The 2010 Trash Transformation Project

The following is a partial press release from Alchemical Nursery.

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It is the pleasure of The Alchemical Nursery to present the commissioned artworks of the 2010 Trash Transformer Project!

The 8 artworks on exhibit represent the talents of 7 contemporary artists form the Central NY region, and include a diversity of methods including paint and ink on wood, mini and full size sculptures, and mixed media wall hangings. All contain salvaged or reused materials that make up at least 50% of the artwork itself, representing the insane practice of over-consumption and disposal that is taken for granted in modern society.

Each of the artworks is also being presented for auction through the silent auction process throughout the length of the traveling exhibit schedule. Bids have already been received at the debut exhibition. You can view the current high bids at the TTP Silent Auction Sheet, and you can bid at any time by sending your name, telephone number, email address, and bid to info@alchemicalnursery.org.

Read The Full Release And See More Artwork »

Syracuse First Relaunches Website

Below is a press release from buy local movement Syracuse First. The organization celebrated its one year anniversary with a joint event with Dolce Vita, which debuted a local menu, and by launching a new website with a database of local businesses.

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June 4, 2010 Syracuse, NY – On this date one year ago Syracuse First was born. To celebrate, Executive Director and founder of SyracuseFirst Chris Fowler announces the launch of a new interactive website for the year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping as much money in the local economy as possible by encouraging people to buy in their own backyard. Fowler worked closely with local design firm 2ndNature — designers of such sites as Everson.org and dinosaurbarbque.com — to develop the site so consumers can easily access information to help them identify and patronize local member businesses.

The local buying and sustainable economy movement began more than a decade ago in Boulder, CO. Rooted in the belief that buying from local businesses rather than national chains stimulates local economies, more than 25,000 small businesses around the country participate in some type of business alliance supporting local shopping. Currently there are over 130 businesses and organizations participating in SyracuseFirst.

At syracusefirst.org, site visitors can educate themselves on the many important reasons to buy local, discover independent local companies to do business with, and other resources to help spread the word about the importance of sustainable economies. Individuals can also take the "Think, Buy and Be Local Pledge," to confirm their intention of support for a sustainable localist lifestyle. Individual citizens, nonprofits, and businesses (which are required to reside and conduct business primarily in Onondaga County) can join the SyracuseFirst organization online at various levels depending on revenue level directly through the site.

Fowler grew up in the Syracuse area and following career in public policy established Syracuse First in the summer of 2009 after learning about the BALLE model. BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, is a national movement to promote socially responsible businesses and bring together independent small business owners, government officials, and community leaders. Fowler is the first to admit changing people’s buying habits is an uphill climb but cites statistics that state "just a 10% shift in market share from national or global businesses to locally owned independents would generate an additional $130 million in new economic activity in Onondaga County."

2ndNature is a founding member of Syracuse First and has donated hundreds of hours of creative direction and web development throughout several phases of the project in an effort to ensure that the organization has a suitable online platform. 2ndNature is an award-winning design studio founded in Syracuse in 2002 by Joel Fairbank and Sage Young specializing in user interface design and motion graphics.

For more information on Syracuse First, please contact Chris Fowler at 315.396.6418 or chris@syracusefirst.org

Launching Local: Dolce Vita to Debut Local Menu

Dolce Vita, a restaurant with an eclectic menu I really enjoy, is going local for its food, and they'll be featuring many local beers and wines. They're launching their local menu at a private event for Syracuse First, with tickets available for $35 for Syracuse First members and $40 for non-members. Here is the invite.

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Dolce Vita has created a “Local Menu” and has offered to give Syracuse First members a first taste!

This private event will feature a three course menu of Local Cuisine with beef from Nancy Lorraine Hoffman, poultry from Crossman Farms, and vegetables from CNY farmer’s market.

Dolce Vita’s “Local Menu” is part of their one year anniversary celebration (also in June) called “We’ve taken you around the world, now we’re taking you the place you least expect.” Everything served as part of this menu has been produced locally within the CNY and Finger Lakes region.

“Launching Local” Details:
When: June 2, 2010. Happy Hour starts at 5:30, Dinner at 6:30
Where: Dolce Vita, 907 East Genesee Street, Syracuse NY 13210
Why: Living local, loving local, launching local!
Price: Tickets are $35 for Syracuse First members and $40 for non members.
*Price includes a three course meal, presentations of the menu, specials on local wines and beers, entertainment and raffles!

Tickets can be purchased with credit/debit card by calling Dolce Vita at 315-475-4700 or via cash or check at the Syracuse First Networking event on May 27th or at the restaurant.

Additional Info:
*Space is limited! Purchase your tickets today to be sure you can participate in this great event!
**Please note that gratuity is not included in the price and we encourage you to tip the hardworking Dolce Vita staff !

What makes a walkable city?


View Larger Map

Scroll around that map up there a bit. You see the "A" in a balloon? That sits outside a Barnes & Noble store in Syracuse (if you know the area, it's on Erie Boulevard East).

Across the street from that book behemoth you'll find Honeybaked Ham (a sort-of deli), a Subway, a Panera, a Best Buy, an Office Max, a K-Mart, and Fleet Feet (a runner's shop), among other things. If you spent some time scrolling around the map – which is zoomed in enough for you to tell – you won't see a crosswalk anywhere close to that Barnes & Noble.

I know firsthand, because if I leave my office and cut across the parking lots behind buildings and sneak by the cell phone store, I can walk directly across Erie to the bookstore. It winds up being about an 8 minute walk.

And to get across the high-traffic Erie Boulevard, you pretty much say a prayer and run (even if you're not religious – it's amazing how a 4,000-pound steel box at 45 miles an hour will help you find G-d). I've only made the walk a couple of times, and usually in early spring, the first time it gets warm enough to take a nice walk on lunch.

Joel Kidder apparently preferred walking to and from the Barnes & Noble as well, and on December 4 he was almost across Erie, having left the store, when he was hit by a car and died.

He was a lifelong learner, a professor emeritus in philosophy, and, it seems, an all-around nice guy.

This isn't just a problem for those of us who prefer to walk. If you take the bus around town, you have to cross Erie one way or the other to complete your round trip.

Kidder's unfortunate accident appears to be spawning a discussion about the days when there was a bookstore in downtown Syracuse.

If you put a bookstore there, it's on a bus route, it's safe and walkable, and people would go. There are also two nice book shops on James Street, in another wonderfully walkable neighborhood.

But I would love for the Erie East area to be walkable, as well. I live nearby, I work nearby. If you make only part of the city walkable, you still lose.

How to drive when bicyclists are on the road

Ride a bike and learn to kick cabs in your steel-toed boots and always cherish the scabs when you fall hard and it's dirty dark and you're forever scarred by a stark reality, a compassion-free urban community. The majority is the majority no matter where you are (no matter where you live most) (no matter where you go) and a freak is a freak is a freak is a freak is a freak. It's no new news story for the Toronto Star (or the National Post) (and it's not like that's not something that you don't already know). It's just another business day in another business week - Who cares about the fall of the freak?

-Ember Swift, "Freak" (Permanent Marker, 1999)

Clearly, it's not enough that I write this post about twice a year, so I'm doing it again.

Cyclists are traffic.

Cyclists. Are. Traffic.

CYCLISTS ARE TRAFFIC.

CYCLISTS ARE TRAFFIC.

Any questions? No, really, any questions?

When a cyclist signals that s/he is moving over to the left instead of merging on the highway, it's the same as if someone driving a car is using a blinker: if they are in front of you, you just have to wait.

If you are waiting at a traffic light to turn left and a cyclist is in the oncoming lane going straight, you yield to the cyclist, just like you would a car.

When a cyclist is on the right side of a left turn lane waiting at a traffic light, it is much more likely that the cyclist is waiting to take a left-hand turn than that s/he is sitting in the middle of the road simply to anger you.

One more thing: Cyclists are forced to ride over on the right-hand side of the road, where sewer grates and potholes live and people throw glass bottles. Give them more than a foot of space between your side-view mirror and their elbows. You'll thank yourself when you don't have cyclist splattered on your windshield after they try to avoid these obstacles.

For the love of God, stop talking and tear the thing down already

In 1989, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants played in the World Series. It was called "The Battle of the Bay." It dragged on forever, not because of long games, but because there was an earthquake that halted play for a little while.

Take 12 minutes or so to watch what San Francisco did with the part of their freeway that collapsed in that earthquake.


Video courtesy of Streetfilms

Now, why aren't we tearing down Interstate 81?

Other cities have moved or removed freeways with great success.

There are a lot of naysayers; let's look at the arguments.

It's too expensive. Actually, the raised portion of I-81 has been up about 10 years longer than it was meant to last, and it's going to cost roughly the same to tear it down as it would to rebuild.

Syracuse can't handle 60,000 additional cars getting off the highway and moving along city streets. If you build a street-level boulevard, you're likely to put a punch of businesses there, and traffic lights every quarter mile or so. If you're looking to head through the city, you're more likely to drive seven miles on the I-481/I-690 spur, than to get off the highway and drive five miles in stop-and-go traffic.

If you put a street-level boulevard, you get more pollution. This is maybe a valid argument, but maybe not. The item just above points out that traffic moving through the city probably wouldn't use it. And if there are businesses along the boulevard, you trade the pollution for the revenue. Or, gasp, you improve your mass transit so people don't have to drive on it. Repeat: gasp.

It takes longer to get places. Sorry, but Syracuse shouldn't be in the business of making sure people can get out of the city quickly. And if it's people trying to get into the city from the suburbs, maybe they'll just move into the city so they don't have to worry about it.

You risk losing lives if people can't take the highway to the hospitals. I disagree. I think that most people who take the highway to get to the hospitals are either (a) living out in the middle of nowhere, when they could be moving into the city (see item above), or (b) not in danger of dying, if they're not taking an ambulance, which can do highway speeds on local roads. Also, figure if you take out the elevated portion of I-81 – not the whole thing through the city – you're getting off at the same exit if you're going to St. Joe's, or another exit a half-mile away from the current one if you're going to Upstate.

I can't think of any reason you'd leave the thing up, frankly.

Cities: Urban creativity and good employees

I've been waking up at ridiculous hours this week (like 3:30-4 a.m., and wide awake), and maybe it's the lack of sleep, but something really clicked with me about the Richard Florida interview I woke up to.

Florida is an author and researcher, and his ideas mesh around the concept of a creative class. He's academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto.

He says they called it a "Prosperity" institute because of the growth associated with the word.

Anyway, what really touched me about the interview is his idea of the quality of place.

Included in this are the mixing of people and ideas.

If you build a new development, it's basically building a new shell. It has to grow, and it takes decades, centuries.

If you have a city, you have the energy of the people who started the city centuries ago mixed with the energy of the people who are there now, mixed with the energy of everyone who has been there in between.

The people who choose to be there are there amidst all this energy.

As interviewer Peter Day puts it, you need "good old-fashioned muddle" for a city.

Cities spark creativity, they spark life, and let's face it, the people who opt to live in cities already have those things, and feel they can grow from what's there and add to it.

The same, says Florida, goes for places of work.

When employers recognize that their employees have something beyond the little outline of their job to offer to the company, that's step one.

Step two is making sure employees want to be there – not just working for the company, but that they're given a working environment that helps motivate them.

I have step one at my company. In fact, it's grown beyond the local company, to other affiliates and to the centralized editorial department. Fantastic.

But I work in a soulless atmosphere; no wonder I'm not sleeping well.

I live in a house built in 1890. It has hardwood floors, and lots of character.

If I do freelance work, I do it downtown or in the Westcott section of town, which is fairly artsy.

My day job, though, I drive to an office park and sit in a drab gray-and-green cubicle.

Yippee.

In fact, I come to a chain coffee shop to write before work, because it's the only one close with Internet access (even though they block some sites).

And, if I want lunch, the only places I can walk to are that coffee shop, a small mall food court, and a Nothing but Noodles franchise.

To get to those places, I have to walk across parking lots and medians, because if I walked along the road (no sidewalks, by the way), I'd be looking at about a 40-minute walk to get anywhere.

No wonder we all want raises every year: We don't have any atmospheric motivation at work.

On the one hand, that's enough venting before 7 a.m. On the other hand, this is a real problem for American employers. A lot of us have voiced (repeatedly, over the course of more years than I've been there) that we'd like to move the office downtown.

If the company did that, and gave us an interesting place to work while there, the creative juices would be flowing, and productivity would rise. It sounds like that's not just my opinion.

Tearing down Interstate 81

If you've managed to jump around blog-to-blog with me, you know that taking down the elevated portion of I-81 between I-690 and I-481 is one of big things.

People have to understand that the bridges either need expensive shoring up or expensive taking down, so it's not like it's a project that's coming out of nowhere.

The Onondaga Citizens League has started a blog (h/t to Greg Munno), and their first case study is I-81.

They start with some history, which is really instructive for me. I didn't grow up here, and at any rate, even if I did, I wouldn't remember the end of the Erie Canal and what that meant for the city.

There used to be rail service down Washington Street, and it was really difficult for people at street level – and not real safe, considering some of the cargo.

One solution was to consider elevated tracks. But people were adamantly against that. It would divide the city, they argued.

That's exactly why elevated tracks weren't built, and exactly what happened when the interstate was.

Huh.

If I had my way, frankly, we'd rip up Washington Street and Salina Street, not allow cars on them, and restore passenger rail service to the old Syracuse & Utica rails that are still buried throughout the city.

We'd continue to run the freight trains where they are now, but turn the north-south corridor and the east-west corridor through the city into mass transit and pedestrian ways. With two-to-four trains running per hour on each corridor (depending on the time of day), I bet ridership could be huge. A couple of elevated walkways would solve the crossing-the-street problem, and trains aren't really any louder than buses, trucks and other traffic.

The other piece to the puzzle is University Hill, which is entirely cut off from downtown, thanks to I-81 (and don't give me that "why don't people just walk under the highway?" crap; it's seriously unsafe). A study was finished last year assessing the needs of the university area, particularly as concerns bike and foot traffic (PDF).

Imagine if all the Syracuse University and SUNY ESF students were able to easily patronize business in other areas – and people in the rest of the city were easily able to patronize the Marshall Street businesses without fighting with university parking?

Wow.

There apparently is already a group dedicated to taking down freeways, and they outline challenges and successes.

If you want to get involved locally, watch the the SMTC's I-81 Web site for news, including some citizen forums.

Introducing the Big MacCruiser

Y'all know how I love things that use less gas. Like bikes and feet and that sort of thing. So why not vegetable oil?

Yes, the thought of McDonald's signs on local police cars gives me the runs, but hey, if they're going to run Manila's fleet on used cooking oil, well, why not?

I find it interesting that most of the comments on the article are U.S.-focused; they're right-leaning because of the conservative source.

To tell you the truth, though, I am more than happy to have air that smells like burnt potatoes (can't be any worse than Onondaga Lake on a bad day – where the heck is Honeywell with our clean-up?) in exchange for running cars that rack up a lot of mileage on an alternative fuel source, especially one that's in abundance.

The Andrea Doria


Photo by Josh Shear for syracuse.com

Back in June, I interviewed a local rock band called The Andrea Doria.

The band was about to embark on their first concert tour in a van they converted to vegetable oil, using a kit they bought at GreaseCar.com. They paid about $1,400 for the kit, and their bassist installed the fuel lines, so they didn't have to pay for it.

I caught up with them again last night after they came back from tour. The van broke down, thanks to trying to haul six people and a whole bunch of gear on 12-hour drives through the southern heat. It appears the breakdown had nothing to do with the veggie-oil-as-fuel, though, so that's good.

They also learned the hard way what a lot of artists learn the hard way: Book with a map (ahem, Seth?). Just because you can drive 12 hours in a day doesn't mean you want to play a show, break down, get in the van, drive to the next place, and get 2 hours of sleep before you're back on stage.

I put together a slideshow of photos from their rehearsal last night, and you can check out all the videos and such here.