Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Help Protect 700 Acres of Open Space in Northeast Illinois

[This post has been copied verbatim from Chicago Wilderness.]

Contact Governor Rod Blagojevich to express your support of the transfer of 700 acres of land currently owned by the Illinois Department of Corrections to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The transfer will allow IDNR to issue long-term leases for the property to the Forest Preserve District of Will County and the Lockport Township Park District.

This is an extremely important project for all of northeastern Illinois, as it has the potential to add 700 acres to land currently owned by the Forest Preserve District and Park District, to create nearly 1,000 acres of open space. This may be the last chance to accomplish such a feat in this highly urbanized area.

Historical records indicate the land was originally prairie. If preserved, restoration of the land would provide habitat for rare species of grassland birds that require large tracts of land to thrive. The land would also provide opportunities for other rare species, such as the state listed Spotted and Blanding's turtles, to expand their territory from nearby locations. In addition to its important plant and wildlife habitat potential, the land would greatly enhance outdoor recreation opportunities.

You can contact the Governor by sending a letter of support to The Honorable Rod Blagojevich, 207 State House, Springfield, IL 62707 or E-mail him at Governor Blagojevich.

UPDATE: I keep postcard stamps and old postcards near my desk for stuff like this. They ensure that acting on my beliefs won't suck up all my time like a blank 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper or an open e-mail would.

So, I wrote: Dear Gov. Blagojevich, Please transfer the 700 acres of land owned by the IL Dep't of Corrections in Will County to the IDNR. My family (politicians love family stuff, right?) values all the state's natural resources, but we believe they're too limited. Please support this logical and rare opportunity. Thank you. Jennifer Roche.

Then, I put a return address label on the upper left hand-corner so the Gov can see I'm an Illinoisan (but he does miss out on the postcard explanation, which in this case was about Amelia Bloomer). Here's the Post Office's website where it is super easy to order postcard (and other) stamps, too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Lincoln Park Public Art Coming Down May 15

Time's running out to appreciate (or not) the public art that has lived in our community for the last year. New works are scheduled to arrive at the end of this month. I want to get a final look at all the works before they go. (See previous posts here.)

Below is Margaret McMahon's sculpture entitled "Forms of Nature." The promotional material says it is made of "fondu concrete."

I appreciated this piece more and more every time I drove by. (And, that's mainly how you view it. It's located at the busy corners of Stockton and Fullerton.) The piece quietly insists that you stop overlooking the figures as you might real people whom you pass by everyday. They appear to be two people in need, but are they? The seated woman suggests a ghostly, indigent woman. The standing man seems haunted but possibly well-off. Both suggest they're a bit lost in isolation, regardless of their status.

I couldn't capture it in this photo, but the piece is situated right before a bus stop. So, everyday loads of people pass by. I'd like to think the sculpture's presence reminds them to remember others or helps them feel less isolated, too. I also like that "Forms of Nature" has a suggestion of a traditional or formal design to it, which reverberates nicely with some of the older man-on-horse statues around the park.

Here is Michael Brown's "Differentiation." (It's limestone.)

I think the title saves it. It gives me something to explore in the piece. I might have walked on by otherwise.

And, poor Plamen Yordanov. His bronze piece, "Double Mobius Strip," didn't last through the year. It's got a giant dent in it. Not sure if that's an accident or vandalism, but, it kind of ruins the piece.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Most Controversial Words in Our Nation

Iraq War? Abortion? Gay People? Nope.

Stop buying so much stuff.

This is the truth underlying every conservation and environmental message out there. (Not to mention, every inner peace and simplify-your-life t.v. show and magazine article.) But, few politicians, media personalities or even environmental organizations have the courage to say it.

For instance, here's the abbreviated text from an "educational bookmark" that the State of Illinois distributed at the HomeExpo conference to promote reduced waste.

10 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Use!

1. Avoid disposables like the plague.

2. A sheet of paper has two sides!

3. If you get too much junk mail, write here.

4. Share! Trade books, magazines, and newspapers with friends. (Note the reference is only to printed material.)

5. Rent! If you only need something occasionally, rent it. (That's pretty close to saying, don't buy stuff you don't need, but very beat-around-the-bushy if you ask me.)

6. Donate! Charities are always looking for your unwanted, but still usable items such as clothes, eyeglasses, furniture and other household items. (As if this waste stream is endless and there's no need to cut down on buying more stuff because charities need more stuff when you're done with it.)

7. Buy in bulk. (Explicit permission-to-buy statement.)

8. Pack a waste-free lunch.

9. Bring your own bag to the grocery store.

10. Let those grass clippings lie.

Why isn't the first item "Buy less stuff?"

Fortunately, someone other than an obscure blogger like me is worrying about this. The Center for the New American Dream is an organization that's trying to say loudly and clearly to stop buying so much stuff. They've got a bunch of cool initiatives and good slogans like "Get more of what matters." Go visit their site. Then, clear out your home and see if you can keep from filling it back up again. It's damn near impossible.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Chicago HomeExpo a Big Bust, but Here's Some Cool Stuff from it Anyway

Someone once told me that only an idiot could lose money running a casino. Seems the same principle might have been at work during this weekend's Home Expo at McCormick Place.

Apparently, managment promised thousands of attendees, and given their target audience --homeowners and soon to be homeowners -- you'd think that they could have stumbled a couple thousand through the doors via popcorn smell alone.

But, word on the floor by Sunday from really annoyed exhibitors was that only 100 attendees showed Friday followed by 600 on Saturday. Things didn't appear to be picking up yesterday, either. By 12:30, we were the twelfth car in the lot.

Doom and gloom did not stop the Friskie's Cat Food people. They had this massive Friskie's cat display replete with Roman-cat-like columns and a bevy of chipper, trained announcers. Their purpose? To teach the masses to train their cats to jump through hoops. Literally.

The Friskie's people must have been the maddest of all because they clearly spent a fortune in time, personnel and cat treats being there.

When I wasn't marveling at the cat spectacle, lying on the $5900 spa bed that massaged my body with hidden water jets, or giggling over Mr. ThePlaceWhereWeLive's $5 trial ride on a Segway, I enjoyed learning a bit about the folks who gutted it out at "green" end of the room. Here are a few:

--Aerotecture Bill Becker, a U of I-Chicago professor, engineers wind propellers for the city landscape. They're made particularly for gusty, irregular winds. Check out the video on his site.

--Trestlewood reclaims wood from all types of sources, most notably old train trestles, and then makes them available for new building projects.

--The folks who promote safe coatings in lieu of polyurethane, paints, etc. Finally, I have a starting point for tracking this stuff down during my next home improvement project.

--Flow Forms America had cool garden fountains.

--And of course, all the good guys were there: Illinois Solar Association, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and the place where I did much of my holiday shopping last year, The Enterprising Kitchen.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Earth Day Late

Okay, so for all my greenish blogging, I really thought yesterday, Saturday, was Earth Day. Now, it turns out it was Friday. Hmmm. Just goes to show you how one day of greenery ain't gonna cut it.

Anyway, here's a site to raise your awareness and get you thinking.

Trackback: From Bill Baar's West Side

Bill Baar picks up the thread on an earlier post of mine and shares some insight into birds and buildings.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Limiting Banks through Zoning in Lincoln Park

The Sheffield Neighborhood Association recently reported on a zoning amendment passed by the Chicago City Council and introduced by alderman Vi Daley.

Essentially, the ordinance creates a subcategory of the new "pedestrian street" designation in the recently reformed zoning code for purposes of this ordinance only: pedestrian retail streets. A bank, savings bank, savings & loan association or credit union is permitted on lots abutting these streets within 600 feet of another only if reviewed and approved as a "special use," which requires a public hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

More on page 8 of the above reference report. Fewer banks? Hmmmmmmm. What's the catch?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lincoln Park the Second

Great post over at Chicagoist (with a heads up from Tankboy) regarding the "selling out" of Bucktown and Wicker Park. Sam Bakken's opening paragraph rocks. Simply great writing.

Hey, it's a showbiz post!

Oak Park husband-and-wife team (and my cousins by marriage) Eric Anderson and Amelia Dellos recently e-mailed to say shooting for their documentary is underway.

Frustrated by the divisive tenor of last year's election, Anderson and Dellos immediately began pulling together their vision of a film that would interview citizens from one "blue" state (Illinois), one "red" (Kansas), and one "white" (Iowa). They intend to interview voters from across the political spectrum, and they hope the film will increase understanding among the many camps.

Their first interviewee was Dr. Lee Barker of Meadville Lombard, a liberal theological school on the city's south side. (See photos from this shoot here.)

Eric is an optioned and award-winning screenwriter and Amelia (aka Amy) is a writer and marketing professional. Peter Biagi will serve as Director of Photography. Mike Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies will help with the music. More info here.

Stay tuned. I think this one's going to be especially meaningful. (And, it couldn't be happening to nicer or cooler people. I hope they each break a leg.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Piano, Flying Carpets, and the Art Institute of Chicago

Since 1999, Italian architect Renzo Piano (see here and here) has been working on creating a north wing to the Art Institute of Chicago. Groundbreaking will take place on May 31 of this year with a projected completion date of 2009. The total projected construction budget is about $200 million.

Basically, they're adding a north wing to the part of the museum that lies east of the railroad tracks. The expansion is also intended to help facilitate the flow of traffic within the building and to improve access for people with disabilities. They're also planning to relate it to Millennium Park with a brand new main entrance on Monroe.

Here's Piano's description of the new wing, taken from his website:

The new building will be located in the north-east quadrant of the Art institute site, at the corner of Monroe St and Columbus Avenue. It will be be a light glass, steel and limestone walls structure, which will fit perfectly into the 19th century architectural identity of the existing buildings.

This 230,000 square feet total structure (three floors above ground and one floor underground) will provide 63,000 square feet gallery of modern and contemporary art galleries. It will also provide new public functions: large educational facilities, a museum shop and a café located at street level. Underground will take place storage and various handling areas.

The building will be organized along a top lit internal street which will connect visually and physically the Art Institute to the neighboring Lakefront Millennium Gardens and their 10'000 seat outdoor amphitheater. This top lit 300 feet long internal street will create a new major north/south axis of circulation in the Art Institute.

The existing east-west axis of circulation will be improved by the remodeling of Gunsaulus Hall. This 19th century steel structure will be unclad and partially glazed in order to reveal its historical identity and to allow dramatic views to the outside.The new building will be protected by a 216-foot wide, square luminous sun-shading structure, like an umbrella floating over the upper floor galleries. This umbrella (flying carpet) will also protect the new south garden in order to create an outdoor sculpture gallery.

Um, did he say "umbrella (flying carpet)"? I'll be damned if I can figure out what he's talking about. An umbrella idea I get but a flying carpet? Kick ass for him if he can pull it off.

One of the most disappointing missed architectural opportunities in this city was the Museum of Contemporary Art's uninspiring choice of building design, so I would love to see Piano pull off something this creative and thoughtful at the Art Institute. I also like how his vision seems to respect and build on the existing nineteenth century building. It speaks quietly with an imaginative, light-oriented response to the stateliness of the current structure. (It also definitely conjures thoughts of Pei's glass pyramid response to the Louvre.)

Anyway, here is the link for the photos of the new wing planned by Piano. He even includes close-ups of the "flying carpet," but they don't help me get it. Maybe you can figure it out. Either way, stay tuned. An exhibit of Piano's work opens on May 31 as well at the Art Institute.

--Art Institute Press Release from 2003 with background, overview

Monday, April 18, 2005

Housekeeping: Subtitle Change

Long-time listeners will note that I've changed the blog's tagline from "Money, Trees, Sidewalks, Glue" to "Building, Trees, Sidewalks, Glue." I had originally thought I would blog quite a bit about state and city budget issues, small-businesses, and other money decisions that affect the issues I care about (um, like building, trees, sidewalks, community), but it hasn't worked out that way. So, this fits better, I think. Also, I added a section for comments, so now all are welcome to join in.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

"Architecture Days" and "Preserve and Play"

Two architectural conferences breeze into town this May. One looks like a waste. The other looks like good fun, if you're into that sort of thing.

The first, Architecture Days, is a commercial effort sponsored by Architectural Digest magazine. It runs in Los Angeles from April 27 to May 3 and in Chicago from May 4 through the 10th. Then, it closes out in New York City from the 11th through the 17th. I guess they're hoping their wealthy readers will jet set from one city to another because, although I received a flyer inserted in my Sunday Trib, they can't seriously expect Chicagoans to attend.

The list of featured tours includes Millennium Park, Modern Loop Skyscrapers, and Greater North Michigan Avenue. In other words, tours that are available around the calendar from the Chicago Architectural Foundation or that you and I could do ourselves. And, they're charging double what CAF charges ($25 vs. $12 for non-members.) Except for the fact that Digest readers are loaded, it smells like a giant rip off to me. Hope they have a nice time and head to New York. We can't really be bothered with it.

The other conference sounds more compelling if not a little sleepy -- Preserve and Play: Preserving Historic Recreation and Entertainment Sites. It runs from May 5 - 7 at the Intercontinental Hotel, and features seminar titles like "Music Under the Stars: Restoring a Community Bandshell" and "History Sells: The Making of an Amusement Park into a National Landmark." If you're into this kind of nichey thing, a lot of the seminars look cool. Another highlight will be Witold Rybczynski's keynote address on Thursday, May 5. His book Home: A Short History of an Idea is among my favorites.

Unfortunately, the conference is way pricey -- beginning at $175 for students and $345 for professionals. I received the brochure in the mail just two days ago, but the cut off for a discounted rate ($290) was April 12. I don't see any options for a one-day passes, which is too bad. I don't think I'll be going. If you go, please take a moment and leave a comment about your experiences. Thanks.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Illinois Lawmaker Update from Illinois Environmental Council

I received this update of the activity in the Illinois capitol regarding environmental issues from the Illinois Environmental Council today. As a true outsider to Illinois political machinations, I'm glad to have this lay of the environmental land.

3rd Reading Deadlines Today

Today is the deadline for bills to pass out of their original chamber.
Both the House and Senate have taken votes on several bills this week to try to beat the deadline- and are still meeting as this update is being written.

So far this week there has been action on several key Illinois Environmental Council issues. As we reported last week, House Bill 2347, a bill to limit idling time of diesel vehicles, was called for a vote but then postponed when there were not enough votes in favor to pass the bill. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Nekritz, was called again for a vote on Tuesday and passed the House 65-50-1. The bill will move to the Senate with Sen. Schoenberg as the chief sponsor. A similar bill, HB 3685 sponsored by Rep. Winters, would require school districts to adopt a policy concerning school bus idling but did not receive enough votes to pass (56-60).
Yesterday the House Environmental Health Committee met and approved an amendment to HB 2572, legislation that would ban the use of toxic chemicals used for flame retardants (commonly known as PBDE’s). Today that bill passed the House 106-0-1. The Mercury Free Vehicles Act (HB 1628) was also assigned to the Environmental Health Committee but was held in that committee yesterday.

Another piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Nekritz passed the House today. HB 2390 would address the Illinois Supreme Court “Boub” decision by restoring some liability protection for bicyclists riding on roads.

The protection of isolated wetlands has been a long standing issue for the IEC. Two Senate bills to address the issue were introduced this year. SB 761 (Sen. Clayborne) is an industry friendly bill that would weaken existing county wetlands programs in northeastern Illinois. This legislation passed the Senate late last night 34-17. Sen. Link also introduced SB 1695 which is the Wetlands Protection Act supported by the IEC and other environmental groups- however, the Senate failed to act on this legislation. Watch the Illinois EnviroBulletin for ways you can help defeat SB 761 when it is considered by the House in the coming weeks.

In related news, an initiative to provide authority to counties wishing to develop their own stormwater management plan was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 41-8-1 (SB 1910). This bill moves on to the House where Rep. Holbrook will be the chief sponsor.

Chicago Public Art Group's Online Guide Debuts

Chicago Public Art Group recently unveiled its online guide to creating community art. Billed as "the most comprehensive manual for making public artworks through collaboration with community that has ever been produced," here are all the valuable things you can find in it:

—practical fundamentals for making technically sound murals, mosaics, sculptures, and spaces in collaborative settings.

—information on organizing collective design processes.

—analysis of the evolving aesthetic considerations in designing collaborative murals, mosaics, sculptures, and spaces.

—suggestions for incorporating public art making into the school curriculum.

—portfolios with project descriptions and images of over 100 significant community public art projects by Chicago artists.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Color of Streets

I love it when old bricks burst out from under the asphalt on the city's streets. It's kind of a peek into the past. This photo was taken south of North Ave and just east of Ashland. On a sunny day like yesterday, the red is so rich and beautiful. It made me realize that people used to see this color during the long winter days all the time rather than miles and miles of gray asphalt.

Think of how different it must have felt moving around the city on dreary winter days with a baked red road where ever you looked or drove. It's so obvious to me now that I can't believe I never noticed: part of our blah-blah winter landscape comes from our unimaginative paving materials!

Why can't we make the roads brick red, or better yet, forest green? And, what about all that concrete? Someone ought to be able to figure out how to come up with a better color. Or, maybe they could make chia pet-like curbs with grass growing out of them. The possibilities are endless. And better.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Museum of Nature/The Nature of the Museum

Through her letter to the editor of Inside Publications, Lincoln Park resident Ana Schedler Brennan brought to my attention the horrendous sign at the Notebaert Museum. Here's an excerpt:

The brashness of the bright, electrified, poorly conceived outdoor signs is an affront to all who value the limited natural park resource we desperately preserve at the lakefront. . . The Peggy Notebaert museum has, with lack of judgment and foresight, undermined its integrity by harshly overshadowing the very NATURE they exist to educate us about.

I drove by it one night a few weeks ago, and she is so right. It's ridiculous. But, it's also hard for an amateur like me to capture the problem in pixels. Here's a photo of it during the day(as my evening photo didn't take very well).

Why did they choose giant blue letters? I understand that blue is a nature color, but the museum is located in the park, not the water. At night, it shines like an illuminated Tidy Bowl.

Clearly this has been an institution in search of an identity for some time now. I think at one point in the last few years it displayed historical American documents -- like original copies of the Gettysburg Address not Audubon's sketches for The Birds of America.

Furthermore, the very name nature museum has always struck me as kind of creepy. Aren't museums for preserving stuff that would otherwise be permanently lost? Would it have hurt to have called it a center?

But, I went yesterday with three toddlers in tow (not all mine), and I think the place is beginning to gel. The butterfly room was stunning. Truly. It was probably my fourth visit in as many years, and the place was filled with them. I've never seen so many in my previous visits. Everywhere you looked, there was a butterfly with paintbrush-fresh colors floating along as if it was being bounced from a thread.

And, the tray of emerging chrysalises fascinated me. I studied it for a long time. The cocoons are hung in rows with straight pins and organized by species> You can see some that are empty because the butterfly has emerged and flown off, and others are in the process of emerging -- like halfway out in some instances. The chrysalises looked like tiny, conical seashells, but from each there were two faint, antenna-like things sticking out. They all seemed to have them, even the empty chrysalises. All of it very cool and wondrous. Plus, I didn't accidentally squish any of the butterflies on my way out like during my last visit.

The Museum is a descendent of the Academy of Sciences which was originally opened in 1865, and was most recently housed in the building where Armitage meets Clark. (It's now a zoo administration building.) This probably explains the wide assortment of old, taxidermied animals displayed throughout the place.

It's a hard juxtaposition to my mind -- the stuffed dead things amidst the celebration of the living -- and their use felt strained throughout the place, the worst being the giant polar bear standing on its hind legs in the entrance window. Somehow, it didn't work for me. Maybe if polar bears were indigenous to Lincoln Park, but I'm still not sure that would help. How educational can a stuffed bear really be? I guess it taught me that polar bears are extra tall when they stand on their hind legs and they seem to preserve well.

All that being said, I was pleased to see that the museum seems to be moving in a meaningful direction. We can only hope they'll come to their senses soon and get rid of the Big Blue Sign, less we begin to mistake Las Vegas for nature.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Chicago Goes Dark for a Few Million Feathered Friends

Chicago is part of what is known in orinthological circles as the Mississippi Flyway. Millions of birds pass through our city during the spring and fall migration seasons, but a lot of them get banged up or killed among our skyscrapers. The birds mainly fly at night and the building lights really confuse them.

Thanks to a woman named Robbie Hunsinger, and her organization the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, a lot of the downtown buildings are now turning out their lights after 11 p.m. to protect the birds. There's more to be done, though. If you live or work downtown, you may want to read further on CBCM's website to learn about simple ways you can help. There's also more in an article I wrote for April's Conscious Choice.