Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Most Bikeable Cities in the US

In a recent post about DC, where I will be going on a date next weekend, I mentioned how the city's new bike-share program is the first of its kind in the country. Well, now I discover New York City is striping 200 miles of on-street bike lanes by 2009. Which left me with this thought - if you can bike safely in Manhattan, you can make any city bikeable. (Safely, however, is the operative word.)

According to the League of American Bicyclists, here are the top five bike-friendly cities in the US currently:

Portland, Oregon
Davis, California
Tucson, Arizona
Madison, Wisconsin
Boulder, Colorado

Notice how two of my Top 15 Geographical Crushes appear on this list? I did too. Portland and Boulder have just earned some bonus points.

Perhaps the best example of bike-friendliness, Portland has long been the trailblazer (pardon the pun) in this arena. Lance Armstrong says in the aforementioned article, "More people would be riding to work in this country, but access and safety are still a problem." He lauds Portland because "they build a mile of bike lane for every mile of road."

He might be right. According to Newsweek, Portland has over 270 miles of bike lanes, 40 bike shops and over 150 bike-related businesses. What's more, 16% of Portland residents commute on two wheels instead of four, and bike traffic over the city's four main bridges has increased 21% since 2006. All sounds great, right? Well, unfortunately, the surge in biking has also produced "pedal versus metal" road rage. Read the Newsweek article for a full account of recent altercations between drivers and bikers. I personally love the assault case where a bike lock was used as a weapon.

Next weekend, I hope to bike DC's beautiful C&O Canal trail. We'll see just how easy it is to rent my bike, not to mention get to the trail without bodily injury!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Foraging for Culture in Park City, Utah

By Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary

Note: This is the third installment in a series of posts by OTPYG Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary. Read her first and second post. She'll be sharing her firsthand experiences with moving to small town America in April 2008. How is the relationship faring? Stay tuned!

For anyone from a big city like LA, New York or San Francisco, any other city seems like a cultural wasteland.

To be fair, culture was only about half way up my list in terms of must-haves for a new city. But that is slowly changing here in Utah. What I’ve found is an amazing offering. Major concert acts stop here and the best part is that you can actually buy tickets because there aren’t 5 million people trying to get into the same venue. Deer Valley has a Utah Symphony Series in the summer in the outdoor amphitheatre. They also sponsor free concerts every Wednesday with a few thousand people in attendance. On top of that, there are free concerts in Park City almost every night during the summer.

One of my favorite bars in town, The Spur has great musical acts every weekend. Last weekend I saw Band of Heathens, who just won the South by Southwest award for best new band. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Park City Kimball Arts Festival – one of the biggest arts fests in the US. Not only was Main Street packed with booths, but there were three musical stages too. I’ve been to my fair share of so-called “Arts Fests” over the years and have found that it is usually a forum to sell a bunch of junk. But this fest featured genuine gallery-quality art. Here's a shot of the street scene at the arts fest.

Of course, the headliner is the Sundance Film Festival in January, which more than 45,000 people attend each year. Having premiered over 700 independent films since its inception, Sundance is considered the primary incubator of new and upcoming film talent in the US and abroad. Sundance films are shown year-round, usually for free at different locations.

Since Park City is a resort town, there is a vibrant social scene with restaurants that rival the best of San Francisco. Robert Redford owns a restaurant on Main Street, and it is one of the places to see and be seen during the film fest. The menu prices on Main Street equal San Francisco’s top spots, and while there aren’t as many restaurants of course, the ones that are here are all really good. So far, I’ve enjoyed fabulous Southwestern, French, pan-Asian and Japanese cuisine, as well as great steaks. The wine lists are fairly decent—not the variety that I am used to in the Bay Area—but no other city has that, in all fairness. There is even a Michelin two-star rated restaurant at the Stein Erickson Lodge in Deer Valley. Utah will never be on the culinary cutting edge, but it satisfies all my requirements.

So yes, there’s culture here in Park City, and it’s been a surprising plus in our fledgling relationship. It’s something I didn’t know I was looking for, but something I’ve enjoyed here more than ever.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I've Seen The Future - And It's A "Deskmill"

A desk + A treadmill = A "deskmill"

One of the things I like about working from home is that I can take exercise breaks when I need them. I’m not confined to lunch hour.

These days, I take exercise “time outs” when I’m frustrated, experiencing writer’s block, unable to concentrate or feeling sluggish. If I want to go to the gym mid-afternoon, I can, time-permitting. Other times I go on a jog, take a quick walk around the block or run an errand on foot. Getting off my tush even for just a few minutes helps me reenergize and refocus.

So things are a much better than when I worked in an office – from a flexibility and blood flow standpoint – but the sedentary nature of my job still bothers me. Like many, many people, I sit in a chair and look at a computer screen 40 hours or more a week. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. Our bodies were designed to move, not sit still. But unless I’m going to change careers and become a tennis instructor (I wish) or a landscaper (yeah, right), what to do?

That’s why this article about “walkstations” (or "deskmills," as I prefer - sorry, occupational hazard) really grabbed me. Thanks to Scott Elder for the forward. I’d never heard of upright workstation-treadmill combos that allow you to walk at low speeds while you work on your computer. The idea sounds a little preposterous, even challenging, at first. I mean, what if I drop my pen, it gets stuck in the treadmill belt, and I go flying?

But upon further reflection, it’s not nearly as crazy as workers sitting motionless all day, letting their muscles atrophy, their spines get out of whack and their weight balloon to the point of illness and disability.

On that note, I'm going for a jog.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Top 15 Geographical Crushes as of Today

Full disclosure: Some of them I’ve dated. Others I’ve never even met.

The similarity, though, is that I get a little tingly thinking about them. Fantasies run amuck. I envision a certain kind of life. I even imagine being a better, more evolved person. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

1. Santa Fe, New Mexico*
2. Buenos Aires, Argentina*
3. Charleston, South Carolina*
4. Austin, Texas
5. Portland, Oregon
6. Asheville, North Carolina
7. Eureka Springs, Arkansas*
8. Boulder, Colorado
9. Natchez, Mississippi
10. Ketchum, Idaho
11. Wilmington, North Carolina
12. New Orleans, Louisiana*
13. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica*
14. Los Alamos, California*
15. Montreal, Canada*

I’ll periodically update this list as my feelings shift. Not that I'm fickle, ahem. I’ll also be taking a more critical eye to the candidates in the coming months. How do they compare in terms of cost of living? Are they too big…or too small? Which meet my “tolerance standards”?

In other words, does the reality live up to the fantasy?

*Places I’ve had at least one date with.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

From Nauseated to Neighborly in Park City, Utah

By Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary

Note: This is the second installment in a series of posts by OTPYG Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary. Read her first post and third post as well. She'll be sharing her firsthand experiences with moving to small town America in April 2008. How is the relationship faring? Stay tuned!

My first week in Utah, I felt like I had a hangover. Which would be impossible, of course, since all I was drinking was the 3.2% alcohol beer you can buy at the grocery store. (It tastes like beer, and has all the calories of beer, but none of the day-after side effects.)

What I was actually experiencing was altitude sickness, which, as it turns out, is a very real thing. On top of this physical discomfort, I was living in temporary housing until I could find a place in Park City. Most of my time was spend trying to find a state-run liquor store where I could buy wine and missing Walnut Creek and warm weather.

But then things started to pick up. One of the first things I’d heard about Utah is that people are “abnormally nice.” Well, it’s true. People have a genuine friendliness that I didn’t experience in Walnut Creek, where I was used to working with rude, unappreciative, snobby and standoffish people. In contrast, people here ARE abnormally nice and thoughtful, which has made the adjustment so much easier.

Case in point: when moving into my new condo (200 square feet bigger than my old place, plus W/D and garage, for about the same rent), my landlord introduced me to all the neighbors my first day. A woman I work with put me in contact with one her friends, who lives right around the corner from me. An old high school friend asked me to dinner. A family friend invited me to join a tennis league.

Suddenly, after only a few short weeks, I had a busy social schedule and was getting involved with new groups that I had met through neighbors and, a site that connects you with local groups that share your interests.

My neighbors Jimmy and Jessica (yes, slightly confusing!) are starting a relationship with Park City too, so the three of us explore together. We’ve gone hiking – at one point walking through several feet of snow – to see some mountain lakes at sunset. We’ve gone to hear free concerts at Deer Valley. We’ve mountain biked on all the trails around town. The photo above is from a hike we took in the Uinta Mountains, part of the Wasatch National Forest (1.6 million acres).

It is easy to love a place that welcomes you with open arms. Sometimes the big city gives you the cold shoulder, and it can be difficult to find your place. Maybe Salt Lake City (population 1 million) would be just as friendly, but I doubt it. I’m glad I chose Park City. I haven’t formed any lifelong friendships yet, but I am developing a close bond with a town that has demanded nothing…yet given me the freedom to explore and redefine myself. The best relationships are like that, so I have a feeling we could be together for a while!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Outside Magazine's Best Towns 2008

Well, I'll give it to them for changing things up.

Every August Outside puts out its "Best Towns" issue. Last year, the editors focused on the top 10 small towns in America for outdoor enthusiasts, and they got many an "oooh" and "aaah" out of me. Most of the finalists, including my leading crush, Santa Fe, were beyond winsome. They were legitimately drool-worthy. Readers admitted their own crushes on Santa Cruz, Portland and Burlington.

This year, all bets are off. The criteria of a population under 100,000 is gone, and the new formula for inclusion is "civic reinvention" with a side of adventure. According to the editors, the 2008 selections embody fresh ideas, dramatic transformations and an active population. They range from towns as small as 1,600 people to cities as big as 701,500 people.

Here are the finalists:

Washington, District of Columbia
Chattanooga, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Ogden, Utah
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Tacoma, Washington
Ithaca, New York
Louisville, Kentucky
Eureka, California
Crested Butte, Colorado
Columbia, Missouri

I'm still figuring out what to make of these eclectic selections, but I can tell you that seeing D.C. (population 581,500) first on the list surprised me. (My apologies to everyone I know who lives there.) Having grown up in Virginia, about an hour and a half south, perhaps my old biases get the best of me. But in particular, I was interested to read about the city's new bike-share program, the first in the country. The word that comes to mind is progressive. There. I said it.

So guess what? I'm going to give D.C. a second chance. I will be there the first weekend of September with a group of friends, and I've decided that it's now officially a date. I will pack my heels, peel my eyes and soak in all the changes, from new organic restaurants and bakeries to blossoming late-night spots. You'll get the full report.

Finally, speaking of the mid-Atlantic, I was pleased to see Charlottesville, Virginia (population 40,300), where I went to college, recognized in Outside's "Best of the Rest" list for its growing environmentalism. Green roofs on City Hall? Urban forest management? I couldn't be prouder of my ex.

Proud enough to get back together? It's crossed my mind. I know several fellow UVA alums who have moved back...and several who wish they could. We went to school in a bona fide dream town. If we didn't know it then, we certainly do now.

Friday, August 8, 2008

An Arranged Marriage with Park City, Utah

By Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary

Note: This is the first installment in a series of posts by OTPYG Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary. She'll be sharing her firsthand experiences with moving to small town America in April 2008. How is the relationship faring? Stay tuned!

My first date with Park City, Utah, got off to a rocky start. I was in route to Salt Lake City for a job interview, and the woman sitting next to me on the plane performed the fateful introductions. Her first comment was, “How can you think about leaving the Bay Area – it is so wonderful and has everything to offer.” Her second comment was, “If you take the job, you should live in Park City. It will make the transition to Utah much easier, especially if you are not of the faith.”

Things continued to be shaky when I found two inches of snow on my rental car. I had been wearing shorts and t-shirts for a couple of weeks, so snow was a shock to my thin California blood. But I forged ahead with the interview (which went very well!) and drove up the mountain to Park City for dinner that night.

What I found was an utterly charming mining town that had been all dolled up for the rich and famous. Main Street has old buildings, and old-looking buildings, all of which feel like they came out of the 1880s mining rush. Park City is one of the few towns in Utah not founded by the Mormons, so streets have actual names, and there is no grid system (or temple for that matter). There are galleries, restaurants, tourist shops, bars, hotels and condos discretely tucked away, and big houses on the hills. The ski resort is at the base of town – there are even runs that allow you to ski right down to Main Street. You could say Park City is a little slice of heaven at 7,000 feet.

I received the job offer and had a tough decision. Do I stay with my current town (Walnut Creek, California, a suburb of San Francisco with a population of 64,000), that has walkability, the ocean, a major city nearby, mountains a few short hours away, wine country, fabulous restaurants, friends and family, good bartenders, great weather…the list goes on and on. Or do I take a chance, live in a small mountain resort town, work at a dream job and start life all over again?

The cons were obvious – no support system was available to me. I knew almost no one there, and I would be two hours away from home by plane if I got homesick. Plus the strong Mormon culture sounded a bit bizarre, and the strict drinking laws were enough to turn off anyone who enjoys a good cocktail (like me).

Ultimately, I decided to take the leap, break up with Walnut Creek and pursue my career goals in Salt Lake City. The main reason came down to great job in Salt Lake City or no job in Walnut Creek. So I had a tearful goodbye and committed to start a real relationship with Park City.

How did the first few weeks go? Was there a spark? Could she find a glass of wine? Be on the lookout for a second installment about Jessica’s move to Park City (population 7,300) next week!

Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Suburbs Make You Fat

A new study has found that people who live in new suburban neighborhoods weigh more than people who live in urban or older suburban areas. The key difference is walkability, according to the authors, and they say modern zoning may be to blame. New suburbs are often built with car traffic – and not foot traffic – in mind.

To quote a WebMD article about the study:

Neighborhoods built before 1950 tended to have sidewalks and other characteristics that made them more accessible to pedestrians, including being more densely populated and having restaurants and other businesses nearby, lead researcher Ken R. Smith, PhD, tells WebMD. In general, newer neighborhoods offered fewer opportunities for walking.

How walkable is your neighborhood? Find out by entering your address at You’ll get your score as well as a list of destinations within a half-mile radius. Impressively, my neighborhood (Beverly Hills Adjacent) scored 89 out of 100. A “walker’s paradise” is 90 or higher.

While people may be surprised to hear this about LA, which is not known for walking, I am pleased to report that I hoof it to the following places: the dry cleaners, the mini-market, the pharmacy, the bank, the bookstore, the hair salon, the doctor, the nail salon and a number of cafes/restaurants. As a result, I do about 60% of my errands a pied. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the body – and it’s a lifestyle I hope to continue when I relocate.

Applying this principle to a small town, however, could be a challenge. I see I would probably need to live downtown or in an older neighborhood. To have walkability, you need to be in the heart of things. Yet another factor to add to the list!