Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Sweet New Ride!

While I certainly enjoy my kick-ass Acura RSX and its higher-than-rated 36 mpg, today's PD article on the Silver Spade got me thinking: maybe I need to upgrade my ride.
Apparently, Harrison County has a 7,000 ton Silver Spade on hand. Now, folks in Harrison think the giant earth-mover would be a great exhibit in a museum of mining history. An exhibit!? A far better use, in my humble opinion, would be my new personal around-the-town vehicle!

Now I know what some of you are thinking... You're thinking: "Steve, you're an idiot. This is not a very practical vehicle!"

Well, you're wrong. I consulted some reference information on the Silver Spade, and I'm convinced it would fit my transportation needs nicely. Now, obviously there are some drawbacks. At 85x64 feet, it takes up a full 5.3 standard highway lanes. Also, at 14,000,000 pounds, it exceeds highway limitations. (To be fair, the federal highway weight limitations are based on a per-axle weight of 20,000 lbs/axle, whereas the Silver Spade is driven on tank tracks; I'm not sure what the law is for transporting earth-moving equipment, but I think it still exceeds allowable weight by at least a few million pounds). Lastly, with a maximum speed of 0.25 miles per hour, it would take it roughly 96 hours to get me to work (I guess I could drive in and out on weekends). Oh yeah, parking it would also be difficult, although Wade Oval offers enough space.

But enough about the drawbacks! Let's focus on the advantages. First of all, I would have bragging rights of being the first guy on my block to own a Silver Spade. Also, I would be completely unaffected by traffic jams, since I could use the scoop to sweep 100 cars at a time out of my way (calculated at 3000 pounds per vehicle). And if the local gas station runs out of gas for my 14 separate engines, I could use the vehicle itself to start digging for my own oil. If any of my friends need a ride, I can certainly hook them up. Also, if for some reason firetrucks are called out to any of downtown's skyscrapers, I could reach anyone as high up as 200 feet.

The only problem, as I see it, is the estimated $30 million needed to get the Silver Spade back up and running. Though I have been diligently saving my money, I'm still a bit short. I'm still working on this issue...

Last of all, some of you may be wondering why I'm covering this issue at all in what until now has been an urban planning blog. What can I say? It's a fun mental exercise to imagine a totally different system of transportation. If you think through the practical aspects of driving a 7,000 ton vehicle around a city, it helps you understand the existing road system, as well as the way of life that is born of that system.

Anyway, I'm keeping my car for now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Signs of Life at West Side Church?

If you've ever shopped at the Giant Eagle on W 117th, you've probably noticed a remarkable abandoned church on the corner of Lake. This is the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist, a historic landmark and a rather cool building.

Built in the 1920s, it was used as a church for sixty years (see here for more info if you're really curious). Since the late 1980s, however, it's been abandoned. The property transfer records at the County Auditor show that Mary and James White bought the property for $170k in 1991; six months later Rini-Rego (predecessor to the current Giant Eagle) bought it for $300k. Six months after that (September 1992), the City of Cleveland bought the property for (drumroll please) nothing!

Anyway, as far as I can tell the property has sat vacant for about 14 years. It's too bad, really, since it's a really beautiful church. I imagine there are a lot of cool (and profitable?) uses for it. For whatever reason, Cleveland has sat on its hands and left the Church unoccupied.

Or has it? I noticed two changes to the building recently:

(1) It has a new sign out front:

(2) It has new windows:

So, what's going on with this building? Are there plans in the works for it? I sent inquiries to both the Cleveland Planning Commission and Jay Westbrook's office (his ward includes the Church), but haven't heard anything back. Surely the recent improvements on the building portend some kind of development! I guess we'll have to wait and see...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tourist Maps: How Cities Hide Their Blemishes

Hi folks! I just spent a lovely weekend in Portland, Maine (not to be confused with Portland, Oregon, another cool city 3192 miles west). Although there are plenty of interesting urban planning details to remark on, for the moment I want to talk a bit about my experience walking around the city.

I stayed at the Portland Hilton, a really cool hotel on the east end of the downtown port. Like most cities, Portland has a tourist-friendly cartoon map of its downtown. These maps are available, for free, in most of the major downtown businesses and hotels. Armed with one of these maps (pictured below), I set off exploring downtown.

I made my way from the hotel (bottom right) to the public library (top center). Craving dried cranberries, I noticed that, according to the map, there is a Wild Oats just north of the public library:

As you can see from the map, it would appear that Wild Oats is but a mere two blocks north of the public library. Thus, confident in my navigational skills I set off for a quick jaunt. Little did I know that not only was the tourist map not drawn to scale, it actually omitted entire roads!

Why is this important? Because the seemingly short trip between the public library and Wild Oats was actually a ten-minute trek through six blocks of a fairly rundown section of Portland. These blocks included homeless shelters, assorted support services for those folks, and so on. To top it off, there were anti-cruising notices posted, a clear sign of drug activity in the area. (A brief excerpt from the relevant law: "(a) No person shall drive or permit a motor vehicle under that person's care, custody, or control to be driven past a traffic-control point three (3) times within a two-hour period in or around a posted 'no cruising' area.").

Let's be realistic: all cities have their run-down neighborhoods (consider Cleveland, Boston and Chicago). Was I really surprised to discover that Portland does as well? Certainly not, but I was surprised that a tourist map would not only gloss over those areas, but actually exclude the roads themselves. For comparison's sake, take a look at a Google map of the same part of town. You'll see that the Portland tourist map conveniently omits Oxford St., Lancaster St., and Kennebec St. It effectively collapses what is actually four city blocks into one! Unlike other tourist maps which might simply not label their cities' less desireable streets, the major Portland tourist map actually erases from existence the very space itself.

Am I making too much of a fuss over a minor issue? Perhaps, but perhaps not. The Portland Tourist Map Space-Time Anomaly reveals both how a city can deceptively market itself to outsiders as well as how urban poverty is concealed from the well-to-do public. On the one hand, Mayors like Rudolph Guiliani of New York successfully criminalized homelessness, giving police the power to physically take the impoverished homeless off the streets themselves. On the other, by omitting the very poor streets themselves from its tourist maps, Portland uses a kind of historical revisionism to ignore its own impoverished areas.

What are we to make of this pattern? Is America willfully blind to its social problems? Do we need an update of The Other America to draw our national attention?