real mozzarella, the kind that stretches and stretches until it’s a mere thread, and still doesn’t want to let go. You don’t see it much nowadays, anywhere–it’s too expensive. The crust had just the right blisteryness–oh, it and the sauce were delicious.There are three or so tables in the place, and they close at six (and are closed Mondays), so plan well. You can call ahead at (216) 351-1161; during the week they close at 6, Saturday at 5 and Sundays at 2–closed Monday.

In a college town like Bloomington, IN, you can munch on a bagel in the Runcible Spoon's wildflower-filled front yard. Why not encourage more small-time spots in Cleveland's downtown and midtown?.

These are the kinds of spots that are family-run, family-vetted, delicious, and very special. We’ve got lots of empty enclaves in the city, particularly on Euclid stretches near Reserve Square or up by CSU, and spots like this are rare. CSU’s going to be breaking ground in January on a big new development north of Chester–dorms, apartments, retail, food, entertainment. This is great–much of that area, particularly around Payne, is a human wasteland right now; it will tie in with Tower Press and some of the live/work artist units on Superior, places that haven’t had lots of dining options. If only some natural developments could accompany the inevitable plastic, commercial ones. In university towns, they’re a natural.During my recent Bloomington trip, it was hard to choose between a Tibetan restaurant owned by the Dalai Lama’s brother and a Turkish spot with pillow-cushioned seating options; old houses with wildflower front yards, that had been there since I was a student, were still going strong with their funky mix of student waiters, mismatched cutlery, and delicious food. The ambiance is fun in places like that, the feel is genuine. It’s be great if some generous–or crafty–local landlord would break down an empty warehouse into smaller units with fairly low rents and limited leases. Perhaps an entrepreneur could start up thriftily, do well, and move to bigger digs, while another circulated into the space. A stomach can dream.