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Archive for June, 2007

Lower Scioto Park Reopened.

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After a two-season closure, the Lower Scioto Park (and boat launch) has reopened. Formerly not much more than a run down parking lot, the renovated park has more green space, bike racks, an elevated pathway for pedestrians and a waters-edge platform for those wishing to do some fishing. The final grading has been completed, as well as the planting.

Located at the south end of the Whittier Peninsula, the park is a quick walk west from High Street, connected to downtown via Lower Scioto Greenway Trail.

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It started one afternoon when a friend and I swung into JCPenny to pick up some socks. For a pack of six, prices ranged from $15-$18 dollars. The more expensive ones were made in the US, but he encouraged me to “save some money, man”, suggesting I buy the lower priced set. We began reading the packaging and discovered that production facilities were mostly in China, Mexico and the US.

Since my friend is in business for himself, I asked him if he’d like to have more shoppers at his store.
“Of course I would”.
“Do you think that the Chinese workers who have made the inexpensive socks are going to come and shop at your store?”
“Probably not, but where are the American made socks produced? I doubt that those workers are here in Ohio”.

He’s a smart guy and he enjoys playing the devil’s advocate, and we started the debate, while looking at the tags of other items in the store. Almost all of the men’s summer shorts were made in Bangladesh or China. Shirts from China or India. Socks seemed to be the only thing we could find in JCPenney’s men’s department that were made in the US.

We had a look in some of the specialty stores, one or two of which are locally owned, and again, China, Bangladesh and India. Virtually everything in these Columbus-headquarted shops comes from overseas. It’s not just Ohio clothiers; it’s all of them. The quality of these garments is so-so. Certainly nothing that’s expected to last more than one or two seasons, or until the first button falls off.

Look around any Columbus shopping center, at any public gathering, any weekend barbeques, at any civic event or festival, and you’ll see thousands of dollars, perhaps millions of dollars of spent supporting other country’s workers. Workers who are not able to dine at our restaurants, stay at our hotels, visit our theaters, buy our art, nor have they’re plumbing or roofs repaired by us.

My friend said that it seems as if we’re obligated to buy these things.
“We’re not obligated”, I remarked.
“Oh yes we are. When we look through the racks of what to buy, do we really have a choice? No. In that case, yes, we are obligated”.

Might it not be a tremendous shame that while the ads for happy youth and gleeful Americans fill the windows of our local shops, few, if any Americans, are the beneficiaries of our basic need to clothe ourselves? Next time we find ourselves saying the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem with our hands over our hearts, the shirt on which it rests is likely supporting another country’s economy.

There is a kernel of optimism in all of this. As energy costs increase, producing consumer goods 15,000 miles away will eventually become cost-ineffective. But until then, there are options.

In the Short North you’ll find American Apparel, where the clothing sold is made in Los Angles by well paid, insured workers. And closer to home, in Arcanum, Ohio, the Union Jean Company offers a wide array of casual clothing produced by American workers.

With Columbus’ fantastic location and access to the majority of the US population, maybe the city should be luring the garment industry. Sure, New York has theirs, but the costs of production here would be less expensive. If Wal-Mart can fly in their eyeglass prescriptions to Rickenbacker to reduce production costs, a similar model could be applied to the apparel industry.

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Your new tree

Not many folks know that the City of Columbus will plant a tree for residents along their “tree lawn” simply by requesting it. The tree lawn (or “boulevard”, “park strip”, “tree belt”, depending upon where you’re from) is considered part of the street right-of-way, and therefore is included in the city’s reforestation attempts.

There’s no cost to the resident, but the city does ask that you help out its growth for the first few years. When mine arrived last spring, a door hanger was left, with watering tips, and asking that the tie rods be left in place for the first year.

In a few years, my front yard will be completely shaded, aiding in reducing my energy costs, as well as my lawn care costs, and help eat away at some of the pollution. Our tax dollars support this effort, so why not get one for yourself and bring more green to the city, and save some of the green in your wallet.

Call 614 645 6640 for more information.

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Friday in Columbus

Being single in Columbus might be too easy. There are enough distractions right around any given corner to occupy the mind, create curiosity, and generally speaking, keep even those with the most eccentric tastes in a state of arousal.

My day started like any other, though I did sleep until 7. I’d expected the early birds to wake me like any other morning, but today, I snoozed right through them until the alarm sounded. Coffee, e-mail and the on-line news, every morning before the shower.

I was fully prepared to listen to KC and the Sunshine Band on the way to work, but the CD case was empty. I searched a few places, but had to leave without it to make it in on time. I opted, instead, for Eros Ramazzotti. If there was a car-pool lane, listening to Eros Ramazzotti while driving makes one want to move to the left and wave while passing.

Columbus is half way between Europe and Hawaii. While I’m arriving at work, it’s happy hour in Europe. Or today, the beginning of the 59th annual Juokala race in Finland. This year, it’s in the small town in which I used to live. Shortly after arriving at work, I received a text message from a friend’s husband who’s up there to compete. It was a riddle, and if answered correctly, he wrote, I’d receive a call. Shortly after the reply, he called. Having forgotten about Juokala, it was a wonderful surprise and exactly the kind of messages that Jarmo sends.

Moments after that, my (formerly) East German buddy sent a text. Once a soldier who marched against fascism along the Berlin Wall, Jurgen is considering renting out his Frankfurt condo so that he can buy a farm in Poland. He was in Prussia (he still refers to the communist maps) and looking at a land there. (Wikipedia gave me a quick lesson on Prussia. Google Earth took me to Iowa). He’s adjusted rather well to unification.

Once home from work, a quick nap was in order while the soaker hose dampened the garden. My Blockbuster videos were due back tonight, so a quick change and off I went. I always cut through the church parking lot behind the alley. One of my older neighbors was on his front porch preparing his fly-fishing rod. He sat quietly while fussing with the line.

Across from his house, another man was sitting on his front porch. Odd moaning was coming from the open windows. It’s not unusual to hear loud music BOOMING from this house, but the moans? I didn’t want to look.

Through Schiller Park I ran into my neighbor and his dog, Betty, while the crowd gathered for Shakespeare. My presence was not enough to distract Betty from her favorite Frisbee and tennis ball, both slathered in dog spit. Plenty of people were also out for a walk, as well as the usual fishermen casting into the pond. Does the DNR stock that pond?

Back through the park on the way home, as the sun finally set, the stage was lit and the audience focused. Walking through Schiller Park always reminds me of living in a fairy tale, and on such a beautiful night, it felt just like that. I can’t imagine not having such a fantastic public place so near to home. There’s always someone you know in Schiller Park.

On the corner of Thurman and Jaeger sat one of my COTA drivers enjoying dinner at Easy Street with his arms around, what must be, his latest boy friend. Side by side on the banquette, their public display of affection causing no particular stir. Further down the street, Daryl wasn’t on his balcony, nor was Brad, though I was prepared to stop for a brief hello. Maybe next time.

Preparing to cross through the church parking lot, from a bit of a distance, I could once again hear the load moans. At this time, all the windows in the aforementioned house are wide open, though no one is on the porch. The resident, I concluded, must have had his adult movies piped through one hell of a stereo system. A banner across the front of the church reminds us to “not put a period where God has placed a comma”. There’s an amazing level of tolerance in this town.

It’s almost time for bed. There’s been no date this Friday night, but who needs one with all this just outside one’s door? From Shakespeare to adult audio, to watching the bus driver make-out in public, and Betty’s saliva coated Frisbee, this evening was eventful enough. Frankly, this is pretty normal night around here

In just a few minutes, I’ll receive my daily call from my best friend in Honolulu who is about to get on the bus for her commute home. I’ll recant my day to her, hear about her weekend plans and call it a hell of a good day.

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Red, White and Broom

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I’d waited for years. Summer after summer, following my move to Columbus, I looked for evidence that my alley had been swept. It never happened. Debris from construction projects, rocks, pebbles, decaying leaves, twigs (and sometimes branches) litter my alley. Nails can be found on most every walk through. My alley isn’t as bad as some further south, but I felt that five years without a cleaning was pushing it.

After six years, I decided to call the City and find out when my alley would be scheduled for cleaning. I was told that the City of Columbus doesn’t sweep alleys.
“We don’t have the equipment to sweep them”, I was told.
“The city does sweep the streets”, I commented. “Why not just swing through the alleys while you’re doing the streets?”
“Our equipment isn’t designed to sweep alleys”, the City employee told me.
“You use Elgin sweepers, don’t you?”
“Yes”.
“As does the City of Minneapolis, and they have their alleys swept twice a year”.

With that comment, the discussion turned to scheduling.
“The weather creates scheduling problems” was the next statement.
“How is that?” I asked.
“We have to postpone sweeping during inclement weather”.
“Interesting. I notice that certain neighborhoods have scheduled street sweeping, and, for example, the City of Minneapolis schedules their street sweeping, notifying residents with temporary signs a few days before, allowing them time to move their cars”.
“Columbus can’t do that”.
“Why?”
“First, the city is too dense. Where would the cars be moved to? And secondly, those temporary signs get stolen”.
“Dare I say that Minneapolis is far more dense than Columbus? Secondly, cardboard street sweeping signs don’t seem to get stolen in Minneapolis”.

Once again, the excuses changed course.
“It is the residents responsibility to clean the alley adjacent to their property”.
“Then why is that not enforced?”
“We don’t have the funds available to do that right now”.
“I see. So at one time, the funds were available?”
“No”.
“In other words, is it safe to say that Columbus has a policy of neglect?”
The tone of the employee became escalated.
“We simply don’t have the funds to clean alleys”.

I felt that further questioning might help me get to the root of this issue, so I continued.
“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that not cleaning the alleys only adds to the amount of street cleaning that must be done? After all, that debris eventually finds its way to the street, then creates a greater problem as it potentially clogs the run-off sewers?”

Despite the logic presented, the response of the city employee remained, “We don’t have the funds to clean alleys”. He seemed to be getting a bit hot under the collar.

“How would I go about making a special request to have my alley swept?”
“Under extreme circumstances, an alley can be inspected. If it’s found to be a specific problem, then the city will have it swept”.
“Excellent! Then you do have the equipment to clean alleys, correct?”
“We do not have the equipment to sweep alleys”.
“You just said that the city could make exceptions. And I’d like to request an exception”.
The city worker continued.
“If, after inspection, an alley is found to be specifically problematic, workers are dispatched with brooms, and manually sweep up the debris”.

Year Seven:
Departing the alley to the east in the morning has the feel of Las Vegas, as countless shards of glass sparkle in the sunlight. To the west, at night, it’s like a satellite view of The Strip. Taking matters into my own hands, I’ve begun sweeping the alley myself. Section by section, after two mornings with the push broom and dustpan, I’ve cleaned the debris along five consecutive lot lines.

That got me thinking.

If Columbus alleys hadn’t been swept, ever, then most residents would welcome the sight of a team of broom-wielding workers. And since summer is the logical time to get the job done, why not dress the workers in some type of snazzy uniform. Short shorts, maybe. Tank tops, steel-toed boots (for safety, of course) and make an event out of it.

Red, White and Broom!

Just like the hoards of people who flock to see the multi-million dollar expenditure on fireworks, (there seems to be funding for that) neighbors could line up, lawn chairs in tow, at their back property line and watch hunky, well-toned city workers clean their alley. Tip jars could be fastened to the utility polls (hands off the workers, please) and a local dance company could choreograph the routine, creating art within work.

As word spread, other neighborhoods would bid to have Red, White and Broom perform in their alleys. A web site could be created where neighbors “anted up” with donations and the successful “bid” would be announced a few days prior, giving folks time to make lemonade and prune back obstructed views.

And there we have it. Neglect becomes performance art, funding becomes possible, and residents find both entertainment and reward within the confines of their own back yard.

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City Bike

You’re hip, cool and trendy. You’ve got that great loft in the most happening part of town. The city is hopping, the rhythm’s pumping, it’s Friday night and you’ve got places to go and people to meet.

The arena traffic is filling the street. There’s no way you’re giving up your parking space and fighting that, not tonight. But you’ve got to refill that Valtrex prescription before your friends show up. You’ll take City Bike.

Perfect for quick trips and avoiding congestion, City Bike offers convenient use of strategically positioned bicycles to anyone needing immediate and quick transportation. Helsinki has such a program, with 26 locations throughout the city. For a mere €2 refundable fee, you unlock a bike, head out, accomplish your task, and return the bicycle to any stand.

Amsterdam has a similar program targeted for tourists and Columbus is ready for it, be it for tourists or locals. When your parents visit, hide the Valtrex and show mom how easy it is to enjoy Columbus from the seat of City Bike. She’ll wonder how you got so smart.

photography by Mika Lappalainen

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