Friday, September 19, 2008

Why move to Mill Creek? Our story

During the year before we got married, my wife, Sophie, and I were looking for the place that we would call home. She lived on the West Side, in North Olmsted. I lived in Shaker Square, an eastern Cleveland neighborhood bordering Shaker Heights.  We wrote down all the factors that were important to us, and weighted them. After considering a bunch of alternatives, we settled on Mill Creek. No brainer. No other option came close. Here's how we scored it:
  • Location: Mill Creek is less than 15 minutes from downtown, where I worked 10 years ago... it's about 22 minutes to Sophie's job, which is in Richfield, due south going against rush-hour traffic and almost all freeway travel. MC is close enough to the middle for us. Also, since I was working in Cleveland, it made for one less municipal income tax we would have to pay... Mill Creek is also close to University Circle, two world-class hospitals, freeways and all the inner ring suburbs and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • Safety and Security: There's one entrance in and one exit out of Mill Creek, making any burglar think twice before preying on one of the houses here. He knows that if he's spotted and reported, or if he activates an alarm, Cleveland police can just wait at the Turney Road exit to check out any suspicious traffic, assuming that said thief is in a car or truck. If on foot, Mr. Burglar wouldn't be able to make off with much loot. Better to pick another, easier spot. There have been very few incidents around here, and most that I know of resulted from someone leaving a garage door open or something else that might have attracted theft. In 10 years, I know of one stolen motorcycle and one or two other petty thefts, e.g., lawn furniture; and a couple incidents of minor vandalism. My neighborhood growing up in suburban Cleveland was no safer.
  • Affordability: 15 years of tax abatement from the City and reasonably priced homes (especially in this market). New homes purchased from the developer qualified for extra savings from the participating banks, a point and a half below market rate (non-assumable) on conventional mortgages. The tax abatements are on the home only and not on the value of the land. Most homeowners pay about $500 a year or so in total for taxes. Abatements are good for the duration of the 15 years regardless of who owns the home. Depending on when the home was built, abatements here will run out starting in about 2010 or 2011 and go as long as 2023. (I think the final "new" house built by the developer is in negotiation for sale now. The abatement expires 15 years from date of sale.) There is a homeowners association fee, which is currently around $55 a month per homeowner. It covers expenses to maintain the community center, landscaping of common areas, pool and lifeguard expenses and liability insurance. 
  • Diversity and community: young and old, black and white, suburban and urban, DINKS, straight, gay, empty nesters and lots of kids. If Hollywood wanted to cast a typical American community representative of most backgrounds and demographics, they might come here. Added bonus is that most houses have front porches, which makes getting to know people so much easier. Neighbors actually know one another and look out for each other. 
  • Green space: the Garfield Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks is in my backyard (actually it abuts my backyard). The Garfield Nature Center is a two-mile walk along a park-maintained all-purpose trail. Mill Creek Falls is less than a half-mile walk the other way on that same trail. The developer included three open green spaces that are within the development, one of which includes a Community Center and swimming pool. 
  • Environmental impact: by buying a new or newer home with modern insulation and HVAC, we save money and energy compared to that of many of our suburban neighbors. By living close to work, we drive less. By living in a relatively dense housing development, those who live within this community take up less space. (On 58 acres, Mill Creek has 220 homes, most of which are free-standing singles. About a dozen or so, which line Turney Road, are duplexes, side-by-side up-and-downs with single family garages. And Mill Creek is the antithesis of sprawl. 
  • Value: our mortgages, taxes and insurance are comparable to paying rent. We will have to start paying taxes in five years when our abatement expires. But it was a great incentive to get us to move here. No way could we afford to own this kind of home with this quality and all the other advantages above nearly anywhere else in the country. There's also an active Mill Creek Activities Committee that plans and sponsors events such as an annual clambake and a holiday party. The Homeowners Association has a great group of committed volunteer board members, who are responsive and hard-working. A volunteer marketing committee recently launched a website and a blog. 
  • Coolness Quotient: I'm not cool. But if you squint real hard and I lost a lot of weight and wore sunglasses and I didn't look like myself at all you might think I was. And we all want to be a part of something cool. Mill Creek is a unique urban experiment that is succeeding. It's spot on for anyone who likes the values listed here. For others maybe not so much. Mill Creek is *not* for anyone who wants to live on a 15-acre lot and hunt deer in the back yard. It's definitely not for the family that wants to raise their kids with other kids who all share the same racial and cultural backgrounds. 

A few other things to think about:
  • Cleveland Municipal School District has improved immensely but is still challenged. Check it out along with whatever alternatives you might consider. I live in a Double Income No Kids (DINK) household and have limited knowledge. We have a ton of neighbors here with kids, any one of whom would be happy to talk about their personal choices for schooling and how they arrived there. 
  • Living in an economically challenged city has its challenges. The snow doesn't get cleared every hour on the hour-- sometimes we have to wait a bit. But garbage gets picked up on time every week and our safety forces -- police and fire -- are dedicated professionals. Many of Cleveland's finest live in Mill Creek and take extra care and pride to ensure our safety. 
  • As green as our community is, it would be better if this community had more shops and service businesses that were walkable. As it is, almost all shopping has to be done by car. A notable exception is the Big Dipper ice cream parlor on Bancroft. Owned and operated by a retired UPS driver, "Mr. Bill," it's a local favorite and is only a 10 minute walk. The Big Dipper is in an old meat market, the only business of any kind on an old Cleveland residential street. 
  • Other neighborhood favorites: Sophie's Pierogies , Peter and Sophie's Market (no relation to my wife!) and the Cozy Inn, a great, old restaurant on Warner Road run and operated by "Millie," who began working there in 1933. Millie still cooks all the food. Try the fish fry on Friday nights.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The people of Mill Creek: part 1

Yesterday, neighbors Pat & John Shields renewed their wedding vows to celebrate 40 years of marriage, at Holy Name Church on Broadway Avenue. We've known this extraordinary couple since our move-in date 10 years ago. They preceded us here by several months. 
Following the mass, family, friends and neighbors from Mill Creek partied and wished them well. It was one of those days, one of those life events, that helped to underscore how special this community is and how rich are our blessings: friends, neighbors, families, community. It's all here in Mill Creek. 

During his remarks at the reception, John spoke eloquently about what it took to create a solid foundation for a marriage and all the additional help Pat & John have received over the years, from many sources. In particular, he paraphrased a Zulu expression, which is apt: 
"A person is a person because of other people." 
(The original phrase is umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, but John stuck to the English translation.) 

We are blessed indeed. 

The entire cake was edible, including the flowers. Pat had bid on the services of the baker during a Live Auction last summer at the summer benefit for the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Snake's alive

I caught this beautiful girl sunning herself yesterday during a relatively cool, July afternoon at the base of the CadMur Manor fire pit. She's maybe a foot long. Lara Roketenetz, a former co-worker and current natural-resources specialist at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Cleveland, offered a tentative confirmation ID, based solely on the photo. 

"I think it is an Eastern garter snake, spotted phase," Lara emailed. "They tend to be brown and splotchy rather than green and striped because they use camouflage rather than speedy escape to avoid predation." Lara added that the snake looks to be pregnant. 

Garter snakes give birth to live young -- they are viviparous. Newborns are independent upon birth, having spent two to three months developing during gestation. The Eastern garter snake, Thanophis sirtalis sirtalis, is the most common of the Thamnophis genus. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Moonflower blooms

The first blooms on our moonflower plants appeared a couple days ago. Nightly from now until the end of summer, Ipomoea alba opens one or two blooms around sunset in a matter of minutes. The large, white flowers attract night-flying moths for pollination. The flowers die off in the next morning's sun. The plants grow and spread quickly, but are easily controlled, thankfully, due to their shallow roots. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Clearwing hummingbird moth

When we first noticed these creatures a few years ago we mistook them for hummingbirds, also fairly common visitors to CadMur Manor. This clearwing hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe) visited our bee balm yesterday for a sip of nectar. 

Thursday, July 10, 2008

10 years after: Mill Creek maintains Mecca status

We moved to Mill Creek in 1998. To aid us in our home-buying decision, we created a quality-of-life spreadsheet, weighing factors such as affordability, location, housing stock, location, safety, location, diversity and location. Mill Creek had it all, especially a close proximity to everything: work, recreation, parks, downtown, University Circle, etc. Today our decision seems extra sound, especially in light of this year's big surge -- in energy costs.

The July 14 Time focused on some of the ways high gas prices are affecting us all. Believe it or not, writer Amanda Ripley found  10 Things You Can Like About $4 GasNumber 2 on her list is the surging popularity of cities, living closer to where you work and play while spending and driving less. Read about it here

This is the only urban sprawl we ever see at CadMur Manor

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mill Creek cactus (yes... this is Cleveland)

When I heard a few years ago that the Eastern prickly pear is native to Ohio, I had to get one. Opuntia humifusa's range is from Massachusetts to Minnesota and Ontario to Florida and Oklahoma. At CadMur Manor in Mill Creek, its lemon-yellow flowers started popping a few days ago. Each flower doesn't last much more than 24 hours -- and only that long if Sheba doesn't devour the delicious blooms first. We couldn't stop her from feasting on the flowers last year, but so far at least this year she's left them alone. Maybe she got the point. These cactuses, not surprisingly, like dry, sandy or rocky soil and full sun. Get one for your back yard for something different.

Sheba, Cactus Queen

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Right to Dry

At the June board meeting of the Mill Creek Homeowners Association, neighbor and sometimes-rabble-rouser Pam suggested that the Neighborhood Association should amend the covenants to allow clotheslines. What? Why? Mill Creek's bylaws prohibit hanging clothes on lines outdoors. Who knew? Apparently, clotheslines are unsightly and do not convey an appropriate look for a proper community. Underwear blowing in the breeze can lower property values, some say. Pam said that line of thinking doesn't wash. She came armed with facts:
  • Clothes dryers consume enormous amounts of fossil fuels -- by some estimates up to 8 percent of a household's total energy bill
  • While thousands of community associations across the country have banned clotheslines, an even larger number of people are getting religion about energy conservation. Three states -- Florida, Hawaii and Utah -- have banned the bans, i.e., they are holding the line at outlawing clotheslines

(Here's a link to Project Laundry List's page featuring the above graphic)

As well, Pam made a qualitative argument for the beauty of a practice that was necessary if not fashionable in the days of our grandparents. A trip to Amish country earlier in the day had its stunning effect, she said. Sheets, shirts and shorts among other washables waved wonderfully in the warm breeze, a beautiful mosaic. 

If Pam came looking for a fight, she might be disappointed. Nodding heads greeted her every word. I don't know how these things work, if every homeowner has to vote at an upcoming meeting or if the board will just take a vote and notify people of their decision. With luck residents of this urban enclave will be able to mimic the Amish at least in one small way. Not a bad step.

There's a movement promoting the "right to dry." It's called Project Laundry List. Check the website