Archive for July, 2009

Annexation and Taxation


Next week the City of Columbus is asking me to vote to raise my income tax by a half percent.  That’s not a huge increase in the overall amount I’d pay annually, but it does represent a 25% increase.

Over the course of nine years my property taxes have more than doubled.  They’re still at a reasonable rate and I can afford them, but a 100%+ increase is a lot.

Paying for schools, teachers and basic city services is something I can support.  Even some of the extras are nice.  Clean parks, clean river (someday maybe), adequate recreational facilities – the amenities that make life enjoyable.  I’m willing to pay for those things.

The challenge I have with the city asking me to raise my own taxes is that part of the reason we need more money to run this city is because of sprawl.  In 1970 Columbus comprised 146 square miles.  By the year 2000 the city was comprised of 220 square miles (click the photo above to see the larger map). Logically speaking, my tax dollars are now being spent to provide infrastructure to outlying areas rather than supporting and improving the existing infrastructure.

Trash collection, fire protection, police patrols – all of which require covering hundreds of square miles would be less expensive if the city served the same population within more  confined boundaries.  Roadway expansion is expensive and expensive to maintain.  Miles and miles of new gas lines, water lines and sewer lines must be built to connect these outlying areas.  At the same time, inner city neighborhoods sit idle – such as the near-east and near-west side.  Annexation has led to core neglect.

The land grab, designed I suspect to create a larger geographic tax base may be akin to gluttony.  It’s a model based on scarcity rather than abundance.  “Hurry up and get what you can before someone else gets it” rather than “let’s live well within our means”.

Perhaps the city was simply following the population trends and attempting to capture the tax revenue as it moved out.  The city could have, however, used its tax revenues to improve the existing environment as a method of preventing urban flight.

Certainly Columbus is not the only city that has attempted to use annexation as a growth formula and we’re not the only city facing financial difficulties.  Going forward, however, Columbus should stop spreading city services “out” and focus its resources on providing city services to a more centralized core.  A growth model of ‘up’ needs to be put into place.

Walker Evans makes similar comments (and states them better than I have here) at his site, The Walker Evans Effect.

I’ll consider raising my income tax by 25% if the city of Columbus can guarantee that the  additional revenue will not go to further annexation.

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At a weekend BBQ I bit my tongue when a guest was applauded for volunteering for an AIDS fund-raiser. It’s not that I don’t believe money should be spent to find a cure. I do. But we’ve been hosting proverbial ‘bake sales’ for decades now and we’ve seen no sizable decrease in the rate of infection.

Perhaps our time and money would be better spent building social and political institutions that support self-awareness and self-esteem. The elimination of such social factors as loneliness, isolation and shame could have a great impact on future infection rates.

For example, there are few, if any social institutions that suggest that gay men should work towards couple-hood or that support gay couples once together. Even within our own ranks we often throw in the towel when our relationships become stressed or strained.

The absence of same-sex marriage is glaringly absent as a social institution. We have no social rights to inheritance, no Social Security benefits from would-be spouses and no property rights. The social message here is “you’re on your own”.

A recent Chicago Tribune article brought tears to my eyes as an example of the toll that the absence of these social institutions have taken on one man.

After the war and after graduating from college, Engandela met Joseph in New York City and, in the 1950s, brought him home to Chicago. They set up together in an apartment on Cornelia Avenue.

Now Mr. Engandela lives alone in a home for seniors in Evanston.

Consider that, according to SAGE estimates (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Elders) almost 90% of gay retirees have no children and 80% of have no partners.

While these numbers currently represent a population that has lived through various social and political difficulties, little has changed for my generation and those who will follow. The necessary social and political institutions are still not fully in place.

It’s not an obvious correlation – HIV rates and partner-less gay retirees, but when as a whole, a population has nothing to look forward to as it ages, self-esteem and self-worth dwindle. When self-worth is relegated away accountability is also diminished and this sets the stage for risky sexual behavior.

Behavior is still responsible for the majority of new HIV infections. Large sums of money have been spent building an infrastructure for those seeking anonymous sex, the often still (sub)cultural norm for “socializing”. Bath houses, circuit parties, and on-line resources take in millions of dollars annually – by willing contributors.

These institutions perpetuate the very challenge that we need to overcome – social isolation fostered by a diminished sense of self-worth.

Institutions such as Stonewall Columbus and the Center on Halsted in Chicago are working diligently to create a new vision for the population and it is institutions such as these that have the ability to ultimately change our vision of ourselves. Scores of programs are available to assist virtually every segment of the gay, lesbian and trans-gender communities.

I had a chance to tour the Center on Halsted last week – a 55,000 square foot, $20+ million facility. Anchored by a Whole Foods, the facility contains a gymnasium, theater, counseling areas, a commercial kitchen and meeting spaces (and much, much more) packaged in stunning LEED certified building. In a very short time, the Center on Halsted has become a neighborhood institution that serves many different people and so many different needs.

There’s no doubt that we have to continue to fund HIV/AIDS research but more importantly we have to change beliefs and build the social institutions that support mental, physical and spiritual well-being. These institutions will have a greater impact on current and future generations than anything else I could imagine.

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If you’ve been reading Urban-inFill long enough its evident that I’m in favor of comprehensive public transportation systems. Before purchasing my first car at age 23 I used public transit in both Minneapolis and Salt Lake to get around – and it was easy because in both places, I lived in the city with easy access to daily goods and services. In New York and San Francisco I lived without a car.

As an automobile owner for the past two decades I continue to rely upon public transportation whenever possible. It’s a personal choice because I simply do not like driving, although sometimes it is necessary.

Many Americans do not have the option of relying upon public transportation, either because they’ve chosen to live outside of the city or because the city in which they live does not support a comprehensive public transit network. A recent article by NPR’s Joseph Shapiro looks at the challenges facing aging drivers – a group of people who are often left stranded when their ability to navigate an automobile is diminished.

To drive is to be independent. Among Digman’s clients are people with fading eyesight who need to test their night vision. Or someone who was partially paralyzed after a stroke, now learning to use a left-foot accelerator. Or it might be someone whose license has been suspended because of an accident or a flunked driving test.

With scattered families, or families with two wage-earners, aging drivers have fewer options for getting to and from the locations that are meaningful to their lives. It becomes bothersome to seek rides from already busy friends and family, so many aged drivers continue driving for better or for worse. This NPR story looks at how aged drivers relearn previously held skills.

Read and/or listen to this article. It is yet another reason that cities need complete public transit systems. While most cities are trying to attract and retain younger citizens, here is an example of another group that benefits from public transit. For aged residents who can no longer drive  public transit allows them to maintain their  mobility and keeps them linked to the important people and places in their lives.

Keeping existing residents in their homes, regardless of age, stabilizes neighborhoods, keeps neighborhoods safer and creates a sense of place for new residents.

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MV10 The Merion Village Association proudly presents the   10th Annual Merion Village Garden Tour, Sunday July 12th. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A delightful collection of 10 of the finest residential gardens will be featured, ranging from larger, more expansive gardens to smaller more intimate settings.

Whether you come to get ideas for your own garden space, to explore the historic streets of Merion Village, or just to enjoy the weekend outdoors, you are sure to enjoy this unique, not for profit event.

The Merion Village Garden Tour, this year celebrating it’s 10th Anniversary, is FREE to the public. Gardens may be visited in any order. Explore at your own pace. Refreshments and food will be available at selected tour sites. Plants and garden gifts will also be available at select sites. The event is held rain or shine.

The Merion Village Information Center at 1330 South Fourth Street will be open the day of the tour from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for tour maps, refreshments and rest room facilities. Tour maps will also be available for download at our website www.merionvillage.org. Tour programs and maps will also be available at all tour locations. You can also follow tour preparations on Twitter and Facebook.

As always, the Merion Village Garden Tour remains free, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and supporting partners. These partnerships have been essential in the development of Merion Village as one of the most diverse and fastest growing neighborhoods in the City of Columbus. All proceeds from the event benefit the Merion Village Association. Please join us for this annual tradition

Contact the Merion Village Association at 614.444.3144 or gardentour@merionvillage.org with any questions.

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JUNE 30, 2009

Contact: Sarah Hixon
Email: floorspacearts@gmail.com


Beginning in July of 2009, Columbus will have a new space in which community artists can work and teach: FLOORSPACE. Located in the heart of Clintonville, on Indianola Avenue, FLOORSPACE offers two studios at affordable rental rates to local artists of all varieties, including dancers, musicians, actors, and visual artists. Heading up this venture are Sarah Hixon, a local choreographer and the artistic director of Hixon Dance, and Jacob Reed, a local composer and drummer in the RPM Jazz Trio. As artists working in Columbus, they know first-hand how difficult it can be to find affordable space in which to rehearse. “The idea is to provide the arts community with both an affordable and usable work space. Because we are not running a school or recreation center in the space, these studios are available during both daytime and evening hours.”

FLOORSPACE offers one large studio space, approximately 900 square feet, with a resilient wooden floor, high ceilings, windows, central air, and wall-length mirrors. The second studio is more intimate, at approximately 450 square feet, with wooden floor, central air, and wall-length mirrors. The spaces are ideal for dance rehearsals and classes, Pilates, Yoga, aerobics, or other movement-based disciplines. Theater groups looking for rehearsal space may also find these studios perfect for rehearsal. Musicians, especially those in ensemble groups, can also use the space for practice or recitals. The space can also accommodate visual artists in need of classroom space to teach figure drawing, photography, painting, or other styles—and both spaces offer plenty of light and room.

While FLOORSPACE is primarily for rental by artists, anyone interested in the arts are encouraged to check out the website. Many local artists will be offering dance, music, and visual art classes to the general public out of these studios, furthering the community-building spirit of the place. Whether you are an artist looking for work space, or just an advocate of the arts, stop by the Open House on Friday, July 17 from 6:00-9:00pm or Saturday, July 18 from 1:00-4:00pm. There will be live music, dance, and other entertainment, as well as light refreshments. FLOORSPACE is located at 3041 Indianola Avenue, a few doors south of Studio 35.

For more information, please visit the website at www.floorspacearts.com.
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