Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rethinking SoHud: The Case for Getting it Right

It seems that SoHud is winning the battle for my neighborhood's nickname. This is regrettable, but at this point likely unavoidable.

For the uninitiated, I live in the University District in Columbus, Ohio; a few blocks south of Hudson Street. Hudson is an almost major east-west artery that separates our neighborhood from an arguably nicer neighborhood to the north. Ours is an in-between area. To my knowledge it's never had an official name; at least not one that's lasted into the 21st century. I've heard it referred to variously as North Campus, The University District, Old North Columbus, Baja Clintonville, Washington Beach, SoHu, and SoHud. Sadly, at this stage, the SoHud designator is gaining traction and seems poised to stick.

Our friends at Wild Goose Creative have adopted it for their mural project. A group of affiliated musicians use it to describe their music collective. Perhaps most importantly, the taste-makers at Columbus Underground favor SoHud over SoHu (pronounced So-who) by a wide margin. As evidence, a search of the CU messageboard for SoHu yields a paltry handful of hits, while SoHud racks up page after page of results.

Personally I prefer SoHu. In fact, I prefer it enough that I'm willing to devote a blog post to it. Frankly (and for the life of me) I can't figure out why the SoHu moniker didn't carry the day. It's been around longer than SoHud; of that I'm nearly certain. I first heard the area referred to as SoHu when I lived on Indiana Avenue back in 1993. As early as 2005 it had gained acceptance on the local music messageboard Donewaiting. SoHud, by comparison is clearly a johnny come lately, having only become fashionable in the last three or four years.

SoHu also shares a much closer linguistic relationship to its more famous cousin SoHo (south of Houston in New York City). Both are four letters long and both end in open syllables (i.e. nothing comes after the final vowel sound). They're separated by only one letter, and even that's in accordance with the order of the alphabet. Seen side by side, the names SoHo and SoHu also serve to create a powerful semiotic relationship. They look similar and invite mental comparisons. Considering the fact that SoHu stakeholders see potential in the area as a burgeoning creative neighborhood I'd think these are exactly the kinds of relationships they'd want to invite.

SoHud, by comparison, is more or less an abomination. Linguistically, it trips off the tongue with reckless abandon and screeches to a halt with a hard consonant "d". It lacks visual symmetry and doesn't invite the same relational comparisons to SoHo that SoHu does. Most importantly, ask yourself this: is there a less elegant syllable in the English language than "ud", the anchor of such unattractive words as crud, dud, spud, thud, mud and pud? I'm not sure there is.

That people would ignore all this and continue referring to the area south of Hudson as SoHud is just baffling to me. I understand that in the world of user generated content, crowdsourcing, user tags and the like people have great influence when it comes to establishing language and brands. While I'm in favor of this kind of democratization, I also recognize that the people won't always get it right. In the case of SoHud, they haven't. SoHu is objectively a better name. Sadly, it appears it's not the one we'll get. For my part I'll keeping calling it SoHu and be thankful we didn't end up being called The Hud District.

Thanks to Keith M (formerly Columbsite) and Zach Henkel for taking pictures and documenting our neighborhood. More info and pics can be found on the Urban Ohio Forums

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not Great Men

In a previous post I outlined what I saw as a couple of real deficiencies in Ohio Governor John Kasich's leadership style. My hope was to frame (in a non-partisan way) Kasich's words and actions in the context of some commonly understood leadership principles. And while it's never been my intention to make this blog particularly political, Mr Kasich's off the cuff style (and relative lack of any sort of filter) has provided yet another chance to consider what makes a good leader.

In recent remarks, Governor Kasich stressed the need to make Ohio economically competitive by making Ohio "cool". Kasich said:

"We've got to make Ohio cool. You know, I was down at Lexis-Nexis down in Dayton, I'm meeting with the CEO of the company, and he says, you know, a lot of these, these young people, you know, they want to head for the coast. Why do they want to go to the coast? It's cool. Why do they want to go to Austin? You ever been to Austin? It's very cool. You want to go to the Triangle of North Carolina, go down there and check it out, it's cool. We need to make Ohio cool."

I guess first of all I should congratulate the Governor on coming to the realization that when it comes to economic development, things like vibrancy, diversity, tolerance, cultural amenities, and future orientation actually matter. They matter enough, it turns out, that when young, talented, energetic, risk-taking people (in short, our future) decide on where to settle, they often look for exactly those things.

What's alarming is that Mr. Kasich is telling us this now, as if this is somehow news. His remarks leave the impression that he's hearing this all for the first time. Is that really possible? Richard Florida, the Grand Poobah of attracting talent via the aforementioned qualities, addressed this idea nearly 10 years ago in an article called "The Rise of the Creative Class". Since then he's turned the concept into both a cottage industry and, more importantly, common knowledge. Austin, a city that Kasich proudly name checks, has been a model of establishing growth by way of the cool factor for even longer. To put it another way, none of this chatter about "cool" is a secret, and none of it is news.

I'm old enough that I came of age when history was still being taught via the words and actions of great leaders. My generation was perhaps the last to be brought up to believe that leaders, as a matter of course, were wiser, more noble, more thoughtful, and better informed than the rest of us. While I realize now that's rarely the case, I suspect that's a big part of why Kasich's lack of awareness strikes me as so alarming. If the relationship between "cool" and economic development is somehow a revelation to him, I can only wonder what else he doesn't know. How shallow is his knowledge in other critical matters? What other blind spots will reveal themselves during the course of his governance?

I guess we'll find out. In the meantime it's perhaps a good time to remind ourselves that history isn't always made by great men after all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Last Passenger Peep

This year the Ohio Historical Society is holding an Ohio history themed Peeps diorama contest, Ohio: A History of a Peeple. Participants have been invited to create a diorama based on famous scenes from Ohio's past. While I don't expect this is exactly famous, I do know that the last captive passenger pigeon, "Martha," died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

So, to commemorate Martha, and to acknowledge (in some small way) the passenger pigeon's place in Ohio's history, I present Martha, the last passenger peep:

The passenger peep, Ectopistes marshmellosous, was once the most common bird in the United States, numbering in the billions. Passenger peeps lived in enormous colonies, with sometimes up to 100 nests in a single tree. Migrating flocks stretched a mile wide, turning the skies sticky and yellow.

Bird painter John James Audubon, who watched them pass on his way to Louisville in 1813, described “the muffled tones of their gelatinous wings,” and said “the air was literally filled with peeps; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse…” When he reached his destination, 55 miles away, the peeps were still passing overhead, and “continued to do so for three days in succession.” The passenger peep, a wild bird, is not to be confused with the carrier peep, a domesticated bird trained to carry messages.

The last known individual of the passenger peep species was "Martha" (named after Martha Washington). She died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where her body was once mounted in a display case with this notation:

Last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden.

These photographs show "Martha" at rest outside the one of the Cincinnati Zoological Garden's Aviarys shortly before her death. This pagoda style hut still stands on the Cincinnati Zoo's grounds and now serves as the Passenger Peep Memorial.

Author's Note: While the passenger peep is a fiction, the passenger pigeon was not. For more information on the demise of the passenger pigeon and it's connection to Ohio, check out these informative sites:

Martha: The Last Passenger Pigeon

No One Believes the Passenger Pigeon will go Extinct...Until it Does.

Roadside America: Passenger Pigeon Memorial Hut

Revisiting the Cincinnati Zoo: Passenger Pigeon Memorial

If I were the preachy type I'd suggest there might be a lesson in all this; maybe something about learning from the past and the fragile nature of our ecosystem; or maybe about how exponential change has a way of sneaking up on us and how quickly the unimaginable can become reality.

I'm not the preachy type though, so I'll leave you to figure it out.