Friday, September 30, 2005

Explore the World We Build for Ourselves

That's the slogan of the National Building Museum. They're a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and exploring our built environment from the viewpoints of construction, urban planning, design, architecture, and engineering.

They're up to all sorts of fascinating things. Check out their online exhibit Affordable Housing: Designing an American Asset here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Eventually -- Why Not Now?

What a beautiful day for a walk. What a bonus that I wandered aross this bit of history lingering on the north face of a building on the 1900 block of Bissell in Lincoln Park. (It's now a single family home, but must have once been a storefront.)

According to Gold Medal Flour's company history, this advertising campaign began in 1907 and continued through 1954.

During (1907), Washburn, Crosby launched its long-running advertising slogan, "Eventually-Why Not Now?" B.S. Bull, the company's advertising manager, is credited with the creation of the slogan. As the story goes, he was editing a wordy text about the superior quality of Gold Medal Flour and found, that when he was finished he had edited out all the words except 4: “Eventually." He then added, "Why Not Now?"

Having had this brilliant idea, he was struck with self-doubt and tossed the paper into the wastebasket. It was said to have been found by a young member of the firm, James Ford Bell, who later became the first president of General Mills, Inc. (The slogan was used on billboards, company trucks, train cars, flour bags and in the company's printed advertisements, appearing as late as the early 1950's. . . . "

If you click on the photo, it becomes a bit larger. The "Eventually" is written on a diagonal across the top left, and in smaller letters on the bottom right is the "Why Not Now?"

The billboard added interest and a sense of discovery to my walk. I appreciate so much that someone else appreciated this little bit of history enough to not scrub it off their bricks. The neighborhood is richer for it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

License Plates as Keepers of State Identity: Exploring Abe

"Land of Lincoln" standard Illinois license plate on car parked in Grant Park garage. Here Abe makes an appearance smack dab in the middle of the plate. He seems a bit stern or vacant, like he isn't at all prepared to have an opinion on cars. The Previous Exploring Abe series thread here.

Update: Found this site with a photo history of Illinois' license plates. Lincoln's face is a new addition, but the slogan goes back to 1955.

Chicago's New York Life Building Under Threat from Really Poor Ideas

Preservation Online reports an update on the threat to Chicago's New York Life Building.

Representative quote:

"You won't allow someone to add a dormer to their cottage, but you're going to allow a skyscraper on top of the New York Life Building?" asks Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago, which included the structure on its 2002 list of "Chicago's Seven Most Threatened Buildings."

Preservation Chicago's website here.
Photo Courtesy of Preservation Online via the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Are you reading Lynn Becker? He's on fire.

Is there a better architectural and cultural critic writing in Chicago today than Lynn Becker? Probably not.

The problem is the guy is on a manic, prolific binge. I can't keep up with all the good stuff exhausting out of his keyboard. I still have this essay to read on how planning works in the city, and a piece on the disappearance of Marshall Field's to reflect on. Then, today he posts this article on the beauty that only excellent acoustics can rouse and its relevance in our fast-food society.

His site, called Repeat because it frequently houses stories that originally appeared in The Reader, is more Times Square than Mies van der Rohe in its design, but the payoff's there in content. (He also writes an accompanying blog, but a lot of the stuff is cross-posted on the website.)

With the Tribune's Blair Kamin forced to write his architectural reviews with a national audience in mind so they'll play in Baltimore and beyond, we are left to wonder why one of our city's main newspapers allowed its architectural critic to water himself down and out of our city, our place.

Kevin Nance over at the Sun-Times brings a local, man-on-the-street perspective which I like and think we need. (See his memo to Anish Kapoor about the Bean, for a fun instance.) But, we are the architectural city in this country. Chicagoans talk about architecture like we do sports which is to say a lot. We also need a high-brow critic like Becker who has both feet firmly planted on the sidewalks -- our sidewalks.

Here's an excerpt from Becker's post today on last night's concert at the Pritzker Pavillion, which closed with Ravel's Bolero:

From the quiet beginnings with a snare drum, the relentlessly recurring theme moved in a slow, continuous crescendo from section to section, to the strings, to the woodwinds, each having their own solo turn to shine, before climaxing in blaring brass and full tutti that collapses into a brief, precipitous coda like a lover after climax. The audience leapt to their feet in one of those rare, unforced standing ovations that comes from the giddy delight only great music-making can provide.

We live in the rabid stages of a market economy that seeks to bring every activity to its cheapest, most "efficient", lowest common denominator, whether it be Walmart driving out all local competition and the variety it provided, or Federated destroying the department store as a local institution as it rushes to smear every last one with the Macy's name. To hear the CSO firing on all cylinders is a bracing reminder just what this chronic leveling robs us of.
If you read the entire article, you'll see why I so appreciate his expertise and his service to a better built environment. He makes the leap for the reader from the structures to their relevance in our everyday lives. He recognizes that architecture can be transcendent when it makes the leap . Becker gets it. Chicago deserves that.

Chicago Humanities Festival: Lots for Urbanistas and -istos

It is hard to believe that the Chicago Humanities Festival chose "Home & Away" as their theme long before Katrina hit. The timing is uncanny. It's almost as if the universe knew we would need to be talking about this kind of stuff right about now.

My program is for the festival, which runs from October 29 - November 13, is all marked up with ball point pen. There's a lot of good stuff going on for anyone interested in architecture, place, and notions of home and community.

Here are just a few highlights, but be sure to dip into the program for the full bag of idea cookies:

Northwestern Professor Louise W. Knight on "What Jane Addams Gained on Halsted Street."
(Nov. 12)

Keynote Speech by Richard Florida on "The Flight of the Creative Class." (Nov. 3)

Debate: When Jobs Leave Home with Daniel W. Drezner assistant professor of poly sci at U. of Chicago and Thea Lee, chief international economist for the AFL-CIO (Nov. 5)

Robert Venturi on "Mies is More -- earning from Mies." (Nov. 9)

Roberta Feldman on "Re-Placing Home." (Nov. 13)

Oh, there's so much great stuff. This only scrapes the surface. Really, please go to the program and look for yourself. I'd hate for you to miss it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Starbucks & Public Space: They're "Getting" It

A while ago I blogged about how difficult it was to distribute and post materials relevant to a community in that community. Many corporate-owned "public" places, like shopping malls and national bookstore chains, no longer allow the distribution of flyers and free newspapers.

I lumped Starbucks in that category because they have turned me away at least twice from dropping off flyers for a church event. I was pleased this summer to see they had recognized the problem and came up with a solution with this official community bulletin board. I appreciate that they recognized their role as a public meeting/recreational space in communities and they took steps to enhance it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Meanings of Place: NOLa

It has been a sad few weeks watching the good people of the Delta suffer through unthinkable fallout from the hurricane. As my sister-in-law Laura put it, "They suffered two tragedies: Katrina and the relief effort."

Here are just a few things I want to comment on in the wake of this catastrophe.

You Can Take the People Out of the City, but You Can't Take the City Out of the People: New Orleans Metrobloggers

As someone who reflects on the meaning of place for a hobby, I can not think of a more unique place in this country than New Orleans. It was impossible for a visitor to leave that town without a suitcase of lush memories.

Tasting my first beignet. Ordering a Hurricane. (Think of it -- that was the name of the must-have-knock-you-on-your-feet-come-home-with-a-woman-shaped-glass- drink!) Strolling the French Quarter, always a little leery for my safety. Avoiding the rowdy, "show-us-your-tits" revelers whose numbers rose as night fell. Hearing Mose Allison and one of the Marsalis's at Snug Harbor. (Their website defies the tragedy. Ellis Marsalis plays there this weekend it says. The September concert schedule is full.)

New Orleans was, is, and will be distinctly a place because of its history, architecture, culture, and people.

The New Orleans Metrobloggers (sister to Chicago's Metroblog to which I contribute) have been providing rich coverage of the place where they live (and have been displaced from) and the impact of the tragedy. Their posts are lessons in the meaning and importance of place in our lives.

Here are some recommended posts:

  • Chris Martel rebuts Washington Post editorial entitled "A Sad Truth: Cities Aren't Forever." Hearty debate follows.
  • Craig Geisecke writes about his desire to return to NO. I think this is my favorite statement that I've read anywhere about New Orleans the place:

I started to post yesterday about the overall situation with the evacuees -- thousands of us out on the road and looking for a place to land. An entire culture on the move. In one place on this forum, I saw us compared to those waiting in Casablanca for the plane to Lisbon. That's as apt as any, since there's an element in us that's not going to be happy until we get out of where we are and back where we belong. Where we are is safe -- and that's exactly what's wrong with it.

Ships are safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are made for. New Orleans is, as much as New York and a few other cities, a combination of the terrible, the unique and the sublime. Often all in the same room and sharing the same table.

  • Craig Geisecke also wrote this compelling and beautiful post about returning to a place you know so well after it's just gone through something awful:

I wangled media credentials for trip over the Crescent City Connection early this morning. We drove past the badly-looted Wal-Mart on Tchoup (carts and racks are scattered for blocks). The place is now a military staging area.

We went down Tchoup, right on Second, left on Constance and left on Third before we parked near Parasols (which lost its awnings, but that's about it). Lots of downed trees and power lines, but brick buildings appeared to have more damage than wooded ones (note to Laura -- your house appears untouched). We lost only one small upstairs window, which I covered with a plastic trash bag.

Down Third, right on Annunciation, then right on Fourth because we were blocked by a crushed truck. I was taking a picture when I hear men talking to Kim nearby. I turn around and see her with three National Guardmen, heavy weapons drawn. Turns out they were chasing a looter who had vanished between houses.

Up to St. Charles, right to Jackson, then back to Tchoup and out the way we came. Took 90 to Houma, Morgan City, then up to Lafayette and finally here.

Weird thing last night wasgoing through the I-10/I-12/I-59 interchange in Slidell. It's usually lit like Vegas on Christmas, but now it's this inky, velvet black except for the headlights. Iffy power until you get to about Covington.

Lots of emotion today. I'm still processing. More later after I catch up.

  • Those of us who blog on Metroblogs don't get paid for it. We do it because, well, we love the place where we live and we think it's fun. The guy who started all this, Sean Bonner, set up a CafePress store where you can buy "I 'heart' NOLA" sportswear. ALL the proceeds will go to the New Orleans Metrobloggers and their families. Please consider buying something from them. My tank top arrived today. I can't wait to put it on tomorrow. Really, I mean that. I am bursting with good will for that region. Now I have a t-shirt to assist me.

Area Man Drives Water There His Goddamned Self

We spent a lot of the weekend packing up grocery bags of supplies for Katrina victims. My alderman had sent out a list and notified us of two trucks leaving from Reebie Storage on Clark Street.

My son cleaned up a Power Rangers scooter he had outgrown. He sprayed it with the orange cleaner we use on the kitchen counters and wiped it dry with paper towels. He rode with us to the moving company. Then, he hoisted it to the truck loading bay and watched the Reebie folks move it to a pile with the bedding and canned goods and bottled water.

"When will the trucks get there?" he asked.

I predicted this morning. Was I right? Did it make a difference? Whose little boy is riding the scooter now? Many blessings to them all.

(The header above is borrowed from The Onion's Katrina headlines.)

The Best of New Orleans' Great Space

Here is a summary of the "Great Public Places" in New Orleans via the Project for Public Spaces. I found myself wanting to know more about what might have been lost or saved in NOLA. Thought you might wonder the same.

Artillery Park A combination urban scenic overlook, river overlook and informal
amphitheatre for street performances.

City Park A large city park with activities ranging from weddings to paddle boats to an art museum.

Crescent City Farmers Market A gentle farmers' market made distinctive by its location: the walls of the parking lot are covered in beautiful full-scale murals of rural farming scenes.

French Market New Orleans once had markets in nearly every neighborhood; this place, with the longest and most colorful history, is the last in operation.

French Quarter
Colonial Spanish architecture, great New Orleans food and jazz, plus the highest
concentration of colorful characters in the whole USA.

Jackson Square This lively and heavily trafficked park in the French Quarter is a popular site for artists, street performers and musicians who entertain tourists and locals.

Latrobe Park A small park with ample seating and lush planting.

Lower Garden District Neighborhood with an extensive collection of 19th-century residential and commercial buildings, many pre-dating the Civil War.

Pirates Alley A pedestrian walkway between historic buildings, The Saint Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.

St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line Historic avenue, greenway and transportation corridor

Vietnamese Farmers' Market At 5am each Saturday, over 20 vendors set up shop in a dilapidated shopping square, spreading out produce on blankets; live ducks, rabbits and chickens wail to a background chanting of Asian pop music.