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Showing posts from May, 2010

Washington DC Bleg

It's less than a week before my move to Arlington, VA and I don't want to waste any time getting to know the Arlington or DC once I arrive. So I am reaching out to you, my readers, for help with finding some of my favorite types of places. For what it's worth, I will be living in Ballston and working in Courthouse. Please leave a comment or email me if you can help out!

(from Wikipedia)

Coffee Shops
This can really be broken down into two categories - where to get the highest quality cup of coffee? And the best cafe to go to hang out, write blog posts, or meet up with a friend.

Wing Night
Who has got the best wing nights in town? I've been tipped to a few places with all-you-can-eat specials, but I am more a fan of the 35-cent per wing deals, as I typically am not gluttonous enough to make the all-you-can-eat worthwhile.

Games and Trivia
Are there any good trivia nights? Game nights? Or leagues of any sort?

Solo Happy Hour
For those evenings when you don't want to sit aroun…

Don't Be Stupid

The other day Unsuck DC Metro posted a cell phone camera photo of a guy who decided his suitcase was more deserving of a seat on a crowded train than another human being.

For the past few years, the advice being peddled to the masses is to be careful what you say on Facebook, because you never know who might see it.

(from Flickr user Angelina :))

In the next few years, that advice might change. We might start having people telling us to be careful about doing anything in public. Between cell phone cameras, Twipic, YouTube and everything else, the world might always know when you do something stupid.

Cities of Tomorrow

I really hope that the American city of tomorrow will look very different than the typical American city of today. I actually have some optimism that it will. I don't have a whole lot of evidence, but I do have a theory.

First, watch this video that has been getting a lot of play on the urbanism blogs lately. It's footage of "rush hour" in Utrecht, Neterlands.



A lot of people will look at this video and say that, while nice, it will never happen in an American city; and the reason it will never happen is because Americans don't want to behave like that or that they can't for XYZ reasons.

At the same time, statistics often tell a different story, like this:
According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work.With numbers like that, we might expect a lot more people…

What I Learned in my Job Search

Yes, I am one of the lucky members of the class of 2010 who graduated with an entry-level career on the table. That's not to say it wasn't hard or that the past few months have been all fun and games. I spent countless hours working on applications. I traveled hundreds of miles on my own dime for interviews. I wrestled with discouragement. I skipped going on vacation for my last spring break of college in order to focus on my job search.

(from Flickr user jeremy.wilburn)

If you are expecting me to give you a dozen bullet-points about what I learned in my job search, sorry, you won't find it here.

There is really one thing, above all else, that I learned in my job search: everyone who is a recruiter, job-seeker, HR-manager, or has ever had the responsibility of hiring an employee has an opinion about the "right way" to go about the job-hunt process. But in reality, there are an infinite number of "right ways".

Yes, there are some very obvious dos and don'…

Car-Free by Choice

When I move to Arlington,Virginia next week I will be car-free... "by choice"! (cue dramatic and scary music). A few people have already commented on my decision to be car-free "by choice" so I want to really dig into what this actually means.

(from Flickr user superciliousness)

On the surface, it's simple. Being car-free "by choice" means that, given my income, I could probably afford to buy, license, fuel, maintain, park, and insure my own vehicle; but I'm not anyway.

The reality is much less cut-and-dry. As fellow blogger Patrick occasionally points out over at Walkable DFW, there are two ways of thinking about this question, and both depend entirely on context.

On the one hand, a person could say something like, "I sold my car and now I have lots of extra money and I can afford an awesome uptown/downtown apartment. Awesome!" Or, on the flip side, a person could say, "I can't afford an uptown/downtown apartment, they are very exp…

Where the Smart People Live

Update: December 4, 2010
An article published by the Huffington Post and posted on Yahoo News reports that I find "7,000 degrees within 7,000 square miles" in the Bay Area. This is simply not true. As the post below shows, I find that the city of San Francisco has slightly more than 7,000 college degrees per each of its roughly 47 square miles.

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Update: June 10, 2010
If you arrived here via a link or news story that claims that this is a ranking of cities "from smartest to dumbest" please see my follow-up post. These headlines are misleading, incorrect and jump to unfair conclusions about my analysis. In no way do I endorse the conclusion that having a low degree density makes a city "dumb".

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Original Post: March 23, 2010
It's becoming increasingly accepted that there is real economic value to bringing …

Urbanism is not Environmentalism

I had a pretty irritating discussion with someone recently who wasn't keen on the urbanist lifestyle. From his perspective, the motivation behind walking, bicycling, and living in a dense places is purely ideological. To this person, the only reason why someone would choose to do these things is because they believe such actions are necessary to save the planet.

(from Flickr user Fran├žois Hogue)

Eventually, the discussion devolved, until it got down to him making arguments like:
You call yourself an urbanist but you fly on airplanes? hypocrite. You eat meat? hypocrite. You rent a car and drive places occasionally? hypocrite. You buy packaged food? hypocrite. You ride on elevators in tall buildings? hypocrite. You buy electricity off the grid from corporations that burn fossil fuels? hypocrite.
If I were claiming to be an environmentalist, then I might be experiencing some cognitive dissonance; but I'm not. Urbanism is about more than the environment. It's about improving quali…

Foursquare Etiquette

Foursquare is one of these things that I like some of the time and hate the rest of the time. I've written about it before, mostly to demonstrate that the internet is making location more, not less, important than ever. That said, I witness the spirit of Foursquare being violated day in and day out. I've been biting my tongue for a while, but I'm at the point where I need to say something. I know there are many who agree with me on these questions, and an outspoken minority that doesn't. Before commenting to tell me I'm wrong, please hear me out...

(from Flickr nan palmero)

Foursquare Etiquette Tip #1: Don't add or check into your home.
When you click on someone's Foursquare profile, it tells you a few key statistics, first of among them are a person's "total nights out." This reflects the fact that Foursquare's creators intended the app to be used as a social tool to let you're friends when you're going out. Checking into your home i…

Against the Car-Free Challenge

It seems like a lot of people have been taking the "car free challenge" lately. You know, the one where they park the car in the garage, bury the keys in the backyard and see if they can survive everyday life for a whole three months or something... I know, their intentions are good, and it's something substantial to point out to skeptics; but something about these challenges rubs me the wrong way. I don't think they do a great job of demonstrating what car-free is all about.

(from Flickr user Phinzup)

Honestly, the car-free challenge reminds me of something like this... some really overweight, out of shape guy who hasn't exercised in years decides he wants to do fifty push-ups in a row - a daunting task, given the circumstances. So he starts working out a little, doing some training, and at the end of a few months, he succeeds in his goal, and thus proves that there is hope for any of us who want to be able to do fifty push-ups.

What this scenario ignores is that t…

We Should All Carry Cash

Last year I wrote about why I started carrying cash with me most places I go. It's not that I never use my credit or debit card - I just don't use them for small purchases, like those under ten dollars. A few weekends I witnessed an incident that made me think that more people ought to operate this way.

I was in a hole-in-the-wall kind of place looking to grab some quick food. The woman in front of me ordered something and the total came out to about five dollars. When she tried to pay with plastic, the cashier pointed to a hastily made "cash only" sign on the wall and told her she couldn't use a card; at which point she became verbally hostile and said something like, "people don't carry cash anymore! Don't you know this is the 21st century?! How do you expect to make any sales if you don't take credit cards?" Ironic, of course, because there was a line of people behind her with cash ready and in-hand.

(from Flickr user maury.mccown)

It seems …

Public Transit's Sinking Ship

Fellow blogger Matt left a comment last week about some potentially burdensome transit cuts in DC and Maryland.
...if Metro gets its way, come September 30, my bus ride is going to increase by 15 minutes. Not because I'm moving, but because Metro is making my bus route longer to compensate for a different one, which they are cutting. Well, actually to be more precise, they are eliminating the direct route and forcing me to change to the indirect route, which they are making even more indirect... The practical outcome will be for me to switch to bike on any day when it does not rain or snow.The scenario he explains is essentially the same as the one I described back in April, and it's the reason why I quit riding public transit in Cleveland and switched almost all of my trips to bicycle.

(from Flickr user el swifterino)

Here's the reality: all public transit agencies are facing some sort of financial crisis. You need to look no further than T4America's crisis map to see th…

Goodbye Cleveland, Hello Washington

In case you've missed the chatter over at my Twitter feed during the past few weeks, the news is in: I have accepted a job in the Washington DC area which I will be starting in June. More precisely, I'll both be living and working in Arlington, Virginia.

As far as this blog goes, I plan to continue to write here at Extraordinary Observations with roughly the same frequency and on mostly the same topics. That said, the blog will become more DC-centric and I probably will have few, if any, posts about Cleveland. Frankly, I feel like there is some intellectual dishonesty to writing authoritatively about a place from a thousand miles away.

As most readers know, I'm a big fan of cities, density, urbanism, and everything that goes along with it. For as much as I talk about it, I haven't yet had a good chance to completely experience it. This seems like it should be as good an opportunity as any to do that. Both Arlington and Washington look like excellent cities for bicycling,…

Coffee Cup Branding

My new goal in life is to own a coffee shop. There, I said it. It's a goal that's pretty far off, if it ever happens at all. Since I can't implement my own ideas now, I will have to stick to criticizing those of other independent coffee shops. I've been visiting a lot of them lately, you know, to gather intelligence and such. Also because I really like good coffee.

One thing that I don't understand is why a coffee shop will serve its to-go coffee in a plain white paper cup with a generic brown sleeve.

(from Flickr user Ingorrr)

I guess I understand why they do it - white paper cups are cheap, probably the cheapest cups on the market. But branded cups seem like a no-brainer when it comes to advertising. Even if a coffee shop does no other marketing, having customers walking around with branded cups, having branded cups sitting on customers' desks, etc. is a sure-fire way for a local coffee shop to get its name out there.

Plus, I'm fairly confident, even if peopl…

Explaining Long Commutes

You know how they say you should never buy a house if you haven't been there at night? The same logic should be applied to commuters. To some extent it is; but there's often a missing element.

(from Flickr user ohad*)

People freely choose to make long commutes because it never seems that bad at first, especially when people are trying to convince themselves that it really isn't that bad. But any commute, and it doesn't matter if it's alone in a car, on a bus, a train, bicycle, or whatever... over time, it becomes tedious, boring and repetative. There are traffic problems, weather problems, mechanical problems; and the longer the commute, the more these problems are likely to ruin a person's day. There eventually become many days when people wish they could be instantly transported home at the end of the day.

The decision of whether to make a commute is always made in the time before the commute becomes a regular chore, when it never seems that bad no matter how ba…

Smart Parking Meters

When urbanists think about parking meters, we typically think that they are necessary to correctly set the market price for parking in a particular urban area. Many of us also think that people who gripe about them simply don't want to pay, and that they don't understand why metered parking makes spaces more accessible when they might otherwise not be. Admittedly, I used to think this way.

(from Flickr user CascadeFoto)

My thinking changed last weekend, when I was out for lunch with a friend of the blog. This person was perfectly willing to pay for a metered parking space, but was aggravated by the meters anyway. Why? Because the meter had a maximum time of 1-hour. After an hour, one of us would have to run out and put more quarters in the meter, a highly inconvenient proposition, even though we were completely willing to pay.

I'd go a step further and say that for people who think they can beat the system and avoid getting a ticket, or who believe 'free parking' is a…

Weather Forecasting

Ever since I started riding my bike regularly, I went from being a casual weather observer to someone who watches the weather like a hawk. If I've learned one thing, it's that weather forecasts are wildly unreliable, so much so that I hardly look at forecasts at all anymore.

(from Flickr user kamoda)

If you watch the weather on television or look at it online, you can typically find a 7 or a 10 day forecast. They usually land in the ballpark when it comes to temperature, but when it comes to precipitation, they barely get it right a few hours in advance, let alone a few days in advance.

That's not to say that Doppler and other radar technologies haven't improved how we understand weather - they have. But they are really only good at telling us what precipitation is happening at the current moment, not necessarily what's going to happen at some point in the future.

For that matter, Doppler technology is really not very complicated to understand in its most basic form. M…

Views from the Steel City

Last weekend a friend of the blog and I ventured 130 miles to east from Cleveland and visited Pittsburgh. In the spirit of other trips I've made to various cities, below is a recap of the visit and a few of my thoughts. Believe it or not, I'd never really spent any time in Pittsburgh (I have gone to Kennywood Park, a fantastic amusement park and way better than the corporate mega-parks in Ohio) so this was a pretty new experience for me.

This post makes a lot of comparisons between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. People often tell me it's unfair to compare Cleveland to Chicago or New York because they are very different places. But how about Pittsburgh? They are metro areas of roughly the same size... they have very similar historic economies (manufacturing)... and they share a similar climate. I'd say that's fair for comparison.

Let's Go Downtown.
Downtown Pittsburgh is legit. It's geographically compact, there are pedestrians and there is some semblance of streetl…

Mile Marker One Thousand

This week I hit one-thousand miles of bike riding, at least since I started keeping track on DailyMile last November. In one respect, this is a post to commemorate a milestone in my bicycling career. In another respect, it's to explain why I've ridden so many miles in the past five months.

(from Flickr user arkiss)

Almost none of my miles have been purely recreational, or in other words, all thousand miles have been accumulated because I used my bike to get from one place to another.

The reason I've biked so many miles in the past five months is because I live in sprawl.

True, my neighborhood is relatively dense, in theory. If you divide the number of people living in University Heights by the square mileage of the city, it comes out to more than 7,000 people per square mile. The problem is that the zoning regulations are egregious. It's not possible to walk out of my door and then to a store right around the corner. For a lot of things, it's not really easy to walk - …

Making Dessert

Last weekend was my roommate's birthday, so I went ahead and made a plate of cupcakes for her. In fact, I only made half of the number of cupcakes I could have made from the mix I bought.


I don't do a lot of baking, or cooking of any kind for that matter, so I was surprised when I went to the supermarket buy the items to make the cupcakes and realized how cheap it all costs.

I made cupcakes, but the same box of cake mix could have made an entire cake. Besides the mix I also needed oil, eggs, water and frosting. Here's how the cost breaks down:

Cake Mix: $0.89
Frosting: $1.27
1 Cup Water: Virtually nothing
Three Eggs: $0.75
1/3 Cup Oil: $0.30

Total cost: $3.21. And again, this is for a whole cake. How many healthy meals are out there that can be made for this little money? If you need any more proof of how screwed up the public health priorities are in this country, look no further than this.

Phoenix Forum with Terry Schwarz

I attended my second Phoenix Forum yesterday (you can read my recap of the last forum with Carl Jones here). There was a great turnout and the discussion was very intriguing. I can't say enough good things about the Phoenix Forum series. But alas, this is a post about a few points that Terry Schwarz brought up during the discussion (for background on her work, see here).


Suburbanizing the City
Schwarz brought up the fact that some of the most 'urban' developments in Cleveland are happening on the suburban fringe, in the form of 'lifestyle centers.' At the same time, suburban big-box developments like Steelyard Commons are getting dropped from the sky right into the inner-city. I'm a vocal critic of lifestyle centers, and while I haven't written specifically about Steelyard Commons, I've always felt disappointed that the same stores couldn't have come to Cleveland in the form of a mixed-use development. I have a really hard time with this. I understand…

Return to the Big Apple

This is the fourth and final post in the Ultimate Planes, Trains & Automobiles Trip series.

As you may know, every time I visit a city I try to post a few observations when I return home. My recent trip to New York City was no exception. This was my second trip to New York, you can read my previous thoughts here.

Hello, Williamsburg
On Friday night two friends of the blog and I took the L-line subway over Williamsburg. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. By some accounts it's a fantastic gentrifying neighborhood; by other accounts it's a place overrun by annoying hipsters. While I enjoy a good cup of coffee and other nerdy things in life and I dislike big corporate chain places, I'm hardly a hipster by New York standards. That said, the three of us had a lot of fun in Williamsburg.

One thing I like about Williamsburg is that there are so many great venues, and many of them go out of their way to be unique in some way. Just look at Barcade, quite possibly the coolest…