USA’s most exciting mid-sized cities

Below is a list created by the Movoto Real Estate Blog of its top ten most exciting mid-

Source: blogworld.com

Source: blogworld.com

sized cities (120,000 to 210,000 people) in the United States:

  1. Providence, RI
  2. Charleston, SC
  3. Fort Collins, CO
  4. Eugene, OR
  5. Syracuse, NY
  6. New Haven, CT
  7. Fort Lauderdale, FL
  8. Pasadena, CA
  9. Grand Rapids, MI
  10. Salt Lake City, UT

(Pasadena and Grand Rapids tied for eighth place)

A total of 117 cities fell into Movoto’s population range as being considered mid-sized. Then, the following six criteria were used to determine the top ten most exciting ones.

Nightlife per capita (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.)

Live music venues per capita

Active life options per capita (parks, outdoor activities, etc.)

Fast Food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)

Percentage of restaurants that are fast food (the lower the better)

Percentage of young residents ages 20 to 34 (the higher the better)

To this urban planner, the criteria is missing a key element that I believe would lend itself  to creating a more accurate calculation — a vibrant and diverse multicultural population is critical to a city being exciting. The music, artistic, and cuisine options grow exponentially as new cultures are introduced. While the fact that they didn’t include that factor does not diminish the interesting aspects of their list, it would have made it a more inclusive study.

Which city is best for you?

Just a little lighthearted Saturday fun today. Below is a link to a fun city compatibility test on Buzzfeed that identifies what city would be most compatible with you lifestyle and beliefs. My answer was Portland, Oregon.

Enjoy!

Favorites of 2013

Source: parablesblog.blogspot.com

Source: parablesblog.blogspot.com

With just over three weeks left in 2013, here are some of my favorites for the year, subject to last-minute change before January 1st.

ADVERTISING

BREWS

FOOD

 LITERATURE

MOVIES

  • Movie – Gravity
  • Runner-up – Dallas Buyer’s Club
  • Actor in a movie – Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club and in Mud
  • Actress in a movie – Sandra Bullock in Gravity
  • Supporting Actor in a movie – Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club
  • Supporting Actress in a movie – Jennifer Garner in Dallas Buyer’s Club

MUSIC

TECHNOLOGY

  • New option – Mayday button on Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX
  • App – Smart Compass (whether intended or not, I love the play on words)
  • Online shopping website – Amazon.com

TELEVISION

SPORTS

  • Sports play – Auburn’s victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl
  • Runner-up – Andy Murray winning the men’s title at Wimbledon
  • Third – Tony Kanaan winning the Indy 500
  • Fourth – Michigan State’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship football game

How Liverpool shaped The Beatles

Source: amazon.com

Source: amazon.com

While I enjoy many songs by The Beatles, I tend to think of myself as more of a Rolling Stones man – music that is a little harder, edgier, and rugged. But, I too was (and still am) captivated by the magical and mystical tunes written and performed by The Beatles, both as a group and later as individuals. Back in 2008, I found myself completely mesmerized during a two-hour Beatles walking tour of London. Just the thought of standing right where the introductory scene of A Hard Day’s Night was filmed alongside Marylebone Station had me hooked. One amazing sight was followed by another, as two-dozen of us made this increasingly common pilgrimage.

Fast forward to 2013 and I discover by chance a book entitled The Beatles – Liverpool Landscapes. Published in 2011, this superb book was written by David Lewis, a native of Liverpool who explores geography and history of his hometown’s most famous four sons.  The book is an absolute delight to read and details the conflicting allure and danger one finds in this great Merseyside port city. Literally step-by-step, Mr. Lewis walks you through Liverpool and its environs to explore the urban community that raised and influenced these four lads. In doing so, he brings youthful images of John, Paul, George, and Ringo to life right before the reader’s eyes. Furthermore, Mr. Lewis brings  the City of Liverpool to life itself, highlights echoes from its past, and describes the city’s gritty and ever-changing persona. After reading The Beatles – Liverpool Landscapes, it became quite apparent that not all was sunshine, cookies, and merriment during the band member’s upbringing.

Source: tracklogs.uk.co

Source: tracklogs.uk.co

Famous lyrical references abound and are investigated whenever possible, including obvious ones like Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, and Eleanor Rigby. Other references are more subtle, as the author leaves interpretation to the reader.

Liverpool - circa 1960 Source: flickr.com

Liverpool – circa 1960 Source: flickr.com

I cannot say enough about how good this book is to read. Even if you are not a Beatles fan, this publication will touch your heart and make you yearn to be a time-traveler back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when the British Invasion was about to explode upon the world.  Please read this book! It explores a wide range of disciplines including sociology, genealogy, geography, psychology, architecture, urban design, urban planning, and history to document a very special moment in time when all the stars aligned in one city to give birth to sheer greatness. Enjoy!

Here are a few of the wonderful excerpts from Mr. Lewis’ oh, so eloquent book:

“Ordinary events in ordinary places are given resonance and magic by our knowledge of what came next, what these ordinary events led to.”

“There is a gentle, poetic melancholy in the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild, of time at the opposite ends of lives, and I have always found an extra element of this in public parks.”

“Yet again I was reminded that these streets are how the city sees itself, how it sees its history.”

“I have always felt that the Beatles’ early recordings, those dark sleeves and solemn young men, are a soundtrack to a city being demolished.”

“…many early Beatles gigs ended in enormous bloody fights, a dark landscape of anger and fear erupting into senseless violence.”

“The abrupt end of the trams in 1957 seemed to me to be one of the fault lines in Beatles history.” (see photo below)

“The Beatles and their family stories reflect a Liverpool journey from the Irish boats to the back streets, to the better back streets, and out into sunny suburbia.”

“Childhood and landscape are sometimes, perhaps always, inextricably linked, connected by memory and geography of home, school and play.”

“Is it a coincidence that Paul McCartney’s Beatles songs seemed to look out into the world whereas John Lennon’s work was darker, wilder, more introspective?”

“These dark Cavern cellars are the holy of the holies for Beatles pilgrims, because here the music started.”

“But Liverpool Beatle City is a clean, safe place with nothing too deep or serious, a place that has chosen its art and its history carefully.”

“I saw the city to a soundtrack of their more famous pieces of music, the city unrolling around us as if in a film, the achingly familiar music defining the landscape as never before. Liverpool looked loved and shabby, full of mad people and happy girls, emptiness, beauty and squalor.”

Source: Liverpool-city-group.com

Source: Liverpool-city-group.com

Islands of sanity amid sprawl schlock

Royal Oak's main Sgtreet Theater - Source: detroitfunk.com

Royal Oak’s main Sgtreet Theater – Source: detroitfunk.com

Despite seas of commercial and residential sprawl in many parts of suburban Detroit, there are a few places of sane, sensible, and progressive planning that stand out as beacons of hope. Probably the most obvious of these dichotomies is just north of the Detroit city limits in southern Oakland County. The cities of Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, and Royal Oak form a four-part cluster of active, vibrant, and well-planned downtowns surrounded by healthy, interconnected residential neighborhoods. These four cities stand in stark contrast to the sprawl schlock of many nearby communities.

It is amazing how much more welcoming, walkable, and vibrant these four cities are compared to many of their abutting neighbors. Just driving through them, one quickly discerns the sense of community that prevails. Cooling and colorful tree canopies (it is fall), street-side store fronts, and bicycle/pedestrian traffic compared to the acres of largely empty parking lots, bland shopping plazas, and mundane suburban sprawl features just beyond their borders. It is quite a stark contrast between human-centric planning and auto-centric planning.

There are several other suburban parts of metro Detroit where healthy communities can be found, including the Northville-Plymouth, Milford, and Brighton on the west side, the Grosse Pointes on the east side, as well as the cities of Farmington, Rochester, and Dearborn.  Each of these is an obvious and clear contrast to most of those low-density “once-township suburbs” that abut and/or surround them. Granted, not all aspects of these islands of sensible planning are perfect – for instance Main Street in Royal Oak is still too auto-oriented for this planner at five lanes plus curbside parking. But, each are certainly welcome respites from the tiresome seas of suburban sprawl schlock that mar so much of the landscape.

Many kudos go out to Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, and Royal Oak, Michigan for their successful planning efforts to date. As promising beacons, it is hoped that these endearing islands of human-centric planning will stand tall as useful templates for future development patterns…patterns which forever forsake the mind-numbing sprawl schlock of the past.

Some thoughts from E’ireann

Source: banner25.redbuble.com

Ross Castle – Source: banner25.redbuble.com

As Kathy and I wrap up our weeklong trip the emerald island, I had some thoughts to pass along.

  • If you have the opportunity to visit Ireland, absolutely do it! What a wonderful and friendly nation.
  • The people are extremely kind and generous.
  • Irish Rail (Iarnrod Eireann) is a superb and relaxing way to travel about this lovely country. No better way to travel about in our opinion.
  • There is so much to see in Ireland, don’t over schedule your trip, especially if you have a a limited time to visit. You can always make a return visit. Besides, it will give you a chance to really absorb the beauty of what you do see.
  • We felt very safe at all times including late at night.
  • We found the outdoor adventures to be spectacular – hiking the Greystones Cliff Trail, biking around Muckross Lake, seeing the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, and kayaking Lake Leane at sunset were each an amazing way to the see the natural beauty of Ireland.
  • Be sure to check out a variety of traditional Irish music performers – we went out four separate nights and found a fascinating variety of entertaining and fun music. We particularly liked the traditional music by Socks in the Frying Pan.
  • Try as many of the Irish beers as possible - Guinness dominates, but we loved Harp and Tom Crean’s Premium Irish Lager too.  Carlsberg from Denmark was another great one.
  • We found Irish cuisine to be delicious, whether it was Irish stew, beef & Guiness stew, or cottage/shepard’s pie. It may not be spicy, but that’s alright with us!
  • Tune out and turn off the tech world as much as possible. Other than occasionally checking emails and making travel plans, we did not watch television once nor used the internet much.
  • September is a great time to come to Ireland – sunny and warm every day with just a smattering of rain on a couple of occasions.
  • Hostels are a great way to see the country – this trip was the first one for us where we stayed at hostels exclusively. Research on Trip Advisor and Hostelworld produced four gems for us!  They may not be the Ritz, but who cares? The money you save can go towards more great food and beer!

Your community is a retirement haven when…

A little more satirical fun.  Your community is a retirement haven when…

  • Gray hair is considered way cool.
  • Golf courses exceed parks.
  • Prune juice is the best-selling soft drink.
  • It’s retail economy depends on the sale of Depends.

    Source: ingunowners.com

    Source: ingunowners.com

  • Everyone has heard of (and uses) Geritol.
  • Incontinence is NOT a geographic term.
  • “Old folks home” and “home for the aged” are banned terms in the zoning code.
  • Municipal bonds are more popular than James Bond.
  • To be a “senior” in high school or college takes on a whole new meaning.
  • The world shuffleboard championships are held there.

    Source: shuffleboard.qc.ca

    Source: shuffleboard.qc.ca

  • Bike lanes are replaced by scooter lanes.
  • The Scooter Store has a brick and mortar location there.
  • Scooter drag races are a favorite sport.
  • Orthotics are the only shoes available for sale.
  • Movie theaters come equipped with hearing aids.
  • Sadly, the obituary section is the largest part of the newspaper.
  • Designer canes are an important fashion statement.
  • Happy hour is from 3-4 pm with dinner promptly at 4:30 pm.
  • Golf carts are driven on the streets and sidewalks.
  • B-I-N-G-O is its name-O!
  • Children are not to be seen or heard.
  • Wrinkles are more common than zits.
  • Age is simply a state of mind.

Weaving Durban into words – a marvelous urban anthology!

Source: penguinbooks.com

Source: penguinbooks.com

I cannot praise the book Durban in a Word highly enough. It is hands down the best collection of short stories and essays I have ever (ever!) read…and they are all about one quite amazing city and its residents – Durban (eThekwini), South Africa. The editor and each the writers have successfully woven into words Durban’s rich and storied tapestry. In doing so, they have done their hometown very, very proud.

The anthology consists of 30 separate stories that cover a gamut of subjects ranging from art, to architecture, to crime, to local history, to childhood recollections, to race, to geography and topography, to daily life, and to characters real and imagined whom call Durban home. Above all, this book is a love story – depicting the enduring love that each and every writer has for the city of their birth or adoption. Each story is inspirational in its own special way as the author’s weave into words the essence of Durban and how it pervades one’s innermost core.

Source: kwazulu-natal.com

Source: kwazulu-natal.com

As an urban planner, dreamer, and traveler, South Africa has long been high on my list of “must see” locations on this beautiful planet. After reading Durban in a Word, eThekwini (Zulu for lagoon) is now perched atop of my list of South African cities ahead of the traditional favorite of Cape Town. Needless to say, almost any trip to South Africa would include both, along with Johannesburg and Pretoria. But, if for some reason I was limited to just one city by fate or circumstance, Durban would now be my choice. One cannot help but fall in love with Durban while reading this book, regardless whether it’s the aura of the bright lights or the dark underbelly that’s being exposed.

data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,-eOJztyM8XyyQpnr72v4teZwt9nj7m1vYeMlsUiQtGm-noWtue93VYUV-_R2pBLC9mNZZRzHf8DHRVYnXTV56OTKFuo6h4L-giQJp-Uhy48qD-wzUWcrQjmNKDiKSYAx2V9NSMFpuX8LRlFFWyBNBDmZwEx7HeXR92Qv-N4HUlS7yXlxD9R5MTFY9G0a2HiMjl3mr6JN

It would be impossible to cite all the gems contained in Durban in a Word. I know I will never forget “Accordion Man,” a brief story that literally warms and wrenches your heart at the same time. And, I personally can’t wait to someday wander through the “Arcades of Durban” and take in each of their unique sensory treats. Here are just a few quotes from the book that help showcase why it is such a treat to read:

“Like many cities, the real life, the real allure is found off the tourist circuit, in the less obtrusive corners of the eye. You have to direct your gaze away from the obvious, the imitation global shopping malls and multimillion-rand ‘gated communities’ – electrified internment camps for the rich. You have to get off the main routes, adjust your expectations, open your senses. Then the city opens up to show its true face. And it’s so African, so Indian, so everything in between.”

“He told me how during the day he’d let her relish her reputation as the city where the fun never sets, but come night he’d devote himself to loving her shadows…”

“An arcade is never an end to itself.”

“I could not help pondering again about how place is an inescapable denominator in South African writing.”

“Even then, part of Durban’s allure was its fragrance of ferment – a deep warm note below the coconut oil and curry powder, the sea salt, spun sugar and exhaust fumes.”

And lastly as a terrific summation of this book:

“…every Durban native has a story worth telling – a story worth listening to and a story that ultimately entwines itself in the very fabric of our larger local life.”

Durban in a Word was first published back in 2008, but I must say it is easily the best book I have read during 2013. It is one of those literary treasures that will remain in your heart and mind long after the pages (digital or pulp) have been perused. Bravo and my sincerest kudos to all involved in the book’s preparation and publication!

Cases of great Dublingenuity!

Source: amazon.ca

Source: amazon.ca

I finished reading a quite interesting and enlightening book over the past weekend, entitled Ingenious Dublin: a guide to the city’s marvels, discoveries, and inventions, by author Mary Mulvihill. It catalogues a wide variety of important inventions, innovations, and accomplishments, as well as some off-beat curiosities that have dotted the storied history of this great capital city. The book is also very handy as a tour guide to these places that may not find their way into traditional travel guides. It is definitely an electronic book (published thru Kindle) you will want to read prior to visiting the city (as I am doing) to identify obscure and non-traditional sights to see. Among the innumerable fascinating tidbits contained in this terrific e-book are:

  • Leo the Lion of MGM fame was born at and a resident of Dublin Zoo when he was “discovered” by Hollywood as MGM’s first mascot.
  • The River Liffey was originally nearly one kilometer wide as it passed through the city.
  • The world’s first earthquake experiment took place in the city.
  • The “Drumm” nickel-zinc rechargeable battery invented by James Drumm in 1930 powered trains serving Dublin and surrounding areas in the 1930s and 1940s (see photo below). The Dublin-Bray route was served by one such battery-powered train that could tow an 85 ton load and carry 130 passengers up to 130 kilometers on a single charge! (We need this technology to be used more today!) After World War II, the trains were replaced by diesel locomotives.
Drumm Battery Train -  Source: allposters.com

Drumm Battery Train – Source: allposters.com

  • At seven kilometers, Dublin has Europe’s longest seawall.
  • Captain William Bligh (of the HMS Bounty fame) produced the first accurate navigation chart of Dublin Bay.
  • North Bull Island gradually formed after completion of the North Bull Wall – it is now five kilometers long.
  • The atom was first split by Irishman Ernest Walton at Cambridge in 1932.
  • The Irish Architectural Archive opening 1976 on Merrion Square.
  • The Little Museum of Dublin at St. Stephens Green honors the city’s 20th century heritage with a collection of eclectic items.
  • The measurement of a star’s brightness was invented by Irishman George Minchin.
  •  Dublin doctor Francis Rynd invented the hypodermic syringe in 1844
  • The Museum of Vintage Radio is situated in the city near Howth.