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.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLIV

When it comes to burgers, size really does matter. Dainty patties and delicate presentation aren’t really what the burger aficionado is looking for. No, the true burger fan wants a burger that is a colossal handful, groaning with high quality beef and melted cheese, so huge you struggle to finish it all even as you are relishing every last morsel.

On this crucial burger threshold, Alley Burger–the new restaurant at the corner of Lynn and Pearl Alleys in downtown Columbus, just around the corner from the venerable Ringside–passes with flying colors. When the B.A. Jersey Girl, the Church Singer, and I darted into Alley Burger on a cold and rainy day last week, we found a place that definitely doesn’t scrimp on the burgers. In fact, all of our sandwiches were so large that they were held together by huge and very sharp steak knives that looked like they belonged in a Rambo movie. The presence of these mercenary-style knives on our plates definitely encouraged civility in our lunchtime conversation, and should cause any visitor to Alley Burger to choose their lunch companions with care and avoid heated political discussions during their meals.

I ordered a double cheeseburger that was so highly stacked that, after one bite, I realized it could not be eaten by hand without risking massive suit and shirt staining, so the steak knife came in handy as I chopped the double up for a more genteel approach to consumption. The burger, made with Alley Burger’s own sauce, was excellent, and I finished it all The meal also came with free tortilla chips, with another fine sauce made in house, and a reasonable order of french fries. I stuck with water, which is my lunchtime drink of choice, but Alley Burger also offers a variety of slushies, and the proprietors are looking to secure their liquor license, too.

The Alley Burger location has been a kind of revolving door for restaurants during the time I’ve worked in downtown Columbus, and that rear wall that is now painted with the Alley Burger name has sported the names of many other restaurants gone by. I’m hoping that, unlike its many predecessors, Alley Burger sticks around for a while.

Cool Cocktail Coasters

Friday night we paid a visit to the Citizens Trust cocktail lounge. Located in a refurbished bank lobby less than a block from High Street in the heart of downtown Columbus, it’s an old school place, with vaulted ceilings, plenty of different seating areas, a little gold-trimmed booklet of its standard high end cocktail offerings, and a corps of experienced mixologists ready to prepare whatever concoction you care to name. It’s the kind of place you’d come to with a visitor to our fair city, to help communicate that Columbus is pretty cool.

One of the coolest features of the Citizens Trust, in my book, is the little vinyl records used as coasters. They’re eye-catching, and remind those of us of a certain age of our 45s and albums. (Of course, you’d never put a cocktail or wine glass on one of your treasured platters!)

Quality places typically have these kinds of little features that add to the overall ambiance. They aren’t essential, of course, and simple coasters would perform the same function just fine. But they send the unmistakable message that somebody paid attention to detail and went the extra mile. When you see those kinds of signs, you can order that artisanal cocktail with confidence.

Cool Cocktail Coasters

Friday night we paid a visit to the Citizens Trust cocktail lounge. Located in a refurbished bank lobby less than a block from High Street in the heart of downtown Columbus, it’s an old school place, with vaulted ceilings, plenty of different seating areas, a little gold-trimmed booklet of its standard high end cocktail offerings, and a corps of experienced mixologists ready to prepare whatever concoction you care to name. It’s the kind of place you’d come to with a visitor to our fair city, to help communicate that Columbus is pretty cool.

One of the coolest features of the Citizens Trust, in my book, is the little vinyl records used as coasters. They’re eye-catching, and remind those of us of a certain age of our 45s and albums. (Of course, you’d never put a cocktail or wine glass on one of your treasured platters!)

Quality places typically have these kinds of little features that add to the overall ambiance. They aren’t essential, of course, and simple coasters would perform the same function just fine. But they send the unmistakable message that somebody paid attention to detail and went the extra mile. When you see those kinds of signs, you can order that artisanal cocktail with confidence.

The Piranha Look

On our walk yesterday morning Betty and I strolled along the downtown riverfront area. As we approached the Main Street bridge the overcast skies and sluggish river flow made the river surface reflective of the suspension arch and the railroad bridge behind, like the river was a metal mirror. The result looked like the jaws of a piranha ready to close on the railroad bridge.

Nevertheless, the intrepid Betty and I decided to brave crossing the Main Street bridge to the Franklinton side, and did so without being consumed.

A Deer’s-Eye View

Betty and I took a walk around the river in downtown Columbus this morning, which gave her a chance to hang with a deer friend (get it?) on the stepped seating area in front of COSI. She and her antlered pal got to take in a nifty view of the skyline.

The seated deer sculpture is one of several deer sculptures in the riverfront area, all of which are doing very undeerlike things. I think they are pretty cool.

Back To NormArnold

Back in 2020 (cursed be its memory!) one of the first signs that the world was changing was the cancellation of the Arnold Sports Classic. Known in Columbus simply as “the Arnold,” the event is traditionally one of the biggest tourist weekends for the city, as participants, their families, exhibitors, and fans flock to various venues around town for a huge array of different events and competitions. You always knew the Arnold was back in town when you turned the calendar page to March and saw muscle-bound guys walking around downtown carrying bags crammed with giant containers of protein supplements and other products.

But in early March 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther made the decision to cancel the Arnold due to COVID-19 for fear the event–which attracts people from around the world–could turn out to be a “super spreader” incident. For those of us in Columbus, at least, the cancellation of the Arnold way back in March 2020 sent a clear and unmistakable message: hey, if they are cancelling the Arnold, this coronavirus thing must really be serious! And there was no Arnold in March 2021, either.

But yesterday I was eating lunch in a downtown restaurant when I saw the familiar, bulky shapes of Arnold attendees stride by. They weren’t carrying bags of products–at least, not yet–but their mighty frames and arms so overdeveloped they could not rest at their sides made it quite clear that the Arnold was back. And frankly, it was great to see them. I’ve never attended an event at the Arnold, but for Columbus the reality of once again hosting that event, in person, is a sign that the world is slowly returning to some semblance of the pre-pandemic “normal.” In Ohio’s capital city, we might call it getting back to normArnold.

My guess is that every town in the United States will have some event that communicates that the pandemic is finally, blessedly over. I hope the sign that your corner of the world is back to business as usual comes soon, if it hasn’t come already.

Underneath The Bridges

The Scioto Mile path offers the walker a choice: you can take the high road, or you can take the low road. The high road pretty much sticks to street level. The low road, on the other hand, hugs the river, and leads you down on a winding path that runs beneath the various traffic and railroad bridges that span the river.

I prefer the low road, and the bridges are a big part of the reason why.

Street-level views of the world are fine, of course, but that’s what we get every day. To me, the engineering underworld of concrete spans and bridge abutments and rip rap is a nice change of pace. It is especially interesting on a cold, clear morning, where the sunshine plays with the concrete and metal and adds a new element to the views.

When we hear debate about infrastructure, bridges are a lot of what we’re talking about. To my unschooled eye, the downtown Columbus bridges over the river look to be in pretty good shape, with no apparent cracks or sags or exposed rebar. And they are interesting bridges, too, from a design standpoint. I doubt if the bridge designers focused overmuch on the underside views as opposed to the topside perspective, but the underside views are compelling nevertheless. Looking at the bridges from below helps you to understand how bridges work, and also leads to an appreciation of the artistry of sound engineering.

Morning On The Mile

This morning I took a walk along the Scioto Mile, heading down Gay Street and then turning right and heading north along the river. The path winds past the federal courthouse, under railroads bridges, and by the high-rise condos of the Arena District. You need to be sure to stick to the pavement and not venture onto the lawns, which are Canadian goose dropping zones. When you reach the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers and cross the bridge at that point, you get a nice view of downtown Columbus looking back up the river, as shown below.

Columbus Parks and Recreation has worked hard to try to make the riverfront more accessible and interesting. That effort will become increasingly important as more people move to the downtown area and the development of the long-neglected Franklinton area continues. Having parkland and walking and biking trails is a key part of the urban living experience.

The Lone Arch

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, much of downtown Columbus fell to the wrecking ball in an orgy of “urban renewal.” Many of the old structures that were built around the turn of the century were torn down and replaced by skyscrapers–or, more likely, surface parking lots. By the time my family moved here in 1971, the Neil House, a hotel across from the Statehouse, and Union Station, shown in the photograph below, still remained, but their days were numbered. Both were torn down in the late ’70s.

I wish Union Station had survived. It was an example of Beaux Arts architecture, and featured an arched arcade for its entrance. The arcade, with its series of arches, could have been repurposed into shops and restaurants and brew pubs, but the city planners of that day didn’t really have that kind of foresight. It was easier to remove than preserve, so that it what they did. It makes you appreciate the surviving structures, like the Ohio Theater, the Atlas Building, the Wyandotte Building, and the older buildings on Gay Street and elsewhere in the core downtown area, that also could have been demolished.

All that remains of the colossal Union Station facade is the arch shown above, which stands, alone, at the entrance to a small park in the Arena District. It’s a silent reminder of what once was, and what could still have have been.

“Fair Style” As An Adjective

A restaurant located near our firm, OH Pizza + Brew, features this sign about its dessert options in the restaurant’s front window. To some, no doubt, the phrasing seems odd. But to anyone who has been to the Ohio State Fair, and has eaten “fair food” along the midway, a reference to “fair style” desserts conveys a powerful message indeed.

What is a “fair style” dessert, exactly? Typically, it has multiple characteristics. First, of course, it must involve food stuffs that are bad for you, prepared in a way that accentuates their unhealthy impact. That means desserts that are fried, that are high in sugar, and that include components from Dr. Nick’s “neglected food groups” pyramid shown on a classic Simpsons episode.

Second, the dessert must be excessive. That means the portions must be huge—think of a piece of fried dough as big as a dinner plate—and the dessert must features unholy combinations that push the caloric content off the charts. Fried Snickers bars on top of ice cream in fried dough might be one element, for example, but you’re going to want to add, say, pieces of candied bacon dipped in chocolate, whipped cream, drizzled caramel, and then drop M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces on top, just to give the concoction a real fair flair.

And finally, a true “fair style” dessert must be plausibly, if messily, portable, and capable of being consumed by someone walking on a dusty path between ancient rides like the Tilt-a-Wheel. That means handheld options, like red hot elephant ears doused in powdered sugar and the covered with other goodies that will leave your hands gross and sticky for hours, or desserts that can be wedged into a cheap cone or flimsy paper bowl that will immediately begin to dissolve as the dessert quickly melts in the summer sun.

That’s what a “fair style” dessert means to me, at least. I haven’t been into OH Pizza + Brew to see what they offer. Frankly, I’m kind of afraid to check it out.