2010 Tunes & Blooms concert series at the Cincinnati Zoo

The annual Tunes & Blooms concert series at the Cincinnati Zoo starts tomorrow at 6pm. Just as in the past, this series features local music in a very unique setting and promises to be a great way to get back outside and enjoy the Spring season in Cincinnati.

Presented by CityBeat and WNKU, Tunes & Blooms is a free weekly concert series put on each and every Thursday evening throughout the month of April. The bands that come to play at the Zoo are some of the most respected and admired local acts and they promise to put on quite a show. The kickoff event this week features both Chuck Cleaver’s Wussy as well as local indie pop sensation Pomegranates. A fairly unique pair, this promises to be quite a show on a night where the weather should be nothing but spectacular.

There are a few other things you should know about Tunes & Blooms which has five incredible shows over the next month. First off, admission to the Zoo is free after 5pm and the shows start around 6pm. While parking is $7, it is a good deal whether you drive a car over or jump on the Metro lines 1, 46, or 78. Secondly, the event will happen rain or shine. Tomorrow’s weather looks very promising, but as Spring carries on it is a great reminder that regardless of what the weather is there will still be music happening at the Zoo each Thursday.

We are lucky enough to have five Thursdays in April this year, and the schedule is packed for each one. Stop over and enjoy some free music at the Zoo as one way to get back outside and enjoy all that Cincinnati has to offer. You will find the schedule of shows for this year’s Tunes & Blooms below.

April 1 – Wussy + Pomegranates

Cincinnati’s Airport Location Failure

In an ever globalizing economic system, it becomes increasingly more important for metropolitan regions to have a strong international airport that not only provides reliable high-quality air service to the residents and businesses of that region. Cincinnati’s robust corporate community has historically helped position the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport as one of the major players in the nation thanks to a large Delta presence.

That presence is nowhere near the same today and Cincinnati’s international airport may soon be positioned to lose its Delta hub status altogether thanks to the recent Delta/Northwest merger that left the Cincinnati with the odd airport out with nearby hubs in Atlanta and Detroit.

Atlanta is Delta’s hometown and has the busiest airport, as measured by enplaned passenger, in the world. Meanwhile Detroit Metro Airport is a large newly renovated facility that was a major hub for Northwest prior to the merger. The new mega-airline no longer has a need for the overlapping hubs and seemingly has its eyes set on giving Cincinnati the treatment Pittsburgh received US Airways reduction from a prominent “hub” to a mere “destination” in 2008.

With Cincinnati’s large and growing business community, a region experiencing regional population growth, and a central location to other large metropolitan markets it would seem like Cincinnati’s international airport should be anything but the odd airport out in this shuffle – especially with recently upgraded facilities, top-of-the-line security, and large capacity. The problem might be that Cincinnati’s international airport is located in Northern Kentucky.

This is not said as a slight to Kentucky, but rather said as a reality that Northern Kentucky represents the southern most reaches of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), and is very distant from the southern reaches of Dayton’s MSA that is poised to be merged with Cincinnati following the 2010 Census creating the Cincinnati-Dayton Metroplex with roughly 3.1 million people.

Imagine this: Instead of having the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Cincinnati’s south side and the Dayton International Airport on Dayton’s north side, the new metroplex has one mega-regional airport located in the middle of the two population and job centers. The draw would be so great that the airport would attract travelers from Columbus and Indianapolis alike for its profound reach much like the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport view during early stages of construction of the third parallel north/south runway (top left) – image from Landrum & Brown.

A mega-regional international airport located around the Monroe area in Butler County would been a further distance from the center cities of both Cincinnati and Dayton when compared to both cities existing airports, but Cincinnati would not have the difficult and expensive navigation over the Ohio River and Dayton would be able to benefit from an international airport with the pulling power of Cincinnati combined with their own.

The region is currently pouring $2-plus billion into the construction of a new river crossing primarily needed because of the sprawl in Northern Kentucky, and by association, the related industries that locate around airports. This money instead could have been used to construct high-quality rail connections between the population and job centers of Cincinnati and Dayton with the international airport located in northern Butler County. The inevitable metroplex then would have not only had a larger and more effective international airport serving its residents and businesses, but the metroplex would have had passenger rail connecting the two centers with one another.

Had this scenario played out, would we be talking about Detroit’s international airport experiencing reduced service instead? Would we be talking about a $2-plus billion bridge replacement over the Ohio River? Would the northern and southern sprawl outward from Cincinnati been instead consolidated into the northern corridor along I-75 that has been met with Dayton’s southern sprawl? How much economic and population impact would this have represented for the State of Ohio? Would the Cincinnati-Dayton Metroplex be an even greater center for aviation industries than it already is?

The answers to these questions may not be easily identifiable or defined, but it does seem clear that the best location for a large international airport serving the Cincinnati-Dayton Metroplex would have been in the middle of the two population and job centers – not the far southern or northern reaches.

This Week in Soapbox – 3/30

This Week in Soapbox, UrbanCincy has the following five stories to check out. Read about Cincinnati’s newest food truck, home builders’ shift to urban projects, Wake Nation’s new practice pond, a new Hispanic business initiative, and a feature story about the Cincinnati’s burgeoning fashion scene.

If you’re interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week’s stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

TWIS 3/30/10:

  • Taco Azul to hit Cincinnati’s streets in late Aprilfull article
  • CitiRama sells first home, installs innovative geothermal systemfull article
  • Wake Nation breaks ground on expanded facilityfull article
  • Hispanic 100 initiative helps Latino professionals branch out - full article
  • Cincinnati Gets Fashionable (feature story)full article

Putting the Food Cart Before the Horse

Yesterday, Cincinnati Enquirer editor Tom Callinan wrote an opinion piece about Cincinnati’s growing street food scene. The column discusses his past experiences with street food and elaborates on how Cincinnati’s street food scene has changed since he arrived in Cincinnati some eight years ago.

Personally I appreciate the comments shared by Mr. Callinan and his apparent enthusiasm for the Cincinnati Streetcar project he mentioned four times in his relatively short op-ed piece about street food. The reason for this response piece is not to challenge his experiences with great street food (I too love street food), or his passion for the Cincinnati Streetcar project (also a passion of mine), but rather to explore his explanation of cosmopolitan cities and experiences.

Mr. Callinan explained how the growing street food options are making Cincinnati a more cosmopolitan place much like the Cincinnati Streetcar will. This however is putting the food cart before the horse. Street food options are not a driver of cosmopolitan behavior, but rather the result of a city becoming more cosmopolitan and craving such offerings. Likening this to the Cincinnati Streetcar which will actually drive additional lifestyle changes that make Cincinnati more cosmopolitan is inaccurate.

For example, when people living at The Banks development along Cincinnati’s riverfront ride the Cincinnati Streetcar to Findlay Market for their weekly shopping needs it is not the businesses that sparked this behavioral change, it is the streetcar that enables this, as Mr. Callinan would put it, cosmopolitan lifestyle. The lifestyle changes influenced by the streetcar system will create additional demand for cosmopolitan offerings like the street food vendors Mr. Callinan details as more people, instead of cars, begin to populate our streets.

You could almost view something like street food as an indicator species for the liveliness of a city. William H. Whyte’s groundbreaking research in New York City examined the social behaviors and usage of public spaces, and he discovered that people do in fact have a tendency to cluster around street food vendors. This is for two primary reasons: 1) the street food attracts people to the vendor for the product, and 2) people are attracted to other people and have a tendency to self-congest. But without people on the streets to begin with, there is no demand for a street food vendor. So the question is really how to increase the number of people out on the streets if we are trying to figure out how to grow the number of street food vendors in a given area.

Cincinnati’s food carts vie for the heavy foot traffic areas in downtown Cincinnati. The locations for each vendor is determined by an annual lottery held by the City.

New York City has no shortage of people walking around the city where there is a proliferation of these fantastic street food vendors. And it is no coincidence that Cincinnati’s food carts fight over the spaces surrounding Fountain Square during the annual lottery that allocates food cart locations. Those food cart spaces are located in the highest pedestrian count areas of downtown Cincinnati where each of the nearby intersections boast between 4,000 to 7,000 pedestrians per hour between 11am and 2pm.

But what about street food vendors in Portland that is the oft-cited streetcar case study for Cincinnati’s contemporary proposal?

Marisa Robertson-Textor wrote for Gourmet Magazine that, “Portland’s bustling street-food scene may soon be rivaling the hawker centers of Singapore in terms of quality, scope, popular appeal, and value for money. In other words, the Pacific Northwest is doing for street food today what it did for coffee in the 1990s.” She went on to say that picking just eight venues out of the sea of stands, stalls, carts, trucks, trailers, and even bicycles was a tough job.

Portland’s street food vendors tend to cluster around the streetcar and light rail lines…especially so around line crossings.

I spent the last week in Denver where I visited one of America’s most famous street food vendors. I got to speak with Jim Pittenger, owner of Biker Jim’s Dogs, during that time about his gourmet hot dogs that have drawn national acclaim and recent praise from food rock star Anthony Bourdain himself. Jim’s loyal assistant explained the importance of a high foot traffic location to me, and said that their prominent location at 16th & Arapahoe streets in the heart of downtown Denver has been critical to their success.

In Cincinnati we need to continue to do things like remove the hideous and life sucking skywalks, build modern transport options like the Cincinnati Streetcar to give people greater options to get out of their cars and onto the streets so that we can continue to create additional demand for the wondrous street food vendors that help make cities great.

Cincinnati Riverfront Park on schedule for spring 2011 opening

The Cincinnati Riverfront Park is currently under construction and progress is being made on the first phase of the project that will be completed in spring 2011. The Moerlein Lager House, Bicycle Center and Event Lawn are all making headway while the support elements are put in place. The project is on schedule according to project manager Dave Prather who gives us the update.

Meatless Monday: Mac & Cheese with a View

When it comes to eating meatless one day a week, hungry diners are out of excuses. Do yourself a favor. While trend-worshippers flock to Senate Pub on Vine Street for pumped up street grub and urban chatter, take an evening to check out the View in East Walnut Hills. Stephens Restaurant Group has seized control of the Edgecliff Room — formerly owned by Martin and Marilyn Wade of Local 127 — and have revamped both the name and the menu.

You may be dining next to a slightly more mature crowd (it’s located in the towering Edgecliff condos on Victory Parkway), but who cares when the restaurant’s backdrop is a sprawling panoramic of the Ohio River Valley? Instead of elbowing for a bar stool, you can easily score a table here overlooking a stretched out horizon dotted with twinkling city lights.

The View’s mac and cheese – before/after – photography by Courtney Tsitouris.

And fancy hotdogs and duck fat fries got nothin’ on the fever-inducing, down home goodness of the View’s mac and cheese. It’s an angry, bubbling mess of elbow macaroni, butter and cream topped with a hit of herbed breadcrumbs. It comes in a piping hot casserole dish with brown baked sides that will singe the tips of your fingers. As you break its surface with a spoon, two types of cheddar cheese hiss and scream and a wave of steam forms curlicues in the air.

But watch out kids, this one is for the pesce-vegetarians. Beneath the velvety blanket of cream and pasta, lump crabmeat marries an exotic twirl of truffle essence. If your mother and a young whippersnapper chef got together, this is the homespun decadence they’d come up with. It’s Sunday supper on crack — soul food with the complicated, evocative bend of revved-up ingredients. For just ten dollars, even red-blooded meat lovers will be hard pressed to find this much comfort and flavor packed on a plate.

It’s the “classic with a twist” style that Alfio Gulisano — the same chef behind Bella Luna — hopes to implement throughout the rest of his menu. The View may not be a fully baked concept yet (other dishes like the grilled cheese with onions fell short of such transcendent musings), but he’s making his point. In a time of glorified bar food and kicked-up bistro classics, Gulisano shows Cincinnati that he’s coming out with guns blazing.

‘Meatless Mondays’ is an ongoing series on UrbanCincy that explores one of the recommendations of Cincinnati’s Climate Protection Action Plan (aka Green Cincinnati Plan) – try to go meatless one day a week. UrbanCincy’s ‘Meatless Mondays’ series is written and photographed by Courtney Tsitouris who is a cook, designer and author of www.epi-ventures.com, a blog about dining in and dining out in Cincinnati.