The Crescent development by the numbers

Rendering of proposed Crescent development

Rendering of proposed Crescent development in downtown Columbia. Click for high resolution version. Image © 2014 Howard Hughes Corporation; used with permission.

tl;dr: The Crescent development in downtown Columbia is going to be a (very) big deal.

As reported by Amanda Yeager in the Baltimore Sun, the Howard County Planning Board recently approved FDP-DC-Crescent-1, the final development plan for phase 1 of the Crescent neighborhood of downtown Columbia, a development of the Howard Hughes Corporation. Unfortunately due to family issues I was not able to attend the Planning Board meeting and see for myself the presentations of the plan. However I did find and review copies of the Department of Planning and Zoning staff report [PDF], the final development plan itself [PDF], and the accompanying neighborhood concept plan [PDF]. For anyone interested I here briefly review what’s going on with the development. (For additional background see my post from a year ago, “The Crescent development in downtown Columbia: Areas and phases”, although a lot of the information in that post is now out of date.)

In Howard County planning terminology a “final development plan” is not really the final plan; that role is filled by the “site development plan”. The final development plan contains proposed boundaries for phase 1 of the Crescent development, intended uses for the various parcels and associated square footages and building heights, and other information relevant to the plan. It does not contain detailed plans of the actual buildings to be built. However just the raw numbers themselves are interesting and informative. To quote the Baltimore Sun,

The approved outline proposes 2,300 residences; a 250-room hotel; 1.475 million square feet of office space; 313,000 square feet of retail and 225,000 square feet of civic and cultural uses spread throughout four development areas on the property.

Crescent neighborhood site composite lot and parcel map

A map of the parcels and lots comprising the parts of the Crescent neighborhood covered by FDP-DC-Crescent-1. Click for high-resolution version. Image taken from page 3 of FDP-DC-Crescent-1, “Final Development Plan, Downtown Columbia, Crescent Neighborhood Phase 1″.

The four development areas are known (rather unimaginatively) as Areas 1, 2, 3, and 4, with locations and proposed uses as follows:

  • Area 1 includes Parcels A and B on the map shown, in the northwest corner of the Crescent development near the intersection of Broken Land Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway. It is intended for office use along with a hotel, with some retail and restaurant space.
  • Area 2 includes Parcel C on the map, south of Area 1 on the east side of Broken Land Parkway. It is intended for mixed office and residential uses, with some retail and restaurant space.
  • Area 3 includes Parcel D on the map, south of Merriweather Post Pavilion and north of Broken Land Parkway. It is intended as the main “downtown” of the Crescent development, with office and residential uses, a much larger allotment of retail and restaurant space, and cultural and community facilities.
  • Area 4 includes Parcel E on the map, east of Area 1 just south of Little Patuxent Parkway. It is intended primarily for office use, with a small amount of retail and restaurant space.

There is also a significant amount of space that will be left undeveloped , including Lots 1, 2, and 3 on the map shown. These will serve as natural open space for the project, and can be considered extensions of the western and southern portions of Symphony Woods.

The table below summarizes all of the uses proposed for Areas 1 through 4, including the associated square footage and related details (from page 1 of FDP-DC-Crescent-1).

Area Use Planned
Area 1 (Parcels A and B) Office 600,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 25,000 SF
  Hotel 250 rooms
Area 2 (Parcel C) Office 300,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 30,000 SF
  Residential 500 units
Area 3 (Parcel D) Office 400,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 252,000 SF
  Residential 1800 units
  Cultural/Community 225,000 SF
Area 4 (Parcel E) Office 175,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 6,500 SF
All areas    
  Office 1,475,000 SF
  Retail/Restaurant 313,500 SF
  Residential 2,714,000 SF
  Hotel 150,000 SF
  Cultural/Community 225,000 SF
  All uses 4,877,500 SF

The final development plan does not describe the exact nature of the 225,000 SF of “Cultural/Community” space in Area 3. However in the pre-submission meeting Howard Hughes representatives discussed building in Area 3 a new Central Branch library (100,000 SF), a conference center (50,000 SF), an aquatic center (50,000 SF), and an indoor concert hall (25,000 SF).

In the pre-submission meeting Howard Hughes representatives also discussed locating all 2,300 residential units in Area 3 along with the 250-room hotel; no office space was planned for Area 3. The final development plan moves the hotel from Area 3 into Area 1, moves 500 residential units from Area 3 to Area 2, and puts 400,000 SF of office space into Area 3.

One major omission in the final development plan (really, the major omission) is a detailed discussion of parking. The slides presented in the pre-submission meeting contained detailed information on the number of parking spaces to be provided in each area through either surface parking lots or parking garages (which would eventually replace all the surface lots). None of that is in the final development plan. Apparently the exact parking arrangements will be covered in the site development plans to be submitted for each area, including proposals for how to compensate for the loss of the current gravel lots used for events at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Overall the Crescent development will make a major impact on downtown Columbia and Howard County overall. One good comparison is to look at Reston, Virginia, the other major planned community in the Washington/Baltimore area, and Reston Town Center, which is currently undergoing its final commercial buildout within its 84-acre core. Based on the figures in the Reston Town Center marketing brochure [PDF] published by its developer, here’s how Reston Town Center compares to the planned Crescent neighborhood:

  Reston Town Center (Present and Planned) Crescent (Planned)
Total acreage 84 acres 68 acres
Office 2.017 million SF 1.475 million SF
Retail/Restaurant 424,077 SF 313,500 SF
Residential 1,998 units 2,300 units
Hotel 518 rooms 250 rooms
Cultural/Community Unknown 225,000 SF
Parking Spaces 9,073 spaces TBD

When you factor in the office space just north of Little Patuxent Parkway (including 700,000 SF purchased by Howard Hughes Corporation from GGP) the downtown Columbia area will have roughly equivalent office space to Reston Town Center. When you add in the 1.438 million SF of leasable space at the Mall in Columbia the retail space will be significantly larger than in Reston Town Center. Finally, Reston Town Center has no equivalent to Merriweather Post Pavilion (or, for that matter, to the planned Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods). (However Reston Town Center does now have access to mass transit via the Metro Silver Line, as well as a much more vibrant office market in the surrounding area.)

As I noted in discussing the history of Howard County Council redistricting, on the tenth anniversary of Columbia former county commissioner and council member Charles Miller expressed regret that Columbia had ever been created. Now as Columbia approaches its 50th anniversary, current County Executive Allan Kittleman has promised that he will work to “[attract] large businesses to downtown Columbia so it may truly become the economic engine for our County”. The Crescent development will be the key to making that happen.

How politicians see Howard County

Howard County, Maryland precinct cartogram

Howard County, Maryland precinct cartogram. Precinct area is proportional to the number of registered voters as of the 2014 general election. Click for higher-resolution version.

tl;dr: The map of Howard County looks very different if you’re looking for votes. Cartograms help you see like a politician.

There are 118 election precincts in Howard County, Maryland, varying both in geographic area and in the number of voters they contain. Precincts in western Howard County tend to be larger, because the population density in western Howard is lower. Precincts in more densely populated areas of the county (including Columbia) tend to be smaller. If we’re interested in how voters behave across the county a conventional map can be misleading because the larger area of western Howard precincts causes us to overrate the importance and impact of those precincts. (This is similar to the US electoral map being visually dominated by large states like Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas that have fewer voters than small states like Connecticut and Rhode Island.)

The figure above is actually a map of Howard County electoral precincts, not as they exist in reality but as they might appear if their size were proportional to the number of voters they contain. More specifically, this is a cartogram in which the precinct map is distorted to make precinct areas proportional to the number of registered voters in each precinct as of the 2014 general election.

Allan Kittleman's victory margins by precinct.

Conventional map of Allan Kittleman’s election-day margin of victory in each precinct in the 2014 general election for Howard County Executive. Click for a higher-resolution version.

Let’s look at a real-life example of how cartograms can present a more accurate picture of election results. The next map shows Republican Allan Kittleman’s election-day margin of victory in each precinct in his 2014 race for Howard County Executive against Democrat Courtney Watson. (The margin of victory is expressed as votes per precinct, not as a percentage. Thus a value of 100 means that Kittleman received 100 more votes in a precinct on election day than Watson. The map does not include absentee and early voting results because they are not reported per precinct.)

Each precinct is colored from bright red (large Kittleman margin) to bright blue (large Watson margin) and all shades in between. (Incidentally, this type of colored map is known as a choropleth map.) Since precincts in western Howard County are both large and heavily Republican the conventional map exaggerates the extent of Kittleman’s election-day victory margin over Watson.

Cartogram of Allan Kittleman victory margins by precinct

Cartogram of Allan Kittleman’s election-day margin of victory in each precinct in the 2014 general election for Howard County Executive. Click for a higher resolution version.

To address this perceptual problem we can instead represent the exact same data in the form of a cartogram, as seen in the next map. Here the precincts of western Howard shrink in size to reflect their true contribution to the overall registered voter population. In particular Howard County Council District 5 now appears to be roughly equal in size to the other districts—which makes sense since county council redistricting had as one of its goals making the districts contain roughly equal number of voters. On this map Kittleman’s margin of victory still appears to be significant, but we can better identify precincts (like those in Columbia) in which Watson polled strongly on election day.

Cartograms can be used in place of conventional maps in any context in which each geographic subdivision has associated with it some common variable of interest. For example, suppose we want to look at elementary school overcrowding in Howard County. Looking at a conventional map (like the elementary school attendance area map provided by the Howard County Public School System) we might say, “Gee, there are a lot of elementary schools in eastern Howard. How could they possibly be overcrowded?” It would make much more sense to show school attendance areas as a cartogram in which the size of each attendance area was proportional to the number of students in that area. Each of the attendance areas could then be colored according to the extent of overcrowding at that school.

This sounds like a possible future project for me if and when I have time. Or if anyone out there would like to try this yourself, I’ve provided more detailed information on how to create maps like those shown above. See my three-part series “Creating Howard County Precinct Cartograms Based on 2014 Registered Voters” (part 1, part 2, and part 3) and my second three-part series “Allan Kittleman’s Election-Day Victory Margins in the Howard County 2014 General Election” (part 1, part 2, and part 3).

Useful datasets for Howard County election analysis

tl;dr: I release two useful Howard County election datasets in preparation for future posts.

In the coming days and weeks I’ll be posting some analyses of Howard County election results. Unfortunately the data released by the Howard County Board of Elections and the Maryland State Board of Elections is not always in the most useful form for analysis. In particular I was looking for per-precinct turnout statistics for the 2014 general election in Howard County, along with some way to match up precincts with the county council district of which they’re a part. That data is available in the 2014 general election results per precinct/district published by the Howard County Board of Elections, but unfortunately that document is a PDF document.

PDF files are great for reading by humans, but lousy for reading by machines. They violate guideline 8 in the Open Data Policy Guidelines published by the Sunlight Foundation:

For maximal access, data must be released in formats that lend themselves to easy and efficient reuse via technology. … This means releasing information in open formats (or “open standards”), in machine-readable formats, that are structured (or machine-processable) appropriately. … While formats such as HTML and PDF are easily opened for most computer users, these formats are difficult to convert the information to new uses.

Since the data I wanted wasn’t in a format I could use, I manually extracted the data from the PDF document and converted it into a useful format (Comma Separated Value or CSV format) myself. Then since someone else might find a use for them, I published the files online in a datasets area of my Github hocodata repository. The first two files are as follows:

  • hocomd-2014-precinct-council.csv. This dataset maps the 118 Howard County election precincts to the county council districts in which those precincts are included.
  • hocomd-2014-general-election-turnout.csv. This dataset contains turnout statistics for each of the 118 Howard County precincts in the 2014 general election, including the number of registered voters and ballots cast in each precinct on election day.

Stay tuned for some interesting ways to use this data.

Fun with Howard County building permit data

tl;dr: I have fun creating graphs and maps with building permit data from data.howardcountymd.gov.

I’ve written previously about the cornucopia of interesting data sets that Howard County government has made available at the data.howardcountymd.gov site. I had some spare time over a long weekend and decided to try analyzing some of that data, including making use of the various map files on the site (under the “Spacial Data (GIS)” tab).

The particular data set I decided to start with was for building permits issued for residential and commercial construction—not because I have a burning interest in building permits but because I mentioned this type of data in my last post and thought it would be a relatively easy data set to analyze. The particular question I decided to look at was how many residential building permits were issued in each zip code within Howard County in 2014—basically to get a feel for where the most construction was occurring in the county. (It’s only an approximate measure because some permits cover multiple units.)

bar chart showing Howard County residential building permits per zip code

To do the analysis I used the skills and the tools I learned in the courses that are part of the Johns Hopkins data science specialization series on Coursera. (See my Coursera-related posts for more on my experiences in these classes.) I won’t go over the process here since I’ve separately published full details on my RPubs page, with the source code available in my hocodata GitHub repository.

I first created a simple table of the top zip codes for residential permits issued. This was sort of boring so I won’t reproduce it here; you can find it in the first example analysis I did. More interesting is the bar chart I created as part of the second example. It’s clear from the chart that there’s wide variation among Howard County zip codes in terms of residential construction. The two Ellicott City zip codes combined (21042 and 21043) accounted for the largest fraction of residential building permits in 2014; in contrast there were almost no permits issued for east Columbia (21045).

Howard County map showing residential building permits per zip code

However what I really wanted to create was a map showing exactly where permits were being issued across the county. The Howard County GIS division provides on data.howardcountymd.gov a set of map data for zip codes within Howard County. After doing a bit of research and experimentation, in my third example I was able to use this in conjunction with the building permit data to produce a map that is a nice alternative to the bar chart.

I have to stop here and ask the unspoken question: What’s the point of all this? I’d answer as follows:

First, this shows that releasing government data empowers people to do interesting things with it, especially when combined with free software and easily available online information and training. Maybe everybody isn’t interested in building permit data or any other individual government data set, but I suspect that there are a fair amount of people out there who are, including small businesses, nonprofit organizations, or just individual activists and interested citizens.

Second, I did all this in a way that is completely reproducible by anyone else. How often have you seen a graph or map in a newspaper or government report and wondered, where exactly did that data come from? Wonder no longer: In my examples I start with the raw data as released by Howard County and show all my work in analyzing the data and creating the tables, charts, and maps.

Finally, this is all reusable and adaptable. For example, suppose you have a better source of data on construction activity, perhaps one that gives the actual numbers of residential units, commercial square footage, and so on. You can easily plug that modified data into the analysis steps I’ve documented, and create better versions of the charts and maps in my examples.

You can also reuse the overall technical approach for any type of data tied to a geographic area within Howard County. For example, in addition to zip code areas the data.howardcounty.gov site contains map data for Howard County school districts, election precincts, census tracts, and many other subdivisions of the county. If you have data sets that are based on those subdivisions (for example, vote totals or turnout percentages for precincts) then you can adapt the code I wrote (all of which is in the public domain) to create your own maps showing how that data varies across the county.

The bottom line is that the data is out there for the picking, as are the tools to make sense of it. You just need to spend some time learning how to use them or (if you don’t feel up to the task yourself) finding someone who can. Have fun!

Howard County government by the numbers

tl;dr: As we wait to hear more about Allan Kittleman’s HoCoStat proposal, you don’t have to wait to download lots of useful county-related data at data.howardcountymd.gov.

During his (ultimately successful) campaign for Howard County Executive, one of Allan Kittleman’s key proposals was to establish HoCoStat, a program to (in Kittleman’s words), “measure … response and process times for various government functions” to help “increase responsiveness, improve efficiency and heighten accountability”. Kittleman’s administration is in its early days, and nothing much has been heard yet about how and when HoCoStat might be implemented. (Even the original HoCoStat proposal has disappeared from Kittleman’s web site as it’s being redesigned, although the Internet archive has a copy.)

But don’t despair! While we’re waiting for HoCoStat to make an appearance there’s other Howard County data-related resources we can explore. In particular, the data.howardcountymd.gov site has a good and growing collection of county-related datasets, many of them tied to county maps—no surprise, since the site is maintained by the county’s Geographic Information System (GIS) Division. Part of what makes the site great is that it is not just presenting predefined maps and PDF documents, but also provides the raw data used to create those maps.

For example, suppose you’re interested in building permits issued in Howard County. At the simplest level you can view an interactive map showing the locations for all such permits; you can click on the icons corresponding to the issued permits and see the exact address, date when the permit was issued, and other information.

But let’s suppose you want to do more in-depth analysis of permits issued: For example, which areas are seeing the most residential or commercial permits issued? Or, what is the trend for permits issued over time? The data.howardcountymd.gov site also lets you download the raw data behind the map in a variety of formats, for example in CSV format for use with Excel spreadsheets or statistical software like R, KML format for use with Google Maps and Google Earth, and several others. Armed with the relevant data files you can create your own maps and do your own analysis, including combining the Howard County data with data from other sources like U.S. Census data.

All in all the site—which is still evolving—is a model for how Howard County government can make useful data available to the Howard County individual and corporate taxpayers who are ultimately paying for county services. It would be great to see this strategy extended to HoCoStat as well. For example, when promoting the HoCoStat proposal Allan Kittleman pointed to (among others) Montgomery County’s CountyStat site as a model to emulate. While CountyStat is very nice, it has the disadvantage that you can’t see the raw data behind the performance indicators.

For example, CountyStat has some summary statistics relating to issuance of building permits: average number of days to issue a residential permit, commercial permits for new construction, or other commercial permits. But there’s a lot more one might want to know: For example, what’s the variability in the time to issue permits? Are there some permits that for whatever reason took a really long time to issue? How does the time to issue permits vary across the county? Are there particular areas that (for whatever reason) are experiencing greater or lesser delays in getting permits issued? Having the raw data behind the indicators would permit (no pun intended) interested parties to answer these questions, from commercial developers doing large-scale projects down to a small contractor building a single home.

As I wrote in my previous post on Howard County government data initiatives, providing unfettered access to raw data (subject to reasonable concerns relating to individual privacy and corporate confidentiality) is key to making government data useful: It allows the private and civic sectors to exercise their own creativity in using that data, rather than trying to have government anticipate every possible use for it, and also lets the private and civic sectors hold government accountable by enabling them to do their own independent analyses of government data. It’s great to see what Howard County government (and the GIS Division in particular) has been and is doing to make useful data generally available. I hope that as the Kittleman administration gets down to work and the HoCoStat program is implemented that that spirit of openness and commitment to serve citizens through government data continues.

The year of blogging sporadically

tl;dr: Don’t expect many blog posts from me in 2015. Those I do post will be on micro-local issues like Merriweather Park, with a smattering of other stuff of interest mainly to me.

Most everybody else on the HoCo blogging scene has done an “end of 2014/beginning of 2015” post, and I’ll be no different. The automatically-generated report on my 2014 blogging is not that informative, so here’s my personal take on what I did in 2014, blogging-related or otherwise, and what I hope to do in 2015:

Last year I didn’t quite manage a post per week, but even that was over-stated since several months went by with only one or two posts, or even none at all. In 2015 job and (especially) family responsibilities will take up the vast majority of my time, and what spare time I have I’ll likely spend on learning statistics and “data science” via the Johns Hopkins University offerings on Coursera. I have a very small core of readers (perhaps a few dozen at most), and I’m afraid you’ll be lucky to get a post a month from me this year. But enough apologies, here are some things I found interesting or noteworthy in 2014, and hope to blog about in 2015:

Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, and downtown Columbia development in general. It seems like I’ve been writing about the Inner Arbor plan for a long long time, but my first post on it was only a little more than a year ago. Needless to say I was very happy that the Howard County Planning Board approved the site development plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, and if I possibly can I’ll continue posting about its progress in 2015, including a look at the construction of the Chrysalis amphitheater and a discussion of some of the other park features I haven’t written much about. I also hope to continue writing about the renovation and other changes at Merriweather Post Pavilion and about the Crescent development.

Politics, local and otherwise. One of the interesting things in my 2014 blog traffic report is that my 2010 post on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee candidates is still one of the most popular things on the site; apparently there’s a significant demand for more information about these elections from people who are committed partisans but not tied tightly enough into the local party structures to know who’s who. Maybe when the next Central Committee elections come around I’ll think about trying to satisfy that demand.

As for my non-blogging political activities, although his candidacy was ultimately unsuccessful I have no regrets at all about supporting Tom Coale’s run for state delegate using both my blog posts and (much more importantly) my checkbook. Now that financing national elections is primarily the province of billionaires I’ve decided to focus my future political contributions almost solely on local and (to a lesser extent) state races. And fortunately it appears that in future Howard County will continue to have a lot of great candidates to donate to.

In non-local politics, over the years I’ve posted a fair amount on libertarianism and libertarian ideas. This is not because I myself am a libertarian, but rather because I consider libertarianism the 21st century equivalent of socialism: an ideology that appeals to intellectuals and populists alike, that (in my opinion) would be unworkable if taken as a whole, but at the same time has some interesting and potentially useful policy ideas considered in isolation. I have more thoughts on this, and if I have time I’ll put (virtual) pen to paper.

Stuff to watch or read. I’ve done a few posts in the past about anime (i.e., Japanese animated films and TV shows), television shows worth watching, as well as people whose blogs or other writings are worth reading. I hope to do a few more of those from time to time in 2015.

That’s it for now. Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope to be writing to you again soon.

TV worth watching: Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files

Bookshop proprietor Shioriko Shinokawa (Ayame Goriki) and her partners in deduction Hijime Shida (Katsumi Takahashi) and Daisuke Goura (Akira).

Bookshop proprietor Shioriko Shinokawa (Ayame Goriki) and her partners in deduction Hajime Shida (Katsumi Takahashi) and Daisuke Goura (Akira). Image © 2013 Fuji Television Network.

tl;dr: Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files is TV comfort food for the holidays, a cozy Japanese mystery series with a bookish heroine.

I’m still watching a fair amount of anime, but recently decided to use my Crunchyroll subscription to check out a Japanese dramatic series instead. Four days and eleven episodes later I’ve just finished up the first and only (thus far) season of Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files (ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖, Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou), a series featuring a demure young proprietor of a used bookstore who uses her encyclopedic knowledge of books and book selling to solve a variety of (mostly) minor domestic mysteries. It’s relatively slight but entertaining, the perfect thing to watch over the holidays when you want to relax and enjoy something that won’t spoil your digestion.

Like many mysteries Biblia re-uses the template established by Arthur Conan Doyle. Here Shioriko Shinokawa (Ayame Goriki) is a book-loving twenty-something Japanese female version of Sherlock Holmes, basing her deductions not on people’s appearances but on the books they read. Her John Watson is the somewhat older Daisuke Goura (former boy-band member Akira), whom she meets in the first episode and subsequently employs to help around the shop, despite the fact that some sort of mental condition prevents him from actually reading books. Together with old family friend Hajime Shida (Katsumi Takahashi) he assists Shinokawa in solving various “cases”, each centered around a specific book. There’s even a Moriarty equivalent, and quite a good one too—like the original a warped mirror of the protagonist.

Based on a popular series of “light novels” (roughly equivalent to what in the U.S. we’d call young adult fiction), Biblia doesn’t really call for deep analysis, so I’ll just list some things I like about the series:

  • The premise is interesting if you like books and are even casually interested in book collecting and book selling. As in many other mysteries centered around unconventional detectives, the attraction of the mystery itself is matched (and often surpassed) by the interest in learning about specialist topics.
  • The main couple, Shinokawa and Goura, are appealing characters and there’s good chemistry between the actors. There’s a romantic subtext to their relationship, but it’s very subdued—it makes a Jane Austen novel look like a bodice-ripper in comparison. This restraint can be frustrating but makes those moments when some emotions do break through the reticence much more affecting.
  • Unlike just about half or more of anime these days, it features actual adults who do actual adult things. It even has an appealing cross-generational friendship between Shida and a high-schooler to whom he lends books and provides life advice.
  • Unlike many mysteries not involving actual police or private detectives as the main protagonist, the series doesn’t strain credulity by having the main character exercise her deductive powers on murders or other serious crimes. Except for one episode involving a crazed book collector there is no violence or even threat of violence. The worst thing that might happen is that unpleasant family secrets get exposed.
  • The show dispenses with the hoary convention that intelligence in women has to be signaled by their wearing glasses. Instead Shinokawa’s introversion and bookishness is displayed by her wardrobe of modest but fashionable ensembles featuring long dresses and various stylish shawls.

Now for some minor things I found annoying or that otherwise might put people off watching the show:

  • Some of the mysteries don’t play by the rules of making all clues available to the audience, but rely on private knowledge only Shinokawa has.
  • Goura’s “book phobia” is a bit contrived. There’s an in-universe explanation for it, but it seems implausible. I think it would have much more realistic and effective if he just had some sort of reading disorder.
  • The character of Akio Fujinami, the prissy proprietor of a dessert cafe frequented by the main characters, often crosses over into caricature.
  • The show features a strange techno-flavored soundtrack that seems out of sync with the nature of the material.
  • Sometimes the cinematography is a bit corny, particular in doing repeated shots of the protagonist reacting to some new clue.
  • Finally, because the show is about books there are sometimes a lot of subtitles on the screen translating book titles, passages, and so on, forcing you to pause the show in order to read everything.

Overall though I’d definitely recommend the show, especially to people who are fans of the PBS “Mystery” collection of British shows, and who don’t mind reading subtitles. The show is available on the Crunchyroll streaming service. If anyone out there would like to try out an episode in high-definition and without ads just leave a comment and I’ll send you a guest pass good for 48 hours of premium service.