Sunday, October 30, 2005

Running on Water

About two weeks after I posted on Water Reclamation candidate Debra Shore, the Reader published a cover article on her by Christopher Hayes. (They had it in the works for a long time -- so my point is not that I had scoop but that there seems to be some kind of harmonic convergence forming around Shore.)

Choice quote by Shore on what the Water Reclamation District does and why you should care:

Over the next 20 to 25 years we are going to find substitutes for oil -- there are substitutes for fossil fuels. There are no substitutes for water. It's an irreplaceable resource. And I think the eyes of the country and the eyes of the world are going to turn to those Great Lakes communities that sit on 20 percent of the world's freshwater.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's Probably Not as Easy as It Looks

I suppose if you're the guy who lives next door to the building coming down, you feel better when you see this printed on the hungry backhoe.

1800 block of North Orchard.

Monday, October 24, 2005

It Could've Been a Massive Train Wreck

I know that you don't visit my blog to learn about what all the cool kids are doing, but just in case you've missed it, everyone's listening to Sufjan Stevens CD, Come on Feel the Illinoise.

This evocative musical journey rattles around the geography of our state in a smart, deep way even though, according to the liner notes, it was made in Brooklyn. Stevens shows a compassion for the history, horror, and oddities of our state that urbanista/os will especially appreciate.

Take these lyrics, for instance, from Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step Mother:

Our step mom we did everything to hate her
She took us down to the edge of Decatur
We saw the lion and the kangaroo take her
Down to the river where they caught a wild alligator.

Those lyrics sent me on a search about the alligator of Decatur.

In one part of his John Wayne Gacy, Jr., Stevens lets out the most anguished, chillingly beautiful "oh my god" in reaction to Gacy's crimes. You hear that overused phrased in a completely new way to information you stopped thinking about long ago. Yet, the song ends with lyrics that disturb in their own right:

And in my best behavior
I am really jsut like him
Look beneath the floorbaords
For the secrets I have hid.

His play on the Sears Tower as Seer's Tower made me think about that building anew, too.

Not surprisingly, I find myself listening to the album over and over as it is as musically lush as it is lyrically. He uses instruments that evoke an old time prairie feel -- banjo, accordian and, as the liner notes say, hoots and hollers. There are other times when I'm certain I hear a Philip Glass Songs from Liquid Days influence.

Stevens is also wise enough to stay away from Abraham Lincoln, who as I've blogged about before, is rich in parody and irony as well as history. Stevens recognizes the former President is too difficult to succinctly, lyrically classify. Lincoln doesn't make an appearance in the music -- only on the CD insert. (His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, however has a brief interlude named for her entitled A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons.)

Nor does Stevens attempt to write a song "about" Chicago. Rather, he writes a very personal song that's set, partly, in Chicago and again he plays with the words:

I fell in love again
All things go, all things go
Drove to Chicago
According to Stevens' label's website, he grew up in Michigan, and he's intending on doing an album for every state. Illinoise is his second; the first was Greetings from Michigan.

As one reviewer wrote aptly,

Sufjan Stevens sure is ambitious . . . simple melodies, punched up with erudite lyrics and frequent appearances by a full orchestra, a horn section and an honest-to-goodness choir—everything here smacks of an epic reach. And the weird thing is, it totally works.

While Stevens’s let’s-put-on-a-musical approach could easily come off as precious, he’s got just the appropriate mix of sincere emotion, songwriting chops and arranging skills to pull off everything from a two-part, three-movement ode to the 1893 World’s Fair to a quiet, moving acoustic meditation on serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

It could’ve been a massive train wreck; instead, Illinois is alternately funny, sad, thoughtful and heartbreaking—and one of the best albums of 2005.

Update: He does mention Lincoln once -- in the song about Decatur, "Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

CRC Steps in Where City Goofs Up

I got a postcard in the mail two days ago inviting me to come see the Chicago Recycling Coalition's new, beefed-up website.

I must say it's not a moment too soon. This city desperately needs a credible, one-stop resource for recycling information and a widely-heard public advocate for the cause. To date, the Coalition, grass-roots effort that it is, has seemed to be the one-woman Betsy Vandercook show.
And, I mean that in the best possible way.

It's not easy gaining traction on an issue the mayor would prefer to avoid or address superficially. Thankfully, it seems whenever the subject comes up, Besty has been there to hold up the pro-recycling end of things. (See here, here, and here.) We're lucky to have her. And, to the extent this enhanced website signifies a growing step for the CRC, that's good news as well.

The site tells you where you can recycle just about everything, and they watchdog the city's problematic blue bag program. I was disappointed to see that some of the most important components of recycling (buying recycled products, the discussion of reuse and resale, and composting) got lumped under the title "Extreme Recycling," which to me implies that everyone but the super-serious-recyclers are off the hook for doing those things. Composting is extreme? I don't think so. They probably should re-think that headline.

Nonetheless, all you really need to do is pop over to some of the city's recycling web pages to see what a necessary resource CRC's site is. Or, you can try calling 311 the next time you have a recycling question. Like the IRS, they get the answers right only about half of the time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mies on Looper/Looper on Mies

Looper has a nice photo essay of Mies's IBM Plaza Building.

Housekeeping: Loading Times and Thanks to Daily Dose of Architecture

I spent the day re-working my code behind the template, and I think I got it all straightened out so that my pages load more quickly. If you are a returning reader, I hope you'll find this site easier to use. If you're here for the first time, trust me -- it used to be annoyingly pokey and now, I hope, it's better. And, welcome!

I'd also like to say thanks to Daily Dose of Architecture for his Monday morning call out to my blog. It's an honor. Thank you. Also, thanks to those of you who clicked through his site. Come right in and make yourselves at home. Mi blog es su blog.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Most Men Go There for the Expressive Components

This month's issue of the Journal of Planning Literature features an article entitled Exotic Dance Adult Entertainment: A Guide for Planners and Policy Makers by Judith Lynne Hanna from the Department of Dance at the University of Maryland.

I don't doubt the relevance or need for a better discussion of what to do with and how to respond to adult entertainment in the realm of city planning. I just get a kick that whenever academia and XXX meet, the straight faces come out. Here's the abstract (It's $15 if you want to read the whole thing, which, I admit, I didn't pay to do):

Because exotic dance adult entertainment is a nationwide lightning rod for conflict, a comprehensive knowledge base is necessary.

This bibliographic summary of literature addresses some misperceptions and notes new United States Supreme Court cases that can lead planners, policy makers, and government attorneys into legal difficulties over restrictions they try to impose on this industry. Costs to enact, enforce, and defend the restrictions may divert scarce resources. The multi-disciplinary literature encompasses books, articles, court testimony, and court rulings on exotic dance written by researchers in anthropology, architecture, biology, criminology, economics, journalism, law, photography, planning, police work, psychology, real estate, and sociology, as
well as accounts presented by former exotic dancers.

Topics include First Amendment-related characteristics of exotic dance, its expressive components, performers, patrons, adversaries, and supporters; the validity of studies used to justify zoning, alcohol beverage control, and other restrictive ordinances; and legal justifications and limitations on regulating exotic dance.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Debra Shore for Water Reclamation Commissioner in 2006

While attending Chicago's Green City Market on Saturday, I met Debra Shore. She was collecting petitions to be on the Water Reclamation Commissioner ballot in 2006.

In our brief conversation, I was pleased to hear she's a conservationist. She's also the founding editor of Chicago Wilderness magazine. When I got home and checked out her reasons for running and her resume, I was even more impressed.

The top three vote getters win a spot as commissioner. Let's get Debra in. Surely, you'll remember her last name when you're in the voting booth.

From the Wright Brothers to Rara Avis

It's hard for me not to marvel that it was just over a hundred years ago that the Wright Brothers launched us into flight. It's worth about a thousand words on progress to see this 1903 photo of them taking off at Kitty Hawk on a cold, windy morning in December.

I found myself thinking about Wilbur and Orville last weekend when I flew out of Midway Airport to attend a friend's wedding. I passed Ralph Helmick's Rara Avis for the third or fourth time. I've found it so moving that this time I pulled out my camera and snapped a few shots of the rare bird.

The photo at right is how I usually come across the sculpture.

And, then I go around it and down the escalator. And, as I descend, the bird appears to take flight. The entire piece soars.

The bird itself is made up of tiny airplanes, all of which, I believe, are bi-planes. (Helmick considers his work to be "pointillist" sculpture.) It seems fitting and noble that the bird's scale ranks above the planes', a relationship one could expect humankind to easily screw up.

Unfortunately, the terminal's warehousey architecture does little to enhance the work and a lot to challenge it. Also, I was disappointed when I learned Helmick has done other sculptures similar to this one. The rara avis, it seems, is not so rare. It may even be a bit formulaic.

Nonetheless,the sculpture represents a compelling merger of place and meaning. In fact, in spirit, it reminds me of Eero Saarinen's 1962 TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in NYC. Saarinen said he wanted to create:
a building in which the architecture itself would express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel... a place of movement and transition...The shapes were deliberately chosen in order to emphasize an upward-soaring quality of line. We wanted an uplift.
On a smaller scale, I think Helmick created just that for his corner of Midway Airport.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Great Lakes and The Great Place

The Alliance for the Great Lakes has just released a K- 8 curriculum kit called "Great Lakes in My World." The curriculum was developed according to the Alliance's philosophy. They hope the curriculum will, among other things, instill a sense of place. Here's what they said about that (boldface is mine):

At the root of a flourishing relationship between a child and the Great Lakes ecosystem is the ability to acknowledge and build upon connections with places. "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are," says author Wendell Berry. We encourage students to explore their personal connection to the landscape. Ecosystems evoke feelings. Acknowledging that a place holds meaning, and inquiring about its special characteristics, gives new definition and importance to the word "home."

Through these activities, students ask questions that explore the science, history, beauty and mystery of the Great Lakes watershed. This moves students toward developing a greater sense of place - a connections to the lake through new awareness, reflection and experience. As students build relationships with the ecosystem, they gain a new understanding that can inspire a lifetime of learning and care.

The Conurbation of Chicago & its Suburbs is Frequently Called "Chicagoland"

Just for the helluva it yesterday, I signed up for one of those Word-of-the-Day listserves, and, wouldn't you know it, my first word was an urban one.

Word of the Day for Thursday October 13, 2005

conurbation \kon-uhr-BAY-shuhn\, noun:

An aggregation or continuous network of urban communities.

To live there in that great smoking conurbation rumbling
with the constant thunder of locomotives, filled with the
moaning of train whistles coming down the Potomac Valley,
was beyond my most fevered hopes.

--Russell Baker, "Memoir of a Small-Town Boyhood," [1]New
York Times, September 12, 1982

Indeed the population in the greater London conurbation
grew by 125 per cent in the period 1861 to 1911 when the
population of England as a whole grew by 80 per cent.

--Terence Brown, The [2]Life of W. B. Yeats

Conurbation is from Latin con-, "with, together" + urbs,
"city" + the suffix [3]-ation.


3. Entry and Pronunciation

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

LaSalle Flower Shop Sign

When phone numbers had letters.

19th Century Falling

I've been watching this demolition along a block on West Fullerton for a while. I naively had been thinking the demolition would stop when they got to this 1888 building. Yesterday, I saw them tearing it down (near the northwest corner of Fullerton & Southport). Sigh.