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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

COOL PLACES – ACCESSIBILITY AND COMFORT ON THE ROAD THROUGH THE FOUR SEASONS: PART 3


COOL PLACES PART 2

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

The United States is brimming with cool places in the desert, on the Pacific Coast, in the most urban surroundings and even in the subtropical swamp.

These places are cool because they’re hip, they’re cool because when you gaze on their natural and manmade charms, you’re sure to shout out “how cool!” and they’re cool in terms of climate – if you pick the right time of year.

Here is a guide to four wheelchair-accessible major destinations, with information on picking the right time of year and tips for staying cool in all four seasons.

New York

Autumn in New York, a time of year so special, they wrote a song about it. With late September/early October daytime temperatures peaking in the low 70s, fall is fine in the Big Apple.

For a fresh look at Gotham, try concentrating your visit in Lower Manhattan and its neighbor to the east, Brooklyn.

A visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will inspire even the most world weary of travelers. There is nothing like the feel of the harbor breezes as you gaze out the ferry boat to Lady Liberty.

The Circle Line boats have ramped access at the Battery Park launch and at both Liberty and Ellis islands. The Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Museum are accessible, including the restrooms.

Back on the mainland at Broadway and Wall Street, Trinity Church is chock full of history inside and out and one of the best free admission attractions in New York

A ramp provides access to the interior of the 1846 Gothic Revival masterpiece. Outside, the church grounds house one of the oldest cemeteries in Manhattan, where first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and steamboat innovator Robert Fulton are buried.

A few blocks further north on Broadway take you to Trinity affiliate St. Paul’s Chapel, Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use. The 1766 structure is home to George Washington’s pew and is accessible via ramp.

Lyden Gardens is not in Brooklyn or downtown, but the hotel’s outstanding roll-in showers and spacious accessible suites make it worth the ride to the Upper East Side.

To feel like a local, walk and roll across the Brooklyn Bridge. Start your ascent up the pedestrian pathway (100 percent barrier-free) and your heart skips a beat. Where else can you can you touch, feel and experience such a famous part of New York? – and do it all for free! One could traverse John Roebling’s steel cable suspension bridge a thousand times and discover something new during every 1,600-foot journey.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade is just up the hill from Fulton Landing. This level, accessible strip of scenic parkland rises above the East River and provides a panoramic view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. The serenity of the park epitomizes the beauty of the neighborhood's exquisite old apartment buildings, corner markets and mature tree lines.

The promenade is a special place where one can gaze off into New York Harbor at the Staten Island Ferry and at Lady Liberty herself.

Editor's Note: The idea for Cool Places came from a friend of ours who has Multiple Sclerosis. Folks with MS generally do not fare well in the heat and humidity -- thus the need to travel to the subtropics or desert when it's cool out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

COOL PLACES – ACCESSIBILITY AND COMFORT ON THE ROAD THROUGH THE FOUR SEASONS: PART 2


COOL PLACES PART 2

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

The United States is brimming with cool places in the desert, on the Pacific Coast, in the most urban surroundings and even in the subtropical swamp.

These places are cool because they’re hip, they’re cool because when you gaze on their natural and manmade charms, you’re sure to shout out “how cool!” and they’re cool in terms of climate – if you pick the right time of year.

Here is a guide to four wheelchair-accessible major destinations, with information on picking the right time of year and tips for staying cool in all four seasons.

Los Angeles

Swimming pools and movie stars – there’s more to LA than the stuff of the Beverly Hillbillies, but it sure is swell to beat the June midday heat (temperatures top out in the high 70s that time of year) by hitting swimming pools in the morning, the cinema during the day and the haunts of movie stars at night.

What would a visit to LA be without a trip to the cinema? And what film buff would go to a dull megaplex in the Valley when a combination of history and urban development blend wonderfully at the ArcLight Cinemas?

ArcLight is a movie lover’s dream, with lots of independent and art film screenings alongside the mainstream blockbusters. The barrier-free site has 14 modern theaters, a movie-themed café bar and the best silver screen-oriented gift shop in town.

The grand draw is the Cinerama Dome: a unique, geodesic-shaped theatre originally built in 1963. ArcLight is the perfect place to immerse one’s self in film for hours while escaping the midday sun.

Next door is Amoeba Records’ wide, uncluttered aisles in a warehouse-size setting that maintains the retro feel of the coolest of the independent college record store.

Less than four miles from ArcLight and Amoeba – not even enough distance to get tangled up in legendarily horrible LA traffic – lies a true oasis in Tinseltown.

The Original Los Angeles Farmers Market begs the question: “How could something so genuine and organic be left in La-La Land?” Who cares why, just roam the complex for fresh fruits, veggies, snacks and more.

Accessible parking is plentiful, as are accessible restrooms. The aisles are plenty wide for maneuvering and the merchants are so friendly and folksy, it’s hard to believe they are located in the heart of jaded LA.

Since you’re on vacation and not likely to have a gourmet kitchen back at your hotel, opt for one of more than a dozen ready-to-eat options. Freshly-cooked food from every ethnic kitchen know to man – there’s even a killer Cajun joint – is there for the feasting at the open-air but nicely shaded communal tables.

For a pricier meal in a hipper-than-thou location, hit the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills. This is a primo spot for lunch, dinner, drinks or parties by the pool. Everything is accessible, including a spectacular third-floor suite equipped with a gorgeous roll-in shower.

This retro-cool and Sputnik-chic boutique property features outdoor dining at its Zagat-rated blue on blue restaurant. Grab a poolside table, order up some innovative California cuisine and you just might find a hot celebrity in the cool comfort of a poolside cabana.

Editor's Note: The idea for Cool Places came from a friend of ours who has Multiple Sclerosis. Folks with MS generally do not fare well in the heat and humidity -- thus the need to travel to the subtropics or desert when it's cool out.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

COOL PLACES – ACCESSIBILITY AND COMFORT ON THE ROAD THROUGH THE FOUR SEASONS: PART 1


COOL PLACES PART 1

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

The United States is brimming with cool places in the desert, on the Pacific Coast, in the most urban surroundings and even in the subtropical swamp.

These places are cool because they’re hip, they’re cool because when you gaze on their natural and manmade charms, you’re sure to shout out “how cool!” and they’re cool in terms of climate – if you pick the right time of year.

Here is a guide to four wheelchair-accessible major destinations, with information on picking the right time of year and tips for staying cool in all four seasons.

Moab and Monument Valley

Desert solitude and silver screen-worthy rock formations, that’s what drew Edward Abbey to Moab and John Ford to Monument Valley. The fresh air will draw you to the southeastern corner of Utah, especially in late April when the mercury rarely exceeds 70 degrees, even in this arid desert climate.

Enter Moab’s Arches National Park about 90 minutes before sunset and you will be treated to the sun’s revelations of shadows and shapes.

Park Avenue’s cyclopean assembly of massive stone facades, named for the Manhattan street with its stretch of buildings that they resemble, reveals itself.

With so much to see from the car, Arches is perfect for those with limited mobility or a need for climate-controlled temperatures. Cruising along the main park drive, visitors are surrounded by landscapes straight out of Gustave Dore’s illustrations of The Divine Comedy. Rock surfaces swoop and soar, ascending into infinity and back again.

Balanced Rock performs its timeless levitation atop a majestic pedestal. Like a sentinel, like a yogi master, always on the verge of perfect enlightenment. At an accessible parking lot, visitors can step out and soak in the magnificence of the mighty rock, never wanting the moment to end.

About three hours’ drive from Arches, Monument Valley is about the only place on earth that could rival Moab’s boundless beauty.

Toward the end of the spring day, the light is forever painting and repainting on the valley’s rocky fortresses. Blues become light purples, then dark purple, then fiery red, then back to blackish blue.

The barrier-free visitor center has clean restrooms, an air-conditioned gift shop and excellent observation areas for breathtaking views of the iconic Mittens and Merrick Butte. The building also has a gently-graded ramp that takes wheelers all the way up to the second story observation deck.

A 17-mile loop road winds along the valley floor among the rock sentinels that tower 400 to 1,000 feet above. The road is raw and unpaved, but that’s a good thing because it slows traffic to a nice leisurely pace.

RVers and people whose idea of tourism is seeing everything from the blur of an 80-mile-per-hour drive often ask when the road is going to be improved. The Navajo workers gently roll their eyes and answer “not anytime soon.”

Southeastern Utah pioneers Harry and Mike Goulding invited Hollywood director John Ford to Monument Valley during the Great Depression In 1939, Ford’s Stagecoach featuring John Wayne was released with much success. Wayne became a big star and from then, people around the world recognized Monument Valley – first in movies and later in everything from television episodes to car commercials.

Gouldings Lodge has small, clean, mostly accessible rooms. To this day, Monument Valley inspires filmmakers, photographers and visitors magnificent landscapes and mystical ambiance.


Editor's Note: The idea for Cool Places came from a friend of ours who has Multiple Sclerosis. Folks with MS generally do not fare well in the heat and humidity -- thus the need to travel to the subtropics or desert when it's cool out.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

IF YOU GO TO NAPLES


IF YOU GO TO NAPLES(ALL NUMBERS WITHIN 239 AREA CODE):

LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, 9891 Gulf Shore Dr., is place to splurge. In increasingly well-heeled Naples, the resort commands more than $500 a night in season. But for summer weeknight bookings, the price of luxury tumbles to a range between the low and high $200s. Phone 597-3123, or on the web: www.laplayaresort.com

Light House Inn, 9140 Gulf Shore Dr. N, is a light on the wallet alternative to the steep prices of the castles on the sand. The throwback property has no view of the beach, no phones in the room and no website to check out photos. What it does have is clean rooms, an on-site diner operated by the owners and off-season prices that are as shockingly affordable as: less than $100 a night for an efficiency or motel room, or about $500 for a whole week in one bedroom suite that feels more like a tiny beach town apartment. Call 597-3345 to book and hurry: the entire property only has 15 rooms.

Baleen, in the LaPlaya Beach Resort, 598-5707, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you need not be a guest of the resort to dine there.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, 375 Sanctuary Rd. West, has a wonderfully detailed website (www.corkscrew.audubon.org) featuring many of the critters you might encounter during visit, as well as a printable map and directions to its slightly off the beaten path location. Call for info: 348-9151.

Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, 1590 Goodlette-Frank Rd, is set in a 52-acre jungle of exotic plants. Phone: 262-5409 or on the web: www.caribbeangardens.com

Naples Downtown’s website features maps, store locators and a city guide chock full of activities and attractions. Visit: www.naplesdowntown.com

McCabe’s Irish Pub in Historic Old Naples, 699 5th Ave S., serves sandwiches, pizzas, seafood and traditional pub fare in an authentic Irish pub setting. Call 403-7170 or check out the menu on its website: www.mccabesirishpub.com

Michelbob’s, 371 Airport Road South is only a few miles from fancy 5th Avenue South, but a world way in terms of atmosphere. In a simple building on an ugly airport perimeter road, Michelbob’s turns out ribs and barbecue sauce that have won more than 50 national and international competitions. At no frills tables, big eaters feast on beef and pork barbecue sandwiches, baked beans, corn on the cob and rack upon rack of those award-winning baby backs. Call 643-2877 or check them out on the web: www.michelbobs.com

The Naples Fishing Pier, 25 12th Ave. South, offers good fishing spots and gorgeous sunset views. Visit the website: www.naplespier.com

Editor's note: See yesterday's blog posting for the full feature story on Naples, FLA

Friday, August 27, 2010

NAPLES FLORIDA



NAPLES: Sunsets, Seabirds, Sugar Sand and Swamp Sanctuaries

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

The pelicans know.

Even simple sea birds can sense tranquility. Which must be why the large-billed creatures like to float on the glassy, gentle waters that lap softly along Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, soaking in the serenity.

That’s precisely what attracts the two-legged creatures of the human variety to this special place on Florida’s gulf coast. Gentle waves, sugary white sand beaches, stunning wildlife in lush habitats, plus scrumptious dining and divine accommodations keep them coming back.

If it’s self-contained upscale digs that you crave, then LaPlaya Beach Resort is a good choice. Located on a lovely strip of Vanderbilt Beach, the resort has large guest rooms with luxe linens and generous private balconies, several swimming pools, a spa and dining options both indoor and out.

Baleen is LaPlaya’s signature restaurant with an atmosphere drawing on tropical whimsy and colonial elegance. At dinnertime, the seafood-heavy menu offers dishes prepared both simply and on the fussy side. But it’s breakfast that allows one a soothing start to the day.

A table on the outside terrace affords a pleasant vista of ocean and the aforementioned pelicans. The strawberry and cream cheese-stuffed French toast, expertly done breakfast meats, buttery croissants and excellent egg dishes taste all the better when complemented with a morning sea breeze. Linger over a second (or third) cup of coffee and forget all about the Wi-Fi, workaday world.

The draw of the sea is undeniable, but just a half hour's drive east a very different experience in tranquility awaits.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in nearby Immokalee is a special place. Threading through this nature preserve is a 2.25 mile wooden boardwalk loop trail that takes visitors on an exquisite sojourn through pine upland, wet prairie, cypress forest and marsh. Each ecosystem has its own delightfully distinctive blend of trees, flowers and critters that populate the preserve.

The journey begins in the Blair Audubon Center, with the boardwalk commencing just outside. Linger a moment or two at the outdoor bulletin board which displays drawings of birds and animals sighted. Don't be surprised if painted buntings, water snakes and black bears have made recent appearances.

While the prairies and marshes are decidedly pleasant, it's perhaps the bald cypress forest that steals the show. The trees -- some approaching six centuries old -- soar overhead, ornamented with Spanish moss and air plants. The quiet and observant may be treated to sights of a cautious mama owl and plump, fuzzy babies. The croaks of the pig frogs and staccato percussion of woodpeckers make for a fine symphony, punctuated with the occasional splash of a restless gator.

To experience a quiet oasis amongst the area’s burgeoning development, spend a couple hours at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. It’s a modest but charming attraction situated on the grounds of a lush botanical garden whose origins date back to the 1920s.

Stroll the grounds and take in a show about serpents, kangaroos or African wild dogs. If you’ve come to see the quintessential zoo creatures -- lions and tigers -- you won’t be disappointed. But then what would one expect from the former winter home of Jungle Larry and Safari Jane?

Don’t let your visit come to an end without taking the primate expedition cruise. For about 20 minutes, the catamaran glides through a small lake past islands populated with chattering apes and monkeys. With the leafy surroundings, you almost feel like you’re sailing the coast of Sumatra or Madagascar, gazing upon the canopy’s simian inhabitants.

The expedition guides share not mere dry textbook facts, but rather engaging, passionate tales about individual white-fronted lemurs and colobus monkeys, mentioning them by name and giving details of their lives. The luckiest visitors will be serenaded with the whooping, poignant singing of the white-handed gibbons.

For a more refined outdoor setting, head to 5th Avenue South. There are too many alfresco dining places to count on this old fashioned main street setting reborn as a shopping, dining and people-watching mecca for Midwesterners both vacationing and transplanted.

The sun-splashed Gulf Coast and a dark-wooded old Irish Tavern may seem like a strange blend, but they work just fine at McCabe’s Irish Pub and Grille. It seems that Bob McCabe, proprietor of the boutique Inn on Fifth hotel, wanted a pub on the premises true to his Emerald Isle routes.

The Mahogany was milled in Ireland and installed by artisans. If the indoor digs, replete with old tin whiskey signs and other heirlooms don’t do the trick, the large amount of shaded outdoor tables will.

The classic shepherd’s pie, leek soup, Irish stew and corned beef & cabbage are joined on the menu by American bar food favorites such as burgers, chicken tenders and gourmet pizzas.

For more of Old Naples, head west to nearby 3rd Street South, where more shops and restaurants are located just a few blocks from the gulf breezes. Third Street South eventually crosses Broad Avenue, Naples’ gallery row.

Better still, Broad Avenue ends at historic Naples Fishing Pier, which stretches 1,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico. Originally built in 1888 to serve passengers and freight arriving by the sea, the landmark pier has been rebuilt after hurricanes in ’12, ’26 and ’60 – it survived the horrendous ’04-’05 ‘canes.

The sugar sand beaches below are some of the most popular among Naples’ nearly 20 miles of groomed coastline. At some hours, fishermen outnumber sightseers – except for sunset time.

From a good hour before dusk until spectacular sunset after spectacular sunset, locals and visitors alike gather to watch the brilliant orange sun dip into the soothing waters of the sea to mark the end of another balmy Naples day.

The Wrights write award-winning features about a wide range of travel topics from their home base in Miami’s historic Little Havana. Contact them at stevewright64@yahoo.com

Tomorrow: Naples info.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 7


Heading back into Miami-Dade County, we check out the most unlikely home of New Urbanism: Hialeah.

Kicked around for decades because of its industry, blue collar housing stock and frayed retail market, Hialeah is getting national notice for its downtown redevelopment.

The former CVV firm worked with the city to improve the downtown with wider sidewalks, narrower streets, more landscaping and more defined plazas.

After going more than a decade with no building permits being issued for its downtown, Hialeah has seen more than 3,000 market rate residential units built recently.

These include single-family, apartments and live-work units, a New Urbanist dream concept that has space for a small business on the ground floor and room to live above.

Jaime Correa, who teaches at Miami’s architecture school, said to see what New Urbanism seeks to undo, people should visit the sprawl that is Kendal (a Miami-Dade Community).

To understand what New Urbanists seek to recreate, he suggests a tour of Coral Gables and Miami Beach – “places that have a history, places with old urbanism that really works.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 6


NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 6

Cruising into Broward County, we see the reason New Urbanism is so popular.

Other than a few good examples of dense, walkable, mixed-used development along the beaches and in the downtowns of Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, Broward is Sprawl City.

Sitting in traffic-choked roads from the Federal Highway to the edge of the Everglades, rolling past strip malls and apartment villages too numerous to count, one ponders the possibility of tearing up all the post 1940s development and starting over.

That’s exactly what they’re doing in Lauderdale Lakes, where the former CVV firm designed St. Croix, a development of 246 rental units and 16,000 square feet of retail on a 12.5 acre site.

The land once housed a failed strip shopping center along a US 441.

The project is worth a visit to see how it contrasts with the decaying sprawl around it.

Look at all the neighboring stuff up and down the street.

Aging strip malls have ugly parking lots in front of the stores.

Apartment complexes, condos and houses are isolated from community, retail and other uses.

St. Croix is the opposite of that. The development of affordable, workforce housing created traditional urban fabric through the use of blocks, streets and plazas.
It has a pool house, club house and tot lot. The retail space has a job center, child care and other services.

Other Broward communities are clamoring for New Urbanist redevelopment projects. Perhaps this fervor is why The New York Times dubbed New Urbanism “the most important phenomenon to emerge in American architecture in the post-Cold War era."

Tomorrow: Miami-Dade County

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 5


NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 5

Farther south in Palm Beach County, we roll into Delray Beach, where excellent examples of infill New Urbanism are taking place.

Delray’s New Urban Communities turned an acre of ground that used to house a drive-through bank into the Courtyards of Delray, a complex of 32 three-story townhouses that have sold for up to $400,000 each.

The high density project is in the center of the action, surrounded by restaurants and shops on nearby Atlantic Avenue and along the Federal Highway.

Tim Hernandez, a principal of New Urban Communities, said New Urbanism is distinguished by:

 A mix of uses

 Development that fits within the fabric of the neighborhood

 Good auto, transit and pedestrian connectivity to surrounding uses

 Orientation toward people who want to walk

 Open spaces that are prominently placed and well-designed

 Garages that are hidden, not prominent architectural features

“People wonder why the streetscapes look better in New Urbanism. It’s because the parking is hidden,” he said. “The design emphasis is on the public realm, as opposed to the private realm.”

Tomorrow: Broward County

Monday, August 23, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 4


NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 4

On day two, we drive into Palm Beach County, stopping at Abacoa -- a billion dollar development in the Town of Jupiter.

Abacoa is a 2,000-plus-acre, master-planned, mixed-use community designed as a Traditional Neighborhood Development.

Abacoa is designed to be walkable and diverse, with affordable to high-end housing.

Its center has a minor league baseball stadium and a main street-style town center with shops and residences.

The DPZ firm worked on Abacoa with the legendary Calthorpe Associates and Moule and Polyzoides Architects.

The goal was to create a compact development out of raw land, rather than filling it with sprawling subdivisions that required automobile use to fulfill basic daily needs.

Tomorrow: Delray Beach FLA

Sunday, August 22, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 3


NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 3

Working our way south, we next stop in Martin County to visit Stuart, another town that has re-energized its downtown.

“In Stuart, the lesson is how urbanism can help the comeback of the main street shops and restaurants in the redevelopment of a downtown,’’ DPZ’s Andres Duany said.

Stuart had history – Flagler’s railroad stopped in it – and location – three sides of the downtown enjoys St. Lucie River water frontage.

But property values were leveling off and vacancy rates were rising, Kim DeLaney, Growth Management Coordinator at Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, said when she was Stuart's planning director.

New Urbanist plans, first from DPZ and then from what then was Coral Gables’ Correa Valle Valle (CVV) firm, came to the rescue.

“Our historic downtown -- which has been reborn as an arts and crafts, dining and shopping district – connects to our riverwalk, DeLaney said back in 2004. “You can walk along the water’s edge, go under a trestle bridge and end up at the city’s festival deck, where we have a lunchbox concert season.”

DeLaney said New Urbanism is based on pre-World War II cities such as Stuart.

“The key characteristic Stuart has is a quaint downtown that is a `real’ place,” she said. Home prices continue to escalate. The city’s in-town housing is its most valuable asset because you can walk to a park, it’s on a grid pattern, it functions. It contrasts with the cul-de-saced, gated communities in so much of South Florida.”

Tomorrow: Abacoa in the Town of Jupiter, FLA

Saturday, August 21, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 2


NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 2

We race up I-95 north to St. Lucie County. The drive serves as our orientation to all that is overbuilt and wrong with South Florida. Snarled traffic, auto dependence, endless rooflines of lifeless suburbs in the horizon all point to the conclusion that we could benefit from simpler, neighborhood-oriented development.

The first stop is Fort Pierce, a town that forgot its best asset – its waterfront on the Indian River Lagoon.

“Not that long ago, there were parking lots and the waterfront was barricaded off,” said town planner and architect Ramon Trias when he was the city’s development director. “The marina was almost shut down, there was barb wire in the water – it was almost unworkable.”

Today, Fort Pierce is enjoying a renaissance in which its old urbanism – walkable city blocks with historic buildings – meets New Urbanism. Dover, Kohl & Partners developed a plan to link the historic buildings with the waterfront via a new marina pavilion, a new public library and a landscaped roundabout.

The new library on the waterfront is getting a public plaza with benches, landscaping and interactive fountains. The public defender’s office downtown is worth noting – the colorful art deco confection is a new building, but it looks like it was built in the ‘30s.

The landmark Sunrise Theater has been restored to its 1920s grandeur. The 1,200-seat building closed in the 1980s, has been reborn as a performing arts center drawing top-notch acts.

“Fort Pierce has so many restored Mediterranean buildings and so much activity in its downtown; it’s a perfect blend of Old Florida and New Urbanism,” Trias said.


Tomorrow: Stuart Florida

Friday, August 20, 2010

NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 1


NEW URBANISM ROAD TRIP -- PART 1

New Urbanism -- the world-wide movement toward building neighborhoods that are compact, walkable, transit-friendly, visually-appealing and diverse with a mix of incomes and uses such as residential, office and retail all on the same block – can trace much of its roots to Coral Gables.

The University of Miami School of Architecture helped launch New Urbanism a decade ago. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the school’s dean, also is a principal in the New Urbanist architecture and planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ). She and her husband, Andres Duany, live in Coral Gables and patterned their theories for traditional neighborhood design after much of the “old urbanism” in The City Beautiful.

South Florida is home to some examples of great urbanism – places such as the Gables and Miami Beach -- where people can live, work and play in a master-planned, pedestrian-friendly area. The region also is home to conventional, sprawled development – suburban and exurban places where a car is a necessity, traffic is horrible and children can’t walk to shops, parks or other neighborhood conveniences.

New Urbanist architects, planners, builders and others seek to undo suburban sprawl and traffic-choked roads with transit, dense development and a mix of uses. Because South Florida is the cradle of the movement, dozens of examples of New Urbanism exist along the Treasure and Gold coasts.

Rather than taking a college class, reading a text book or searching the internet, the best way to get acquainted with New Urbanism is to hop in the car (yes, even planners of walkable communities concede the convenience of the automobile – though they strive to reduce people’s dependence on it) for a road trip. The auto will take us on a three-day tour, but the fun part of our “roadie” will be when we get out of the sedan and rely on shoe leather to explore the newly-built New Urbanist environment.

TOMORROW: ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FLORIDA

Thursday, August 19, 2010

THE INN AT CEDAR FALLS


THE INN AT CEDAR FALLS -- HOCKING HILLS OHIO

LOGAN, Ohio -- The Americans with Disabilities Act has no magic wand to make cozy country inns accessible to disabled guests. But an innkeeper’s attitude goes a lot farther toward overcoming barriers than any architect’s codebook.

Ellen Grinsfelder is that type of person. Proprietor of the beautiful Inn at Cedar Falls located in Ohio’s scenic Hocking Hills region, Grinsfelder has poured her heart into making her inn open to everyone regardless of disability.

Her efforts have resulted in wonderfully accessible accommodations nestled along a gorgeous, wooded ravine far from urban bustle. Here the nighttime sky dazzles with its display of heavenly bodies so bright that visitors feel as if they’ve entered a brilliant cathedral of stars.

Grinsfelder’s perfect combination of rustic luxury and access is a shining example for anyone with doubts that one-of-a-kind inns and B&Bs can’t be made barrier-free for disabled guests.

When Grinsfelder took over the Inn at Cedar Falls from her mother in 1991, the innovative innkeeper set out to build six cabins, one of which would have well-planned access. Her strategy to achieve this was smart but simple. She invited a friend who uses a wheelchair to do a walk-through of Sumac, the accessible cabin.

Her friend pointed out that her choice of a full-size refrigerator was generous, but that an apartment size refrigerator would put both frozen and refrigerated items within a wheelchair user’s reach.

Grinsfelder’s increased awareness of convenient placement prompted her to store kitchen items -- flatware, silverware, tea bags, salt and pepper, even flashlights – neither too high nor too low for retrieval from a seated position. Many of the cabins electrical outlets are also placed at suitable heights.

Her friend also suggested enlarging the roll-in shower with grab bars to allow sufficient room for both a wheelchair user and personal care attendant. As a result, both the shower and bathroom are plenty roomy for maneuvering.

Ultimately, the innkeeper’s thoughtful planning made Sumac into a sumptuously appointed and accessible haven for much-needed getaways from the hassles of city life. Guests can park immediately adjacent to the cabin and gain access via a smooth wooden ramp that blends beautifully with the porch and walkway to the main entrance.

One can linger outside, daydreamily rocking on the porch swing and taking in the wooded vista, or come inside to the aroma of cedar and a plate of homemade cookies on the kitchen table. Take a seat in the cozy living room by the gas fireplace. Forget the distractions of the telephone and television -- neither can be found in this refuge of relaxation.

Breakfast is included in the lodging price and other meals are available -- yet “meals” is not so accurate a word as “feasts.” Guests gather in the dining area in an accessible, quaintly pretty house-like structure near the lodge for elaborate breakfasts of such delights as raspberry and cream cheese stuffed french toast, succulent bacon and flavorful granola. Details such as milk in little glass bottles and cloth napkins are a nice touch.

Dinner is a candlelit, multi-course affair that may start off with cheese spread and gourmet crackers, then move on to white bean soup, a salad of fresh greens and salmon in phyllo dough. Dessert may be a light-as-air pastry filled with a cream concoction and drizzled with melted chocolate.

Grinsfelder’s masterful creators of superb cuisine prepare a different menu each day. With advance notice, special dishes can be requested by guests to match dietary restrictions or food preferences.

Tasty box lunches are perfect for taking along while exploring nature’s splendor in the surrounding Hocking Hills. The hilly, winding roads that snake through this scenic area invite a leisurely, sight-seeing pace.

While the majority of the area’s state park trails are too rugged for the average wheelchair user to negotiate, the one quarter mile paved trail to Ash Cave is very wheelchair-friendly. During our stay at the Inn at Cedar Falls, we’d planned to check it out.

Grinsfelder, ever-mindful of enhancing the experience of her guests, hooked us up with a guide for our light hike to the massive shelter cave and nearby 90-foot waterfall.

Hocking Hills was the stopping point of a glacier which made its way from the north, thus explaining the presence of trees and plants native to Canada.

Our hike ended all too quickly and we dud some leisurely driving before returning to the comforting confines of Sumac. We look forward to sitting a spell on the porch and then to a decadent dinner at the inn.

http://innatcedarfalls.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

AFFINIA GARDENS HOTEL -- NYC UPPER EAST SIDE


AFFINIA GARDENS HOTEL

The Affinia features huge suites, good prices, fabulous wheelchair access at the former Lyden Gardens property.

The first floor suites that are bigger than most of the Manhattan apartments we've seen -- and they have private patios!

The place has a ramped entrance, an attentive staff and room service from several nearby restaurants ranging from burgers to breakfast to bistro dinners.

The price point, for the Upper East Side location, is phenominal.

Can't say enough about this and other Affinia properties.

We don't work for this chain or have any affiliation, we just like to sing the praises of the rare property that offers roll-in showers and every other amenity a disabled traveler is seeking on the road.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

THE STRAND PALACE HOTEL LONDON



THE STRAND PALACE HOTEL LONDON

The Strand Palace Hotel in London features moderate wheelchair access, but a great location on the West End very near the fabled Savoy.

The rooms are small, but this is in London after all and the rooms are a fraction of the price of the Savoy.

Get an outside room, the windows actually open -- which is an air circulation life saver on the rare midsummer humid week.

They put in a nice portable ramp for wheelchair users, hail accessible black cabs and maintain the elevators well to provide West End barrier-free access.

Check out the London Eye just across the Thames.

http://www.strandpalacehotel.co.uk

Monday, August 16, 2010

THE AVALON BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL



Wheelchair-accessible luxury at the Avalon Beverly Hills Hotel -- simply the best

We've never been to a property that combines the coolest of the cool and hippest of the hip with outstanding roll-in showers and other barrier-free amenities.

Check out this Mid-Century Modern hotel -- with apartment-sized rooms to party by the pool and relax in wheelchair-friendly luxe accommodations.

http://www.avalonbeverlyhills.com/

Sunday, August 15, 2010

SOLVING SPRAWL, PART 3


TEN PRINCIPLES FOR SMART GROWTH ON
THE SUBURBAN FRINGE: SOLVING SPRAWL


The Urban Land Institute (ULI) published Ten Principles for Smart Growth on the Suburban Fringe to outline clear, attainable methods for solving the sprawl riddle while building the best urbanism possible.

Robert Lang, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was part of the research team for the Ten Principles publication when he was director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. He said suburbia needs to focus on smart growth principles such as building compact multifamily subdivisions that conserve land.

“When preserving greenspace, it must be integrated into an overall plan. Much of suburbia’s green areas are chopped up in pieces and don’t really add up to a habitat,” he said. “Typical exurbia is comprised of multifamily homes adjacent to retail and separated by a pedestrian-unfriendly fence or large lot single family homes built chock-a-block.”

Lang said a conventional subdivision built without using smart growth principles typically has very limited connectivity that abuts retail and is often separated by a wall.

He noted the irony that a resident in a subdivision house closest to retail actually has the farthest trip because he must wind through the subdivision to reach way out and over to it.

“Without smart growth principles, the cycle is cheap – developers come in and build chock-a-block and conservation principles are not used. It’s not an enduring form,” he said.

Michael Pawlukiewicz, when he was ULI’s Director of Environment & Policy Education, directed the team that compiled the report.

Pawlukiewicz said local land use policy must have a vision for an appropriate and sustainable future and then organize policies, codes and regulations to make it easy and profitable for the private sector to implement that vision.

“Everybody blames developers for sprawl and while they are not without fault, most of what they develop is in keeping with public zoning codes and land use regulations,” Pawlukiewicz said.

“In most suburbs, sprawl is easy and profitable to build. Local governments are mostly responsible for regulating land use. Their policies make it difficult to build mixed use communities or use better urban design practices like putting buildings close to the street or to narrow the streets to make them safer for pedestrians.:

"The codes and regulations must be changed so that it is easy and profitable to do the right thing, the smart thing. The sprawl that we see in the U.S. is, in fact, the implementation of public policy.”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

SOLVING SPRAWL, PART 2


TEN PRINCIPLES FOR SMART GROWTH ON
THE SUBURBAN FRINGE: SOLVING SPRAWL


The Urban Land Institute (ULI) published Ten Principles for Smart Growth on the Suburban Fringe to outline clear, attainable methods for solving the sprawl riddle while building the best urbanism possible. With examples adapted from the ULI text, those "10 Commandments" are:

1) Create a Shared Vision for the Future . . . and Stick to It
A successful visioning process is rooted in a community’s landowners, developers, elected officials, environmental groups, citizen activist groups, and local business. Temptations will emerge that run counter to the vision in the form of appealing short-term economic development opportunities. If a way cannot be found to make the proposal enhance the vision, it should be rejected.

2) Identify and Sustain Green Infrastructure
Green infrastructure is a network of habitat, parks, greenways, conservation easements, and working lands sustaining native species, natural ecological processes, plus air and water resources. Between 1982 and 1997, the amount of urbanized land in the U.S. increased by 47 percent while the nation’s population grew by only 17 percent. Considering those numbers, it becomes obvious that green infrastructure is a community’s natural life-support system and must be strategically planned and managed as carefully as built infrastructure.

3) Remember that the Right Design in the Wrong Place Is Not Smart Growth
Traditional design -- with its back alleys, front porches and spaces where kids play and neighbors congregate -- is a critical, but not the only component of smart growth. Design must be integrated with local climate, land conditions, transportation facilities predictable and economically viable development that preserves open space and natural resources, infrastructure that serves existing and new residents, compact development such as new town centers, and other factors that take an holistic approach to stamping out sprawl.

4) Protect Environmental Systems and Conserve Resources

Take advantage of building orientation, prevailing winds and tree cover for cooling. Manage the effect of the sun’s rays for enhancing or limiting heating. Conserve water by using conservation-designed appliances and plumbing fixtures, harvested graywater, recycled water and natural (non-piped) drainage systems and pervious paving to recharge aquifers.

5) Provide Diverse Housing Types and Opportunities
Direct growth to walkable mixed-use subdivisions that offer more diverse housing types such as: rental and ownership single-family houses with yards, townhouses and multifamily apartment buildings to meet the varied lifestyles of people living in the suburbs.

6) Build Centers of Concentrated Mixed Uses
Sustainable urbanized fringe development has a convenient mix that meets people’s daily needs: homes, schools, stores, services, amenities. A concentration of mixed uses on the fringe provides a critical mass and a sense of place that gives communities a strong identity and a heart. Mixed-use projects create a destination with housing, employment, retail and public services. Successful communities include a full range of uses and activities: office, retail, entertainment, hotels, housing and civic institutions.

7) Use Multiple Connections to Enhance Mobility and Circulation
Traffic congestion is horrible in conventional suburbs because clusters of residential subdivisions with only one entry and one exit concentrate the traffic onto and off arterial roads, which quickly become clogged because of the lack of connectivity and alternative routes. To avoid becoming a placeless collection of disaggregated subdivisions, a network made up of vehicular, pedestrian, cycling, park, and open-space connections must be planned. Communities should create a template for a street grid with a hierarchy of connected streets to guide development and promote connectivity.

8) Deliver Sustainable Transportation Choices
Smart growth communities provide a range of transportation choices, but to be sustainable, these alternatives must be built in rather than added later to a car-based culture. Staged development of real estate and transportation facilities ensures that a range of options will be available to travelers—walking, cycling, transit, carpooling, telecommuting, and driving—and that each will be adequately supported.

9) Preserve the Community’s Character
America’s commercial landscape, largely due to the proliferation of chain stores and franchises, has deteriorated from the unique to uniform, from stylized to standardized. National franchises and chain stores can change their standard building designs to fit local character, but only do so in communities savvy enough to reject off the shelf architecture and demand customized, site-specific design that addresses local historic preservation, site planning, and vernacular architectural concerns.

10) Make It Easy to Do the Right Thing
One major barrier to better development on the fringe is local regulation. Most local zoning and subdivision regulations make it easier and faster to build conventional low-density auto-dependent developments than undertake smart growth on the suburban fringe. Developers build sprawling projects because they are easier and cheaper to construct. Local officials should make local regulations more flexible to encourage mixed uses, narrower streets, compact development, and other smart practices.

Editor's Note: Tomorrow, we will feature a brief post script to the 10 principles.

Friday, August 13, 2010

SOLVING SPRAWL, PART 1


TEN PRINCIPLES FOR SMART GROWTH ON THE
SUBURBAN FRINGE: SOLVING SPRAWL


Clearly, America is a nation with an unquenchable thirst for developing land. There is so much growth that where once was only city and rural, there now are the additions of suburbs, exurbs and micropolitans.

Planners, researchers, developers and even the staunchest conservationists concede that there is no way to stem the tide of growth. So the bottom line is -- if it is a foregone conclusion that growth in the U.S. will continue to spiral out of central cities at a record pace -- what can be done to make sure that growth is smart, not sprawl?

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) published Ten Principles for Smart Growth on the Suburban Fringe to outline clear, attainable methods for solving the sprawl riddle while building the best urbanism possible.

Michael Pawlukiewicz, when he was ULI’s Director of Environment & Policy Education, directed the team that compiled the report that opens with the staggering fact that “across the country, land is being developed faster than ever before: more than two million acres of open space is converted each year.”

“We know there will be a lot of growth in the US. According to the Census Bureau, we’ll grow by 50 million people in the next 20 years,” Pawlukiewicz said during an interview. “Even though we would like those people to live in cities or close in suburbs, the fact is most of the population growth will take place on the fringes of urban areas.”

Pawlukiewicz said even though people will continue moving to the fringe, this nation can build with better development patterns to avoid the problems that sprawl development of the past 50 years has given us. Sprawl has created traffic jams, degraded the environment and misused land.

“We have to move toward compact nodes of development,” he said. “As we identify appropriate sites for these development nodes we must also make sure we identify and protect land for recreation, agriculture and habitat conservation. We have to make sure that development and the protection of natural areas and resource areas go hand in hand.”

Pawlukiewicz said transit-oriented development can be a powerful tool for smart growth – but communities must be sure to coordinate transportation investments with planning for smarter land use. He also stressed the importance of promoting compact, walkable and mixed use communities where everyone has transportation choices including walking, public transportation and driving.


Editor's Note: Tomorrow, we'll share the 10 principles.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

MAIN STREET USA: BUILDING A BETTER BLOCK


BUILDING A BETTER BLOCK

Find out what worked in another City and repeat it on your Main Street.

It isn’t stealing an idea, it’s benchmarking brilliance.

Look at what a group of Main Street-lovers achieved in Texas.

http://www.gooakcliff.org/?page_id=158

An investment of less than $1,000 turned a neglected city block into a temporary sanctuary of bike lanes, wider sidewalks, outdoor cafes, art installations, decorative lighting and urban activity.

The “folly” of recreating a vibrant Main Street of days gone by paid hundredfold dividends as entrepreneurs saw the potential and quickly rented long-vacant storefronts.

Stay inspired and remember: A parade through a chaotic, un-shaded, 10-acre parking lot is impossibility.

A parade down Main Street is a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WE'LL SOON BE SEEING YOU IN ALL THE OLD FAMILIAR PLACES


PLEASE PUT YOUR THOUGHTS, PRAYERS AND POSITIVE ENERGY TOWARD
HEIDI'S LONG, BUT SUCCESSFUL RECOVERY FROM SURGERY

To all our Greater Miami haunts -- from Confucio Express to Xixon, from Gold Prague Bakery to, Bulldog Barbecue, Piccola Italia, Zuperpollo, Chocolate Fashion, Captain Jim's, Osteria del Teatro and even Wings & Curls up in Hollywood -- please understand that I won't be bringing my bride of more than two decades around for awhile.

My wife, my hero, my best pal Heidi is having surgery to replace her artificial hip replacement.

When Heidi gets home from the hospital and rehabilitation center, I'll be caring for her 24-7 till she's mended.

Heidi has beautiful blue eyes, a devastating sense of humor and, oh yeah, severe rheumatoid arthritis.

Shortly before we married in 1988, she endured joint replacement surgery on both knees. I'd say her being able to literally walk down the aisle was a minor miracle, but her razor wit would cut me to shreds for writing such a cliche.

Before we met, Heidi had already spent more than a cumulative year of her life in hospitals, recovering from major surgery on both hips, both ankles, and a few assorted shoulders and elbows thrown in for good measure.

Two summers after we wed, Heidi missed nearly a half year of work recovering from a severely broken leg.

Not long after we bought our first house, an accidental fall from her wheelchair resulted in another major fracture and another six months spent recuperating.

Through it all, she's put up with me.

That's right, she puts up with me.

I'm the one who yells and otherwise behaves badly when the stress gets to me.

Heidi is the one who is strong as a rock.

Sure, she's been known to cuss like a sailor when stitches are coming out, but that's not bad considering what my love of 25 years goes through.

Otherwise, Heidi approaches extreme pain, tedium and other aspects of physical recovery with the same combination of power and grace that my fellow Akron native LeBron James uses driving to the net.

During her months of excruciating recovery, I'll once again try to learn from my spouse -- the person who's taught me more about life than a roomful of professors and elder statesmen.

Say a prayer for Heidi.

And if you see us rolling through historic William Jennings Bryan Park (which we worked tirelessly to save from an idiotic overdevelopment plan) on a mid-October morn, you'll know she's on the mend and we'll soon be seeing you in all the old familiar places.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

PARENT TO NONE, MOTHER TO MANY


Heidi Johnson-Wright with her friend, actor Bruce Campbell, on the set of Burn Notice in Miami

PARENT TO NONE, MOTHER TO MANY

By Heidi Johnson-Wright

I have lots of kids in my life. But I’ve never given birth or adopted a child or become a foster parent. I’m not a teacher or similar professional who works with young people.

And though my regular contact with young people is born out of necessity rather than choice, I cherish it. I enjoy it. It enriches my life.

I’m a forty-something married professional with dual careers as an attorney and writer. The other major descriptor, the other category that defines who I am is “physically disabled.”

I have had severe rheumatoid arthritis since age 8. Consequently, I have lived with chronic pain – sometimes severe – and serious mobility limitations for more than three decades.

• I use a power wheelchair most of the time.

• I have a specially-equipped minivan to transport my chair and me.

• I am the proud owner of two total shoulder, two total hip and two total knee replacements, plus various and sundry other implanted pieces of metal -- enough to stock a small hardware store.

• I sometimes measure my life in a few labored steps across a room, in independent trips to the bathroom, in the number of garments I own that I can put on and remove by myself.

Little acts of autonomy, tiny feats I can accomplish when my husband or personal care attendant are not around to help me.

Speaking of attendants, I’ve had a few. When I began college as a timid freshman, I hired my first non-family member caregiver. I became an employer at age 18, before I ever held a job myself.

Ever since then, my attendants have typically been college students between the ages of 20 and 22. At first, they were my peer group. After a while, I could refer to them as young people, and it was clear we were no longer in the same demographic group.

Besides benefiting from the obvious services they provide – housework and assistance with personal care – I also receive an intangible reward that is just as important. I’ve come to know the joy of being a mentor, confidante and friend.

Nicole worked for me for three years, an eon in the high-turnover world of caregivers. In that time, I was vicariously transported back to my insouciant college days. I received an education in au courant slang, all the richer for knowing the precise definition of “booty call.” While she shaved my legs, I got filled in on the best episodes of Jenny Jones and Ricki Lake.

Beth, my attendant for two years, often remarked that she enjoyed the few hours each week she got to spend in a “real house” as opposed to a worse for wear campus-area rental. From Beth I learned the iconic role of Tommy Hilfiger or Abercrombie & Fitch in twenty-something culture. My “hipness” has made me a hit with my nieces and nephews at Christmastime. When graduation rolled around, Beth and I spent an evening drafting her resume and brainstorming job ideas. We connected like girlfriends at a slumber party.

My other “kids” – and I use the term with affection and respect – are even younger. They are the teenage clerks who work at the supermarket and discount stores where I shop. Though I can get myself to the stores and cruise the aisles independently in my wheelchair, I often need help removing items from shelves, checking out and the stowing my purchases in the hatch of my minivan.

Joe was a friendly, talkative 17 year old who was my grocery store assistant for months. First a bagger, then a cashier, he’d jump at the chance to take a break from his normal duties to help me out. We chatted as I shopped, sharing info about how things were going – work for me, school for him. He’d moved to Ohio from Miami, one of my all-time favorite cities. It was fun talking about a place we both loved. The last time I saw Joe, he was about to take his driver’s license test, and I shared with him my experience from many years ago. By the next week, he had suddenly quit his job and I haven’t seen him since.

Kimberly was another of my grocery store helpers. On one trip, she excitedly shared details of her upcoming prom plans. The next time I saw her, she made a point of telling me that the prom was a blast and she was pleased with the way she looked in her dress. I felt complimented somehow, that I’d been deemed cool enough to receive a report of a milestone event in a young person’s life.

Though I only saw him once, I still remember the teenage boy who helped me get my discount store purchases to my vehicle one splendid summer afternoon. As we headed out to the parking lot, he spontaneously told me of his bout with bone cancer years before.

My wheelchair had apparently prompted memories of the pain and weakness he’d experienced in his leg before he made his eventual recovery. His poise and candor deeply impressed me. I marveled at his comfort with the subject and at his incredibly mature way of making me feel at ease as well.
Sure beats all the asinine wheelchair “speeding ticket” and “flat tire” jokes I hear from so-called adults two and three times his age.

Though my husband and I have chosen not to have children for lifestyle reasons rather than anything concerning my disability, I do value the talents and qualities of young people. Their fresh perspectives, idealism and enthusiasm are sometimes just what we jaded, cynical adults need to get us out of our attitudinal ruts.

Ultimately I’m glad that my arthritis, which can often bring hassles and difficulties, gives me the opportunity to have “kids” in my life.

Heidi Johnson-Wright is the world's leading expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act and is working to integrate universal design principals into sustainability standards of town planning.

Monday, August 9, 2010

FROM WHEELCHAIR TO WATER OLYMPICS


Heidi Johnnson Wright goes for a theraputic swim in Southern Spain

WATER OLYMPIAN

By Heidi Johnson-Wright

For one hour each week, I’m an Olympic swimmer.

If you saw me on the street – tooling around in my wheelchair, or struggling to get in a building not equipped with automatic door openers – you’d never know about my life as an “Olympian.”

More than three decades with severe rheumatoid arthritis has seen to that. Years of chronic pain, inflammation and resulting joint damage have made me the proud owner of two total shoulder, a pair of total hip and matching total knee replacements. I’ve had other major orthopedic surgeries as well, procedures done to relieve the agonizing pain and to keep me mobile.

But medical science can only do so much in the wake of a powerfully destructive, still-incurable disease. I walk only short distances unassisted and use a power wheelchair much of the time. I need help with the daily rituals of dressing, bathing and grooming.

I still have faint memories, faded flickering images of my life up to age 8, before arthritis became my everyday reality, before words like “inflammation” and “autoimmune” entered my precocious childhood lexicon. Through those foggy windows to my past, I see myself riding my yellow Schwinn five speed, climbing trees, executing perfect handstands.

Though I know I did these things with the gusto and insouciance of a grade schooler, I retain no body memories of them. I cannot recall the feeling of my tennis-shoed feet on bike pedals nor the struggle to pull myself up to an overhead branch nor being upside-down with my arms supporting my weight. These sensations are lost to me forever.

Still, I hunger for physical sensations. I want more than a daily existence in the world of the mind. I crave physical movements: rigorous liquid motions of arms, legs and torso that go beyond mere sitting or taking a few steps.

I yearn for motion. I want to feel the exertion and exhilaration of an Olympic athlete.

Each week I go directly to the University of Miami Wellness Center's indoor pool and take advantage of its hydraulic lift to get into the warm waters.

The Olympics are about to begin.

To the untrained eye, I am no more than a woman with arthritis in a swimming pool engaging in gentle range of motion and strengthening exercises. But from my vantage point, I am entering a new realm.

I walk back and forth across the pool. But walking is the slow, cumbersome movement I struggle with on land.

In the water’s silken buoyancy, I propel myself effortlessly, smoothly. For a few moments, I am not in a swimming pool in Coral Gables but at an Olympic natatorium gliding down the lane wearing the stars and stripes.

I move to the pool’s edge and begin the leg exercises. I stand with one side to the wall and lift my leg out to the side. For minutes at a time, I balance on one leg while I gracefully lift the other, something I can barely do for a second or two otherwise.

Throughout the exercise, I focus on the water’s empowering qualities. I become the movement itself, pushing all else from my mind. I feel strong and confident.

I work on my upper body, lifting my arms on either side, palms up. With the elegance of a ballerina, I rotate my forearms palms down then lower my arms back to my sides.

I am preparing for the swim meet of a lifetime. I imagine powerful moves in which I propel myself through the water like a kestrel on an updraft. I stun the crowd and my fellow competitors, winning my heat several seconds ahead of the competition.

Each week, I bend, lift and stretch my body -- a body that is to the outside world, ravaged. To me, it is a marvelous machine remade by the power of the water.

I am liberated, emboldened, transformed.

For an hour.


Johnson-Wright is a non-practicing attorney living in Miami. She also writes freelance articles about music, literature and travel for a variety of newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

COPING WITH ILLNESS AND INJURY WHILE TRAVELING


COPING WITH ILLNESS AND INJURY WHILE TRAVELING

By Heidi Johnson-Wright and Steve Wright

Jet lag, Montezuma’s revenge and sleep deprivation might sound like catchy names for race horses, but unfortunately, they are sometimes unpleasant realities for travelers.

For the traveler with a disability who may have other medical complications, such things can quickly turn a dream vacation into a trip from hell. But with a little advance planning and common sense, you can prepare for potential health-related problems or even avoid them altogether.

We have had our share of near disasters and, as a result, have compiled Steve and Heidi’s five rules for preserving your health while traveling.

They are:

1. Prepare before you go. If you haven't been to your doctor in a while, consider a routine check-up before your trip.

Make sure you have all immunizations you may need as well as a plentiful supply of any regular medications you take. Tell your doctor about any potential problems you anticipate while you’re away on vacation.

Heidi once spent a summer in the salt marshes of Virginia, which are the natural habitat of several dozen breeds of mosquitoes and horseflies the size of hummingbirds.

She was very glad that her doctor gave her a prescription strength cream for bug bites before she left.

If you’ll be at a particular destination for an extended period, you may want to have your doctor recommend another health professional in the area should you need ongoing care.

You may also consider locating pharmacies with delivery service, wheelchair repair shops and the like. If you haven’t made arrangements prior to arrival, consult the yellow pages or your hotel concierge for help locating these services.

2. Be sure to pack the essentials. Items that every traveler should keep in his or her overnight case include any regularly taken prescription medications, plus the big three stomach preparations: an antacid, a laxative and an anti-diarrheal medication.

If you tend to have insomnia in unfamiliar surroundings, ask your doctor to recommend a safe, over-the-counter sleeping pill. Steve always carries ear plugs to block out unsettling sounds that tend to echo through the halls of even the classiest hotels.

An over-the-counter analgesic for aches and pains and a cream to treat sore muscles are necessities.

Cold pills and cough drops can be lifesavers if you catch a bug. Bandages and antibiotic cream are must-haves.

Depending on where you’ll be traveling, you may want to pack sunscreen and sunburn medication, as well as insect repellent and hydrocortisone cream for insect bites.

While you can buy most of these items at a drugstore when you reach your destination, you can avoid tourist trap prices and spend your time on better things than searching a strange city for a pharmacy that’s open at 3 a.m.

Although it sounds like a lot, all this stuff combined won’t fill a carry-on bag. And because airlines are infamous for losing luggage in their care, we strongly suggest placing prescription medication and other essentials in a carry-on bag.

3. Check out your accommodations the minute you arrive.

Make sure the heater and or air conditioner in the room is functioning properly. This is especially important if your disability makes you extra sensitive to variations in temperature.

This is something we are always careful about since Heidi’s arthritis can be affected by extremes of hot or cold.

If you need to refrigerate insulin or other medication, arrange to have a room with a refrigerator or secure alternate arrangements with the hotel in advance.

Heidi must take medication with milk at bedtime and when she wakes up. Our routine when traveling is to buy a pint carton of milk before returning to our hotel for the evening.

Upon reaching our room, we pack the milk in ice in our ice bucket. It stays sufficiently cold until the following morning and is cheaper and more convenient than ordering milk from room service.

If you need a soft drink to settle your stomach, or milk for taking medication, but forget to pick them up until the wee hours, we have a solution.

Hotel bars usually have both for mixing drinks and bars are generally open even after room service is no longer available.

4. Remember moderation.

You may be thinking that you’ll never get another chance to ascend the Eiffel Tower or ride a camel by the Sphinx, but try to keep in mind that your goal is to have fun. You’ll probably enjoy your trip a lot more by pacing instead of pushing yourself. Heidi’s disability causes her to fatigue much more quickly than Steve.

We have an agreement that we don’t have to do everything together. About every other day on a trip, Heidi will take a long afternoon nap while Steve goes to a sporting event or heads out to take some pictures.

By evening, Heidi is comfortably rested and ready to paint the town red. Steve can return to the hotel with new discoveries and stories to tell.

5. Know when to pack it in.

There is only so much you can do for yourself. If you have the bad fortune of becoming seriously ill or injured during a vacation, get to a doctor or hospital.

It’s hard not to feel guilty or depressed about having to cut a trip short, but it is far preferable to jeopardizing your health.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

POWERFUL WORDS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES



Heidi Johnson-Wright with comic, actor, activist & friend Eddie Izzard on Broadway

SOME ADVICE FROM ONE WHO’S BEEN THERE

By Heidi Johnson-Wright

Trying to fit in with the crowd is part of growing up.

Sometimes your haircut, your brand of blue jeans or what you take in your lunch seems more important than who you are inside.

Fitting in can be extra hard when you have a disability.

Some people may use the word “handicap” or describe a person as blind, deaf or a wheelchair user. Whatever the terms, it means that some people’s bodies are different because they are limited in how they see, hear or move around.

Maybe you know someone at school who uses a hearing aid or walks with crutches, or maybe you have a disability yourself.

Being different than other kids can sometimes make you feel left out.

It’s important to remember that each of us is different in our own way, whether we have a disability or not.

Some people have red hair and freckles, others wear glasses or talk with a foreign accent. Some people are good at sports while others are good at geometry.

What matters is that we’re happy being who we are, and we accept others even if they’re different from the crowd.

Having a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t live a full life. It just means you may have to do things differently than most people.

Some people with visual impairments use Braille to communicate. Braille is a tactile alphabet consisting of raised bumps on paper. The person touches the words to read them instead of reading print with their eyes.

Some people who can’t walk use wheelchairs to get around.

they may drive a special van with an automatic lift on the side that lets them board the van in their wheelchair.

Even though people with disabilities may need to read, drive or do other things differently, they make friends, go to college and get married.

They have families, homes and jobs just like everyone else.
If you have a disability, you may be worried that you won’t be able to go away to college. Maybe your mom and dad have to help take care of you, and you know they can’t leave their jobs.

One solution is to have a personal care attendant. An attendant is someone, often another college student, who helps you dress, shower or keep your dorm room clean.

You train them to help you with things so you can live independently, and they get a chance to earn money for textbooks and pizza.

You can choose a college that has wheelchair-accessible dormitories and classrooms, or sign language interpreters, or Braille tests, depending on your special needs.

Another worry you may have is getting a job when you get out of college. For example, you may wonder if a boss will hire you because you need a special device, or TTY, to talk on the phone if you’re deaf.

Our country has laws that keep employers from rejecting people with disabilities for jobs simply because they need devices to help them work.

If you can do the job -- even if you need special equipment, more room for your wheelchair, or special arrangements for a guide dog -- you can’t be turned down because of your limitations.

These rules even protect after school jobs.

Maybe you still have a quite a few years of school left before you go to college or get a job, but you’re interested in becoming a disability activist now. Think about your local community.

Does it have a park with no wheelchair access to the bathrooms, or a community theater with no wheelchair seating?

Could your school do something to make life easier for students with who have sight, hearing or mobility disabilities?

Suggest a class project -- or create a project for you and your pals -- to encourage the city and schools to make their facilities more accessible.

First, do your homework and get facts about just what the problem is. Second, come up with several solutions. Finally, write a letter to the mayor or appropriate authority. Your teacher or parents can help you decide who you need to contact.
Sometimes because of your differences, you might feel like you’ll never fit in. Remember we all feel like that now and then. But it’s your differences that make you the unique, special, wonderful person you are.

Heidi Johnson-Wright is an ideal role model for young people with disabilities. She graduated from Law School and now works as an expert on universal design and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She has been married for nearly a quarter century, has traveled the globe and has published thousands of articles on barrier-free living.

Friday, August 6, 2010

FUEL MAIN STREET USA WITH CREATIVITY



BE CREATIVE, VISIONARY AND ARTISTIC

• Turn vacant lots into weekend art festival spaces.

• Convince owners of vacant shops to donate space for gallery events -- to show off the potential of their urban storefronts.

• Encourage diners, coffee houses and taverns to host poetry readings.

• Urban culture doesn’t have to be on the scale of Manhattan -- it often grows best on a few good blocks of a century-old Main Street.

• Miami’s Calle Ocho was a ghost town of ruined blocks on a former Main Street turned into a 3-lane highway hurtling traffic into Brickell and Downtown.

• Then came Cultural Fridays – once a month events with music, art and food.

• Soon, galleries and theaters filled vacant storefronts, slumping shops and restaurants were re-energized while property values rose.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

MAKING A BETTER MAIN STREET USA


MAKING A BETTER MAIN STREET:

How do we fix the blemishes that have been allowed to accumulate over the decades?

Oppose one-way streets, they are the death of Main Street.

Slow down traffic. Speeding cars never slow down to patronize mom and pop businesses.

Don’t allow lengthy sidewalk closures.

Require builders to keep sidewalks open under protective scaffolding during construction.

Help remove pedestrians from the endangered species list.

Protect pedestrians, so they can cross the street safely to your stores.

If walking isn’t safe, customers will take their money elsewhere.

Don’t think of ADA access as a burden.

Realize that accessibility is a tool to become more competitive.

Universal design creates customer loyalty by accommodating:

 Young, creative patrons who use wheelchairs.

 Vibrant families with kids in strollers

 Wealthy retirees using walkers.

 Baby boomers with money to spend, but limited mobility.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

MAKING A CASE FOR MAIN STREET USA



MAKING A CASE FOR MAIN STREET USA

Ask yourself, which do you or your friends prefer?

To spend all your time behind the steering wheel?
Or spending quality time with your family?

Drive-through food in a plastic container?
Or a home cooked meal at a Main Street diner?

Your tax dollars spent on costly roads to get to schools?
Or invested in walkable schools nestled into your safe urban village?

Paying to join a health club you can only get to by fighting traffic?
Or getting fit for free while walking, browsing and socializing on Main Street?

Your food, drink and newspaper from vending machines?
Or from an eclectic sidewalk café?

To shop in a big box strip center programmed by a marketing firm?
Or on Main Street where the shopkeepers are your neighbors and the dollars you spend stay local.

Hopefully, you answered the second option each time. If so, you are ready to fall in love again with Main Street USA.

Now let's all work to rebuild it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

THE HISTORIC CARDOZO HOTEL ON OCEAN DRIVE


OUTSTANDING WHEELCHAIR ACCESS IN A SOUTH BEACH BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Miami Beach is a mecca for disabled travelers.

It features beach wheelchairs, an accessible oceanside boardwalk and lots of programs to help disabled people.

The Cardozo is an outstanding boutique hotel that has roll-in showers and other barrier-free amenities thanks to a renovation of an historic art deco property.

http://www.cardozohotel.com

Monday, August 2, 2010

CASA BATLLO -- WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE GAUDI


BARCELONA'S FAMED CASA BATLOO

Casa Batllo has an tiny elevator, so it loans a narrow-width manual wheelchair to visitors with mobility impairments.

Now a museum, the fantastic house was remodeled into a modernist confection by legendary Catalan architect Atoni Gaudi.

It is in the Eixample area of Barcelona at Passeig de Gracia, 43.

That an 1800s house can be made visitable for people who use wheelchairs is a great testament to the need for universal design.

Its barrier-free accessibility also is a great example of accomplishment to throw in the face of naysayers who resist making even modern buildings accessible to people with mobility impairments.

http://www.casabatllo.es/

Sunday, August 1, 2010

MOAB UTAH: CANYONLANDS AND ARCHES NATIONAL PARKS


MOAB UTAH: CANYONLANDS AND ARCHES

Look at the photo of Mesa Arch just after sunrise, need we say more?

Canyonlands is a fabulous National Park.

Better than the Grand Canyon, in our opinion.

Lots of the overlooks are wheelchair-accessible and located just a short roll over a paved pathway from the parking lot's best handicapped parking spaces.

Early morning and just before dusk are the best times for outstanding western photography.

Some say Arches National Park is Utah's most beautiful.

And that's saying a lot becuase the spectacular Canyonlands, Natural Bridges and Colorado River Basin are nearby.

Much can be seen from the car, though you must get out --even in the summer desert heat -- to see everything.

There is some wheelchair acess within the mighty park.