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Photo: FNRttC /Night Ride Cycling UK
UK participants in the Friday Night Ride to the Coast enjoy the casual pace. Smaller, more family-oriented night riding can be found in cities like Cleveland.

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for ages — ever since I started seeing Mary Ann’s joyful Facebook posts on cycling at night with friends, family, and like-minded strangers in Cleveland.

In an article by Sam Walker at the Guardian, we learn that night cycling is a thing in England, too, but for more miles.

Walker writes that the Friday Night Ride to the Coast is a “carefully organised event run by the ‘Fridays,’ a club devoted to the singular cause of safely delivering you at a conversational pace from the Smoke to the sea. They do this every month from spring through autumn, requiring only third party insurance and an annual membership fee of £2.

“The FNRttC, as it’s known to veterans, has been spreading the joy of night riding for almost 15 years, flying quietly under the radar of most cyclists. …

“It was started by Simon Legg, who spent a decade escorting thousands to Brighton, Whitstable and other destinations with decent transport links. When he retired he entrusted his legacy to a group of seasoned ride leaders who take turns as mother hen.

“The distance ranges from 55 to 75 miles, and popular routes can attract more than 100 participants. There are tail-end Charlies and human waymarkers, sometimes recruited on the spot, to ensure nobody is lost or left behind.

“Rides begin at midnight with a chat about safety and etiquette, jokes optional. Mechanical problems along the way are met with expert assistance, though you’re advised to give your bike a thorough checkup beforehand. …

“It’s a great social mixer, but there are also opportunities for solitude as you pull each other along on an invisible stretchy rope. Punctures are a communal affair. ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ one of the minders will more or less transmit to the front, and so all will wait, grateful it wasn’t them. This time. …

“We ride at night because it’s there, conveniently out of the way of the usual routine. Less traffic is a bonus, but magic moments are made of more than this.

“There’s the moon, for a start: those times when it paints the road silver and the mist mysterious, inviting you to dabble in poetry. When not moonstruck, the darkness itself is the draw, a coverlet silencing the day’s concerns, yet granting permission for thoughts to drift forever out into space. …

There are bats and badgers and other nocturnal creatures clocking in, which helps rouse you out of any stupor you may have been falling into. Hills become easier. Shrouded in mystery, their summits mere conjecture, they are far less daunting.

“But possibly the biggest draw is the intimacy of cycling with people all on the same mission, getting a buzz off their energy, their tired happy faces in the morning’s light a mirror of your own.

“ ‘Why are you doing this?’ I’ve asked fellow riders … Answers ranged from: ‘I’m getting miles in to help with Paris-Brest-Paris’ – a 1,200km jolly – to: ‘My friend talked me into it.’ There were plenty of dreamy shrugs: ‘Why not?’ … For some, it’s an answer to a question they may not even have been aware they’d been asking themselves.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photos: MOCA Cleveland
This museum is experimenting with new ways to be more inclusive, including free admission.

I’m impressed by the museum in this story because it has free admission every day in order to be more inclusive. Very unusual. The big museum where I live, Boston’s MFA, has one free day. It does have decent student hours, but it’s prohibitively priced for families on most days. Cleveland is going to have to raise a lot of money from grants.

Sarah Douglas writes at ArtNews, “If there is one word that has been on the agendas of almost every American art museum in the past few years, it is inclusion: How do institutions make diverse audiences feel welcome? The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland [has] announced a comprehensive plan to infuse inclusiveness into the museum on a structural and programmatic level.

“The five components of the initiative, which is called ‘Open House,’ are free admission for all, the creation of a diversity-focused curatorial fellowship (the first recipient is LaTanya Autry, who has held curatorial positions at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Mississippi Museum of Art), an engagement-guide apprenticeship program, enhanced onsite programming for families and teens, and the addition of an education specialist. …

“Jill Snyder, who has led the institution as its Kohl Executive Director since 1996, [says,] ‘We are taking what we hope is a noble approach that has a high quotient of humility, which is that we are really listening to what is going on in our community.’ …

“The museum’s lead investment in ‘Open House’ is the result of being the first recipient of a brand new grant from the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation called ‘Bold Initiatives,’ which gives $500,000 over three years to small and mid-sized institutions to enact comprehensive plans that affect outreach, diversity, and inclusion. …

“One of the components of Open House, the engagement-guide apprenticeship program, which the Thoma Foundation grant is supporting, gets to what Snyder refers to as the integration of ‘welcoming, collaborative practices into every aspect of our business.’ The museum is creating a cohort of 10 to 12 part-time positions, with hiring based on the diversity ratio of Cuyahoga County, and will mentor these hires in visitor services, guarding art, and how to talk about art. It will be designed like a fellowship program, and the hires will be given board mentors and guided as to how they can apply their new skills elsewhere. Snyder describes it as workforce training in the cultural sector. …

“ ‘We set about defining initiatives moving toward our 50th anniversary in claiming that this idea of a Kunsthalle in the Midwest had a specific meaning,’ Snyder said. … ‘We saw that with artists, that what they were doing was not mediated through an art-world ecosystem, because we don’t have that here. There is no proliferation of galleries, collectors, and art criticism — those filters. So there is a more direct engagement between artist, museum, and community.’ …

“Open House [is] meant ‘to lower barriers to entry and to work on inclusion and accessibility. Even if we get people in the door, how do we make the encounter with new art rewarding?’ ” asks Snyder. That will be the ongoing challenge, but Cleveland is up for it.

Read more at ArtNews, here. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, museums offer free admission this summer to people on public assistance. And then, there’s this about a gift to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that will allow for free admission.

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Photo: Douglas Trattner
A Cleveland co-op trains refugees and others for produce-growing jobs.

I continue to find it fascinating that so many people who are making products for sale are also intent on providing job opportunities for refugees, ex-offenders, and others with challenges.

Douglas Trattner writes about one such effort at Cleveland Scene.

“It’s a brisk late-winter morning in Cleveland, but inside the greenhouses of Green City Growers it feels more like Tampa. …

“At 3.25 acres, this site is one of the largest urban greenhouses in the country, and it happens to sit in the heart of the economically depressed Central neighborhood. Inside the state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse, some 300,000 plants at various stages of growth float in shallow pools of nutrient-rich water. There are leafy heads of butter lettuce, colorful mixed-green blends, peppery upland cress and fragrant Italian basil.

“Opened in 2012, Green City Growers has had a promising, albeit challenging, run. Part of the ambitious Evergreen Cooperatives, which includes Evergreen Cooperative Laundry and Ohio Cooperative Solar, the greenhouse was the only one of the three employee-owned companies to not be profitable. That should change this year, says Jeremy Lisy, VP of sales. …

“As a chef and former owner of the specialty produce company KJ Greens, Lisy reached out to his former colleagues to see what types of products they were interested in. He added different lettuces and blends and beefed up sales. This year, the company is expected to hit $3 million in sales, doubling what it was just two years prior. …

“Green City Growers provides 38 people with living-wage jobs and a path to ownership. Working with programs like Refugee Response and Towards Employment, the greenhouse employs many people who might otherwise find it hard to secure gainful employment. On the current roster are people with nonviolent criminal records and immigrants from Bhutan, Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“After one year of employment, workers get to join the co-op, which includes benefits like credit management and car and mortgage assistance. When the company begins to turn a profit, that money goes to the worker-owners in the form of bonuses and savings for retirement.

“Laurie ‘Spike’ Cook did [time] in the state pen but she currently is the transplant supervisor at the greenhouse and she sits on the board of the co-op. After leaving prison she searched in vain for a job for a full year until she took a class with Towards Employment. A week later she had a full-time job.

” ‘I haven’t missed a day of work in over a year,’ says Cook, who arrives an hour and half before her shift begins every day.

This place gave me a second chance. It makes me want to do better, stay better and do the right thing. Without this job I might have messed up. This job, right here, is the reason I wake up every morning. I plan on staying here until I retire.’

More here.

Photo: James Alan Edward
The nonprofit Beautiful Day trains refugees for the US job market. But if a refugee has a learning disability, the speed of doing even simple tasks may be too slow for a future employer. Let me know if you have a Providence-area job for a cheerful but challenged refugee. There’s someone I’d like to help.

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At my former magazine we focused on lower-income issues, which meant we sometimes published research on topics such as prison reform, the criminalization of addiction, and job programs for ex-offenders.

Recently, I saw an article that reminded me of those efforts. It’s about an unusual fine-dining restaurant in Cleveland.

Jenn Hall covers the story at Paste, “Though the numbers vary by state, roughly three-quarters of ex-convicts are rearrested within five years, and more than half of those return behind bars. Ask Brandon Chrostowski about it, and he’ll tell you that it’s more than a problem. It’s a civil-rights issue — and that’s why he decided to do something about it.

“For diners at Edwins Restaurant in Cleveland Shaker Square, fine French cuisine is an initial draw. The setting is nouvelle-chic, befitting a Francophile menu that garners praise. Bar service is sophisticated, with a wine list that runs deep. But the reason to return goes beyond the plate. In almost every position, both front and back of house, ex-offenders are training to launch new careers.

“It’s the only white-tablecloth restaurant of its kind in the U.S.

“The trainees are part of Edwins’ six-month Restaurant and Leadership Training Program, of which Chrostowski is founder and CEO. (Edwins is a portmanteau of ‘education’ and ‘wins.’) Covering everything from mother sauces to white-tablecloth service, the program aims not just to equip ex-offenders with skills, but also to power them with the confidence to apply them.

“It’s a program borne of careful planning. Chrostowski first had the idea in 2004, secured approval to operate as a 501 (c) (3) in 2008, and then spent six years perfecting the pedagogy before opening the restaurant’s doors in 2013. Now, 20,000 diners visit Edwins each year.

“But job prep and a fine French meal is just one part of the story. Ultimately, Edwins is a support network for those determined to challenge statistics. So while participants indeed learn a perfect braise, they also get help with everything from reinstating their driver’s license to securing medical care. It’s a humanizing approach to a sobering problem, and perhaps that’s why it’s working. The Edwins-alumni recidivism rate stands at just 1.2 percent. …

“Asked what drives him, he says it’s about paying forward a break he was given. Growing up in Detroit, Chrostowski had a legal run-in and was lucky to land probation instead of a prison sentence. That ‘aha’ moment primed him to take stock, find a mentor and launch a fine-dining career …

“Though he reads like an optimist (and is when it comes to a belief in transformation), Chrostowski sees himself as a pragmatist. Given the chance, he says, many ex-offenders have the capacity and strength to rebuild. They just need that all-critical chance.”

To read Hall’s interview with Chrostowski, click here.

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In Helsinki, Finland, where young people traditionally leave home at 18 but can no longer afford urban rents, Millennials are applying by the hundreds to live with the elderly.

According to Kae Lani Kennedy at Matador Network, “Retirement homes are serving as more than a community for the elderly. These facilities are providing affordable housing for the city’s growing population of homeless millennials.

“ ‘It’s almost like a dorm, but the people aren’t young. They’re old,’ explains Emil Bostrom, a participant in ‘A Home That Fits,’ a new housing project that allows millennials to move into retirement communities. Bostrom is a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, and though he has a steady income, it is not enough to compete with 90,000 other renters in a city that has roughly 60,000 affordable rental properties. …

“Bostrom, along with many other young adults, can enjoy discounted rent in exchange for socializing with the seniors in their community. …

“By interacting with a younger generation, the elderly involved with ‘A Home That Fits’ have the opportunity to be engaged in an active and diverse community, instead of being left behind in a forgotten generation.” More here.

And check out a post I wrote about the same phenomenon in Cleveland, here. Both initiatives sound like fun to me.

Video: Seeker Stories

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Here’s a good one from The Atlantic’s City Lab on how Cleveland is turning a traffic circle into a park.

Eric Jaffe writes, “To hear Clevelanders talk, Public Square is a place you pass through to reach somewhere else. When Moses Cleaveland laid out the town in 1796, he imagined the open area at its center as a New England-style commons: a gathering space for settlers, a grazing area for livestock. …

” ‘Over the years, it just turned into more like a series of big traffic islands,’ says the landscape architect James Corner. …

“Locals who find themselves in one of the quadrants have a tough time getting to another. If the cars aren’t enough of a hindrance, the lack of things to do or see in the area is: of the square’s 10 acres, more than six are paved over with concrete or asphalt. …

“By the time Cleveland engaged Corner’s help, in 2008, many ideas for how to revamp the square had come and gone.

“They all suffered from the assumption that traffic around the site could not be disturbed. Corner came in with a bold idea: if we can’t remove the streets, let’s build an elevated park above them.

“The hilltop-park concept didn’t pan out, because of the cost and complexity, but [Land Studio executive director Ann Zoller] says it got locals reimagining Public Square as a place prioritizing people over cars. A traffic analysis determined that the city could close one of the streets and narrow the other to a passage for buses, which could be rerouted during major events. Construction started this spring on Corner’s final design, which is estimated to cost $32 million.”

Read more here on how cities are thinking about improved public spaces.

Image: James Corner Field Operations
A rendering of the new design  for Public Square in Cleveland

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The New York Times had a story not long ago about friendships between young people and old people in Cleveland. How does it happen? They live in the same retirement home.

John Hanc describes a home’s musical evening: “Janet Hall grimaces as she hits an off note on her violin, one of the few heard here at Judson Manor’s Friday afternoon recital, held in the chandeliered ballroom settings of the first-floor lounge of this residence for older people.

“As an audience of 56 mostly older adults watches expectantly, Ms. Hall, 78, quickly recovers from the miscue. She slides her bow across the strings of her violin, drawing out the sweet and sonorous notes of a Gabriel Fauré suite.

“Looking on and smiling is her accompanist on piano, Daniel Parvin, a 25-year-old doctoral candidate student at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

“Over a half-century apart in age, Ms. Hall and Mr. Parvin share some things in common besides this duet. A home, for one: Both are residents at Judson Manor, formerly a luxury hotel, built in 1923, in Cleveland’s University Circle section. A love of music, for another …

“Here at Judson, young and old play nicely together, part of an intergenerational program that has led to harmonious relationships beyond the concerts. … The artist-in-residence program provides furnished one-bedroom apartments to three graduate students from the Cleveland Institute of Music at no charge, for the duration of their studies. In exchange, the students perform regular concerts at Judson Manor. …

“The students were required to submit a résumé and an essay. ‘Basically, “Why I wouldn’t mind living in a senior residence,” ‘ says [Richard K.] Gardner, a committee member.  …

“Experts say there is much to be learned from an intergenerational living program based around the arts like the Judson program. ‘We’ve heard people talking about doing something like this, but I’ve never seen it at this level, sustained and consistent,’ says Gay Hanna, executive director for the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, a nonprofit organization designed to promote creative arts programs for older adults. ‘It’s a bellwether for the future.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times  
Tiffany Tieu, a violinist and student at the Cleveland Institute, talks with Peggy Kennell. “When I tell people I’m living in a retirement home, they think I’m joking,” Ms. Tieu says.

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