Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ooops. Not so Fast on the De-Gentrification Post: LuluLemon's on its Way

Oh no. I just found out what's moving in to the space abandoned by Banana Republic, and I think I'd like to invite them back. (See previous post here.)

It's called Lululemon Athletica -- "A yoga-inspired athletic apparel company" that originated in Vancouver.

Their website says they have a manifesto. (Apparently, they're not just for surrealists anymore.)

The key tenets of the Lululemon manifesto?

*Drink FRESH water and as much water as you can. Water flushes unwanted toxins and keeps your brain sharp.

*Observe a plant before and after watering and relate the benefits to your body and brain.

*Live near the ocean and inhale the pure salt air that flows over the water. Vancouver will do nicely. Stress is related to 99% of all illnesses.

I'm not making this up. I wish were making it up, but I'm not. Their website also says that one of their core values is greatness: "We create the possibility of greatness in people because it makes us great. Mediocrity undermines greatness."

Um. Hmmm. Well, great.

Cabrini-Green: The Plan for Transformation Continues

This is all that's left of the Cabrini-Green Building at the northeast corner of Halsted & Division.

This photo was taken this morning. There are two buildings that sit on that street corner. This is the one that faced Division and must have had spectacular views of downtown.

See related post here for more about the Chicago Housing Authority and its "Plan for Transformation."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Paul Revere Masonic Lodge "Rescued"

According to the lead story in this week's Inside newspaper, a Buddhist congregation has purchased and intends to restore the landmarked Masonic Lodge at 1501 W. Wilson. The structure had been on the Preservation Council of Illinois' Chicagoland Watch List. The story is not online yet, but will likely be posted by next week.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

$1000 Community Grants Available to Pursue the New American Dream

The Center for the New American Dream, whose motto is "buy wisely, live consciously, make a difference," ramps up a local organizer program this spring by offering mini-grants. If you have an idea about how you can help your community begin "buying wisely locally," apply here. The deadline is March 20.

Technorati tags: conscious living,

Revitalization Debuts: Free Subscriptions for those in the "Biz"

I'm pleased to announce that Revitalization magazine debuted earlier this month. It's a business-to-business venture, and this month's issue features coverage about how military communities can rebound after base closures.

The full text of the article I contributed, Military Makeover, is available online here, but, truthfully, the entire magazine looks a lot nicer in print.

Free subscriptions are available to those involved in all aspects of revitalization efforts here. (Planning students, I encourage you to register, too. Just write "planning student" in the blanks. Also, sorry, domestic subscriptions only.)

Other feature stories include coverage of the restoration of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, an overview of sustainable principles in downtown redevelopments, an update on federal stormwater rules, and much more.

The magazine is published in conjunction with the Revitalization Institute, whose mission is to "advance integrated approaches to community revitalization and natural resource restoration."

My involvement has extended only to writing the article, so imagine how pleased I was when the first issue arrived in my mailbox with the words "Sustainable Development, Defending Open Spaces, Grounded in History" printed across the front cover. It made me want to smash a bottle of champagne all over it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Chicago Historical Society Announces its first, post-renovation History Lesson

The Chicago Historical Society, which is currently closed due to a major overhaul, recently announced it will change its name when the doors re-open this September. The new moniker? The Chicago History Museum.

So, um, the old name was getting too dated. Can't give a better lesson in the evolution of interpreting the past than that.

I predict "museum" will be the word that gets booted next go 'round.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sprawl, Robert Bruegmann, and the Great Brawl that Wasn't

"I've come here for an argument."
"No you haven't."
"Yes, I have."
--Monty Python

More than 200 people packed the Chicago Architectural Foundation's lecture room last Wednesday night itchin' for a fight.

Robert Bruegmann, author of Sprawl: A Compact History, invited four critics to debate his book's premise: Sprawl is an inevitable and historic phenomenon, and, therefore, benign.

The four panelists were:

Douglas Kelbaugh, Dean, Taubman College of Architecture and Planning, University of Michigan

John Norquist, President of the Congress for New Urbanism and former Mayor of Milwaukee

Brent Ryan, Assistant Professor, Urban Planning Program, University of Illinois, Chicago

Emily Talen, Associate Professor of Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of New Urbanism and American Planning: the Conflict of Cultures

The panel was moderated by Daniel Friedman, FAIA, Director, School of Architecture, UIC.

First, Bruegmann got up and gave a 15-minute overview of the book. He was sober, polite, and steeped in research. I gave him high marks for wanting to investigate sprawl after he saw an article in an airline magazine and realized no one disagreed with the notion that sprawl stinks. He thought that made it ripe for investigation.

But, his argumentwas faint, at least in the lecture. He showed how sprawl was a poor analytical term. He made some good observations about how sprawl is not necessarily an American phenomenon. Then, he got into a discussion of relative urban densities and pointed out some trends that suggested sprawl's natural, inevitable rise and fall in different parts of the world.

After Bruegmann's overview, each professor got up and said nice things about him. Then they argued against his book with words like "beauty" and "walkability" and the in-the-trenches "experience" of sprawl. They talked "gross densities" versus "net densities."

Ryan said he thought Bruegmann was fighting a "paper tiger" because no one in the new urbanist movement makes much headway against sprawl anyway. Then, Bruegmann got up and said "I agree with you on that." A lot.

By this point it was clear even to those of us in the cheap seats that no one was going to bust another's eye open. Professor Ryan (who got my vote for the evening's most cogent) probably said it best, when he said to Professor Bruegmann late in the evening, "I wish your book had been more of a polemic." Then, Ryan said, he'd have something to argue against. He'd have something to respond to within the way he goes about his urban planning.

For my money the comment of the night went to the old guy sitting in the back of the room who stood up and said, "So, tell me, who held a gun to all those people's heads and told them they had to buy those houses."

So, the academics tried to explain why beauty matters, and they dug themselves a bit of a hole. They got into real choices versus perceived choices. They floundered a bit.

Talen cited her her research that suggests people don't like living in sprawled areas, but by then she had so venomously and repeatedly shared her personal distaste for sprawl that she undermined the perception of objectivity in her research.

Kelbaugh helped her out a bit when he said, "Most people are happy where they live. You let people out of prisons, and they want to go back." But, I'm not sure that's the kind of response the old guy was searching for.

In other words, it's hard to critique people's hometowns and ways of life even if your Jiffy Lube looks just like mine.

And, that's pretty much how the anti-climatic evening unfolded. I will say, I'm glad I attended. I learned a lot by hearing the weaknesses in both sides of the argument. . . er, discussion.

Technorati Tags: sprawl, , Chicago

Monday, February 13, 2006

Banana Republic: When one leaves, is that Un-Gentrification?

One principle of observing city life as it evolves and gentrifies is that whenever a Banana Republic (or Starbucks) shows up in a cool, less expensive neighborhood, lament follows. (See here.)

What to think, then, when in my long-gentrified, more expensive neighborhood, a Banana Republic closes, taking a Baby Gap along with it?

Both stores' closed signs refer business to other locations that are less than half a mile away. They're on North Avenue just east of the I-90/94 expressway in a horrible zone of sprawl.

I hate it for a number of reasons, but mainly because a) it's all shopping mall without residences, so, consequently, b) there are no stakeholders to stand up to the ugliness of it all or add some humanity to it. I'll save the rest of my rant for another post.

What I wanted to get at is this: If the big chain retailers leave the arguably charming shopping area of Halsted Street for a strip mall a half mile away, is that a good sign for Halsted Street?

I'm hopeful it means that a new mix is filling in our community as I've noticed some other hipster outlets rubbing elbows here with the mighty upscales.

Is it the beginning of a post-gentrification emergence? I don't know.

But, I'll keep you posted on whether an independent store or a chain shows up in the empty Banana Republic and BabyGap. You probably don't have to guess which I'm rooting for.

The New Apollo Energy Act: We can send a man to the moon. . .

Sooo many worthy topics. So little time. I'll make this quick.

Tonight I sat in on the Progressive Government's Backbone Cabinet conference call. (Anyone can. Just visit the link.)

They featured Congressman Jay Inslee from Washington state. He is the sponsor of House Resolution 2828 aka the New Apollo Energy Act.

"The ice is breaking," he said in tonight's call about attitudes in DC toward our resistance to weaning ourselves from fossil fuels. Inslee has been slowly building a bi-partisan consensus about this sweeping bill that he admits is not as far forward as some on the left would like.
"I'm trying to build a broad-based coalition, not write a fiction."

Oh, he was good! Optimistic. Not at all snarky (but, um, skeptical) when talking about Bush's "addiction to oil" statement. Lots of obviously right-thing-to-do choices in the bill (fuel efficiency, clean energy jobs through research investment, reducing emissions, etc.) Plus, he had all the image-filled language down (note the bill's name) to make me think he's got a chance to pull it off.

Here' s another Inslee quote (from an interview in Grist magazine). May it leave you smiling in the knowledge that good folks are trying to turn this misunderestimated boat around before the sun melts us all to death.

"This clean-energy vision . . . is based on optimism rather than self-doubt, on new technologies rather than archaic methods, and on faith in Americans' innovative talent rather than capitulation to narrow special interests."

Have a nice day.

Version >06 Call for Entries: Parallel Cities

"During the annual (Version >06) we engage in a dialogue about the possible futures that may interdict or provide alternatives to current social,cultural and political trajectories. Our fifth convergence, Version>06, is dedicated to the theme of Parallel Cities. Version will investigate and share local strategies and models to inspire action within local and global counter cartographies. . .

"We will convene in Chicago for a seventeen day open laboratory to activate our communities and amplify our ideas and practices. Version presents a diverse program of activities featuring an experimental art exposition, artistic disturbances, exhibitions, networked urban events, screenings, interactive applications, performances, street art, presentations, talks, workshops, art rendez-vous, parties, and action. Alternative spaces will be open for staging actions. Public spaces and corporate places will be terrains of intervention."

This sounds so cool. The deadline for applications is February 28. The festival takes place April 20 through May 6. Find out more here.

Oooh, update: Click here to read projects that have been submitted for "Parallel Cities" so far.

The business idea I wish I had thought of.

Unscene: The urban guide to all that is progressive in American culture by emphasizing the value and ingenuity of independent business.

(Of course, my friends over at Chicago Metroblogging pointed this out over a year ago.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

I-GO a blog-a-go-go

I-GO, the member-based car share people, just launched a blog to talk about environmental issues in Chicago. They're 5 posts old. Go have a look.

Today's the Day: LPCAI Applications are Due

Applications are due today for submitting artwork in the Lincoln Park Contemporary Art Initiative, which I've been chronicling for some time now. You can find more information and applications here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Truth in Retail Architecture

1617 North Clybourn

Ben Joravsky: What's Wrong with Chicago's Zoning Procedures?

Ben Joravsky at the Reader is one of the few journalists in this city consistently reporting on what's happening with architecture and planning outside the loop.

His article (pdf) this week is full of insights on what's wrong with the way the city re-zones. Frankly, he is a huge help to me in figuring this stuff out. It really is a mystery, and Joravsky cuts through it with an accurate fork and objective knife.

One quote that I found particularly enlightening was this:

"Anyone who knows anything about zoning in Chicago rolls his eyes at the mention of notification (for a zoning change). City law requires only that such letters include the applicant's name, the date, the name of his lawyer, and a brief 'description of the nature, scope, and purpose of the application.' Residents don't have to be notified of pending hearings on the proposed change, or precisely what the applicant wants to build or demolish."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Berghoff's: The Last Supper

Chicago's Serenade in Green recently posted this story on his last supper at the historic Berghoff restaurant, due to close at the end of this month. The 1911 photo above of Berghoff's (see lower right hand corner) comes courtesy of The Chicago Daily News photo archive.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

What Drives Me Crazy About Real Estate Discussions

Today's Tribune ran an article about how a 22,000 square-foot mosque scheduled to open this spring in Orland Park is propelling a mini-boom in the nearby real estate.

Understandably, Muslims want to live close to their place of worship, preferably within walking distance to accommodate their frequent prayer times.

What drives me bonkers about the article is that the underlying jist of it questions whether or not a mosque is that relevant to the real estate market. The closing line quotes a realtor who (perhaps was taken out of context when he) said, "They need to see the beginning of a community first. That's when people will come."

Um, a mosque is the beginning of a community.

More about the Center for Prayer here.
Daily Southtown on the mosque
Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago here.

Exploring Abe: The Lincoln Restaurant

As part of my once-in-a-while series, Exploring Abe, here are some photos of Abe surfacing in the city as a diner icon.

This is one of those restaurants I've been meaning to go to for years. Apparently, the interior is even more Abe-centric than this lovely sign. Someday. Some day.

Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago.

Other Exploring Abe posts:
License Plates
Gettysburg PowerPoint

Friday, February 03, 2006

Natalie Goldberg: Ideas about Place

"In Palo Alto, we lived in a tiny, three-room apartment for $2,400 a month.Yes, that's right -- it was that expensive. A Meyer lemon tree was out back. I made sure to use the citrus fruit -- I made gallons of lemonade, lemon pie, lemon soup. Long's Drug on University Avenue was the only whiff I had that this place had once been a place, a locale of some simple dignity, drenched in sun with orchards nearby. Why Long's? Because the lettering on the outside was an old script, and the aisles were lazy and sloppy and not propelled by a strong commerce."

-- by Natalie Goldberg from her essay "New Century," published in Creative Nonfiction, Number 27.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What's Wrong with this Streetscape?

Friends, come with me.

Pretend we're driving or walking along, heading east on Webster Avenue just before Halsted Street. We're looking north. Here's what we'll see:

Every time I go by that house, I think, well, first I cringe, then I think, "How dare those owners foul this charming street scene with their ego-centric-screw-the-streetscape-me-me-me design?"

They may be kind to dogs and treat children with grace, but they sure ruined the charm of this part of Webster Avenue. Their house is like the annoying party guest that everyone secretly wishes never arrived because we were all having such a lovely time before they came and began boasting about their big modern selves.

And, this is not a bash on contemporary architecture. I'm a genuine fan of it, but there's a time and place for everything. This is not it. There are plenty of other streets within a few blocks where this structure would fit right in with no harm to the charm.

Shame, too, on Crain's Chicago Business for naming this home to their "20 Coolest Houses" list last year. Bah!

We desperately need conversations and education in this town about how all the architecture fits together. We need to be reminded again and again and again that the whole fabric of a community is much greater than the sum of its parts.

In other words, I don't care who your architect is, honoring context is sometimes everything.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006