Monday, August 26, 2013

Dirty Streets And What We Should Do About Them

It would be hard not to notice the dramatic uptick in the number and level of new restaurants or bars in the downtown area. I have mentioned so many in posts here over the years. Some of them have failed or closed in the difficult first few months but so many more are thriving and the vitality of downtown is showing it.

Along with the brick and mortar locations we have seen the reluctant acceptance of our mobile vendors in the noontime and overnight hours. I have to admit that at first I was somewhat concerned about the residual mess which can be left behind once they have moved on. In some cases the fault lies with the vendor but mostly I believe that the patrons are most at blame. Generally, if we make a mess of our city, we are reluctant to clean it up and this is not the first time that I have mentioned it.

Making a mess on our streets (or sidewalks) and leaving it for others to clean up apparently comes as second nature to most of us. Why else would there have to be public service announcements on litter control or blowing our grass clipping into the street and subsequently into the storm sewer system. Did we not learn to be good stewards of our planet in church or school?

There are several city agencies which have enforcement jurisdiction over these events but often they can only document the infraction well after it has occurred. A friend today told me of one instance where they were photographing mud in the street from a construction site. Being that it was on Friday, will it be Monday until something is done?
Mill Street @ Goodfella's

All of this is prolog to something that I have seen more of this summer than I believe I have before. I have numerous photos of situations along our downtown sidewalks where the garbage receptacles either crowd the walkway or are in close proximity to sidewalk cafe diners. In each case a less than acceptable condition, but this year what I am seeing is IN the street.

Maybe it is the above normal rainfall which has occurred this year or failure to fully close the Herbies on the curb but excess moisture is infiltrating the waste collection system, and spilling onto the street itself. Some days, usually after a heavy rainfall, the streets where the garbage truck collects the waste will have a smelly residue of greasy, leached water from the Herbies of our restaurants and even our day cares. 

Below are several typical images.

Market Street just north of Short
Detail of leachate

Morton Alley@ Natasha's
Storm Drain In Morton Alley

This problem is also seen at sites with dumpsters and particularly older dumpsters. In fact, City Hall had a similar situation with its waste removal. Where a dumpster or two used to sit behind the building on Water Street, they have now located one of their own refuse trucks so that when it is full they can just drive it away. It has recently been enclosed in a manner required of any other development in Lexington, as seen here.

Someplace to place a nice mural before long
Before this truck was hidden from view, I can recall seeing a molded tray-like apparatus on the ground under the refuse hopper at the back of the truck. It appeared to be there to catch the drippings of leachate from the truck since they are not watertight.

The city seems to be able to control the problem in its own back yard where it is generally out of view, but falls flat when it comes to the quite public streets and sidewalks of our blossoming downtown. I do not think for one second that this is unique to Lexington or for urban areas in general, so someone must be working on a solution somewhere. To leave this detritus on our streets is not only unsightly and foul smelling but also contrary to the PSA's aimed toward the general population. Given a good rain, all of this stuff will end up in our storm sewers and creeks.

I have had people ask me why the city picks up the downtown garbage at - what appears to them - the height of the evening rush hour.  I also have been caught behind a city truck while trying to leave downtown once or twice.  My answer is that I don't know, but if some of these collection points are very near the established outdoor cafe seating that it just exacerbates the problem on hot summer nights.

So, from where does this problem stem?  Are we throwing away too much uneaten food (always a problem with the restaurant business) and are we mixing it with the rest of the disposables as garbage?  Can more of it be composted without adding extra burden on the kitchen and wait staff?  Is the flaw in the design of the compactor trucks in the city's fleet or the collection methods employed by personnel operating these trucks?  Are there some safe, ecological, sanitizing procedures with which to target such sites when they are identified?

Is this a government issue, a Health Department issue and don't let the EPA find out about this or it will be their issue?  I think that this is a "Lexington has an image problem" issue and we all need to try to do what we can.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Fading Of Food Access In The Suburbs

I read recently that, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approximately twenty-nine million Americans live in urban and rural food deserts.

That definition means that Lexington residents from low-income neighborhoods have to travel a mile or more to a grocery store. With poverty levels being demonstrated to be growing in suburbs across the country, it could only be a short time until those food deserts become extremely evident here. From what I hear, our planning staff believes that it has already started.

It has long been known that the near north side of Lexington has been home to an almost ever present community of working class poor. There are pockets of more well to do neighborhoods but they are the exception. Many streets which once saw the fine houses of our city's doctors and lawyers or other entrepreneurs are now home to the apartment dwelling, lower class. Our ever mobile elite moved on to the newer subdivisions, chasing that American dream of living “in the country”or acting like it.

Today it is the pockets of poverty which seem to be growing in our cul-de-sac patchwork of subdivisions that we have developed over the last half century or more. Many of them began as “starter homes” under HUD's “236” or “238” programs and actually did allow young families to enter the housing market and become upwardly mobile. Lately, the newer, non programed, version of starter houses appear to be financial traps for new home owners. Their upward mobility is still stuck in the '70s.

Stories abound from some of the better known low income districts of larger cities, where food banks and food pantries see more and more of the newly impoverished. There are more than likely as many right here in Lexington and maybe you know of one or more. Retelling of stories and raising awareness is not a solution, changing what brings on or exacerbates the situation is.

I have long stated that “retail follows the population” and, up until the 1930s and a wide acceptance of zoning, the food market section of retail led in that regard. One of the initial retail establishments in any new residential area was a grocer or butcher. That is why we saw so many corner markets in neighborhoods and often in converted residences.

A while, I chronicled the actions of a retail business in a small part of a narrow wedge of Lexington. It was not complete by any means, but does illustrate what I believe to be a part of our problem. As I pointed out, Kroger Co entered the Lexington market with two stores in 1925, going up against a few local chains like S.A Glass and his 6 or so stores. Kroger had 60 such corner markets in Cincinnati at the time and there was no such thing as a “super market”

Zoning is usually employed to separate noxious uses from neighborhood or other community institutions. The corner grocery, church or barbershop beside a small drug store were the mainstays of neighborhood life, hardly uses that folks wanted to get rid of. To many, that was the embodiment of the small town life they left behind when they moved to town. Sadly, the regimented nature of zoning does not allow the time tested evolution of human interaction having replaced it with something I find hard to explain.

Grocery stores of today are required to fit into a specific “zone” and since those zones will also allow many more uses, some of them noxious, they need to be sited away from the residences that they have historically served. This, I believe, is what has opened the door for food deserts.

One of my favorite scenes from Driving Miss Daisy is where Daisy Werthan's son has hired a chauffeur since she had wrecked her car. Ever the independent woman, Daisy intends to do the weekly shopping alone until she discovers that you need to arrange a cab well in advance and walking to the store or using the streetcar have their own problems. Daisy is a well of widow living in a changing world and yet blind to those changes.

The Driving Miss Daisy story began in the late '40s when going to the grocery, though a special trip, did not involve a large amount of logistics. Store locations at that time were determined by residential units / population in a mile or two radius and the store management knew customer's families by name as well as what they bought. The grocery business in those days was a real service oriented industry, much unlike today.

A grocery superstore of 85, 000 to 200,000 square feet will require the population of 3 to 5 mile radius to make it profitable. In subdivisions containing massive numbers of cul-de-sacs the driving distance could easily be three times that. When neighborhoods like that begin to fall the poverty line our food deserts begin to emerge. Factor in the lack of adequate public transportation and the effect of the food desert grows. It begins to look like we either failed to plan or planned to fail, but we did it to ourselves.

Much of my observations and opinions here have come from growing up in a grocery oriented family. My father was a well known and respected grocery manager/owner during the '40s-'70s. Corporate marketing decisions have replaced the hands-on customer service actions of the old time grocery man and convinced the buying public that it is in their best interest. It is no longer about what is best for the customer but what is best for the corporate bottom line.

In an industry that made more than $600 billion in 2012, the corporate perception is that low-income people don't spend money unless they're at a high enough density, then there's a market. Our easily identified food deserts in the near north side do not approach that density. The National Campaign for Healthy Food Access at The Food Trust says supermarkets stay away because urban settings force them to rethink the shape and size of their stores. I think that we are seeing that with the Kroger on Euclid, but under duress. Operating in low-income areas, the employees who tend to live very nearby are less work-ready and may cost more to train and insure.
On the local front, we have our own group which is active in bringing better food choices to the low income areas. It will also involve teaching the residents of these areas how to make the better choices. Anita Courtney of the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition has initiated a program which has seen some success in other communities. Here it goes by the name The Good Neighbor Store (GNS) Network. They have realized that small neighborhood stores play an important role in communities and if stores can enhance their business model, it’s good for the community, as well as the store’s bottom line.

Currently there are 2 stores working to become Good Neighbor Stores, all in the East End of Lexington. They are hoping to have grand re-openings this fall:
  • Sammy’s Market and Deli at 651 Breckinridge Street on the corner of Breckenridge and Sixth Street
  • Pak-N-Save at 503 East Third Street on the corner of Third and Race
The Pak-N-Save will have a new produce cooler, new flooring and new exterior paint and a mural is to be painted on the Race Street side of the store. There are ongoing efforts to engage other inner city corner stores.
It is not all about teaching the inner city youth and their parents. Since we are seeing food deserts develop in our suburban areas also, we need to spread the awareness there. Mrs. Sweeper has related to me an incident which played out before her and to which she could not keep herself apart from. I will let her tell the story,
I came up to the registers and began to stand in line at the Kroger on Richmond Road. “I had a small hand basket of goods.  I believe it was a Friday that I had to work and I was picking up a couple of things for the weekend.  In front of me was a black woman dressed conservatively and wearing a beautiful headscarf in the style that Sephardi women often wear them. (And I myself have done on more than one occasion.) That was what drew my attention at first.

Then I noticed she was in distress, nearly in tears and trying to say something to the cashier. Her English was very poor, she was clearly a recent immigrant. The cashier was not really interested in listening to this woman, she was instead waving a loaf of quality (possibly organic) whole grain bread. The rest of the woman's cart was filled with fresh vegetables and fruits, organic dairy products, and other healthy items – things I buy for my own family on a regular basis.

There was not a single item of junk food in her cart, not a bit of unhealthy processed food. I was almost ashamed of how often we cheat on our “healthy” diet looking at her cart.

The cashier was waving the bread at her and gestured to the healthy organic dairy products and a few other good quality products saying, loudly and rudely, “You can't buy these.”

It took me a few seconds to realize the problem – the woman was using a SNAP card (the program most of us know as food stamps). The card would not take the healthy products. The cashier was telling the woman she would have to pay for the healthy items out of pocket. Total amount was approximately $30.

The woman was scrounging around in her purse at this point, understanding what, if not why.  She said she had no more money. The cashier told her she would take the things off her ticket.

I said, “No, you won't,” or something like that. At this point I was angry, suddenly understanding that this woman's purchase was being rejected because it wasn't crappy low quality food – you know, the stuff they're always griping that poor people buy that makes their kids fat? Well, that stuff is accepted by SNAP. Decent hormone-free chemical-free items aren't, apparently.

The cashier turned to me and said, “She will have to put these back.” And I said again, “No, she won't,” and I reached over with my own credit union debit card and swiped it through the machine before the cashier could complete the action of picking up her hand-scanner to remove the items. As I was putting in my pin number, the cashier said to me in a nasty tone of voice, “you can't do that,”

By now I was pretty much in a spitting rage, but I didn't want to make a scene or embarrass the immigrant woman any further than she very clearly already was, so all I replied was something like “Yes I can, and I did. Give the woman her receipt.” At a loss as to what to do about it, the cashier did as I told her.

She then rang up my few items with me glaring at her. She didn't speak to me again. That's probably a good thing, because I am a bit high-strung by nature and it's hard to say what would have come out of my mouth. It's not the cashier's fault the system is set up to benefit corporations who make sure their processed products are on SNAP's accepted product list. I'm sure plenty of money changes hands to make sure that happens.

I imagine it is also likely that the SNAP administrators put some sort of cap on product prices to make sure that quality products don't qualify. After all, apparently, the poor don't deserve organic, hormone-free, chemical free products.

For some reason, we'd rather pay higher prices for obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other costs conveniently covered by Medicaid but entirely preventable through eating healthy food instead of the processed crap being foisted off on the poor by SNAP.

As I have said, I am the son of a grocery man. He saw his job as providing the best product for the best price and doing it as a service to his fellow man. I cannot see this ever happening in his store.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Last Week's Photo

Did anybody realize that I missed the weekly photo contest last week?  Good , neither did I.

On that note, I only got one comment on the photo of the completion of New Circle Rd.  The bridge construction in the lower left corner is the last bridge to be built on this 19.6 mile ring of Lexington.

On the right hand side you can see the initial construction of the Todds Trace Apartments which are currently undergoing a complete remodeling. The will soon reopen as the 300's on the Circle. Just above that is the newly built Woodhill Dr and beyond is its twin, Palumbo Dr. The Wood shopping center is not yet underway. One can barely make out the railroad overpass in the distance.

Of course, that means that the water body is the site of the current Home Depot and the remodeled Lexington Mall, now Southland Church. Is it any wonder that the parking lot kept sinking around the mall.

In the top center of the photo is the Idle Hour Park with all of its ball fields and no hint of the auto dealers on New Circle. Behind that and fading off into the distance is the Idle Hour subdivision.

So how many of them did you get?

This week I have two photos, taken from both side of an area. What I am looking for this time is: What prominent historical feature lies between these two photos?

Good luck.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Growing Indoor Children In The Summertime

Here we are in the middle of summer - and I mean right in the middle of summer - and the kids are going back to school. Some of them got out a few weeks before summer began but all will be going back well before it ends. Even the “unofficial” end of summer, Labor Day, is three weeks from the real end of the season.

Summertime, as a kid, for me was a whirlwind stream of activities either in the park across the street or biking to other parks for events and, eventually, explorations out into the then suburbs. I often tell people that I grew up not on a street or in a certain house, but I grew up in the park, specifically Woodland Park.

I crossed Woodland Park twice every day while attending elementary school and most days four times, since they allowed us to go home for lunch. I can probably count on both hands the number of times that I ate Maxwell cafeteria food.

But summertime was a time for spending all of our available hours doing something with the other kids in the park, be they friends from school or not. After a morning playing games and waiting for the activities directors to show up, we would run home for lunch, then run back for the afternoon's events. Dad had to round us up for dinner and again after the lights went out at the ball field to usher us home to bed.

I don't see that these days and I can pretty well guarantee that you don't either. The days of “free range” kids is well over. On the streets full of single family houses which make up a large percentage of our city, one rarely sees anything but indications of children “living” there. Walk by on a warm summer morning and the birds will be making more noise than the kids – quite different from when I grew up.

When many households consist of 1-2 working adults and youngsters requiring day care, there will be little in any daytime activity. Simply put, our suburbs are pretty much empty during the day.

Daycare, now there is a strange bird. Daycare now has to sell themselves as “pre-schools” with many parents, since they are supplying the early instructions that family members used to demonstrate for free. Daycare now has secluded, fenced play areas, rarely exceeding a few thousand square feet when 20 acres seemed small to me. Outdoor activities at daycare may average less than 3 hours a day, depending on weather.

Is it any surprise that compared to the 1970s, children now spend 50 percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities? And the '70s were not the '50s of my youth. The average early teen, 10 to 16 now spends only 12.6 minutes per day in vigorous physical activity. If it were not for the soccer moms and the little league parents or the pee-wee football and basketball camps, that would be much less.

All of the blame cannot be placed at the doorstep of day care. Although 40 % of the kids in a British study (I don't think that they are that different from American kids) stated they would like to play outside more often, it was the parents who simply didn't allow it. Fear of traffic and a fear of abductions by strangers were the top two reasons given.

Can traffic be so bad as to fear the random careening auto sailing through your front yard? Is not one of the common complaints about our suburbs that cul-de-sacs and limited connecting streets are so prominent? Would it not be one of your neighbors who was driving so erratically? As for the abductions, statically those are done by non-strangers though it does happen it is rare.

Frankly, all of us kids roaming the neighborhood and playing in the park back in my day were being watched by many eyes, without our knowledge. With so many stay-at-home moms and the older couples moving throughout the area, there was little that we could do that did not get home before we did. Empty houses and neighbors who are little more than nodding acquaintances cannot do the same quality job.

When did it become necessary to be so absolutely certain of our child's safety that we limit their opportunities to practice the decision making skills that we should be teaching them? Could it be that we are NOT teaching those skills? Could it be that we are not confident in our teaching abilities?

I have heard it said that parents will structure their child's time so as to incorporate themselves into the child's life. The child needs transportation and support. Television programing and commercials add to the myth by showing the child playing one on one with the parent and not with neighborhood kids. What happened to the TV shows of old like “Dennis the Menace” and “Leave it to Beaver” or the cartoons of “Peanuts” and “Fat Albert”? Teaching, supportive adults / parents and the kids played outside.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Brief History Of Kroger In The Ashland Park Area

Kroger has had a long and successful journey when it comes to their store locations in and around the Chevy Chase Shopping Center and surrounding neighborhoods.

It was January of 1925 when the grocery concern entered the Lexington market by leasing two locations. One was at Seventh and Maple while the other was Lime and Rose. By the end of 1930 they had opened a store at 112 N Hanover.

Don't go looking for the building now since it was removed some 20 years ago. It sat behind the Delta gas station and could be seen from Main St, .yet it was just 50 foot square and amid many single family homes.

Many of the leases that Kroger signed in those days were for a length of 5 years and the moves were often. By 1935, Kroger had taken over the former S. A, Glass store at 726 E Main and again situated themselves adjacent to the residential established there. 

See photo here

The long blank side walls faced either the gas station to the left or (eventually) the parking lot to the right, but the display windows looked right out on Main.

January of 1941 brought news that Kroger would open their 4th Lexington “super” market near the intersection of Euclid and High St. Again a 5 year lease was involved on a building that required the demolition of three residences. By mid April, the store opened to serve residents from Ashland Park, Chevy Chase and as far south as the Monclair subdivision. It is also about this time that walking to the store became near impossible for most folks. 

See photos here

In February of 1950, Kroger announced the consolidation of their E. Main and Euclid Ave stores into “one of two of the finest Kroger stores in the country” when they opened the new East High St location. It was right around the corner from the Euclid store and about twice the size. One of the best things to come out of this move was that it allowed Jean's Bakery to become established in the old Main St spot. Jean's, we now know and love as Magee's.

Once again the display windows faced the street and the long side walls stretched back along the parking lot some 165 feet. Residents walking from the Hollywood or Columbia Heights area would have to brave the “heat island” effect of summer or the “windswept tundra” effect of winter as the negotiated the active parking lot.

The mid '50s introduced new competition in Chevy Chase when the Colonial Albers store opened on Euclid Ave across from Clay Ave. Many of us will recognize this as the current location of he Kroger store, but most will not recall that two or three residences still stood at the corner with Lafayette Ave (now Marquis). Exxon would put a short lived gas station on that corner to compete with the Pilot station from Ashland Oil on the corner with Clay.

Edwin and Frank Lyle sold their market at 555 S. Upper St to the Kroger Co in May of 1959. With little remodeling, Kroger stayed there until the early '70s when they replaced the former Albers building with a new store. This was about the same time as the restrictions on Sunday sales were removed. This store has been expanded from its original size in order to keep up with customer preferences. The E High St location was re-purposed in 1978 into the current configuration.

See photo here

Throughout all of the re-locations, consolidations and expansions the face of the store has always been toward the street and there have always been relatively long blank walls backing to the adjacent property or a parking lot. The positioning of the front door toward a vast, barren parking lot is a recent phenomena which has its beginnings in areas lacking the advantages of walkable retail or other societal accoutrements found in the first ring subdivisions.

Whereas the older style stores built their reputations serving the residents of the immediate area, it now appears that they are attempting to maintain that reputation to a much farther flung population base. Granted, a highly mobile base but also one that now seems to look for ways to limit their unnecessary automobile use whenever possible.

Designing a new facility to address a trend which may be reversing course could be a bit shortsighted. These are not the days of the 5 year leases where Kroger began in Lexington. Kroger now owns much of the property where they build their free standing, specialty buildings and the locational agility that they once had may be lost to the past.

I do not agree with the zone change which Kroger is pursuing nor do I agree with some of the tactics being employed by the opponents in fighting it. I certainly feel that not enough innovative thought has gone into the design for adequately and correctly blending into this vitally important area.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Weekly Photo Winner

 OK, so both Steve Austin and J Sparks could tell me where these three houses are and Mr Sparks gave the addresses as being on Woodspoint Rd in Ashland Park.  Steve even points out the vast difference that vegetation makes in seeing things.  Below is a view as it looks earlier this week.

But remember that this was a two-part question and although there was a good guess, Mr Sparks ( I believe) was a little too far out Tates Creek Rd and on the wrong side.  I have always understood that the Kelly Dairy farm was just south of the Mt Tabor Rd intersection with Tates Creek.  That would put it whee the Lansdowne-Merrick subdivision is now.

Below is an aerial photo taken shortly after the Immanuel Baptist Church 
finished their initial phase of building

You can see the church in the lower right corner and the old Mt Tabor along the bottom edge.  Gainesway subdivision is in the upper left and the Lansdowne Shoppes (upper right) are yet to be started.  I would place the date of this photo at about 1963 or 64 at the latest.

This week's contest may be a little tricky.  I am looking for 4 identifiable places or locations.  Good luck.