Soapdish: Cranes and sidewalks

Greetings and 2009 salutations, loyal Soapdish readers and fellow like-minded Cincinistas!  As you are no doubt well aware, we here at Soapbox went on a well-deserved hiatus these past several holiday-oriented weeks, thereby sparing you yet another heaping dollop of hackneyed "year end" and "best of" lists so beloved by weary journalists both old and old at heart, many of whom would rather be partaking in spiked eggnog, Buche de Noel, latkes and whatever else fuels the season's myriad good tidings, as opposed to sitting around and doing actual "work."  As a result, the last two weeks of December are usually accompanied by a steaming platter of Fourth Estate retreads culled from the past 12 months of work, spiffed up with some nice packaging and a bow, and delivered to your doorstep on an almost daily basis.  By magnanimously taking a brief hiatus, you were for the most part spared such pabulum…although perhaps we just needed time to recover from that Bubbles and Holly Soapbox Holiday Spectacular at the Cincinnati Athletic Club.  

In any event, that's not to say, during what is traditionally a slow few weeks of news, that the Soapdish can't get all lathered up about whatever seems to be sticking in its craw from time to time.  As such, for this particular installment, we lean decidedly on the "random thoughts and idle musings" hack-columnist crutch.  I have often found this to be a valuable and necessary purge at times, allowing the writer to address, in seriatim, a series of topics which are certainly serviceable among a loosely connected series of random screeds and commentary, while also having the added bonus of dutifully proselytizing at the altar of the post-holiday/attention deficit reader.  

In a story which first appeared in the Enquirer on November 24, I was struck by commentary and news reports in our incredibly shrinking daily paper rhapsodizing over the always sexy topic of sidewalks in the suburbs.  As a resident of the city, perhaps I have taken for granted the innate benefits of this wondrous and exotic "new invention" known as "sidewalks," however, from Liberty Township to Fort Mitchell, from Madiera to West Chester, Cincinnati suburbs have apparently taken note of this welcome intrusion upon curb cuts, cul de sacs and carefully manicured lawns (with the assistance of sizable federal and state grants, of course).  Nevertheless, for all of you sidewalk-deprived suburbanites in search of a little mild exercise, social interaction and neighborly small talk, feel free to head into the city of Cincinnati and experience some of the best sidewalks the region has to offer, replete with gaslights, unique shopping and mature live trees.  Curiously enough, the Enquirer article failed to mention the bounty of sidewalks present in the city proper, so consider this a bit of equal access reporting.

In practically the same breath as the "gee-whiz-aint-suburban-sidewalks-grand?" storyline, however, reports surfaced out of the Colerain locale, as mystified school children were reportedly being ticketed by the local, jaywalking-obsessed constabulary for walking on the roads of their sidewalk-deficient subdivisions.  Talk about your irony.  Reminds me of people who move in to a development next door to an interstate and then complain about highway noise (a familiar and recurring story along I-275 and 75 North).  Taking the irony further, I have to note that jaywalking is probably at its worst in the core of the city.  Reading Road, for example, is like a classic game of pedestrian-auto chicken, crosswalks willfully disdained…much of the Central Business District is like this as well.  Perhaps we should consider jaywalking cameras instead of the ill-conceived red light cameras?  Miss Haversham, get the Mayor on the blower but pronto.

In other news, three cheers once again for Walnut Hills High School, once again landing in the Gold Medal list of U.S. News & World Reports ranking of the Top 100 public high schools (#36).  When we first moved to Cincinnati 5+ years ago, the former owners of our North Avondale home noted they were looking to move to Indian Hill "because of the great school system."  While I have no doubt that Indian Hill has an excellent school system, I would note, with some semblance of chest thumping, that Indian Hill is most decidedly not among the "gold standard" of public high schools in the U.S. (per U.S. News), and…well…the golden dome of Walnut Hills is but two short miles from my driveway.  The fact is, there are numerous valid reasons to live in Indian Hill, but don't drag out the tired old saw about the schools.  Walnut is #36, and the only other school in our region among the Top 100 is Wyoming, at #50.  By the way, has anyone taken a look at the new School for Creative and Performing Arts being constructed on the edge of downtown on Central Parkway? Wow.  

Although it has become de rigueur these days to incorporate the sagging economy into virtually every story, be it about cooking, movies or coloring books, your civic-minded Soapdish will try to avoid such clichés, while pointing out that…despite all the doomsday predictions to the contrary, progress continues to be made on the Banks as well as the 41 story Queen City Square skyscraper downtown.  While the Banks continues to engage in the relentlessly tedious task of drilling 2,000 holes into which lengthy steel rods must be inserted, there is also visible progress as steel-reinforced support columns begin to spring from the primordial muck like so many concrete weeds.  A few blocks away, QCS has pretty much concluded its extensive excavation, with the initial beginnings of an actual concrete base beginning to encompass the catacombs-level of the structure.  Although it's not exactly the first floor, it is, like…sub-level 8 or so, which is indeed a most exciting whiff of tangible subterranean progress.  

If anything else, 2009 is shaping up to be a banner year for crane-watching in downtown Cincinnati, as the mammoth cranes erected at the QCS and Banks sites will be keeping busy as construction continues to heat up.  While admittedly, crane watching is not the sexiest of spectator sports, rest assured many of Cincinnati's peer cities would love to have a few cranes dotting the skyline during these times.  While there is always a tendency to shut down, regress and pull back during times of economic turbulence, as anyone will tell you, the economy moves in cycles, and these are massive multi-year projects which will be poised to emerge in tandem with a cyclical economic upswing.  Myopia is ill-advised in troubled times, and it is critical to find the resources and intestinal fortitude necessary to keep the key projects on track (hello streetcars!).  Otherwise, key projects will be subject to knee-jerk potshots from the more parochial, short-sighted and entrenched interests (see, e.g. NAACP opposition to streetcars).

Read more articles by Casey Coston.

Soapbox columnist Casey Coston, a former corporate bankruptcy and restructuring attorney, is now involved in real estate development and construction in and around Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton as Vice President at Urban Expansion. He's also a civic activist and founder of a number of local groups, including the Urban Basin Bicycle Club, the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network, the World Famous OTR Ping Pong League and LosantiTours: An Urban Exploration Company.
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