Category Archives: Urban life

The future of human-susatainable design

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If you've spent 35 minutes driving three-quarters of a mile along Bridge Street in Syracuse the past 18 months, you've probably found yourself just putting your car in park on a 4-lane road to save yourself the over $4-a-gallon gas. From what I understand, it really has been a bad scene over there. I say "from what I understand," because, despite its convenience to work, I just won't take that route unless I'm certain there's no traffic.

One of the things I have noticed going in as part of that larger project is sidewalks. And I just can't be mad at any project that adds sidewalks to a commercial area, especially a commercial area near residential areas, and especially a commercial area with lots of parking lots.

Sidewalks mean that if you live nearby, you can walk safely, rather than on the shoulder of a 45-mph road. They also mean that if you want to drop your car off at the tire shop and then walk to the jewelry store, you don't risk your life walking on the street or across parking lots.

But sidewalks are just one small step in the race for sustainability and human-centric design. If you hate sprawl and the headache of traffic and the inability to get good sunlight in your apartment and can't believe we're going to fit the population of the U.S. into one small city in China, watch this:

There are some really cool things in there. Foldable cars? Holy hotness. There are also some things that start to feel a little dystopic to me. Those moving-wall, re-configurable apartments? Where do the people who live in those places keep their guitar? Or the title to their car? Or a few extra rolls of toilet paper?

The bigger thing to me, though, is the concept of the walkable village. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know it's a big thing for me. It hit home when Joel Kidder was killed leaving a bookstore in December 2009. Seriously? We can't find a way to let people cross busy streets safely so they can have a sandwich and then go to the bookstore?

Unless gas hits $5 a gallon and it's a gorgeous day, I probably won't ever walk to work – it's only about 3.5 miles, but there are almost no sidewalks. Good morning, sir, would you like an impact with an SUV going 40 miles per hour with your coffee and morning walk?

I have a grocery store about a mile away. It's in a commercial area called Towne Center, named, I'm guessing, because it was meant to mimic a town center, where you could go and get anything you want. There's the grocery store, a department store, a variety of restaurants, a jewelry store, a coffee shop, a bank, a drug store, a liquor store, a video game store, a furniture store, a crafts store, and a YMCA, and that's just off the top of my head.

What it's missing from the town center feel is a feeling of park-and-walk safety.

First, like I said, this place is less than a mile from my house; the safest walk has me going through some woods, which surround some wetlands, which means that after times of heavy rain or most of the winter, it's not a passable route. The other walk is along the narrow shoulder of a 4-lane, 45-mph road with turn lanes. It's primarily terrifying.

Once you're there, though, the shops are clustered. So you can safely get from the grocery store to a couple of the restaurants, the department store and a few other shops, but be careful trying to get to the drug store or bank, because you're pretty much on your own running across the parking lot. Yep, been there, done that, too.

I just don't get why we don't take non-vehicle traffic into consideration. When are we going to stop designing for businesses, and start designing for the humans who might patronize them?

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18/09/2012

The new Natur-Tyme

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There's a grand opening celebration at the newly relocated Natur-Tyme this weekend.

The food and supplement store moved from their location on a dead-end stretch off Bridge Street (technically, I think it was on Bridge Street, but not really) to a much bigger space on Erie Boulevard East, in the former Goldberg's Furniture space.

The new space has a community meeting room, a salon, and a cafe that serves coffee, espresso drinks and smoothies.

I like the new location – it's very spacious (customers can actually walk up and down the aisle without numerous apologies), and they have a great commitment to New York State foods; there are featured spaces on shelves and in refrigerators for New York-produced foods.

The coffee is, as is usual for anything with an organic label, way overpriced – I paid $2 and some change for a small cup – but better than other cafes in the area (cafes really is a misnomer, since those area "cafes" are Denny's, Friendlys, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Barnes & Noble and Panera). Prices throughout the rest of the store are, like in the prior location, a mixed bag (some fancy New York cheeses for under $5, but some natural peanut butter for near $9).

It's definitely worth a look, but if you're in it for things like the supplements, do some comparison shopping because I'm betting a lot of the stuff can be found elsewhere for comparable or cheaper prices.

17/08/2012

Back to training

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I'm getting back to training this afternoon. I've been shooting for numbers at different points during the year and keep hitting setbacks (the last time I started, for instance, I was making some awesome progress, but my trainer was fired and I couldn't bring myself to do it on my own).

Typically, having specific, data-driven goals in mind are a great way to go into a program, but I'm not going to do that this time. I'm training for a lifestyle and personality change.

My goal will be to get strong enough to be doing some parkour or free running.

Here is a quick explanation of the difference: Parkour is a mode of foot transport with the goal of getting from Point A to Point B the quickest way possible, without regard to the obstacles in your way. This differs from free running, which is the version that includes flourishes, diversions/detours and fun, without the destination in mind.

So, leaping fences and running across back yards to get to work is parkour; leaping fences and running across back yards to show off (or for exercise) is free running.

Here are some of the things that draw me to this.

Fear. I have a fear of heights. It gets so bad that I have light bulbs that go months without changing until I finally screw up the courage to climb on a chair or a counter to complete the chore. If I can kick that one fear, I bet I wind up with new confidence in other areas I didn't know I was lacking confidence in.

The appearance of improvisation. Sure, there's room for a little ad lib here and there, but for as improvised as free running videos appear, a lot of planning really goes into it. You can even see from the video above that the guys spend a lot of time practicing in one particular spot. You have to really plan your route to free run safely; you have to be familiar with the obstacles, and you have to know if that wall you're planning to jump over drops three feet, fifteen feet or fifty feet.

Performance. That looks pretty cool, doesn't it? Imagine you're sitting outside at a bar downtown and some guy just comes running up, jumps onto the patio divider, runs 30 feet along it and continues on his way around the corner. You would definitely have a "that just happened" moment.

So, what's it going to take? From an arm/shoulder/back strength perspective, I figure I'll need to be able to rattle off sets of 20 chest-to-bar pull-ups and 5 to 10 muscle-ups. I'll need to do a lot of functional training, and I'm guessing that's not going to mean a lot of weights. I enjoy body weight stuff, so that should be good, and just taking a look at some of Sonya's other clients, I might be a fun trainee for her (I hope).

My biggest obstacle is going to be my diet. Most people lose weight in the summer and gain in the winter (which is kind of intuitive), but I'm the opposite. I drink beer and eat wings after softball games all summer; we might burn through 75 or 100 pounds of charcoal, all with a beer in my hand. Come winter, I tend to eat cleaner and if I'm drinking alcohol, it's typically a dry red wine (high antioxidants) or sipping liquor (smaller quantities than I would beer in the summer).

And since you can't out-train a bad diet, I'm going to either have to make some difficult changes to my eating or I'm going to have to get strong enough to do some of those exercises with the extra weight on me, which means training longer and harder.

Beginning today, I'll be training Monday and Friday afternoons. So looking forward to it!

09/07/2012

Who wants to help youth baseball and disadvantaged kids in Syracuse?

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Update June 26: Sean wrote an additional column this morning about some of the stuff below.

The wheels in my head got to turning early Friday morning. I'm excited about the possibilities of this, so I thought I'd write something up, see what you people think, and see if you have any ideas for me as to who needs to be involved from an administration level.

What started me thinking was Sean Kirst's column, which includes a bit about losing kids who started in youth baseball to the streets after they got priced out of playing. Sean told me in an email that sometimes the leagues just eat the sign-up fees for some kids in that situation, but I happen to know from playing in softball leagues that those sign-up fees help maintain the fields; I've played in enough of those leagues to know who is using the money for maintenance and who's using the money for repairs, and if the city is getting less money from sign-up fees in some neighborhoods than in others, guess whose fields are going to crap?

We first need to be honest with ourselves about youth opportunities in Syracuse. This goes way beyond Say Yes and the fact that anyone can benefit from an education and take that to stellar heights in a career. That's true. But. If you're the sort of kid who loves baseball and your family is in a position that financially they can't sign you up for little league, your income level is such that there are times your parents are making choices between feeding you, feeding themselves, paying rent, paying the electric bill and so on. You can't work until you're 16, and even then, another 20 hours a week at minimum wage isn't going to help all that much – and let's be honest, if you're working 20 hours a week, school is suffering.

There's an easy decision to be made, and that's why a lot of kids wind up on the street, running guns and drugs. It's not that they're lazy, it's that they're actually trying to help, and this is an obvious way to make a big impact on your family's financial future.

The Future Fund just gave a $5,000 grant to The Media Unit, a group that writes and performs pieces about issues facing underserved youth in the city, and the group has most definitely helped a lot of people; we hope that grant will help them grow and help more people.

Baseball's another way through. Keep kids playing, get them into college on a baseball scholarship. Awesome. But first we have to get them into those leagues. That got me thinking about an indiegogo campaign. You might know about indiegogo as the tool someone is using to raise money for Karen Klein, the Greece, NY, bus monitor who last week was seen on YouTube being tormented by kids on her bus. At this writing, a campaign started to raise $5,000 for a nice vacation for her has raised over $620,000.

At indiegogo, you put a goal on your campaign. If you hit your goal, indiegogo takes 4% for using their platform; if you don't, they take 9%. Those are definitely reasonable fees.

What if we started a fund there? It could be administered by some little league activists, someone at the city, someone at the Chiefs, or by another organization who just wants to show their support. Would you give $10 or $50 or $100 to such a fund to keep some kids in youth sports?

What do you think? Who needs to be in on it?

24/06/2012

Celebrating the Arts with the Future Fund

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I know, I know, I haven't posted anywhere in a while. Not here, not 365 walks, not anywhere.

But I have to tell you about this event happening next Thursday, May 17.

Back in September, I let you know why I'm working with the Future Fund. The Future Fund is a giving circle – in more cutting edge terms, it's crowd-sourced funding for local projects.

The group gives a $5,000 grant every year to a local organization. Members, who donate $100 to the fund, pick the focus area in September (this year we picked The Arts), and an open call for letters of intent goes out to non-profits throughout Central New York. The grants committee offers feedback on the letters and lets the applicant organizations know if their project sounds like a potential match. Applicants then send their full proposal to the fund, and members sit around a table and discuss the projects, then vote to get it down to three finalists. Site visits are scheduled for all finalists so members can see the project first-hand, and then votes are tallied for a single grant recipient.

Voting is still open (I'll mention the finalists in a minute), but the event next Thursday is a two-fold thing. We're writing out the award check, and unveiling a new tagline (which was voted upon by members). The event happens at Benjamin's on Franklin (the former Ohm and Styleen's), and is catered by Kitty Hoynes. Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for non-members and available here. We're also getting a performance from the Nottingham High Jazz Band, a presentation from the 40 Below Public Arts Task Force, and some sort of presentation from the grant recipient.

The finalists are (and this is the first time I've actually had to think about who I was voting for, because they're all really good projects this year):

- The Media Unit, which gets inner-city youth writing and performing about issues affecting inner-city youth, and they give dozens of performances for inner-city youth every summer.
- The YMCA's Y Arts Program, which is looking to provide scholarships for inner city youth to attend arts camp.
- ARC of Onondaga's Arts Outreach program, in which they'll work with a performing arts organization to have adults with developmental disabilities learn to act and to perform in a professional production locally.

Voting closes tomorrow night, so there is actually still time to join and vote if you want, but even without being a member, you're definitely welcome at the event next week.

10/05/2012

Some Central New York food businesses you’re missing

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I sat down with Tracy recently and she reminded me that I needed to do another post about places I like. So, here are some of my current favorites.

Cafe at 407

I've written about 407 before. I'm actually sitting in the cafe writing this blog post, staring at the real whipped cream on top of a hot chocolate a child is drinking while waiting for the singer-songwriter to start playing. In fact, I'm sitting in an overstuffed chair on the wifi with a cup of coffee on the side table, remembering that this place raises money for a non-profit called Ophelia's Place, which deals with eating disordered youth and adults. There's a conference room in back, next to the employees' cubicles and an outpatient clinic. It's in the village of Liverpool. Go there.

Recess

Recess Coffee is celebrating their fifth anniversary this week. The cafe was packed the other night (that's where I had the aforementioned get-together with Tracy), and they are not going anywhere any time soon. Best hot chocolate in town (York, Almond Joy, peanut butter, and more), and a few really good whole-bean roasts.

Farmshed CNY

Farmshed CNY is a web-based app (that is, you go to the website, you don't download it) that will find you farms, farmers markets, restaurants, breweries, dessert, bakeries and more in Central New York. The idea is to have you buying local foods, drinking local beer, and considering where you're sourcing your stuff. And also it helps you find it, by determining your location by GPS. It's awesome.

Small Potatoes Marketing

Maybe it's weird to recognize a marketing firm, but Marty at Small Potatoes works hard to get Central New York food producers distributed into bigger venues. He started as strictly a shoe leather business, and eventually let himself be talked into a blog and Twitter account, both of which he's done really well with. Look for Better Brittle, Recess Coffee and Brooklyn Salsa at the CNY Regional Market thanks to Small Potatoes, and he's worked with a bunch of other locals you're starting to see more and more places, too!

Laci's Tapas Bar

You've probably heard of Laci's by now; they've been around a couple of years. Tapas is a food presentation that features appetizer-size portions of really beautiful, frequently creative food. The menu is excellent, the service is wonderful, and they're over in a part of town you never go to. Try them out!

What are your favorite hot spots this winter?

16/12/2011

Old Newsboys? No, it’s not a sales gimmick

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Every year someone has something stupid to say about the Old Newsboys campaign.

In case you're unfamiliar with this, a bunch of people go around "selling" The Post-Standard and asking for extra donations on a two-day campaign.

It looks very much like the newspaper is just trying to expand its reach, but actually, all those newspapers sold are donated. Even if you only give them the cost of the paper (75 cents), it all goes to a fund called the Christmas Bureau, which is a joint operation of the Salvation Army and United Way of Central New York.

Read: It helps people.

So even if you don't want the paper, give something. You don't have to take the newspaper.

The Old Newsboys volunteers will be out and about on Friday and Saturday this week (Dec. 9 and 10). Thank them for volunteering in our community, and give them something to bring back to those in need this holiday season.

04/12/2011

Alec Soth and making vs. taking

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For my birthday, one of the things I wanted to do was head to the Everson Museum of Art to check out From Here to There: Alec Soth's America (I'm also a big fan of the ceramics room – I can spend a couple hours down there without thinking).

Soth is an Artist, with a capital A. He takes photos with an 8x10 camera. If you've never seen one, here's a good representation. The photographer has to hide under a hood, and it takes for-freaking-ever to focus on your subject.

If you want to take a close-up, you actually have to be really.gosh.darn.close up.

It's a long process, for both the photographer and the subject. It requires poses (something I've not been a fan of in the past), and then a lot of waiting to get the focus right.

Soth finds inspiration in a variety of subjets – people, floating mattresses, Niagara Falls (particularly the dichotomy of it being a lover's destination as well as a place for suicides).

This exhibit is a lot of fun. It includes a lot of Soth's projects, including his Mississippi River project, his Niagara Falls project, his Loneliest Man in America project, as well as 33 Movie Theaters and a Funeral Home and Single Goth Seeks Same.

But something a little more subtle stands out to me. While the vernacular is we "take photos," this exhibit includes descriptions about "making photos."

It's not the first time I've heard the term, but it's the first time I've really thought about it.

Taking photos feels like we're stealing something. It's something we do a lot. We go to a place that we find beautiful, and we take something with us. This "making" photos feels a little different. It's intentional, it's creative, it's the start of something.

What are you making today?

23/11/2011

Get Discounted Tickets to Buy Local Bash

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The Buy Local Bash is coming up on Monday of next week – that's November 21 – after work at Benjamin's on Franklin (it used to be Ohm for those of you who have been here a few years; Styleen's Rhythm Palace for those who have been here a few more).

The event kicks off this year's Shift Your Shopping campaign, which aims to get you to think about shopping local for your holiday gifts. Buy Local week begins on Black Friday and continues throughout the following week at participating locally owned retailers.

Tickets for the event are $20, and include wine and beer from vendors, as well as some food.

It's a great party.

And here's how you can pay $15 for your tickets instead of $20.

- Like Benjamin's on Franklin's Facebook page.
- Mention the Buy Local Bash on the wall.

Pretty easy, huh? It'd be pretty cool if you'd like Syracuse First, too, since they are the organization putting on the event.

See you Monday!

18/11/2011

Press Release: E.T. & Jaws double feature at the Palace

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PRESS RELEASE for Friday November 18th.

What:
BREW & VIEW 35mm Film Series Steven Spielberg double Feature of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial & Jaws
BREW & VIEW 35mm Film series is presented by AmeriCU Credit Union and SIFF

Cost:
$10/ all ages for movies/ 21+ with valid ID for Alcohol

When:
Friday November 18th. Doors open at 6:30pm
7:00pm - ET
9:30pm - JAWS

Synopsis:
E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Trailer

JAWS (1975)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Trailer

27/10/2011