Jake Robinson on His Hometown and Its Rapidly Changing Center City

NBC Universal reached out to UrbanCincy last week asking if we would be interested in conducting an interview with Jake Robinson – a Cincinnati native now living in New York City as a professional actor.

He stars in NBC’s new television series, American Odyssey, which follows the journey of a group of three strangers navigating their way through global politics, corporate espionage, and military secrets in an effort to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy.

While UrbanCincy does not typically cover entertainment news, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge Robinson’s thoughts on his hometown. The following interview was conducted by email and has been published with minor editing for formatting purposes.

Randy Simes: How would you describe your upbringing in Cincinnati? Did you visit the city all that often? What were your perceptions of the city?
Jake Robinson: My upbringing was very rural. I grew up in Maineville most of my life. My parents rented a house on an old Quaker property that had been part of the Underground Railroad. I had woods, ponds, streams, and rivers all within exploring distance from my house. It was an incredible place for me to stretch my imagination. I did not go to the city very often. Occasionally we would go for Reds games or to the library, which was my favorite place to be. But the city itself always felt really big and intimidating to me.

RS: Do you have any notable memories of city life in Cincinnati that stand out from your time growing up here? If so, please explain one that really stands out to you.
JR: The one that stands out the most to me was getting to play peewee football at Paul Brown. The stadium had just opened and I remember being totally awestruck when I walked onto that field.

RS: How much do you stay engaged with what is happening in Cincinnati these days?
JR: I still listen to high school football games and follow Cincinnati sports. Also a lot of my family is still in Cincinnati. My brother and his wife are both professors at UC. Everyone that is still there is very involved with the community. So whenever I come home we are always talking about what’s happening in and around the city.

RS: A lot has changed in Cincinnati over the past several years. From when you grew up in the area, Over-the-Rhine and the central riverfront may now be entirely unrecognizable to you. What do you think about the changes that have taken place?
JR: I am so incredibly excited about the changes that Cincinnati has gone through. Downtown is now a destination for me. Whether it’s Fountain Square, The Banks or OTR, the entire city has a new life to it. I always tell my parents if I could do what I do in Cincinnati, I would move back. My two favorites are Rhinegeist and Senate.

RS: While living in NYC, is there anything specific that you miss about your hometown?
JR: I always miss the people, particularly my family. There is a way of life that’s really special in Cincinnati it’s why people keep coming back to the city. I have many friends who have returned to Cincinnati to settle down.

RS: Late last year Cincinnati business and community leaders went on a week-long trip to NYC to showcase Cincinnati’s arts and business prowess. Did you engage with anyone or any of the events at that time?
JR: I went to the May Festival concert at Carnegie Hall because my uncle was involved in the chorus, but I did not get engage with anyone else or any of the other events at the time.

RS: More and more films are selecting Cincinnati as a location for filming in recent years. There are varying reasons for this, but what would you think of being offered the opportunity to perform in something filmed locally?
JR: Cincinnati has done a great job encouraging film makers to come to the city. I think it has a wonderful history and that is a major draw for people. I would be so honored and thrilled to do a project locally. It is definitely a goal for me going forward.

RS: If there is one thing about your experience living elsewhere that you would like to see in Cincinnati, what would that be?
JR: Public transit and transportation in general. Updating and bringing more carriers to CVG, as well as improving suburb to downtown public transit and commute times. I think this is key in continuing to see growth in the downtown area.

RS: Cincinnatians are famous for their TV viewing habits. With this in mind, are you or any of your friends/family planning any special viewing parties/events?
JR: I actually threw the first episode viewing party in NYC, but I know my parents religiously watch the show. I hope everyone is tuning into the show. NBC has some really impressive programming right now and American Odyssey is a big part of it. You can catch up on the show on Hulu or NBC On Demand.

RS: What attracted you to this role in American Odyssey?
JR: The script was the single most important thing when picking this project. I loved how fast-paced and intense it was. Reading it had me on the edge of my seat and watching it has me even more engaged.

RS: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite Cincinnati-style chili?
JR: Skyline all the way.

For those interested in watching the new series, you can catch it Sunday nights at 10pm ET on NBC.

Minneapolis is laughing at all other Midwestern cities as it builds out its bike network

With one of the highest rates of biking in North America, Minneapolis already should be proud of its accomplishments in diversifying its transportation network. Instead, the city that averages around 54 inches of snowfall each year is looking to double down on the effort. The newly released plan from the City of Minneapolis calls for adding 55 miles of bike lanes to the city’s existing 37-mile network. More from Streetsblog USA:

The 30-mile plan is expected to cost about $6 million, with funding coming from city, county, and federal budgets. Minneapolis will also save money by folding bike lane construction into regularly scheduled road resurfacing projects, according to the Star Tribune. The paper notes the entire plan will cost less than building a single mile of roadway.

The city has tentatively identified 19 corridors that will get protected bike lanes. About half are in downtown or the University of Minnesota area. The other half are in outlying neighborhoods that aren’t currently well-served by bike infrastructure, said Fawley. The city had hoped to install 8 miles of protected bike lanes this year, but it doesn’t look like it will quite reach that goal, due to some construction delays.

Autograph Collection Hotel Planned for Former Anna Louise Inn Building

Shortly after breaking the news that The Banks development team is in negotiations with AC Hotels to bring the trendy European hotel brand to the central riverfront, UrbanCincy confirmed that the real estate development arm of Western & Southern is close to finalizing an agreement that would bring a boutique hotel to Lytle Park as well.

Multiple sources have confirmed that a deal is being worked out that would bring an Autograph Collection hotel to the former Anna Louise Inn. When reached for comment, Mario San Marco, President of Eagle Realty Group, acknowledged that the company is working diligently to bring an Autograph Collection hotel to the site, but that details had not yet been finalized or presented to City Hall.

Western & Southern executives had previously stated that they wanted to bring a boutique hotel to the site that would have somewhere around 106 rooms. The plan would fit the company’s larger plans for the historic district that call for creating a high-end enclave surrounding Lytle Park, which Western & Southern helped save from demolition in the 1960s by pushing for the creation of Lytle Tunnel.

Autograph Collection is a unique brand owned by Marriott International. Instead of the rest of their brands which maintain their names, Autograph Collection makes a unique name and concept for each of their sites. The closest such hotel is Cleveland’s 156-room Metropolitan at The 9.

Sources have also confirmed that, like the AC Hotel at The Banks, this boutique concept by Autograph Collection would be managed by Cincinnati-based Winegardner & Hammons.

The two recent hotel announcements appear to be the end of the center city’s recent hotel boom that has included a new 122-room SpringHill Suites, 134-room Residence Inn by Marriott, 160-room 21c Museum Hotel, 323-room Renaissance Hotel, 105-unit Homewood Suites, 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites, and a 144-room Aloft Hotel.

The boom has also included major, multi-million dollar renovations of the Hyatt Regency and Westin Hotel in the heart of the central business district. The remaining unanswered question continues to be what will happen with the deteriorating Millennium Hotel, which, at 872 rooms, is the center city’s largest, and serves as the region’s primary convention hotel.

Despite the addition of more than 1,100 new hotel rooms over the past several years, occupancy rates have held relatively constant. More critically, room rates and RevPAR – the hotel industry’s calculation of revenue per hotel room – have been steadily increasing over the same period and are now well above regional and national averages.

Project leaders at Eagle Realty Group declined to provide any specific timeline or budget for the project, but previously stated that they hope to get an operator under contract by mid-2015, with construction commencing shortly thereafter.

The huge demographic shift that is changing the face of America

Between 2000 and 2013, an additional 78 counties throughout the United States joined the rank of those where whites no longer made up a majority of the population. In total there are some 266 counties nation-wide, including Ohio’s three most populous. More from CityLab:

By 2040, the country’s white population will no longer be the majority. But for many regions around the country, this demographic shift has already arrived. A new map created by the Pew Research Center pinpoints the 78 counties in 19 states where, from 2000 to 2013, minorities together outnumbered the white population.

Pew crunched Census numbers from the 2,440 U.S. counties that had more than 10,000 residents in 2013. Whites made up less than half the population in a total of 266 counties. Even though these 266 counties made up only 11 percent of the counties analyzed, they contained 31 percent of the country’s total population, with many of them home to dense urban areas.

The amount of cement China is using will blow your mind

A strange combination of events and economic circumstances, combined with China’s rapid urbanization, have resulted in an absolutely massive use of cement. We all know that China’s cities have been growing rapidly over the past several decades, but the fact that the People’s Republic used more cement in three years than the United States did during the entire 20th century is stunning. More from the Washington Post:

It’s a statistic so mind-blowing that it stunned Bill Gates and inspired haiku. But can it be true, and, if so, how? Yes, China’s economy has grown at an extraordinary rate, and it has more than four times as many people as the United States. But the 1900s were America’s great period of expansion, the century in which the U.S. built almost all of its roads and bridges, the Interstate system, the Hoover Dam, and many of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. And China and the U.S. are roughly the same size in terms of geographic area, ranking third and fourth in the world, respectively.

The statistic seems incredible, but according to government and industry sources, it appears accurate. What’s more, once you dive into the figures, they have a surprisingly logical explanation that reveals some fascinating differences between the two countries, and some ominous realities about China.