Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DIY Placemaking

Want your place to be a special place? You don’t have to wait until the professionals do their special placemaking work. Find a destination that’s 30 minutes or so walk or bike ride away along an enjoyable route. Get friends and/or family together and walk or ride to that spot and enjoy the activities to be had there. Do that a few times and voila, you’ve done some DIY placemaking. Your doing a fun activity with family and friend, enjoying the trip there and back outside of your car, seeing and commenting on things that you otherwise would not see and comment on.

That amazing insight came to me yesterday. A new ice cream shop recently opened up. It’s a convenient 30 min bike ride away. So yesterday I took the 30 min ride, enjoyed a nice ice cream cone on their picnic table and rode back, enjoying the trip and the treat (and it made for a good motivation for the ride). Now I can tell others about it and convince them to come along.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spotted an ex-pat Yooper home for a visit

In town the other day, I was behind a pickup at a stop light. The pickup had a Nebraska license plate and one of those oval place abbreviation stickers. Instead of NEB, it said UP. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a NEB oval sticker. Not because there are no beautiful places in Nebraska. There are many. Maybe because people from the middle of the country either want to have to explain that or don’t want to hear comments like ‘I spent a week in Nebraska one afternoon.” Pass-through tourism generates quite a bit of revenue for towns along the main routes, but destination tourisms is at best a niche market in the plains. Some people I knew in Kansas liked the idea that I-70 just squirted people through and we did not have to cater to tourist whims. And we gloated about the little secret we knew about great places to go.

The driver of that truck at the stop light was no Yooper wannabe. On the back window was another sticker declaring “Yoosta be a Yooper.” I think it was said wistfully not as something he was able to overcome.

I’m sure he has to explain to others back in Nebraska a.) why he’d have a sticker that says ‘up’ (some kind of new age positivism message?) and b.) what the heck is a yooper?

Friday, June 22, 2012

thanks, bridge toll taking guy!

If you travel on the Mighty Mac very much, you're sure to have paid your toll to the native american fellow who is always so friendly. I don't know his name but he makes the crossing even more fun than it already is. On a recent crossing, he said, as he generally does, 'how are you doing young man?' I said 'you've been calling me young man for more than 10 years, I'm not so young anymore,' and he replied 'sure you are.'

The automated toll booths are convenient. I admit that I usually use them. But when I either need a receipt to get paid back for a business trip or am pulling a trailer, which the automated lanes don't allow, it's nice to get the real thing...human contact with someone who knows that a friendly comment can make his job more enjoyable and make his customer's day brighter . So thanks, bridge toll taking guy. You bring the bridge down to a personal scale.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Real cities

The State of Michigan is on to something with the Pure Michigan campaign. I recently had the chance to hear a talk by one of the directors of the program. He stated that the campaign has achieved good brand recognition across the region and beyond. It’s had an excellent return on investment and even spawned numerous spoofs (search You Tube for Pure Michigan spoofs --  you’ll be quite amused). The State likes the spoofs, too. Bonus publicity! (And they are done my Michiganders and in a backhanded way complement what’s we Michiganders think is special about our state.)

The director mentioned that, while most tourists understand the ‘pure’ part as ‘unspoiled nature,’ some tourists are looking for authentic cities as well. He used the term ‘gritty’ and mentioned that the European tourists are especially looking for the gritty side of Detroit. I’m not sure about just how gritty they want it, but the idea did register with me on a later trip to Lansing. I was driving on W Saginaw, in an authentic part of town. It was actually nice to see a part of town that organically developed over time. Full disclosure: I was on my way to a strip mall to visit a local-but-still-big-box bookstore. (We don’t have big bookstores in our area, so a trip to a larger town always includes a visit to a big bookstore.) An authentic part of town with the hodgepodge architecture, small, local shops and eateries has a nice feel.

I recently had a meeting in Toronto. The meeting was right downtown so I had a chance to walk all around the downtown. Along with the steel and glass high rises, there’s block after block of low buildings hosting ethnic restaurants, upscale pubs and taverns, small specialty shops (vinyl record shops!), and lots of people enjoying it all. Seems just authentic enough without being over-run with shops of dubious specialties.  Not new and shiny but vibrant and real.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From a recent trip to rural S-central Michigan

“There’s just something about these small towns,” exclaimed my traveling companion on a recent trip downstate to pick up our bee nuc. All I could muster by way of response was “Indeed.” Just not much more to add; the visual said it all. With the bees safely tucked into their new home, our hive box, we wandered the back roads and enjoyed the scene.

The landscape was rolling hills with an admixture of neat, thrifty small farms, woodlands, wetlands, and small towns. Apparently the climate, soils, topography and proximity to large population centers create just the right conditions for growing nice villages as well as growing a diversity of crops and animals. I’m not sure how many families live solely off their small farms. My guess is that most have a family member that works in town, but the conditions are right for a small farm to make enough of a contribution to the family finances to make it worth keeping the small family farm going. It’s a nice place to visit and you would want to live there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reason #57 to live here

Crossing the international bridge, watching an osprey hovering, talons extended, ready to dive into the rapids to catch a fish, but upon seeing the fishermen in the rapids reconsidering and moving on.