Facebook Sums Up Human Emotion With 6 Choices

Soon, Facebook’s famous “Like” button will get some new friends. Facebook Reactions will add buttons for:

  • Love
  • Haha
  • Yay
  • Wow
  • Sad
  • Angry

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to give users more options to express themselves. They already had the option to express themselves using detailed comments, but now an animated emoji representing their feelings will do the job instead.

Arguably, this change could damage engagement, or at least wipe out what is left of nuance on Facebook. The complex universe of human emotion doesn’t seem to fit gracefully into these six categories, but users might go ahead and round up or down to one of these pre-approved choices anyway. It sure is easier than expressing yourself.

It is paradoxical that Facebook, with a fully-featured and virtually unlimited commenting capability, has trended more toward the shallow end of conversation. Meanwhile, Twitter has had a reputation as a place to explore ideas and discover — all with 140 character limits. They’re threatening to mess with that by trying to become more like Facebook, flirting with additions like algorithmic timelines that they hope will expand their mass appeal. What will be the thinking person’s platform?

Ultimately, these kinds of changes seem trivial and not worth mentioning, but with most of humanity spending boatloads of time on Facebook, design choices large and small have huge implications. Will our feelings get dumbed down to match Facebook?

Technology Is Always Catching Up

At every step of the way, our technology creates new challenges, and then comes around to fix them for us. The solution is on its way.

And with the actual physical devices no longer dazzling us with their fancy new features, its the software that is changing our lives.

For one example, let’s look at the evolution of photography and how we manage it.

Time at home for the holidays usually means digging through old photo albums. Plastic sheets in binders was the best practice for organizing and preserving your precious family photos for a generation.IMG_20151128_111429

But unless the keeper of the album was a relentless notetaker, it is easy to get lost fast. Who is that person? Is that her first kid? Is that his second wife?

Beyond identification, the mere effort of finding a particular photo is nearly impossible unless you’ve got an impressive cataloging system, and the shelf space required to store a lifetime of photos could fill a basement.

With digital photography, we solved one storage problem and created another. Dedicated digital photographers built impressive disk-based systems for their photos. Where a flood or fire could destroy your precious memories before, now a simple hard drive crash was all it took.

Digital photographers shoot hundreds of photos, unencumbered by the limitations of film. Smartphones gave us cameras everywhere we went, and it’s almost a cliche to see people shooting away indiscriminately with their phones, clogging up their limited internal storage with photos they’ll probably never look at again.

There’s so many photos, and they’re multiplying!

Eventually, cloud storage came along, giving us safety from local hard drive crashes and freedom from the need to add storage. The cloud frees phones from the limitations imposed by storage. But in the end, it’s a mess of photos with little context that would take weeks to sort through. Complicated folder structures and file names could help, but require tremendous effort. At this point, the average user may have photos copied randomly from 4 or 5 computers, all in different places with different organization systems.

How the heck do we solve the problem we created for ourselves?

Enter solutions like Google Photos, which finally brings all of the pieces together. I haven’t been shy in my evangelism for this platform, which I truly believe to be a game changer. Not everything about it is new, but it is revolutionary in the way it brings all of the most important pieces together to solve the big problem.

With image recognition, one can search for pretty much anything. Match your friend or relative’s face to find more photos of them. Search for photos of the beach, or pets, or cars, or airplanes, or whatever you can imagine. Search for locations to find geotagged photos of that place.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.31.27 PM

Google Photos automatically brings everything in your Drive cloud storage into Photos, regardless of where it is stored. Of course, you can tell it to leave out those scandalous photos if you prefer. Most importantly, it no longer matters how much of a mess you’ve created with your files. It uses its ability to recognize features in images and the metadata stored with them (supporting information like date, time, location when enabled, camera settings, etc) to help you find them.

Smartphones can be setup to automatically upload these photos, freeing them from a purgatory inside the phone taking up space never to be seen again. If you drop your phone in a toilet, you’ve still got all of your photos. You can take endless photos of everything without having to worry about keeping track of them. There will be more space, and for once, there is a decent chance you can find them and see them again in the future.

The pace of this kind of innovation is amazing to watch if you’re keeping a close eye on innovation. After a couple of decades of a constant stream of new stuff we couldn’t quite integrate easily into our lives, we’re finally doubling back to make it all work like a charm.

What’s the next technology problem that technology will solve?

Check out Google Photos at https://photos.google.com

The Heart Of It: What The New Like Button Says About Twitter’s Challenges

With that Tweet, Twitter announced the replacement of its Favorite feature with a heart-shaped “Like” button. The change may seem like a superficial and insignificant one at first, but it illuminates a great deal about what Twitter is facing as they struggle to compete as a major player in the social space.

In their announcement, Twitter acknowledged that the old Favorite feature could be confusing for some users. That’s certainly true, but the confusion doesn’t stop there. Twitter itself is confusing, and that’s exactly what makes it so compelling and powerful for its most dedicated users. Now, the company must try to balance the needs of those users with their efforts to appeal to a broader audience and achieve profitability.

The Favorite button meant different things to different people. Some used it as a way to bookmark Tweets for future reference. Others treated it like the Like button it has become. It could be a signal of acknowledgment (I read this), a thank you or a passive-aggressive poke at a critic. It’s lack of a clear purpose made it a powerful feature that users could leverage in their own way, but it could leave a new user scratching their head.

The same goes for the rest of the network. There is no one right way to use Twitter, and users have shaped how the network operates by coming up with their own strategies. Even the now ubiquitous hashtag was a user creation, borne out of the need to find each other’s thematic posts. There’s myriad platforms one can use with Twitter, all with different features. Power users employ tools like Tweetdeck and layer on lists and custom searches to get what they want out of the network, while new users are met with an intimidating mix of unclear features and the overwhelming deluge of unfiltered Tweets coming at them. Not knowing what to do next, many give up, while a niche of dedicated users revel in their expertise. Customs and best practices are often developed on the fly by users and change over time, endearing dedicated users to the platform while leaving new users feeling left out and confused.

I still believe that Twitter is one of the most powerful platforms for making connections and discovering new ideas, but that power is derived in large part from the flexibility of the platform and the ability for users to define their own path. That doesn’t make it easy for new users to understand and enjoy, though, and Twitter needs to continue to grow to compete.

Twitter’s grand challenge, then, is to make it easier for new users to “get it” without eliminating the tremendous utility that comes in large part because it isn’t easy to “get it.” That’s no small task. So far, they’ve added on features like Moments, which highlight major stories and Tweets to go with them, but this little change to the Like button is one of the first to the core of what it means to participate in Twitter. Time will tell if it clicks in the hearts of users.


What Happened Today – Parking Policy Review Board

This is the first in my series of of posts on the proceedings of City Commissions I’m involved in. I’d love to discuss with you!

I attended the Parking Policy Review Board monthly meeting at 10am yesterday at City Hall.

Here’s what we discussed:

Public Works is collaborating with the Crossroads Community Association to do a street-by-street survey of parking inventory and conditions. This data will help drive policy direction when it is complete.

Staff updated the board on the status of staffing up parking enforcement operations, which transitioned from City control to the Policy Department. Two hires have been made, with other internal transfers in progress. When complete, there will be 13 officers charged strictly with parking enforcement city-wide. Lax enforcement has been a major issue impacting parking policy.

The board considered potential members for its vacant position, which is reserved for someone who doesn’t live, work, or own property downtown. Board members agreed to make recommendations to the Mayor’s office to fill this role. Hit me up if you meet the criteria and you are interested in providing the visitor’s perspective to the board.

We briefly reflected on a presentation the board saw in the previous meeting featuring high-tech parking meters that offered functions like credit card payment, pay-at-the-meter tickets, cameras, and license plate recognition. I thanked staff for helping keep the Board on top of its game by bringing us up to speed on the latest tech, but made the point that we should let the problems dictate the solutions, and not the other way around. Fellow board members made the excellent points that any consideration of implementing this technology should be sensitive to the potential “big brother” impressions, and the impacts of the meters on the aesthetics of the street.

Next, we considered requests from the public to make changes to current parking conditions.

Eastbound 8th Street immediately west of Broadway is wide enough for 2 lanes, but has no turn or through lanes marked. It is signed for no parking. The Board considered several implications of allowing parking here. It seems like a great opportunity to add parking  to a street that has excess capacity, and often has people pulling out to turn right onto Broadway without watching for pedestrians. The Board asked staff to contact adjacent stakeholders for any input before finalizing, but I anticipate that we’ll make this change.

We also reviewed a request from the developers of 500 Grand, which will be the home of a new restaurant, for two loading zones to accommodate take-out customers. With other short-term parking in the immediately vicinity, the Board asked staff to prepare a report of current conditions for review, since the restaurant will not be open for several months. The Board also considered the rather dramatic and rapid changes coming to this section of Grand, with the streetcar coming soon and accelerated development on all sides. In making parking changes, the ever-changing nature of the street becomes an important area of focus.

The board then considered language for a scofflaw policy, aimed at curbing problems with repeated illegal parking offenders who do not pay their tickets. The Board officially indicated their intention to adopt a policy, and charged staff with working up the specific language to make the policy a reality.

Finally, and most importantly, the Board heard public comments. A resident of the Crossroads spoke of growing pains in the neighborhood, where inadequate off-street supply for condo buildings is stretched by increasing demands and restrictions on on-street parking. This isn’t a surprise in a neighborhood changing as dramatically as the Crossroads. However, there are opportunities to make this easier that we’re not leveraging.

Chief among them: off-street parking. The city recently built a $30M+ garage with 1000 spaces for the Performing Arts Center. They can lease spaces, which would be a great option for the residents in the immediate vicinity that are calling for solid parking options, but the terms of the agreement lock out the lessees on nights when the PAC is sold-out. I strongly argued that blocking a long-term parking customer from a garage only on nights when the parking capacity in the neighborhood is the most stretched is completely untenable, and pressed staff to find a solution to allow this garage to work harder for the neighborhood. I was promised a report at the following meeting, and will continue to press.

Beyond the Arts District Garage, there are garages throughout downtown that need to be working harder for the neighborhood. When lots and garages fall to single use, they sit empty for half of the day, killing density and shutting out convenient alternatives. We can do better.

Additionally, we learned that loading zones were being signed without oversight or review from the Board, and committed to getting a handle on this problem. The Parking Policy Review Board exists largely as a mechanism to fight parking changes in a vacuum, and neighbors don’t deserve to be surprised when these special use changes appear on their streets.

After providing next steps to review these issues, the Board adjourned. See you next month.

Key take-away: how to we use publicly-funded garages to ease the demand on on-street parking facilities and better free it to serve shorter-term users, all while giving options to residents? How can we get private lot owners to allow flex-use policies that will maximize utilization of their lots? How do we get the most out of the City’s investment in parking, while getting the most value from our street parking inventory?


All The City Stuff

I’m always tweeting when I’m checking into some meeting or another that relates to neighborhood and city business. I do it to invite discussion and let people know that stuff is happening, but I realize it happens out of context, and you have to be pretty nerdy to even understand what all of these different organizations, commissions, and committees do.

When it comes to these appointments, it is my job to understand the residential word on the streets, to know the neighborhood as well as anyone, and to advocate strongly for all users of downtown while ensuring it is a great place to live. That relies heavily on what I hear from my friends and colleagues, on social networks or in passing chats.

I want to demystify what all of this stuff is, and then go on to give regular updates on the business of these groups. That will help drive a discussion about the issues and will help advocates focus on the issues that matter to them most. Moving forward, I’ll provide a “what happened today” overview of each of these meetings, when they happen, to encourage more feedback and discussion, and to help downtowners feel connected to the process. More importantly, it will help me do a better job as their representative, and make this sometimes lonely process a more connected and interactive one.

Here is an overview of the “official” roles I have related to City business, in an effort to give context to what is going on and why. While I’m involved on the neighborhood level through neighborhood associations and my HOA, these are just city, government, or pseudo-governmental related appointments.

The Parking and Transportation Commission is a City Council-established, mayorally-appointed body providing governance on transportation issues within the greater downtown area. Of all of the efforts I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in, I believe the PTC has been the most powerful medium in which the residential perspective has made small but progressive and meaningful improvements to our neighborhood. This group consists of leaders from neighborhood and industry groups, and also includes the Director of the KC Area Transportation Authority, the Director of Public Works, and several members of the City Council. I was appointed as a representative for the Downtown Neighborhood Association and appointed chair by Mayor James.

The PTC meets monthly to address all things transportation impacting downtown. We receive briefings from city staff on issues and projects and make recommendations to the City Council for adoption. This group provided the groundwork for the streetcar, and has been the mechanism by which one-way streets have been made two-way, signage has been improved, sidewalks and streetscapes standards have been established, and transit improvement studies have been coordinated.

The Parking Policy Review Board was formed as an offshoot of the PTC for the purposes of reviewing proposed changes to parking policy in the greater downtown area. Before, parking changes were managed through a variety of disparate processes, all of which were not well coordinated with each other or grounded in policy. As downtown grows, the city-controlled parking inventory will become more important and more challenged. The review board has the task of getting that process under control, and for making recommendations on citizen and business requests for changes to public parking policy.

The Board also reviews and makes recommendations on parking technology, enforcement techniques, and holistic parking law, in coordination with City staff and the police department.

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority is the body appointed to operate the streetcar. It was created by City Council resolution to allow those paying the most for the streetcar — downtown residents and property owners — to have the most substantial role in operating the system. This group meets monthly, and handles business including the hiring and managing of a company for day-to-day operation of the streetcar system, coordinating the marketing efforts for the new line, and managing safety and security concerns — among many other things.

I also serve on the Authority’s Marketing committee, which will establish the streetcar’s branding and promotional opportunities, and I lead the team investigating and making recommendations for technology integration in the system.

Both the full Authority and the Marketing Committee meet monthly.

The Kansas City Streetcar Transportation Development District meets only as needed. It is the pseudo-governmental entity that resulted from the formation of the TDD, and it collects the revenue for the project. It has 4 members (2 stipulated by election, 2 appointed), with Mayor Sly James as the chair. I’m the Vice Chair. The TDD is part of a three-part agreement with the Streetcar Authority, charged with operating the streetcar, and the City of Kansas City, which will own the streetcar and related assets.

The Greater Downtown Area Plan Implementation Committee is tasked with implementing the expansive and ambitious goals of the Greater Downtown Area Plan [PDF], a long and highly involved vision for Greater Downtown that I, and the Downtown Neighborhood Association, have been heavily involved in since its conception. The plan was adopted by Council in 2010 and serves as the principle guiding document for everything we’re doing downtown.

While all of these groups are driven by the are plan goals, the Implementation Committee works on the practical steps to take to move the plan forward. Most importantly, the committee recommends one coordinated discretionary funding request (through the city’s PIAC program) on behalf of all downtown neighborhoods. This competitive process usually brings many requests, and the broad downtown coalition’s ability to agree on priorities has gone a long way toward making the right improvements at the right times.

With this  context, I hope casual observers can better understand the relevance of each of these meetings, and be better equipped to let me know their thoughts on the issues that we’re addressing — and the ones we should be addressing. I’ll post the updates here, and will share tidbits on Twitter as well. Contact me on Twitter or comment to the relevant posts as they happen and let’s use these processes to make downtown KC great.

Rolling Boycott


A photograph is a snapshot of a moment in time. Our favorite photos of our loved ones are really relics of the past – representations of the way they were then. With each minute, those faces change, as do the struggles, triumphs, sorrows, and joys of the people behind them.

Rolling Stone did not publish a photograph of a psychopath terrorist on its cover. They published a photo of a young man, unremarkable at first glance, whose life journey would take him to a horrifying place, and ultimately make him a terrifying villain in a terrible, tragic story.

In the reductive world of good vs evil, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is evil.   But in that photograph is just a kid, just like millions of other kids in the process of learning who they are. Was there something fundamentally different about him from the onset, or did a variety of circumstances take him to the point of committing the unthinkable? Isn’t the fact that any set of circumstances could drive a human to harm others so callously a tragedy in itself?

While mass murder is an exceptionally heinous act, any number of wrong turns could have led any of us down an ugly path. We are all capable of evil. We could have all made an ignorant choice that compounded into tragedy, and all of us have done things, intentionally and unintentionally, that have hurt others. To draw us so simply on one side of the line between good and evil robs us of the opportunity to understand the world of gray we really live in, and how tragic characters like Dzhokhar, and each of us alike, exist in the best way we know how.

Maybe we’re lucky. Maybe we’re less impressionable. Maybe we’re smarter, or had better role models, or stronger parents, or better access to the right kinds of care, or got more hugs as a child. But we’re far from perfect.

Those boycotting Rolling Stone cite sensitivity to the victims. Is it not a fitting tribute to do our best to understand how and why this happened, instead of checking out by applying a convenient label? It doesn’t honor the victims to discount the humanity of the bomber. From the tragedy, we should commit to work harder to understand the world around us – and most importantly, each other.

Tsarnaev is no martyr. He is a deeply flawed human being, as we all are. Let us use his story to learn how to more clearly see the world, and ensure we’re bringing far more joy than tragedy into it.

Why Anything Short of Hating Smoking is Unacceptable

I’m not much of a videogamer, but when I do occasionally play, I play a soccer game called FIFA. I enjoy it because it goes beyond playing soccer matches, allowing you to strategically build your game plan and team by buying and selling players. In this, I like to focus on developing young players. Any player over 30 will only degrade in quality, losing financial value as a result. If I could win without that player, it is financially and strategically smart to unload him.

The fact that I’m a aging out of my own virtual soccer match doesn’t escape me. I have a heightened awareness of that lost step in my sprint speed, even as I push myself to new athletic limits. Sure, I could do more things right in caring for myself, but I have a good balance.

I can only do so much. Aging is a reality, but I’m healthy and happy, and I’m ready for the journey. That people do things that so directly create and accelerate their decline, though, really horrifies me.

We all die someday

That’s the thing with smoking. I’ve heard the flippant retort that “you have to die someday,” but it isn’t that simple. Smoking is a slow degradation of health and quality of life, manifesting itself in small, incremental ways. I can’t avoid getting older, but I can’t imagine not doing everything I could to avoid that path.

I know I will die, and I know that I take risks and don’t do everything I could to maximize my lifespan. Most people don’t live with living a long time in mind. They live to have a quality of life. Being healthy, active, and able is what makes life worth living for me, and it should be a priority.

Perhaps this is applying my lens on the world too eagerly, but I want that for everyone. I want them to think for the future, to be healthy, to be happy, and to take pride in themselves. That’s one reason why smoking, like almost nothing else, sends me into a spiral of sadness.


I’ve always hated smoking, but that was mostly a visceral reaction. It’s gross. It is quite the absurd operation to light something on fire, draw the smoke into your lungs, and render yourself unapproachable to discriminating individuals to enjoy your indulgence. I still wholeheartedly have that reaction, and have a hard time understanding how people partake on that point alone, but I realize that isn’t exactly a robust position. I pride myself in seeing other perspectives, and spending time exploring the nuances.

While many in their youth tend to oversimplify things in order to justify them, with smoking being a great example, I had a tendency to do the opposite. I saw the stumbling drunk and assumed that is what drinking was about, and as a result, avoided it diligently until well past my 21st birthday. That was oversimplified, and while the visceral reaction to smoking is valid, it too isn’t an adequate treatment of the issue.

Through a lot of thinking on the topic, I’ve basically disassembled and reassembled my disgust with smoking, even while admitting that I’ve oversimplified and overstated risks in the past. As a result of this though process, though, I’m even less tolerant of smoking, while I’m usually softened by that kind of analysis. Still, I look forward to well-articulated opposing viewpoints in response, though I’ve found defensiveness toward a mostly indefensible position make these difficult to come by.

While society has become less and less accepting of smoking as we’ve learned more, I still feel we focus on the wrong factors and tolerate it as a collective more than we should — and this tolerance is enabling. I’ll always defend anyone’s right to do with their bodies as they please, but I’ll still feel a crushing sense of sadness when someone I care about lights up. And so should you.

It is a choice… until it isn’t

Imagine how differently you would feel if you knew 80% of the people drinking in a bar were alcoholics. The enjoyment they get from a drink is ever dulled, and they reach for the next not by choice but by compulsion. The bar would be the most depressing place on Earth.

That’s the reality with smoking. It is widely considered more addictive than heroin, and smokers often have a troubled relationship with it. Though they may claim to choose it, the majority don’t have much choice in the matter — no matter how they rationalize it. It isn’t a habit, it is a trap.

Is the only reason we don’t hear “I only do heroin when I drink” that one can’t buy black tar at the gas station or bum it from your friend? There are plenty of “social smokers,” who use cigarettes as the readily available and relatively acceptable recreational drug. There are a lot of reasons smoking is prevalent and legal while other drugs are not, but all of that aside, in the avoidance of addiction, one would be better off doing cocaine. The very prevalence and general acceptance of cigarettes opens doors to users, probably more profoundly than legality does.

The trap is set

Nicotine is ingeniously designed by nature to hook you. A smoker’s brain immediately starts getting accustomed to the scrambled wires it sees, and it takes more and more nicotine to produce the same effect. In the pursuit of those effects, dependence is easy to find.

In a recent Freakonomics podcast, a professor, bioethicist, and cancer doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, Ezekial Emanuel, opposed discriminating against smokers in hiring practices, despite knowing the horrors of smoking first hand and having every reason to want to prevent them. Why?

“I also recognize that it’s not voluntary, that most people start before they’re adults and that it’s incredibly hard to quit once you’ve started.”

So what excuse do adults have?

Countless people want to quit and can’t. The very mechanics of willpower that may cause someone to start makes them the more likely to be trapped once they do. The tremendous health effects aside, for someone trapped as a smoker, that first cigarette was a life sentence.

In Tipping PointMalcolm Gladwell uses social smoking as an example of how something reaches a point and tips over into addiction. On that road, each additional cigarette is bolstered by the last. As the subtitle of the book suggests, that’s a little thing that makes a big difference. For the casual smoker, the thought that each cigarette is an isolated choice strikes me as dangerously naive — and callous to those who struggle with addiction.

Addiction is horrifying

Everyone knows, in some abstract and incomplete way, at least, that smoking is bad for you. That’s this sort-of long term, someday you’ll die understanding most people have.

But smoking doesn’t wait for one fateful day to flip a switch and kill you. It kills you a little every time, even if you ultimately or episodically quit and recover.

That’s pretty scary, sure, but that’s not the scariest part for me.

The presence of a force more powerful than my will, overriding my good sense, making me rationalize the illogical, and all-but forcing me to chase its next sweet hit? That’s horrifying. I can’t imagine having such a controlling unhealthy presence in my life, forcing its way into relevance whether welcome or not.

“The hardest thing I ever did.” That’s how a strong, go-getter friend of mine who recently quit described the process of quitting, which is still the focus of her attention every single day. That a recreational substance could take such a central role in someone’s life narrative seem absolutely crazy — especially when it is so avoidable.

Even if smoking had absolutely no other ill effects, the fact that it has more control over most of its users than they have of it is a compelling reason it should freak us out. I wouldn’t mess around with bubble gum if I knew there was even a remote chance I wouldn’t be able to approach the appeal of a piece of gum without a clear head.

Remember that quote from above? “Not voluntary.” The addicted smoker doesn’t get to call their own shots.

Smoking is regressive

Smoking is a vicious cycle for all users, but no more than for the people who can least cope with it. If it is a baited trap for the social smoker, it is a prison for the user in poverty.

This is obviously where the debate goes beyond individual choice, but I can’t help but feel that a tolerant view toward smoking demonstrates a callousness toward the larger crushing crisis.

The data is shocking. Over 45% of people who never graduated high school smoke. More than a third of GED recipients are smokers, while less than 10% of undergraduate degree holders are.

Smoking disproportionately impacts the poor and poorly educated. The people who can least afford it are most often the ones stuck in the cycle of dependence. The most hopeless are the most likely to have a hopeless relationship with smoking. The populations who need it most have the least access to means of quitting, and even less information on how or why they should. This is a group unlikely to have health insurance, facing the compounding health challenges of poverty and smoking with little or no treatment. Suffering.

Much of this can be attributed to a different perspective toward the potential consequences. Not everyone has all of the information.

What excuse, then, do those of us with the means and inclination to understand these risks and impacts have for turning a blind eye? The data clearly shows that the more we know, the less we tolerate. We have a responsibility to know and understand, and not be willfully ignorant or keen to ignore or rationalize away the reality and enormity of this issue, both collectively and in the individual lives of those it impacts profoundly — either now, or after a few more cigarettes.

We need to be willing to know better.

Thoughts on Pittsburgh

At the end of a 8 day trip visiting various cities for work travel, including two amazing cities I’d never visited in Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA, I was left the most impacted by the chance to spend more time in a city I’d already visited: Pittsburgh.

There is simply no place like it, at least that I’ve been to.

From the moment you emerge from the tunnel connecting downtown to the freeways headed northwest, having the skyline emerge dramatically all at once (street view), you know you’re in a different kind of city.

You could live in Pittsburgh for years and still discover something new every weekend. The stark topography funnels development along narrow valleys, giving the commercial streets an almost European mountain village feel. European, but for the clearly blue collar industrial soul that is Pittsburgh: power lines, dive bars, and very little that is ostentatious. In Pittsburgh, you’re more likely to fear entering a bar being overdressed than underdressed, though there certainly are plenty of trendy and modern areas as well.

Because of the topography, these areas are all poorly connected, and navigating the city means traveling a maze of dizzying streets that wrap in all directions. I consider my sense of geography to be intuitive, but I can be utterly lost in Pittsburgh in minutes. Pittsburgh is a place that oozes with a feeling of beautiful mystery.

In each of this awkwardly connected spots are commercial centers. Being at the confluence of three rivers, the city has grown into other river valley communities which now act as boroughs, each with their own unique and properly historic and dense downtown within the greater metro. In my explorations, I discovered the old downtowns of Etna, Millvale, and Aspinwall, all in the immediate vicinity of PGH neighborhoods but still independent towns. The river valleys are dotted for miles with these rusty, struggling, charming relics.

Pittsburgh defies any regional stereotype. It is definitely a rust belt town built on steel, but its density and guts tell the story of a city more old Eastern than its age and location would suggest.

I haven’t done any research on this, but I’d suspect that Pittsburgh leads the nation in dive bars per capita, with every stretch of gritty brick buildings offering its share of “Jim’s Bar” or “Patty’s Pub,” all true to the everyman spirit of the city. I’m sure the stories on offer in these bars are incredible.

Where the areas aren’t isolated by topography, density is enforced. Downtown is confined to a small peninsula. The happening South Side (street view) is only a few blocks from the river to the massive wall that is the river bluffs, and little space is wasted.

Add the tremendous character that comes from the tunnels, bridges, old school inclines, and old public markets, and you’ve got a city of thousands of tiny treasures. Nothing particular sticks out, but to the adventurous traveler, it is a challenging world ready to be explored. Spending a solid day in the city was like reading the first chapter of a mystery. I’ve met the characters and I know the setting, but I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in solving it.

Selected Neighborhood Highlights:

  • Strip District (old warehouse and market district)
  • South Side (traditional retail strip loaded with accessible nightlife, with small neighborhoods crammed in)
  • Lawrenceville (Butler Street is interesting for miles)
  • Oakland (Carnegie Melon, Pitt, and Arts District)
  • Squirrel Hill (traditional downtown feel beyond Oakland)
  • Shadyside (Higher end commercial center in cozy neighborhood)
  • Downtown (Dense, architecturally interesting and varied, surrounded by rivers and bluffs)

Goin’ to Kansas City

12th and Vine

What’s left of 12th and Vine

If you’ve lived in Kansas City for very long, you’ve heard the lyrics to Going to Kansas City plenty of times. “Standing on the corner, corner of 12th Street and Vine.”

Sometimes, you’ll hear those lyrics updated to say “18th and Vine,” reflecting the current epicenter of jazz heritage in Kansas City. Why not 12th? Because 12th and Vine doesn’t exist anymore.

Thanks to short-sighted urban renewal efforts, this intersection, and the once-bustling streetscape that made it famous, were eliminated. In a time where old, unkempt buildings were seen as a liability rather than an opportunity, Kansas City cleared entire blocks of its history, permanently scarring its viability as a vibrant urban place.

True to form, we’ve replaced what we had with a bit of a cartoon. Adventurers trying to make their way to 12th and Vine will encounter the park pictured here, with a fake street sign to pose with. Oh, and this glorified median is piano-shaped, complete with parking space “keys.” Adorable, huh?

Kansas City isn’t alone in suffering from urban renewal. In fact, if Robert Moses had been left to run rampant, New York City would be a very different place today. While we can’t reverse the devastating impacts of the destruction that was conducted under the guise of progress, we can fight to ensure we not make the same mistakes again.

Cities are living legacies. Change is inevitable, but if cities are the greatest manifestation of our collective achievement, let’s continue to make them worth celebrating.




I’m Relaunching!

My old web host seems to have disappeared, taking all of staubio.com with it. While I could restore a backed up version of the site, or jump up and down angrily, I’m looking forward to the chance to set everything up anew. Give me a week or two, will ya?

Thanks for stopping by!