When Scooters Really Suck

If you want to understand why urban dwellers like me really don’t like scooters, here’s a good example. This scene greeted me this morning as I walked to work. A gaggle of scooters was left willy-nilly in an already narrow part of the sidewalk, leaving the luckless pedestrian to navigate through the openings and at the same time accommodate people approaching from the opposite direction. And incidentally, by the time this afternoon rolled around, some of the scooters had been knocked over, making the sidewalks even more blocked. Would it have really been so hard for the scooter users to simply park their discarded vehicles a few feet away in Pearl Alley, where there was plenty of room?

What is it with scooter users? Are they so focused on their own, intrinsic, scooter-riding coolness that they just don’t feel bound by the same rules of polite conduct that apply to the rest of us?

How Green Was My Garden?

In 2007, Gay Street in downtown Columbus was changed from a one-way to a two-way street. As part of the project, about $1 million was spent on environmental improvements, including landscaped median strips that were added at points along the street, as well as “rain gardens.” The rain gardens were designated areas surrounded by cement berms that were supposed to look like an actual garden, with flowers and other plantings. They were intended to serve an important purpose: to absorb and filter storm water runoff from the surrounding area before it found its way back to local rivers.

The switch to a two-way street has worked well for Gay Street. The “rain gardens,” on the other hand, were kept up for a time and were a nice addition to the street; they also were featured in The Rain Gardener newsletter and won awards for the consultants who developed the project. But at some point along the way, whoever was responsible for taking care of the rain gardens stopped doing so. The photo above shows one of the rain gardens as it looked yesterday when I walked by on my way to the library. It’s an unsightly, muddy area, but more importantly it probably doesn’t do much to serve its stated purpose of absorbing and filtering storm water runoff–at least, no more than would be accomplished by untended open ground.

Only the sign below remains to remind passersby of what this area was supposed to be. Interestingly, Columbus’ submission to The Rain Gardener newsletter, linked above, stated that one of the goals of the rain garden project was to educate downtown workers, residents, and others “about the issues that storm water runoff creates.” Now the rain gardens serve a different educational purpose: they show what happens after the awards and the fanfare, when a well-intended “green” project is ignored and you wonder why the money to create it was spent in the first place.

Green Spaces (VI)

When the Scioto Mile project was first announced years ago, there was a lot of skepticism about whether focusing on Columbus’ sluggish river area could ever produce benefits. I was admittedly one of the skeptics. Now that the project has been completed and had a few years to develop, I’ve become a believer. I think the Scioto Mile has become a really great addition to the roster of Columbus green spaces.

The Scioto Mile is physically different from the traditional downtown Columbus green spaces, like the Statehouse grounds and Goodale Park, because it is a long, sprawling stretch of green that runs along the river rather than being a defined rectangle, which is the configuration of most traditional parks. The length of the park, which runs for more than a mile, gives it a decidedly different vibe than other parks. The uninterrupted walkways that duck under the bridges spanning the river make it a favorite for cyclists, joggers, and walkers, for example. And the extended nature of the park means there is plenty of room for interesting and distinctive spaces. One of my favorites is an area directly behind the federal courthouse that is filled with statues of whimsical creatures positioned along a rolling lawn. Who wouldn’t want to sit down next to a griffin or a unicorn and watch the river roll by?

I’ve got to give credit to the city planners who came up with the Scioto Mile project and then executed on it: it’s definitely had a positive impact on the downtown area and the workers and residents who frequent it.

Green Spaces (V)

Columbus is blessed with two excellent urban parks that bracket the core downtown area. The one to the north is Goodale Park, named for Dr. Lincoln Goodale, who is represented in the statuary bust shown above. Dr. Goodale was a physician, businessman, and civic-minded person who donated the park property to the city of Columbus in 1851 on the condition that it be “forever kept and preserved as a public park.” Fortunately, the city accepted and has kept its word.

Goodale Park is a good example of how a park can become deeply integrated into the surrounding community. It’s the long-time site of Comfest, a convenient watching spot for the Doodah Parade, and an essential feature of the nearby Short North area. It’s also huge, sprawling, and provides plenty of that treasured green space where a person can wander or simply sink down upon the wide green lawns. And it has the best fountain of any Columbus urban park, with its tower of twin elephants spouting water from their trunks into a lake filled with fish and turtles. How can you top that?

Dr. Goodale was a far-sighted person, and generations of Columbus residents owe him a debt of gratitude for giving us a great urban park.

Changing Of The Guard

If you’re not thrilled with your current job, at least recognize that you could be doing something worse—like swapping out chemical toilets at a downtown Columbus COTA bus stop on a hot summer afternoon. You can only imagine the delightful odors these poor guys were experiencing.

There might be worse jobs than that, but I really can’t think of any offhand. Can you?

Green Spaces (IV)

I like the tucked away, somewhat hidden green spaces that you find in downtown Columbus and other urban settings. They show that someone went to the effort and expense of creating a pretty area when they could have simply eschewed grass and trees and turned the area into a soulless, uninviting, and low-maintenance concrete patio instead.

One of these little gems is found just off High Street, on the block north of Nationwide Boulevard. As you head north on the west side of High Street and approach the bridge over some railroad tracks, a sidewalk suddenly appears to the left. If you follow it, the winding path allows you to cut over to Front Street, but also takes you past this sliver of green with grass, trees, and landscaping and a cool view of the Hyatt Regency hotel building. Whoever designed the area did a commendable job, because the row of trees between the area and High Street act as an effective screen against traffic noise, creating a quiet, calm oasis in the middle of a busy city.

This attractive green spot is right next to an office building. I’m sure there are workers who enjoy looking at the windows at it, and also appreciate it as a lunch spot where they can sit under the trees and enjoy some carry-out from the nearby North Market on a sunny day. Whoever created this little area has enriched their work days.

The Kayak Tell

In poker, a “tell” occurs when players exhibit some visible sign that betrays their view of their position. They might touch an ear, or blink, or shift their position in response to a very good hand, or a very bad predicament. The experienced poker player watches for such tells, and profits from them.

“Tells” extend beyond the poker table. Rivers have tells, too. And when I took my walk along the Scioto River today, I saw one of them. In two different places along the river, in the heart of downtown and near the Audubon Park dam, I saw groups of kayaks on the water, as well as a pop-up kayak company along the riverbank near the Main Street bridge.

Kayaks are a significant “tell” for the Scioto River, because they indicate that what the Scioto River project hoped to achieve is, in fact, moving closer to reality. When the project began years ago, the designers hoped that by narrowing the river and removing some of the dams, the river might be transformed from a shallow, muddy, debris-choked mess into a real river, with an actual, discernible current. Kayaks are a pretty good tell that the goal is being achieved, because they move with the current. Even more important, no one would have wanted to be at seated kayak distance from the sluggish, smelly Scioto of days gone by.

The Scioto has a long way to go before it could be viewed as a natural river, but every journey begins with a single step. Kayaks on the water are a good sign.

The New Restaurant On The Block

It’s always exciting when a new restaurant opens in downtown Columbus. It’s especially exciting when the new restaurant is in your neighborhood, only a few steps away from your door. That’s why I’ve been keenly interested in following the progress as Speck Italian Eatery builds out its space and gets ready to open its doors. Recently, the name went up over the front door, as shown in the photo above, which it usually a good sign that the grand opening is not far away.

Speck was a beloved Delaware, Ohio landmark that decided to relocate to downtown Columbus. It offers what it calls “innovative modern Italian recipes” that drew raves from the customers who frequented its Delaware location. And, after our recent visit to Italy and Sicily, I’ve got a decided taste for more Italian cooking–so having a place nearby that offers that fare will be much appreciated.

It’s not clear exactly when Speck will open, but the scuttlebutt in the Gay Street District is that the restaurant is aiming for mid-July. Welcome to the neighborhood, Speck!

Back To Comfest

Here’s another reason to celebrate the end of the COVID pandemic: Comfest is back, and celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend at Goodale Park after a two-year pandemic-fueled absence. Today was a beautiful day, and it was clear that a lot of people thought, as I did, that a trip to Comfest was a good idea. The event was crowded, which made me wonder just how packed it will get tonight, when the partying really begins in earnest.

I spent the morning and early afternoon at the park, joining hundreds of my closest friends for a classic Columbus event. Comfest—which is short for Community Festival—attracts people from just about every part of the Columbus community and from all age groups, too. Some bring their lawn chairs and blankets; others just plop themselves down on the grass in one of the shady spots near the center of the action. Some come for the free music, some come for the crafts, clothing, and “head shop” gear sold at the many stands set up along the sidewalks of the park, some come for the food, and some come for the beer.

Judging from the long lines at the beer trucks, one of which is shown in the photo above, I’d say that beer was the most popular item at Comfest today–which is no surprise, because it was a hot, bright day. The food options were out in force, however, as shown in the photo below. There were a lot of people chowing down on fair-style classics like french fries in a cup, barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, and assorted sugary items, as well as on the offerings from food stands set up by local restaurants. I resisted both the beer and the fair food and just enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of the Comfest. And the smells suggested, incidentally, that many of the Comfest attendees had medical conditions that qualified them to take advantage of Ohio’s medical marijuana law.

I like to sample the music being played, so I toured all of the Comfest stages, sitting down on the grass and just relishing the chance to hear live music in a crowd again. All of the bands were good, but my favorite was a power group that played on the Goodale stage, shown below, and sent out crushing waves of sound that left me and other audience members transfixed. With the Nationwide building and other downtown skyscrapers in the background and the music blaring, I realized once again that Comfest is a blast. If you are in town this weekend, it’s worth a visit.

Green Spaces (III)

One of the nicer, and smaller, parks in the downtown Columbus area is located right next to the Grange Insurance headquarters on South High Street. There doesn’t seem to be a sign naming the park, and Google Maps identifies it, simply, as “Grange Insurance South Green.”

That’s actually a pretty apt name for this lush, verdant, quiet, and well-landscaped spot just a few blocks south of the I-70/I-71 highway snarl, where the Grange buildings loom in the background. Most people aren’t aware of it, which is just fine with the locals who like to sit in the shade on one of the benches or take their dogs there for some happy outdoor playtime. In fact, it’s such a popular spot for our canine friends that some German Village residents refer to it as the “Grange Dog Park.”

That’s not quite fair, because the park isn’t only for our pooch pals to enjoy; it’s also a nice stopping point for anyone who is walking down High Street along the border of German Village. It’s not unusual to see visitors to Columbus taking a breather there on one of the benches, looking at a map and deciding where they are going to go next in the German Village/Brewery District area. That’s exactly why parks can play such a notable role in our communities: they send a message about valuing nature and outdoor spaces that resonates with both residents and tourists. I’m pretty sure that any visitor who enjoyed the “Grange Insurance South Green” came away with a more positive view of Columbus than they would have had otherwise.

Doorless

The other day the Long-Haired Red Sox Fan asked if I’d like to drive with him to lunch. I agreed, not knowing that I would be experiencing doorless downtown driving as a result.

The LHRSF has a new Ford Bronco that he is quite proud of, and his Ford Bronco, like all of the new Broncos, allows the owner to fully remove the doors–and roof. The Bronco is designed to be an off-road vehicle, and apparently driving around in the Great Outdoors with the doors off is what you are supposed to do to increase the off-roading fun factor. (Perhaps they should call it the “Great Nodoors” in recognition of that.) Of course, we weren’t going to be driving around the rugged landscape in, say, New Mexico, but instead venturing a mile or so through downtown Columbus. Nevertheless, the LHRSF thinks driving around with no doors enhances the fun factor wherever you are. He had removed the doors (he reports that it’s a cinch) and left them in his garage, although he had thoughtfully kept the roof attached.

It’s weird driving around in a vehicle with no doors. You’re totally exposed to the outside, and secured to your ride only by a seat belt. Being exposed might add to the fun when you’re off-roading through the elements, but in the city it basically means anyone can look in and get a full body view of everyone in the car. Until you drive around in a doorless Bronco, you don’t fully appreciate how much privacy is provided by car doors–and just how welcome that privacy is. And, with the asphalt perfectly visible and whizzing by only a few inches from your feet, you’ll never care more about the strength and quality of your seat belt.

We drove about a mile or so, from downtown to the Brewery District, without incident, and when we parked and went to our restaurant, no passerby used the open Bronco as a trash receptacle. Fortunately, we didn’t experience any unexpected cloudbursts. And the doorless ride back was uneventful, too.

I don’t think I would ever buy a vehicle that had a doorless option. I’m just too conventional, and I would always be tortured by thoughts of drivers and passengers being jettisoned from the vehicle and rolling along the roadway. But life is all about trying new things, and now–thanks to the LHRSF–I can say that I’ve driven in a doorless car. Another item on the bucket list has officially been checked.

Arty Party

Our firm had a party tonight at the Columbus Museum of Art. It’s a great venue for a party. We started outside in the garden, where we got to enjoy vistas like that shown in the photo above, then we moved inside for food, drinks and karaoke. Who would have thought that our law firm had so many singers? After midnight the staff had to kick us out.

Downtown Columbus has a lot of good party spots. The Art Museum is one of them.

Green Spaces

When you live in a downtown space, you inevitably see a lot of steel and concrete. Green spaces are therefore a welcome sight, just to inject a little color variety into the urban landscape. But green spaces also are essential if you hope to encourage people to live downtown, which is an obvious goal of Columbus city planners.

People need green spaces to romp around with their dogs, as a woman in the far distance was doing when I took the picture above, to sit on the grass on a warm, sunny day, eat a carryout or food truck lunch, and just stop for a minute and take in their surroundings. Green spaces can go a long way toward improving the urban dweller’s mood. And, if planning is done well, green spaces also can serve as performance venues, gathering spots, and impressive photo backdrops.

This summer I’m going to be checking out some of the parks and green spaces in the downtown Columbus area. A good starting point is the Columbus Commons, shown above, just south of the Statehouse in the center of downtown. When the Columbus City Center mall failed years ago, city planners could have developed the space into another downtown building. Fortunately, they had the foresight to turn the sprawling property into a park that is bordered by residential and commercial buildings. The wide, deep, and very lush green lawns are beautiful from spring to fall, and they serve as a performance venue for Picnic with the Pops and other concerts, the site for open “workout Wednesday” yoga and exercise groups, and a food truck destination.

Plus–and this is an important point–the vista of the green lawns against the backdrop of the surrounding buildings just looks cool. Columbus Commons is a green space done well.

Unmetered

Earlier this spring, the blue sign shown above started appearing on parking meters in downtown Columbus. The sign notified parkers and passersby that Columbus was going to a meter-free parking world. Yesterday morning, as I walked to work down Gay Street, city workers were removing the coin-accepting tops of the parking meters from their metal stands and hurling them into the back of a pickup truck, where they landed with a clang. One of the employees at our firm noted that a parker had just put money into one of the meters before it was taken and unceremoniously tossed into the truck.

By the end of the day, a new parking kiosk and a new sign, shown below, had appeared in front of our firm. All of the parking meters were gone–with only their sad, lonely metal stumps remaining to remind us, probably forever, of where the meters once were.

Why is Columbus ditching the meters? The city’s Director of the Department of Public Service says it is part of an effort “to enhance the customer experience for on-street parking by adding greater convenience with better technology tools.” She adds: “A modernized system supports equitable access and turnover as our city—and curb lane demand—keep growing.” (I’m guessing that “curb lane demand” refers to desire for parking spaces.)

The city says that the new system will be simpler for parkers, who can identify their mobile pay zone using street signs where they parked, walk to the nearest kiosk, enter their license plate number and pay using a card or coins. I’m not sure why the city contends that this new approach is simpler than just dropping a few coins into a slot. And the new system will require people to remember their license plate number, which will predictably cause a number of people to double back to confirm their number, but there’s no fighting progress.

The article linked above quotes the city’s Assistant Director for Parking Services as saying: “For the City of Columbus, streamlining parking payment will require less maintenance, greater efficiency, and enable quick and accurate license plate recognition (LRP) enforcement to encourage access and turnover.” In short, it will be easier to ticket people who overstay their designated parking space period. If you’re parking in downtown Columbus, keep that in mind. And watch out for those sad metal stumps.