Sunday, July 31, 2005

Lt. Governor Quinn Circulating "Save the Eagles" Petition

Click here to sign a petition to protect two state fish and wildlife areas near Peoria from a proposed strip mine. The effort hopes to encourage more "nature tourism" rather than a "stripping of natural resources." More information about the Lt. Gov's initiative here.

Info via the IllinoisEnviro Bulletin from the Illinois Environmental Council. Click here to subscribe.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Fordham Spire -- for Millionaires and Mayors Only?

At some point in the future, the way that information gets disseminated about new skyline projects in our city needs to change.

If I understand it correctly, the Fordham Company called a press conference and unveiled its plans to the traditional media. Based on reports in the Tribune and Sun-Times, community organizations like Streeterville Organizations of Active Residents (SOAR), did not receive enough preliminary information to form a point of view on the project. And, it's being built in their back yard.

Fordham's website gives the public little additional information. As of this writing, they have taken down the link to learn more about the spire, perhaps because of intense traffic, but when I hit on it earlier, it asked for my name and address -- as if I were interested in purchasing one of the million-dollar units.

Best writing on spire here and here.
Solid follow-up piece by Blair Kamin at Trib here.More comments on spire press coverage by me here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

How many Chicago city workers does it take to paint a lamp post?

Around the last week of June, I walked out my front door and realized that the lamp post outside my home had been painted brown half way up. A few days later, the brown had been painted over with green.

One block over, on Larrabee, the lamp posts were painted brown on the bottom and green on the top like bad trompe l'oeil trees. I called my alderman's office and inquired what was going on. "It's primer," they said.

Then, the mini-lift truck showed up with a painter who did the top half.

As of this writing, the "arm" of the lamp that extends over my street has yet to be painted. I suppose they're awaiting an even bigger lift truck.

The Broken Heart of Morse Avenue

I've blogged elsewhere about how I think The Broken Heart of Rogers Park is the best blog in the community interest I've ever read. This guy takes on everyone and anyone in an effort to improve his run-down neighborhood on Chicago's far north side. Greedy developers. The ineffective alderman. Drug dealers in action. He's a blogging vigilante. And, one of the must-reads on my Favorites list.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Red, White & Blue Documentary Rolls On

Right after John Kerry lost the election last year, my e-mail was buzzing with anguish, frustration and dread. Frankly, we were trying to understand why half of our fellow Americans made such a damaging choice for our country.

One e-mail, in particular, stuck in my mind. I'm sure I received it within a week or two of the election. It was from my cousin (by marriage), Eric Anderson. He and his wife, Amy Dellos, shared in the dismay over the election, particularly its acrid polarization. They decided they wanted to explore it further through a documentary film. (I've blogged a bit about them before.)

From those early days of frustration, an amazing project has grown called Red, White & Blue: A Tale of Two Americas. They have about 18 interviews in the can, and more on the way. They've also started a blog, called "A Tale of Two Americans: Eric Anderson & Amelia Dellos Run Down a Dream."

Here's a sample post from the blog. It's an excerpt of what Eric e-mailed to one of his friends and financial backers:

That's the thing --- the one thing that really struck me about RWB is, in most documentaries, the "panel of experts" aren't very memorable. You remember the overall tone of the film, but if you were asked to pick the faces of the interviewees out of a lineup, you couldn't.

But for "Red, White & Blue"...these are people that audiences will remember and won't be able to stop talking about. Their honesty has been striking. The moments we had the opportunity to capture ranged from raw anger, to deep pathos, to over-the-top hilarity, and Amelia and I felt a great bond with everyone we spoke with. I find myself going over the weekend in my head again and again.

If the energy from the room translates to the screen --- and I think it will --- it bodes very, very well for the rest of the project.

Stay tuned.

Spotty Help over at Vi Daley's Office

So, I called my alderman, Vi Daley, this morning with two questions. (She's no relation to Mayor Daley.)

The first was about whether or not she was going to support the proposed new ordinance promoting a ban on smoking in restaurants and public places. (I believe this ordinance is long overdue in our green-some-of-the-time city.)

I identified myself by name and address and expressed my support. The man who answered the phone without giving his name said, "I don't know."

Well, do you know if she's planning on issuing a statement soon? "I don't know."

Does she have a timeline? "I don't know anything about that."

Okay, well, what about the doctor who was mentioned in the Trib the other day about wanting to save a tree on Burling. Do you have a contact number for him? "I don't know anything about that."

Hmm. Well, okay, thanks for all of your help. "Sure!" he chirped.

Aaarrggh! I'll bet you a dollar he will never mention my support to the alderman. Granted, this is not usually what my experience is like calling into Vi's office, but god, that kind of attitude from anyone, yet alone a public servant, is aggravating. Get off your ass and ask somebody! Go find out! Duh.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ogden Nash on "Constant Landmarks"

Maybe You Can't Take it With You, But Look What Happens When You Leave it Behind

As American towns and cities I wander through,
One landmark is constant everywhere I roam;
The house that the Banker built in nineteen-two,
Dim neon tells me is now a funeral home.

--1902-1971 (no date for poem given)

Wild Bird Rescue Center to be Built on Northerly Island

Looks like Chicago is going to get it's wild bird rehab facility, according to yesterday's Tribune.

The idea for a rehab center on Northerly Island started gaining momentum in 2003, shortly after Meigs Field was abruptly closed. The area falls along a migratory flyway used by more than 300 species of birds. One survey by the Field Museum suggests the annual death toll reaches into the thousands.

Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy and Grant Park Advisory Council, heard about the statistics and started talking with conservationists about how to save injured birds. In April 2004 he organized a symposium with architects, birders, scientists, biologists and members of the Chicago Ornithological Society to brainstorm. Then he started lobbying anyone in government who would listen.

Last winter officials at the Park District started listening.

"They said, `You're right, we could use this at Northerly Island,'" O'Neill recalled. "It's right on the flyway. It's perfect."

So far, district officials have promised to give wildlife specialists one or two of five small rooms that line a long hallway near the terminal entrance, said Jim Chronis, the district's chief operating officer.

The site is temporary until planners decide the layout of the preserve, but conservationists say they hope that once the center is functioning, it will be given space in the new design.

The two rooms would provide enough space to set up a reception area, where birds could be evaluated, registered and weighed, and to segregate injured songbirds from the bigger birds of prey, said Dawn Keller, a wildlife rehabilitation specialist at the Flint Creek Wildlife Center in Barrington.

Keller, who will operate the Northerly Island facility once it opens, hopes to secure all five of the small rooms so that rehabbers can create a mini-hospital of sorts, with three bird sanctuaries, an X-ray room and space for emergency surgery.

"We could really become a premier city for bird rehabilitation," Keller said.
I interviewed Robbie Hunsinger earlier this year for an article on her organization, Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and she said the survival rate of birds who are picked up and treated is extremely high. This is good news as our city gets millions of birds, a meaningful portion of which are rare or endangered, flying overhead every year.

Previously, the injured birds, which get confused and crash into our skyscrapers, had to be driven to the suburbs! Which, if you think about it, suggests how we have historically thought about cities vs. suburbs. All the nature's out there, not here in the city. Our dead birds are changing that thinking.

Lakeview Post Office WPA Mural

Just to tack on to my previous post about Chicago's WPA murals. This is one of my favorites of the murals I've seen so far. It was painted in 1938 by Henry Sternberg. The picture above is section of the mural because the full mural is so wide, my blog can't handle the photo well. Be sure to click through and see the whole thing.

It's located in the Lakeview post office at 1343 West Irving Park Road, and, as any postal customer knows, you get a lot of time to look at it. It's positioned right above the counter.

If you're ever at a Cubs day game, you should swing by and take a look. It's not far from Wrigley Field.

This photo comes courtesy of Dr. David Baldwin, who along with his wife, noted that the mural needed a restoration. They started a "Friends of the Lakeview Post Office Mural" organization and raised funds for its restoration, which was completed in late 2003. It got me thinking about what else might be accomplished if we all began identifying what we value in our neighborhood and became a "friend" of it. . .

The photo from Dr. Baldwin came via a wonderful website Be sure to poke around some more over there. They have an index of WPA mural photos indexed by state and other good stuff.

Dr. Fights to Save Tree in My Ward

Mary Schmich's Sunday column was about a doctor in my ward who has been fighting to save a tree. I've blogged a bit earlier about the gigantic, 4-lot, multi-million dollar homes going up just a few blocks from my townhome. But, this guy, god bless him, is going ballistic about the developers' attempts to cut down a 100+-year-old tree on the street.

Here's an excerpt:

Dr. Buchman is Alan Buchman, a gastroenterologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. For more than a year, he has been fighting for a tree the way some men fight for God, country and playoff tickets.

The object of Buchman's ardor is an old silver maple, and he has called me about it over and over, along with environmentalists, other news media and City Hall.

"I've never encountered anyone like him," said Vi Daley, the 43rd Ward Alderman. "He's very sensitive to the trees on his block."

Buchman and his wife, Diane, live on Burling Street in Lincoln Park, on a block so gorged with new luxury development that, he says, construction vehicles are often triple parked.

Recently, when he said, "Good morning" to one of the few remaining old-timers, the man, accustomed to developers on the prowl, snapped back, "Not for sale!"

The imperiled maple stands on city property, in a patch of buckled brick, shading Buchman's townhouse but impeding driveway access of a big new next-door house proposed by a Maine developer.

Buchman's tree fight has kept the lot empty.Buchman says that this contest between new development and old trees extends all over construction-crazed Chicago--and that the trees are losing.

The article goes on to say that Buchman added a video survellience camera to monitor the tree so no one chops it down "on the sly." I'm going to put a call into my alderman today and drop an e-mail to Buchman. Will keep you posted on the tree fight.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Park District WPA Murals Undergoing Restoration

My feeling is that one of the best things any community can do for itself is protect, restore, and add to its public artwork. So, when the Park District recently announced that they're moving ahead with a $350K restoration project of their WPA murals, I found myself thinking that this city gets a lot of things right.

The Trib ran an article on the restoration project earlier this week:

(Beatrice) Braidwood's mural, like 17 others in the Sherman Park fieldhouse, was thick with soot and varnish. Worse off are the murals that have split with cleaving plaster underneath. Others were subject to vandalism.

The Park District is expected to approve $188,000 in matching funds Wednesday for a restoration project that will require thousands of hours of labor and cotton swabs to remove decades of decay and repair damages.

There are 58 murals in 11 Park District fieldhouses. The Chicago Conservation Center, which has nearly finished a similar but more extensive restoration of murals in the city's public schools, has raised corporate and private funds to match the city's contribution.
Our murals really are a joy to see. I'm going to make an effort to take photos of some of my favorite to share with you. I couldn't find a comprehensive website, but this book is considered one of the main reference books on Chicago's murals. Even though the descriptions are brief, the color reproduction is solid.

Also, it's relevant, I think, to note that LaSalle Bank was one of the corporate sponsors who stepped up to the plate with some money to make this happen. The others weren't mentioned in the article, unfortunately.

Here is the list and locations of the WPA murals in Park District buildings.

Here is a brief background story on the earlier mural renovation in Chicago's Public Schools written by one of the main women behind it, Heather Becker.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kenilworth Falling

This month's Preservation Online magazine talks about how Kenilworth, IL, a wealthy Chicago suburb, is losing many of its historic homes to tear downs. Here's an excerpt:

A neoclassical mansion designed by Daniel Burnham in 1896 could be demolished this summer in the Kenilworth, Ill., a Chicago suburb with no zoning ordinances to protect its many historic houses.

Last week, the new owners of a house designed by Prairie school architect George Maher, who lived in Kenilworth and designed about 40 houses there, tore down the structure to make way for a new house.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Planetizens Unite

Just found this site. Great stuff for those who are interested in urban design and planning.

Chicago Loop Alliance Announced

"CHICAGO LOOP ALLIANCE (CLA) is the new name given to the merged Greater State Street Council (GSSC) and Central Michigan Avenue Association (CMAA). The two organizations joined forces in February of this year to promote Chicago’s central mixed-use district. CLA’s mission is to build on existing retail, hospitality, commercial, residential, cultural and institutional resources, and to contribute to Chicago’s standing as a world-class city and tourist attraction. On June 14 the two organizations formally “tied the knot” along Wacker Drive between Michigan Avenue and State Street to announce the name."

Full announcement here.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Back Online, Thanks Eco-Absence

Hello friends. Back from Cape Cod. There is truly nothing like the Atlantic Ocean as seen from the beaches of New England. A real highlight (in addition to the reunion of my extended family) was the wondrous pleasure of following a finback whale in the wild as he swam just along the surface for almost a mile near the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary.

I'm sorry I have no photos as I took a complete technology break. But, if you ever get the opportunity to whale watch, I can't recommend it enough. It truly is awesome and moving and rejuvenative.

For the record, I don't buy for a second that good environmentalism isn't good business. Real nature is a genuine economic draw. We paid about $25 each to a highly-regarded, eco-minded whale watching outfit called The Dolphin Fleet, and dropped some lunch money in the area as well. Not to mention the cottage rental fees, etc.

Here in Chicago, time and again, the most expensive, high-end properties are built near the lake or on the parks. Look at the Gold Coast. Look at Howe Street near Oz Park or the three-story single family homes with elevators going up on Greenview across from Wrightwood Park. When the original Lill Street Pottery Studio came down, huge million dollar homes were erected right across from Grace (now Noethling) Park.

People of all income levels value nature. Protecting it makes rational, economic sense. I just don't understand why our government thinks allowing increased mercury levels and ignoring global warming is a solution for anything. Good god, it makes me nuts. But, I'll spare you the extended rant. You probably have one of your own.

Back to the Midwest

Anyway, it was good to have a break from the Internets and nice to come back.

Thanks so much to Michael Allen of Ecology of Absence who stopped by to say hello and other kind things in the comments while I was away. Check out his site that explores the intersection of abandoned buildings, re-use and sustainability in St. Louis and the Midwest. From "About" on the site that he co-edits with Claire Nowak-Boyd:

Our project documents the disease of abandonment of the built environment and its treatment. We aim to reveal the odd interaction of social and ecological forces that lead people to build, abandon and reclaim buildings and structures. Thus, we draw upon the fields of history, urban archaeology, ecology, sociology and architecture to investigate the troubled urban areas of the Midwest.

Their site and blog are loaded with fun-and-interesting-to-poke-around in stuff. One example is their tip on Mid-century Dream blog, which focuses on arhcitecture and visual culture from 1930-1970.

Over at Metroblog Chicago

As I've mentioned before, I also blog at Metroblog Chicago. The city recently announced a competition to preserve and protect Chicago's roof top water tanks. Enjoy a great photo of one of the tanks by Steven Downs and read more over there.