Holding Fast In The Wind Tunnel

If you work in a downtown area, you understand the wind tunnel effect.

IMG_1699In the world of weather, it’s almost never dead calm. There is usually some breeze, a gentle zephyr wafting across the rolling countryside. Except, when it reaches a downtown area, there’s no place for the gentle zephyr to go as it runs up against office buildings and other barriers. The breeze gets channeled and concentrated along rigid streets lines, and suddenly that gentle zephyr has been converted into a focused blast that snaps the flag on the flagpole and lifts hats from heads and sends them tumbling along the sidewalk.

Let’s just say that the wind tunnel effect especially sucks during the winter. On a gray winter’s day like today, with the temperature plummeting, the cold core of concentrated air cuts to the very core, congeals the blood, brings tears to the eyes and a moan to the lips. The wind finds every crevice in your winter garb, sneaks between the layers of scarf and coats, ices the foreheads and reddens the ears. Pedestrians walk carefully, leaning into the chilled air, hoping to hold fast in the wind tunnel and just make it to their cars.

During the winter, the wind tunnel can bite me — and it does.


Car2go 4 Cols

Car2go has come to Columbus.  Walking in to work this morning, I saw two of their cars parked along Gay Street — which is appropriate, because Gay Street is the coolest street in downtown Columbus and car2go is a pretty cool idea.

IMG_1617According to the website and its FAQs, it works like this.  You fill out an application form and make one $35 payment to register after your application is accepted.  You are mailed a membership card.  You download the car2go app to your smartphone then use it to locate cars.  When you find one, you swipe your card, answer some questions, get in, and drive.  You are charged 38 cents a minute for use of the car, and you return it to a metered space within the car2go home area, which covers German Village, downtown, the University district, and Clintonville.  The charges are billed to your credit card.

It’s an interesting idea that is based on a core reality of urban living — owning your own car can be a pain when you live in a city.  You don’t need a car most of the time.  Parking spaces can be hard to find, and figuring out where to put your car can be a hassle.  With car2go, you only have a car when you really need it, and you only pay for it as long as you use it.  The two car2go vehicles I saw today were the small, two-seater models that seem well-suited to their limited purpose.

Will Columbus car2go work?  Beats me.  But if you want to offer an urban living lifestyle, as Columbus does, it seems like a pretty good idea that would fill a void.


The Guardian Building

IMG_5151On our visit to downtown Detroit over the weekend, Russell made sure that we stopped by the Guardian Building, which has to be one of the coolest buildings you’d find anywhere.  It is a fantastic palace of a building that combines Incan themes, Art Deco motifs, and the kind of architectural flourishes that you’d expect from a wealthy Bavarian prince.  Walking through the building is a feast for the senses — as I hope the photos in this post demonstrate.

IMG_5154Of course, Detroit being Detroit, reality had to intrude into the dream.  Some time ago, somebody thought it would be wise to connect this fabulous structure to the boring high-rise across the street through what looks like a cheap aluminum tube.  It’s hideous, and it tells you a lot about the kind of judgment Detroiters were using during the city’s long downhill slide.  Fortunately, nobody messed with the lobby area of the building, where these photos were taken.


The Rehabilitation Quandary

Last night, on our way to a visit with Richard in Columbus, Missouri, Kish and I spent the night in Terre Haute, Indiana.  (For the record, Terre Haute means “upland.”)  We stayed in a Candlewood Suites downtown.

IMG_5032One block away was a magnificent movie theater — the Indiana.  Located on a corner, it had a fantastic wraparound front, a central ticket window, a fine neon sign, and especially beautiful, detailed stone or plaster work above the entrance.  You could easily imagine walking into the theater to watch new releases like The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind or some other film from the golden era of Hollywood.

I could only imagine what the interior looked like — because the Indiana was closed, of course.  Like many of the magnificent downtown theaters in America, it has fallen out of favor in an era of multiplexes and cinemas where a dozen films are offered and some theater screens as only slight larger than the big screen TV offered at Best Buy.

There was a big dumpster outside the Indiana, and a small piece of machinery that indicated there was a rehabilitation effort underway.  That’s the big quandary for towns like Terre Haute, I suppose.  You’ve got tremendous structures from your glory days, but they just aren’t economical anymore.  What do you do with them?  Do you sink money into them, and hope that you can figure out a way to keep them busy and marginally profitable?  Or do you just recognize that societal forces have sent structures like the Indiana the way of the dodo?

I say give it a shot.  Keep the Indiana, and hope that you can find a way to support something that is beautiful and unique.

Planning For Parkland

The Columbus Downtown Development Corp. is hoping to create more parkland in the downtown area.  If it happens, it will be a good thing.

The plan is to put the parkland in the area around COSI and where the Veterans Memorial Auditorium now stands.  Vets is supposed to be torn down and replaced by an amphitheater and a different kind of veterans center.  At the same time, the damming on the Scioto River as it sluggishly moves through downtown is to be changed to allow the river to return to its more natural, narrower, more swiftly flowing state.  The narrowing will create an opportunity for additional parkland.  And, a third part of the plan — a 50,000-foot “indoor adventure” structure operated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — will be built just south of COSI.

It’s an ambitious plan, and, in Columbus, ambitious plans often are greeted with skepticism.  The urban landscape is dotted with plan and concepts that have never become reality, and Columbus is no exception.  When a planner says their vision is of Columbus’ version of Central Park — which is a bit of an overstatement in any event — the question of whether the project will get off the ground becomes even more compelling.

Still, the idea of more parkland is a good one.  The future of downtown Columbus is as a residential area, not an industrial center. People like parks and playgrounds in their neighborhoods, and urban dwellers also like things to do within walking distance.  That means parks, theaters, restaurants, bars, and other potential entertainment venues.  A plan that provides parks, an amphitheater, and a downtown aquarium fits those needs.  Putting those sites on the west side of the river in the Franklinton area also makes sense.  In Columbus, as in other cities, the river is a real dividing line, and most downtown workers don’t venture over the bridges.  That needs to stop, and putting some real attractions in Franklinton will help.

Columbus is changing, and most of the changes are for the better.  Adding green space that makes downtown living more attractive will accelerate the positive trend.

At The Corner Of Hype Street And Boosterism Boulevard

Yesterday, I thought I was at the intersection of Broad Street and Front Street in downtown Columbus.  But when I looked at the street signs, it appeared that I was instead at the corner of “Commit to be Fit” and “Top 7 Intelligent Community Way.”  So, of course, I immediately began jogging while mentally performing differential calculus equations.

IMG_1325Does anyone else have this issue in their city or town?  In Columbus, street signs are no longer reserved for providing the visitor with useful information about where they are.  Instead, the signs often are used for civic boosterism or one-shot nods to a visiting convention or celebrity.  So, because a group named Columbus one of the seven most intelligent cities in the world, we’ve got to make sure that anyone tromping around downtown is reminded of that fact.  As for “Commit to be Fit”?  Well, it’s a laudable goal.  Now, how the heck to I get to Schmidt’s Sausage Haus?

I love Columbus, and I think it’s a wonderful place to live and work, but I don’t think we need to constantly be hyping our special little corner of the world.  Putting up street signs that brag about our community intelligence seems awfully needy to me.  It also is likely to provoke curses from motorists who are looking at the street signs to provide guidance on how to get to where they want to go.

Here’s an idea:  why don’t we just let the street signs of Columbus do their job of telling people where they are, and leave it up to the visitors to our fair city to figure out on their own what a fine, brainy place Columbus is?

Construction Cranes On The Commons

There’s building going on down at the Columbus Commons.

IMG_1238It’s part of the housing mini-boom that has gripped downtown Columbus over the past few years, as developers have rehabbed old buildings into apartments and condos and also built some new structures.  The housing boomlet has made downtown into a much more bustling place, especially on weekends.  It’s why we’ve finally got a downtown grocer and several new restaurants, and it’s one of the reasons (aside from our firm, of course) that Gay Street has become the coolest street in downtown Columbus.

The development on the Commons is called Highpoint and will offer studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.  It’s located right on the Columbus Commons, with the front to be along High Street and the back facing the Commons park.  It’s one of several developments that have been built in the south half of downtown Columbus, between the Statehouse and the Franklin County court complex.  I think (and hope) we’ll be seeing more of this, as Columbus slowly moves to more of a residential downtown that caters to the urban living crowd.