The Value Of A Park

Living near Schiller Park — a sprawling, 150-year-old green space that covers multiple city blocks and is home to mature trees, picnic tables, lots of shade, a duck pond, a rec center, tennis courts, a playground, an outdoor basketball court, and a stage where the Actors Theatre of Columbus performs on summer evenings — has really shown me the value that a park brings to a community.

German Village has a very strong and distinctive neighborhood feel, and Schiller Park is a big part of that.  The park  is constantly in use, from the joggers and dog walkers who circle it in the early morning hours to the mid-day basketball and tennis players and parents pushing their kids ever higher on the swings, to the late afternoon birthday parties on the picnic tables beneath huge shade trees and people reading books on benches or playing fetch with their dogs.  You see the same people over and over, which of course reinforces the feeling of community, and you take pride in this beautiful patch of green that draws people like a magnet.  German Village without Schiller Park wouldn’t really be German Village at all.

In the American neighborhoods built before 1900, parks were of course part of the design — because green space and parkland were traditional in the countries of Europe from which many Americans of that era immigrated.  I’m sure the German immigrants who gave German Village its name never gave a second thought to putting in a large park, because it was just expected and obvious.  

At some point after 1900, though, the builders of suburban communities saw parks as less necessary, whether it was because they figured people would be driving around and not interested in walking to a park, or because they concluded that the acreage of a park could be more profitably devoted to still more houses.  As a result, many suburban communities are seriously park-deprived.  

It’s too bad, because a nice park really makes a difference and brings a lot of value to a neighborhood.

South Village Grille

When a new restaurant opens in your neighborhood, it’s always fun to visit for the first time — to take in the ambiance and setting, scan the totally unfamiliar menu, and try a dish that might, if things go right, become a special favorite.

Last night Kish and I went to the South Village Grille, which has been open for about a month.  It’s on Thurman, in the spot formerly occupied by Easy Street, which was a favorite of ours.  But where Easy Street was a classic neighborhood joint and good brunch and burger place, the South Village Grille has a different aim:  according to the hostess and our waiter, it’s looking to recreate a kind of New York bistro setting, with food (and cocktails) made from scratch.  The interior is open and airy — a far cry from the Easy Street days, when just about every inch of wall space was cluttered with things like Frank Sinatra’s mug shot — with cool light fixtures.  And large mirrors on the walls. I’m not sure exactly what New York bistros are supposed to look like, but this design was both intimate and visually appealing.

More important, the food was appealing — in fact, it was terrific.  Kish and I started by splitting six enormous raw Chesapeake Bay oysters, topped with a tasty Thai vinaigrette sauce of the chef’s devising, and then I went for the hanger steak and fries and Kish had a wedge salad and the short rib.  My steak was great — cooked just right to medium rare — and Kish’s short rib was moist and tender.  She raved about her wedge salad, too.

We closed things off with strawberry shortcake (it is summer, after all) that featured a crisp shortcake biscuit, ice cream, a kind of creme fraiche sauce, and spicy, seasoned strawberries.  I can attest that it tasted as good as it looks.

I’m pretty sure we’ll be adding the South Village Grille to our list of dine-around favorites.

Siccing The Cops On Scofflaws

There’s a Starbucks on a street corner near our house.  It’s a busy place in the morning, and it doesn’t have its own parking lot, although there is an available lot only a hundred feet or so away.  I walk past the Starbucks every morning at about 6 a.m. on my outbound early morning jaunt, and walk past it again at about 6:30 on my return home.

By then, inevitably, there are extremely important people who have parked illegally right in front of the store, so they can dash in to get their morning Starbucks fix without having to wait an instant longer, walk a few steps after parking in the available lot, or comply with posted parking signs like the rest of us average folks.  And they’re not just parking in a legitimate spot that requires a special sticker, either.  No, they’re leaving their cars in clearly posted “No Stopping” zones, where their cars block the crosswalk, meaning anyone walking by has to squeeze between parked cars — which isn’t very safe when people are driving in and out, like at a Starbucks — and anyone who happened to be using a wheelchair, walker, or stroller would be totally out of luck because the curb cut and incline are totally blocked.  And, also inevitably, these self-absorbed illegal parkers who can’t spare an extra minute of their time then put their car in reverse, in the process going the wrong way on a one-way street, and back out onto Third Street before going on their merry way.  In the process, they pay no attention to anybody who might be crossing the street behind them.

This who scenario bugs the crap out of me (obviously), and I’ve had to restrain myself from saying something to these scofflaws when they happen to leave the Starbucks as I am walking by.  Last week I thought we had reached the nadir of lawful compliance in our society when somebody parked in the no stopping zone — immediately behind a police car that was parked legally!  Talk about chutzpah!  And I toyed with the idea of actually calling the police to see if they could send out somebody to ticket a few of these selfish people and remind them that the parking laws apply to them, too.  But I restrained myself, trying to adopt a “live and let live” attitude.

This week, though, a police office magically appeared at the Starbucks corner at just the right time and wrote tickets for every illegally parked car.  I actually patted the guy on the shoulder and thanked him for doing something to promote pedestrian safety and take a step to advance the “broken windows” theory in our neighborhood.  I didn’t summon him, but somebody did — and I was glad.

I hope the illegal parkers enjoyed reading their tickets as they savored their triple caramel latte and thought about their enormous importance.

 

Goslings On Parade

It’s spring, so of course we’ve got hatchlings at the Schiller Park pond.  A family of Canadian geese has a brood of four goslings who have been strutting their stuff, to the delight of their proud and protective parents and passersby alike.

The brown goslings are almost unbearably cute, and their tumbling and waddling as they follow Mom and Dad around is fun to watch.  Soon they’ll be losing their downy coats and will emerge as full-grown Canadian geese — one of the most aggressive, loud-honking, crap-anywhere-and-everywhere, obnoxious species of birds that you find around these parts.

I prefer them at this stage.

School Recycling Programs

German Village must have had a lot of kids back in the day, because it has a lot of neighborhood public and parochial schools.  Every few blocks you run across a large multi-story brick building where boys and girls once learned their ABCs.

Over time, the kids grew up, and because new kids didn’t take their places, the buildings grew vacant, and the schools were closed.  Some of these grand structures fell into disrepair.  But recently, the school buildings have been recycled.  One school has been changed into a beautiful private residence.  The Barrett School, below, has been converted into a grand building of one- and two-bedroom apartments that is the cornerstone of a huge development in south German Village.  And the Beck Street school, above, has been reopened as . . . a school, complete with a new school crossing sign.  It’s now a magnet school in the Columbus system.

Almost all of the older public school buildings are pretty, well-made buildings with tall windows and lots of wood.  It’s great that they are being used again.

Flower Power

Our weird winter weather seemed to do a number on this spring’s tulip crop in German Village — at least, it seems like there aren’t as many around this year.  I wonder whether the warmer than normal February, followed by the colder than normal March and early April, took its toll on the flower we traditionally associate with spring (and Holland).

Still, there are a few nice tulip beds to be found, like this beauty on Third Street.  Thanks to whoever planted these lovely flowers — they add a dash of color and flair to my morning and always bring a smile to my face as I pass by.

Tiny Door (IV)

The latest addition to the German Village tiny door club has made its appearance, this time on Macon Alley, near the intersection with Beck.  The elf who lives here must be an indolent athlete — sufficiently skilled and vigorous to scramble up the bricks and latticework, but unwilling to repair his rickety front steps.