Friday, February 25, 2005

Blogging here and there. . .


I'm delighted to be blogging here, too. So, if I'm not here, look for me there.



Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Presidents' Day Trip to See the Balden Eagles

We went to see the bald eagles yesterday -- or the balden eagles as our 4-year old who inspired the trip calls them. (Note: don't underestimate the educational value of hanging a dimestore birdfeeder in whatever you call your back yard. Little more than sparrows, cardinals and a few pigeons have shown up so far, but it got him looking through bird books until he decided the balden eagles were the ones to see.)

We piled into the family's new Honda Accord Hybrid and drove the 100 miles down to Starved Rock State Park. (Note about the Hybrid: once you've had the experience of stopping in traffic without the sensation of idling, you'll have a hard time going back to a non-hybrid again. They're so quiet. Who cares if they don't get all the predicted mileage? They're a joy over the noisier fume-belching SUV alternative . . . that we also own.)

Around last November, the bald eagles began showing up on the banks of the Illinois River for the season and the last ones will remain until about early March. Their three-and-a-half foot frames were so easy to spot perched in the bare trees that they may as well have been brown labradors. By the end of our trip (which included a "trolley" tour), we had seen nearly a dozen bald eagles -- several of them soaring overhead. They were magnificent.

In the last forty years, bald eagles have made a genuine comeback, moving from an endangered to threatened species, and since 1999, the federal government has been thinking of taking them off the lists. One Starved Rock official said they had seen as many as 60 eagles earlier this year and more than 100 last year.

The downside of the park is that it overlooks a dam and a lock. A lot of barge traffic, some of it marked flammable, passes right in front of one of the observation areas, but the eagles like the dam because it traumatizes the chad (fish) as they pass through it, making them easy prey. Untouched wilderness this state park is not.

From a lot of the park, you can see the locks and dam, a few farm silos, and some industrial sites, and along the trolley route to the observation area, we saw garbage lying all over the roadside. Meanwhile, the Starved Rock Lodge broadcasted music (Dreamweavers, Bob Seger) through loudspeakers mounted outside. Our experience ended up being more about the eagles' interaction with our built environment than a city escape to see a natural wonder.

The upsides are that the Illinois Audobon Society saved an important eagle roost, Plum Island, from developers, and that, um, we have state parks.

Yet, clearly, those of us who care about conservation and nature have a lot of work to do. The cliches are true that bulldozers are eating up our land and that we have to remain vigilant against some sorts of "progress." (I know, I know, it's on our list to get rid of the SUV. This is an awakening conscious at work here, not a perfect one.)

I asked my son this morning while I was buttering his toast what he thought about our trip to see the eagles.

"I'd like to go back."

"Oh, but most of them will be leaving soon and won't be back until next winter, a year from now." I said.

"That's okay," he said while focusing yesterday's binoculars on his cereal. "I can wait."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Text of Blagojevich 2006 Illinois Budget Speech

He's been governor for two years, and I still have to look up how to spell his name right. Why don't we just start using Bluhgoyavitch and hope he doesn't notice.

Here's the text of the budget address given on February 16.

Eric Zorn on Lerner Community Newspapers

Really nice Eric Zorn piece this week on the slow, steady disappearance of Lerner-run community newspapers. I appreciate how in touch Zorn is with the nuances of community life and the importance of noting a passing such as this.
The Lerner people took community journalism just as seriously as those at the major papers take big-city journalism," said Greg Hinz, political editor of Crain's Chicago Business who was a political editor and columnist at Lerner earlier in his career. "Leo supposedly used to say that if someone dropped a nuclear bomb on the Loop, his lead sentence the next day would be, `Five windows broke at the corner of Lincoln, Belmont and Ashland yesterday when. .. .'"

I don't think the desire to read such deep local coverage will ever fade. After all, people are interested in what happens in their own backyards. I know that's why I got blogging about this stuff - to stop and smell the sidewalks.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Closer Look at Illinois' 2005 National Endowment for the Arts Grant Recipients

I was reviewing this list of Illinois organizations who will receive grants this year from the NEA, and a couple of things struck me.

First, there are 37 grants for just over $1 million. Given our government's immense wealth, that's a paltry sum for one of the nation's premiere cultural hubs. Like you, I've always heard about how our government goes cheap on the arts, but until I sat down and reviewed this list, I didn't understand how cheap.

Secondly, the NEA identified a lot of deserving organizations. Some of my favorites include: Experimental Sound Studio, Redmoon Theater, Tia Chucha Press and Dalkey Archive Press. That being said, the ethnic diversity represented here seems minimal despite the many cultural ideas and creativity bursting from our city (and state).

As a side note, the Illinois Arts Council grants money to both individual artists and organizations. The 2005 individual winners have been announced. I'm still trying to track down the 2005 organizations who will receive grants. If and when I succeed in finding out, I'll be sure to share it here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Then & Now: 1302 W. Belmont

February 1911. Exterior view of the W. R. Wieboldt store in Lakeview. (From the Chicago Daily News photo archive. Available at American Memory in cooperation with the Chicago Historical Society.)

Below, the same spot 94 years later.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Sun-Times' Washington blames Tillman for Slow Development in 3rd Ward

In today's Chicago Sun-Times, Laura Washington lays the blame for the lack of development along 47th street at Alderman Dorothy Tillman's feet:
Tillman, the longtime alderman and committeeman of the 3rd Ward, is the political boss of 47th Street. And a black history icon. . . . 47th Street runs through the heart of Tillman's ward. More than two decades ago, she inherited a shell of a neighborhood blighted by urban renewal, poverty and crime. And while there are some signs of progress, there are also signs of shame. . . .

Over the years, Tillman has put aldermanic holds on dozens of properties. Many of the vacant lots in her ward lay fallow today because she has chosen to hold up the city-owned land for the proper time. Her cast-iron grip on that land has crippled development that might have blossomed into jobs and hope long ago. . . .

Ironically, her most passionate crusade is rooted in the msot excruciating era of black history. Tillman has led a national effort to force the kings of commerce who profited from trading slaves to make reparations to their ancestors. . . .But history, especially the African-American kind, deserves as much passion from black leaders who get stuff done for those in need in the here and now.

Whether you roll or you stroll, today's 47th Street ain't the way it's supposed to be.

Chicago Wilderness Conference Set for Saturday, Feb. 26

Sign up now for Wild Things, the Chicago Wilderness Conference, to be held at Northeastern Illinois University from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m.

The conference "brings together the region's best experts, most dedicated volunteers, and anyone interested in nature." Might that be you?

The conference will feature 15 different informational tracks:
  • General Conservation
  • Restoration, Natural Resource Management
  • Ecology
  • Flora/Span
  • Fauna -- Birds
  • Fauna -- General
  • Backyards & Neighborhoods
  • Public Education & Communication
  • Arts & Culture
  • Advocacy & Constituency Building
  • Youth Education & Outreach
  • Building the Conservation Community
  • General Conservation
  • Bonus Topics
  • Case Studies

It's sponsored by Chicago Wilderness, an area coalition of nature organizations. Registration fees are $25 before 2/21, $30 after, and $10 for students. Lunch is $10 and parking is $2 before 2/21 and $5 after. See you there.

Fate of Senn High School in Edgewater Continues to Stir Debate

At a meeting last week in Edgewater, tensions mounted over the fate of Senn High School. The alderwoman, Mary Ann Smith, and a School Board Task Force want to hand chunks of the school over to the Navy for recruitment and training. Not so fast says the community. (Story from the Chicago Independent Media Center.)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Happy Birthday Weekend, Abe Lincoln!

Haiku for Abraham Lincoln

since 1909 in that

tiny penny chair?

Or is the D.C.
memorial marble one
worse? Bet your back hurts.

Imagining Lincoln

I think one of the things that I find so remarkable about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is that whenever I read it, the goofy caricature images of him fade, and I begin, in my mind’s eye, to see a real man.

Here it is. Maybe you'll agree:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal"

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow, this ground-- The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
That’s just smoking prose. The cadence is so distinct. The words so thoughtfully strung together. It sounds as if he's right here visiting my blog.

If you’ve ever put finger to keyboard (or quill to parchment), you know that creating this kind of eloquence can be as elusive as attaining inner peace.

In his book Style: Toward Grace and Clarity, University of Chicago Emeritus Professor Joseph M. Williams writes about what makes Lincoln’s words so powerful:

Lincoln assigned responsibility to his audience. By consistently topicalizing we to make himself and his audience the agents of the crucial actions, Lincoln made them one with the founding fathers and with the men who fought and died at Gettysburg. By so doing, he tacitly invited his listeners to join their dead fore-fathers and their dead countrymen in making the great sacrifices the living had still to make to preserve the Union.
Williams suggests that had Lincoln shifted the agency away from the people (i.e., the continent witnesses, a great civil war tests, the war creates), he would have "relieved his audience of their responsibility to act, and would thereby have deprived us of one of the great documents in our history."

Williams reminds us that Lincoln’s prose is every bit as rhetorically (and politically) relevant today as it was in November of 1863. No wonder we can picture Abe so well.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Short but Sweet

From: "sandrews"
Subject: Re: Request for info from
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005 18:58:46 -0400

Tootsie Rolls, Frooties, Fruit Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Dots and Fluffy
Stuff Cotton Candy.

On Mon, 7 Feb 2005 23:03:25 -0500, ThePlaceWhereWeLive wrote
> Name................... Jennifer
> Title..................
> Organization...........
> Address................
> City................... Chicago
> State.................. IL
> Zip.................... 60614
> Phone..................
> Fax....................
> Email..................
> Questions/Comments..... Hi,Can you please tell me which candies are
manufactured in Illinois. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Buildings the Size of my Thumb

In yesterday's Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin reported on the new American architecture postage stamps due out this year. The 12 featured buildings are:

I'm glad Kamin pointed out the east-coast bias of the choices, and I share his disappointment that Chicago got only two stamps. But, like Kamin, I agree that the series is, generally, all good.

I have one small quibble with Kamin's disappointment about the inclusion of Venturi's mother's house. I can't argue for its importance, but I was pleased to see something of this small scale (1800 square feet) included next to Johnson's glass house and among the giants.

The public face of "Architecture" sometimes overwhelms. I frequently find it easier, as an armchair critic, to engage with smaller works in order to realize ideas about larger ones. If one benefit of the stamps is to increase the public's appreciation of architecture, then including a small second work was worthwhile -- even if a better choice could be found.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Buzznet Chicago

Check out Funpants' gallery of Chicago images at Buzznet. Here's one of his latest:

I also like Buzznet's category entitled Dwell. It has cool photos like this of where people dwell:

Caution: Falling Facades

Last week the Chicago Journal (why doesn't every neighborhood have a newspaper this good?) reported on a loophole in the historic preservation ordinance that allows developers to hack away at the facades of old buildings.

"With the facades, we really get no warning," said (Preservation Chicago Vice President Michael) Moran, who's pushing for more protection for the front sides of historic buildings. "One day they're there and the next day they're gone. No neighborhood review process, no zoning change applied for, no hearing, no nothing. And it's happening all over the city. . .

The 90-day reprieve allows city landmarks officials to decide whether to pursue last-minute hearings to save the building. But an old edifice with a new facade won't stand a chance, Moran said. And as long as they don't raze it altogether, property owners can strip an orange-rated building of its facade with no special permission.

"Whenever somebody says, 'This building has lost its historic architectural integrity' -- one of the criteria for landmarking -- that means that the facade has been changed," Moran said. "Developers know this . . . "

I'm sorry to see vintage facades ripped off and replaced. The loss diminishes the visual interest of a neighborhood and erases its links to the past.

Moran believes part of the problem is also that people don't have time to care about their neighborhood's facades.

"Altered facades are part of the drip-drip-drip of uglification," Moran said. "It's like, 'Yeah, they did that, but I'm busy with my life.' Facades don't spur people to action the way traffic problems do. It's a disease that doesn't quite stimulate the immune system and so it festers."
I believe what Moran says, but I also think that if the preservationists framed their arguments differently, they might see people getting out of their armchairs to help. Who are "the developers"? It seems when preservationists discuss developers, they always refer to them as an indistinguishable group.
Who are the most indifferent developers? Who are the ones building thoughtfully in our communities? The lack of specificity of offenders, at least in this article, undermines their argument. They can't all be bad. Or can they?

Imagine if the preservationists named the ten most egregious developers, revealed their profit margins, and published photographs of their giant Lake Forest houses. They would draw out the tensions between developer and neighbor more specifically, and they might discover that people would indeed be spurred into action.

At the very least, the developer stigmas could stick and they might be pressured to change rather than lose prospective buyers. Then preservationists could focus their meager resources on fighting the biggest offenders and promoting the most conscientious. They may even save some more facades along the way.

One side note: I have yet to read George Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values, Frame the Debate. So, my reference here to frames is uninformed by his arguments on the subject.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Out with Orange, In with Dots

Roll out the template, and let's have a template of fun.

In case you didn't know, according to the February 6 Chicago Tribune, polka dots are in. The Trib quotes "trend guru" Michelle Lamb, publisher of The Trend Curve newsletter, who stated, "As consumers look for some sort of whimsy to use for stress relief and to balance the increasingly serious world outside, dots fill the bill without going over the top.'"

She did not discuss the status of orange. .

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Found Money

The State of Illinois owes money to 113,000 people. Problem is, they can't find them. Uncashed paychecks. Forgotten bank accounts. Abandoned safe deposit boxes. Are you on the list?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Copyrighting of Public Spaces

This discussion at New (Sub)Urbanist and in the print version of the Chicago Reader is an important one. I'd like to agree with the comment that the commercial photography prohibition in Millennium Park won't last, but I'm not so sure.

I think a related issue is the diminishing numbers of public and commercially-owned places that refuse to allow flyers to be posted on their premises. Got a rock band? A fundraising event? The number of public and public-like spaces where you can distribute your information is limited.

Libraries have bulletin boards for this information, but their size and location vary among branches. Many shopping malls don't allow leaflets from the public. Starbucks prohibits any materials from being left in its stores. Barnes & Noble used to allow flyers in their lobbies, but no longer. Same with Borders.

Last year, I tried to post flyers for a non-profit event at a Starbucks. I was told "no." I wanted to drop off copies of an independent newspaper at Borders. They said "no." Both times, the employees felt really bad about turning me away. Their common sense and presence in the community told them this was no biggie. But, corporate
policy overrode them. Would corporations benefit if they began thinking of customers as their stores' neighbors rather than as consumers?

I understand that the Millennium Park issue is a true tax-supported public space and not a commercially-owned space like I'm (mainly) complaining about. For this, I think the copyright issue is especially egregious. But, more and more often, commercial spaces function like public spaces. And, by looking at the flyer issue we can see in a subtle way how locally-owned coffee shops and bookstores function differently in our neighborhoods.

Because I don't have any independent bookstores or coffee shops in my neighborhood, I ended up posting my flyer and distributing my newspaper at my local YMCA (a non-profit organization.) They have a giant bulletin board in the women's locker room for flyers, and they provide a space for independent newspapers. Could their attitude have anything to do with their mission statement: "We build strong kids, strong families, strong communities"?

From the File Marked "Unfortunate Buildings"

This building on Division, just east of Milwaukee, is a) ugly and b) completely inappropriate in scale given the smaller buildings surrounding it. They've begun repairing the concrete and painting the east side of it, but it's not helping much. The two good things are 1) the people living in the building's south side will get a lot of sun and 2) it took me a while to notice it. Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I am so sorry for the technical wackiness of the previous post(s). Either I am much thicker than I thought or the free Hello program that comes with free Blogger really sucks. I'm in search of a better solution.

"Tundra" Around the Corner

"Tundra," View 1 Posted by Hello

This sculpture is titled “Tundra.” It sits on the northeast corner of North Avenue and Orchard Street. I drive by it every day. At first I thought it looked like a giant, ugly iron with a rusty tail fin. Eventually, I sort of began to appreciate the contrast between its seeming aerodynamics and its sense of great weight. Then, one day I was walking my dog and I saw it from this angle:

"Tundra," View 2 Posted by Hello

From here, it felt like the iron could flatten me at any moment, but I didn’t care so much because I was having fun enjoying its sharkness.

The piece, by Pat McDonald, was a winner in the 3rd annual Lincoln Park Sculpture Competition. Launched by my alderman Vi Daley and the Lincoln Park Community Art Initiative, the competition selects ten artists every year to display their work in our neighborhood.

Even if the sculptures aren’t always successful, they beat back the monotony, surprise the eye, and engage us in new ways as we mush along sidewalks or brake through traffic. Plus, just when we might be getting tired of them, ten new ones show up. Our next round of public art is expected in May.

"Tundra," View 3 Posted by Hello

Side note: I used to think the giant orange rectangle on the fin was a lost dog flyer that someone hastily posted on the sculpture. But, upon closer inspection, it’s the artist’s name and title of work plaque! From afar, it looks like mild vandalism. It immediately draws the eye and distracts fromthe piece. What was the art committee thinking by pasting it to the middle of the sculpture?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Sidewalk Talk

Sometimes listening to Gretchen Helfrich's Odyssey makes my eyes glaze over, but yesterday she aired a particularly interesting conversation about the The State of Architecture in America. Her guests were Sarah Goldhagen of Harvard's Design School and Joan Ockman of Columbia University. They suggested that only 5% of our environment was built using an architect. If true, that explains a lot. . . Also, check out Discursive Recursions for a nice discussion about the tensions between zoning regulations and human rights ordinances in Urbana.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

CPL Fires up Free Hot Spots

If you've ever stopped by a Starbucks on a Wednesday night, you know the desire for alternative places to think and work percolates within us. The Chicago Public Library expanded those significantly (albeit without the java), when, late last year, it began offering free wireless access at all 79 branches.

Free wireless access might seem to you like a modest city improvement, but it matters. As you can tell from the folks hanging out at your local Starbucks, we need more places not fewer where we can fill our minds or empty them out. Libraries have long been the traditional spaces to do that, and now they're ramped up and ready to go for the 21st Century. The funny thing is we'll probably end up checking out more books.