Branding Matters In Local Government, And Atlanta Is Leading The Way

Place branding was the topic of my dissertation. I’ve continued to research and chart it since my dissertation was published, and it’s interesting to see how the entire branding exercise became so incredibly short-sighted and messy, and how that disorder eventually evolved into a better solution that is both responsible and functional.

From Fast Company:

Not all cities have a budget for design, but Atlanta’s department of urban planning is showing why they should.

Source: Branding Matters In Local Government, And Atlanta Is Leading The Way

The Creative Society

One of the very best (and most refreshing) books that I’ve read—really read, not just skimmed—in a long while is The Creative Society: How the Future Can Be Won by Lars Tvede. The book sets the American Studies canon on its head taking on “greats” like Jared Diamond. TCS examines not only how, but why we find ourselves where we are now. The root is his argument is that free exchange of ideas and goods constantly demands new methods and new ideas. This, he argues is creativity which fosters unparalleled capacity for moving forward human intelligence, ingunity, and intuition. Tvede makes a compelling case.

Why did Western Europe succeed in the later half of the 20th century, while Eastern Europe disintegrated. Why is South Korea a burgeoning economy, whereas North Korea struggles to feed its people. Why did the British, Russian, Soviet, Egyptian, Roman empires fail? Why was China a rapidly growing society from 1000–1900, but then slowed significantly since? Tvede argues that totalitarian regimes and rigidity in systems of governance extinguishes creativity. This occurs rapidly. The Roman Empire, for example unraveled over the span of 70 short years, after dominating much of the world for nearly 1500. The Soviet Empire collapsed within the span of 3 years after dominating half of Europe and most of Asia for nearly 100. These and other societies collapsed from the weight of creativity pulsing at its door. As the Soviets ushered in perestroika and glasnost, for example, the resultant (and latent) surge in creativity rapidly propelled the system of governance out of order.
Tvede makes a persuasive aruguement for accepting or resisting change and the causal correlations that stem from either acceptance or resistance. Think of the book as a ethnographic and historic underpinning to Florida’s immensely popular, but shallow on compelling argument, Rise of the Creative Class. This text is unabashed in its explanations and suppositions and takes on one prejudice after another and skillfully (and convincingly) defuses each. In so doing, answers the many, many questions that have plagued those of us interested in cultural dynamics and interpersonal dynamics. Tvede is on to something here, and what may be the best and most important book of the decade has received little, if any, press. Well worth a careful read. 

Creepy Soviet Space Shuttles Are Sitting in a Kazakhstan Desert

Image by Ralph Mirebs, originally published in National Geographic.

This amazing article in National Geographic charts the story of a brave soul, Alexander Kaunas, and his companion, photographer Ralph Mirebs, who broke in to the former Soviet cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. 

Amazing images, amazing legacy, amazing bravery.

Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern version decays

I have often wondered about this! Specifically, why ancient concrete seems to hold up exceptionally well, while modern concrete seems to degrade almost immediately. Now I know the reason! Read the entire article at: Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern version decays | Science | The Guardian

Unsafe: Delaware Park

Police and Fire vehicles like to zoom through Delaware Park on the ring road. Keep in mind that the fire truck weighs about 100x the amount of a bicyclist.

Shame, shame, shame. There is enough to go around in Buffalo.

Just over two years ago, Maksym Sugorovskiy was killed in a tragic accident in Delaware Park in Buffalo. His mother and sister were also injured. The story broke my heart, and each and every day when I run through Delaware Park, I say a silent prayer for little Maksym and his family.

The tragedy led to immediate—and unprecedented—political action by Governor Andrew Cuomo who downgraded the 198 expressway to a parkway and overnight changed the speed limit from 50 to 30. Neighbourhood proponents still stunned by the tragedy were pleased with the action. Later that summer, the newly qualified “parkway” was re-stripped, and crash barricades were installed along the park-side of the corridor. The New York State Department of Transportation promised to review the parkway and has since put forth a number of lacklustre plans that have been met with public disgust.

The problem is complex and it’s growing.

The first round of shame goes to Gov. Cuomo who scored political points for the immediate downgrade of the 198 and then never made another peep about it.

The second round of shame goes to the grossly disinterested, disrespectful, and disengaged DOT.

The third round of shame goes to the City and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Governor Cuomo mistakenly handed off the redesign of the 198 to the state DOT, which is both woefully under qualified and grossly negligent in its street design ability. Their significant failures litter the Western New York landscape and—frankly—make the streets of Western New York less and less safe. NYS DOT seems unable to plan, in any comprehensive manner. They approach planning as a street-by-street approach, which has compounded the problems surrounding the park. I could name a thousand examples across the region (and specifically around Delaware Park) but the dangerous concrete medians installed along neighbouring Main Street in the Parkside district are one example. These medians were installed with the intent of slowing traffic on Main Street. Instead, they have slowed traffic and provided an unsafe obstacle for motorists on icy and poorly lit roads to hit time and time again. The result is that rather than tool along Main Street at 30mph in stop-and-go traffic, frustrated motorists hemorrhage from Main Street to residential side streets to zoom by (and through stop signs) at 50mph in search of a “short cut” to their destination.

Vehicles race through Delaware Park ring road which is poorly striped and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A vehicle taking a short cut through Delaware Park to bypass Parkside Avenue.
This parkway in Estonia has clearly delineated lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Olmsted Conservancy vehicles regularly drive large vehicles on pedestrian paths and thoroughfares.
Few safety precautions are taken by the Olmsted Conservancy. Most activities would not stand up to OSHA muster.
A leaky Olmstead Conservancy vehicle left behind puddles of oil, a hazard for children, pets, pedestrians, and runners.
More puddles from a different vehicle on a different day.

This problem was compounded when much needed traffic calming measures were implemented to Parkside Avenue, adjacent to Delaware Park. Yes, the bump-outs and narrowed lanes have slowed traffic. Parkside (for a two block stretch) is undoubtedly safer as a result. The problem is that the parallel streets have become high-speed thoroughfares for speed-demon drivers in the neighbourhood. Likewise, since the traffic calming measures have been implemented on Parkside, the 198, and Main Street, speedy motorists have taken to using the Delaware Park ring road itself as a high speed shortcut from Agassiz Circle to Colvin through Delaware Park. Perhaps most disturbing is that this shortcut seems to be favoured by Olmsted Conservancy, Police and Fire vehicles zooming through the park to avoid traffic as well as private speeders alike. So, while we seemingly have endless press about ridiculous proposals to build a golf course in Delaware Park, the real issues of pedestrian and park patron safety goes completely unaddressed and unmentioned.

Problem zones in and around the park are circled in red. Issues with the 198 are not addressed in this graphic.

The re-design of the 198 has been mired in controversy and has been more than adequately covered in other fora, but I will add my disgust, disappointment, and disdain to the ever-growing chorus of Buffalonians when I say that the most recent public hearing for the 198 redesign hosted at the Olmsted School by the DOT was disgusting. The event was poorly planned, with three DOT officials sitting at a long table on stage while the regional director talked at the audience. The three adjunct DOT officials said nothing, as they played games and laughed at funny social media posts on their smart phones. Safety is no laughing matter and their behaviour was grossly disrespectful to local residents and to the memory Maksym who lost his young life due in part to their inaction and inattentiveness. If Governor Cuomo truly cares about Western New York, beyond a quick political score following an unspeakable tragedy, these three men would (and should) immediately find themselves unemployed in light of their callous and brazen breech of public trust.

Like so many building, design, zoning, and planning issues in New York State, the problem is a decentralized decision making structure which aims for granular approval but misses the big picture. Why not take a neighbourhood approach to traffic calming and safety planning? More likely than not because the streets in question are a combination of State, City, and Park streets. (County streets it seems, in Erie County are, for the most part and in sharp constraint, impeccably serviced, always striped, resurfaced regularly, and are in decent repair.) When the State DOT implemented traffic calming measures on the Parkside stretch of Main Street, the 198, and Parkside, the City should have stepped in and added traffic calming—speed bumps, bump-outs, enhanced striping, rumble strips, or some combination—to the neighbouring residential side streets. They didn’t. The City and the Olmsted Conservancy should have taken the time and money to add basic safety measures such as speed bumps and stripes the ring road in Delaware Park. They didn’t.

Central Park in New York City has clearly separated and delineated lines for runners, bikers, pedestrians, and vehicles along with speed bumps every 1/4 mile.

It seems that most every other city in the world has recognized that painting stripes is a cheap and easy way at calming traffic as well as enhancing safety for bicyclists and other motorists. Despite this basic tenet of road design, the City of Buffalo remains asleep at the switch with more road surface than not suffering from faded lines, poorly discernible striping, and worse—roads with no stripping at all. I mean, seriously, how much can a can of paint and some time cost? I remember observing a work crew in St. Louis—prison work release folks—repainting stripes and arrows on the roadways. Why can’t New York State enact a similar measure? Are the citizens of New York not worthy of safe roads?

At the very least, the Olmsted Conservancy should be unabashedly ashamed of their lack of action. Despite several grants to improve road and path conditions in the park, absolutely no improvements have been made over the past two years. Again, seriously, how much could it take to stripe the 2.5km ring road around Delaware Park? Unlike sister Olmsted Conservancies like Central Park in New York City, or the Emerald Neckless in Boston, the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy has opted for the path of least resistance and inaction.

The resultant negligence opens the city and the conservancy to significant liability when the next eminently preventible tragedy happens and is patently inexcusable.

Call upon your elected officials—state, city, and local—to make your voice heard on this important issue. You wouldn’t settle for a uncooked pizza if it were delivered to your house… why would you settle for unsafe roads in your neighbourhood?

Luuup Litter Box – The Best Cat Litter Box Ever

One of the very best things about living in Western New York is access to Canada and Canadian culture. Growing up, I remember Dini Petty on television, and then she retired… into being a millionaire litter box maven. Who knew?

Check this out. it’s a great product and a great idea from a great Canadian icon.

Our ingenious three sifting tray litter system is the smartest, cleanest and last litter box ever.

Source: Luuup Litter Box – The Best Cat Litter Box Ever | Indiegogo

The 10 Year Search for the Perfect Water Bottle

Throughout my day, I drink about a gallon (or two) of water. I’ve had a miserable time finding a water bottle that I like. I started with a SIGG which was a disaster. The bottle started smelling musty after about a week, and started tasting musty about a week after that. No matter what I tried, the bottle was disgusting, and it leaked. Plus the little loop at the top seemed handy, but was actually not all that convenient to grab and go.

Sign bottle that I used about 10 years ago.
Sign bottle that I used about 10 years ago.

After the OXO bottle, I tried the outrageously expensive S’well Matte Army Green bottle. I loved the look of the bottle, but it was remarkably difficult to deal with. The Swell bottle did keep beverages cold (or warm) for hours, but that was its only benefit. The bottom of the bottle had this funny dimpled effect it (similar to a Coke bottle). that, in conjunction with the unbelievably top-heavy lid, made the bottle incredibly unstable. I felt like I was constantly picking the bottle up from the floor, because it constantly was falling over. Plus, there was no way to grab this bottle quickly. You need to dedicate a whole hand to carrying it around, and that—for me—was a no go. After about a semester, the bottle started to smell, which wasn’t so swell, and because there was no easy way to clean it, I moved on.

S'well bottle. Not so swell. Looks great, but not functional.
S’well bottle. Not so swell. Looks great, but not functional.

Then, I found this great, clear OXO bottle that screwed apart in the middle for easy cleaning. I LOVED this bottle and loved the handy wire cap connector, which made for easy, one-finger, grab and go. I also loved that it was clear, so I could see how much I had left in the bottle.

The OXO unscrews in the middle for easy cleaning.The OXO Strive Advance unscrews in the middle for easy cleaning.

I loved this bottle so much that I bought two. They mistakenly got put in the dishwasher once, and that was the end. Somehow, the dishwasher made the latex seal in the bottle fail, and they leaked horribly after that. Despite the leakiness, I still used the bottles for a while, but then the wire cap holder started to rust.

OXO Bottle that I loved until it leaked.
OXO Bottle that I loved until it leaked.

Then, after the OXO bottle, I went total hipster and just used a Mason jar for a year. It was great because it had a generous capacity, wasn’t precious (so it was easily replaceable if I left it behind somewhere), and was easy to clean. It just wasn’t very portable.

Hipster standby.
Hipster standby.

So, completely on a whim, I bought an ecoVessel Bold.

ecoVessel Bold, is taller than it looks.
ecoVessel Bold, is taller than it looks.

Instantly, I really liked this bottle. The loop makes it easy to grab and carry. The lid screws apart in two places, one big mouth, one little mouth, so that’s good and makes it easy to fill and clean. It’s durable, but somehow after using mine for a few months, I cracked the metal on the big lid. Not a problem, I contacted ecoVessel, and they were able to send me a replacement (three, in fact) to ensure that I’ll be able to use this bottle for a very, very long time.

Unfortunately, the ecoVessel Bold model has since been discontinued (of course), but the ecoVessel Boulder line looks just as sleek (if not exactly the same), comes in a variety of colors, and is triple insulated.  I like the fact that they sell replacement parts and that  their customer service was attentive and polite. I would recommend ecoVessel highly.

Finally! My search for a decent water bottle is over… I think!