Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jane Jacobs RIP

I'm so saddened to learn that Jane Jacobs died today at the age of 89. She was a hero of mine. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, most certainly triggered my interest in discovering the place where I live and looking more closely at the fabric of my every day. If you've never had a chance, her writing is worth discovering. You'll soon learn why her legacy will live on.

New York Times obit here. (Thanks to KelJo for the heads up. )

Update: A much better, more fitting remembrance here (scroll down - screen looks blank at first) by The Project for Public Spaces.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tonight at 925 West Diversey at 5:30 p.m.: Request-a-Hymn - Bell Towers as Participants of Place

~You're invited~

What’s up with this?
It’s an art project. Specifically, it’s called “Request-a-Hymn: Bell Towers as Participants of Place.”

How do I participate?
Right now, you can choose any one of 2,000 hymns, chimes, tolls, or swinging bell sounds to be played from the bell tower while you wait. You can listen here on the street or you can come up and see the stereo system that’s in the bell tower. Or, you could do both.
We’d love it if you would record your name and any comments, so we can document the project. But, there’s no need to do so.

Who’s Behind It?
Local writer Jennifer Roche submitted the project as part of the Version >06 Art Festival sponsored by Lumpen Magazine. The festival takes place in the city between now and May 6. You can find more online at Also, you can visit Jennifer’s blog at

Why do this?
Like sirens and honking cars, church bells are part of our city’s soundscape. This project is trying to explore how this bell tower, and by extension other bell towers, contribute to our sense of a neighborhood’s character.
I’m hoping that by my inviting you to interact with this building today, you’ll gain a richer sense of this particular place in our corner of the world. Enjoy.
Jennifer Roche would like to thank the following people for their warm support and help in realizing this project:

Pastor Trey Hall and the Congregation of Holy Covenant United Methodist Church
The fine folks at Lumpen Magazine (
Matt & Cindy Kuzma
Paul Palmateer
Jenny Roberts
And my husband, John Svolos
The fine print:

Obviously, this project is not about proselytizing. Any spiritual epiphanies you experience during your visit are yours to discover, not mine to force. However, I hope it’s evident that a church that would welcome a project like this probably really does work hard to sustain open minds and open hearts as they’ve advertised. All are welcome here. That means you. Our services are on Sunday mornings at 10:30. Come back if you’d like.

Blair Kamin: Public Space v. the Internets

The Trib’s architecture critic, Blair Kamin, appeared on their opinion page this past Sunday with a solid defense of public space. Here's a representative quote (full article here):

"True public space, like true democracy, can be disruptive, even unruly. The public square is not a mall or a theme park, insulated and isolated from reality. It's serendipitous, not controlled; open to all, not restricted to the privileged few. Here, the have-nots can confront the haves and the outs can harangue the ins--sometimes with deadly consequences."

The premise of his article was that public space is necessary and can’t be replaced by the Internets. But, what about sprawl and the green-eyed monster that the Millennium Park success has unleashed? Those were barely mentioned, and I fear, his defense works more as an intellectual exercise than a call to action. Nonetheless, I’m glad someone’s paying attention to this stuff.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Happy Earth Day!

Happy earth day and happy spring, one and all.

Please use this special day to consider joining the important and effective efforts of the fine folks at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. If you live in the Midwest and care about the environment, these are your people. Their website is here.

Their impressive initiative to help reduce mercury pollution in Illinois by 90% by 2009 is here. (Please click through right now to lend quick, easy, and needed citizen support.)
Donations can be made here.

And, also, don't miss the Illinois Enviroblog, where ELPC's executive director, Howard Learner, along with directors of eight other key Illinois environmental groups, keep you posted on what's what with our part of the earth.

(Today's post is on how the legislature is trying to cut back on funds for open spaces.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Painting Chicago: Nancie King Mertz

You'd be hard-pressed to find lovelier paintings of Chicago than those by Nancie King Mertz. You'd also be hard-pressed to find lovelier people than she and her husband Ron.

Together they run Art de Triumph (see link here). It's a unique art and framing store at 2936 North Clark Street with lots of original works. It's not often you find a community shop run by an artist with original works rather than mass productions.

So, put a visit on your itinerary the next time you're in that neighborhood and experience something special and unique about Chicago.

By the way, June 2 might be a good date to do that as Nancie debuts her new Chicago paintings at their store. They throw a great party that takes advantage of their cool courtyard in back of the store. For more information visit here. You can also look at samples from her portfolio online here.

Image above via Art de Triumph and painted by Nancie King Mertz. The title is "Morning Shadows. "

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What's the purpose of a major paper?

I've been pretty indifferent to the plummeting revenues of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. I figure they'll eventually sink or swim in the wake of the arrival of the Internets.

If they swim, great, they deserve to. If they sink, a bunch of smaller publications or online sites will rise up to replace them, and our city will be none the worse for it.

This story from Poynter Online jarred me from that perspective. After reading it, I'm probably not going to think twice before I renew my Trib subscription.

Photo via Poynter Online from the Times-Picayune. Their staff reacts to the news that they had just won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage during Hurricane Katrina.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter 1918: Men Tending Lillies

Easter Lilly Show at the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

From the Chicago Daily News Archive, which can be found here.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Are these Lakeview's SSA dollars in action?

I am dumbfounded by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce's decision to hang these banners and to feature their dull, bureaucratic Special Service Assessment number on them. Did they spend SSA dollars to do it?
What were they thinking? If the money for these banners came from the SSA, I'd say that's pretty preposterous. Let' s tax people to hang banners to advertise the tax!

Lakeview's SSA (aka extra taxes) is supposed to be spent, in part, on beautifying Lakeview. See outline of Lakeview's SSA mandate here.

An SSA is a tax that residents and businesses in a small part of a Chicago neighborhood pay to help promote local business, pay for extra city services, and beautify the surroundings.

Yuck. Plus, it would be a good time to re-examine the banners hanging all over the city. At one time, they were unique and cool. Now, they're too overdone and deteriorate quickly.

They're becoming eyesores.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Girl's Gotta Have a Plan

My plan showed up a few days ago. You know, Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago -- the one that everyone's quoting, but no one's ever read.

I've been bumping into Burnham's "make no little plans" quote all over the place for years now. Most recently, Children's Memorial Hospital used it in a major fundraising campaign. (See document here - pdf.)

So, I figured it was time to see what was up beyond stirring men's souls with Millennium-parkish-sized plans. (Oops, he didn't really say that.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago, it was published in 1908 and has pretty much been the underpinning force in shaping Chicago as we know it today. (Here's an entry about it in the Encyclopedia of Chicago for further reading.)

Let's kick off this new "Dipping into The Plan" feature by reading from page 107. It's about Halsted Street, which is just about three blocks west of where I'm typing right now.

No less important than . . . Michigan Avenue is the improvement of Halsted Street, often called the 'king of streets' by reason of its extreme length. . . This street will inevitably be called upon to bear a very heavy burden of traffic. One of the longest business streets in the world, it is bound to become also one of the most important.

Well, Champs Elysées, it's not. But, it is nice to think that at one time Daniel Burnham thought our avenue would amount to something of international reputation. He was right about the traffic, though.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Spiritual Importance of a Scruffy Space that's about to Go Condo

The Chicagoist has a heartfelt wrap-up here of the life and death of 2851 N. Halsted aka the Comedy Sportz Theater. We love Chicagoist for noticing the space and writing an obituary about it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Request-a-Hymn: Bell Towers as Participants of Place

I'm delighted to announce that a project I submitted to the Version :06 art festival -- Parallel Cities -- has been accepted.

My piece is one of many public performances taking place during the festival. Please join me at 5:30 on Monday, April 24 at Holy Covenant Church, 925 West Diversey, for Request-a-Hymn: Bell Towers as Participants of Place. Here's the event description:

Like sirens and honking cars, church bells are part of our city’s soundscape. They peal regardless of our efforts, from towers we almost certainly have never visited. The sounds are intimate; they rarely leave their neighborhood.

This project explores the evolving presence and participation of one bell tower in the neighborhood where it peals or, in the case of Holy Covenant’s stereo system, where it plays.

People off the street in front of Holy Covenant United Methodist Church will be invited to request a hymn to be played from the church’s bell tower while they wait.

The Public is invited to visit the tower and see the stereo system that generates the “bells” they’ll hear. .

The festival looks like it will be especially exciting for urbanistas and -istos. Its beta site is up with the schedule of events that will run in Chicago from April 20 - May 7. You can find it here. It's sponsored by Lumpen Magazine. Be sure to check out the full program.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Cupolas Continued, Part 3

I've been watching them hand-craft these new cupolas at Holy Trinity Church ever since they were working on them in the parking lot last year. (Read previous post and see photos here.)

They were placed atop the church just a few days before Christmas. I've kept waiting for the scaffolding to come down so I can give you a really nice photo of their completion. No luck yet. But, I captured this shot earlier this week.

If you're ever driving on the Kennedy (aka I-90), gaze west just as you cross Division Street, and you'll see them sprouting in the skyline.

CTA Switches Tracks: Maybe It's Not a Good Idea to Decimate Historic Armitage Brown Line Station

According to Alderman Vi Daley's office and Inside Lincoln Park, the Brown Line Armitage station will retain its historical character in the upcoming, sweeping Brown Line renovation. This came after a coalition of community representatives and Alderman Daley pressured the CTA to re-think it's original, non-contextual plan for the station.

Vi Daley's office announced via press release that the improvements "include restoration of historic panels, goose-neck lights, wrought iron on Armitage and brick work colored to match neighboring buildings. " It also noted, "The Armitage Station is the only one on the Brown Line that is located within a national and local landmark district."

Inside Lincoln Park reports Alderman Daley as saying the following:

I would like to thank the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency for making themselves available on very short notice. Their attention to this proposal was essential. I would also like to recognize the residents and businesses around the Armitage Station who fought to insure that this station would retain the historic character that represents this great neighborhood.

It's always nice when there's a win like this. Nice work everyone.

Inside Lincoln Park article here.
Alderman Vi Daley's website here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Historic Naperville Homes to Bite the Dust Soon

From this week's Preservation Online, this article about historic Naperville homes in danger of being demolished.

The article shares frustratingly few details about the history of the imperiled houses, including the one at left. (I could find little more by surfing.)

I lived in Naperville from about 1976 through about 1985, from roughly elementary school through my early college years. When we moved there, the population was 35,000. Today, as the Preservation Online article states, Naperville is a "boomburb." It's now the fourth largest city in the state with a population of about 130,000.

There's no doubt in my mind that my interest in issues of planning, sustainability, and smart growth were forged in Naperville. I remember very clearly riding my bike to the end of the feeder street in my subdivision and gazing out across a four-lane 50 mph street that I had no way of crossing safely. On the other side was the route to the downtown where the hobby shop, library, and Rexall drug store could be found. I could not taste those simple freedoms without my mom driving me there in the back of our brown Chevy Impala.

I could only intuit back then that something was not exactly right about the exotic nature of my street's name -- Royal Bombay Court -- and the circumscribed, golf course-draped life I was bound to. I also remember driving by grazing cows on Erb farm on my way to and from the grocery store, but back then, I thought it unremarkable. To me, it was just further evidence that we never should have left Ohio.

I'm also certain my ambivalence about my suburban experience is why I'm determined to raise my children in downtown Chicago. To be fair, this life has challenges and shortcomings of its own. But, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Update: Okay, by the ocean. I would have it by the ocean if the stars allowed.

Photo via Preservation Online and the Naperville Heritage Society.

Link to Naperville's grassroots Community First group that has the mission of encouraging "the compatible redevelopment of established neighborhoods." (Find their website here.)

Epodunk profile of Naperville here.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Disneyland Signs: Photo Essay

Okay, I'm back. One part of our vacation included a weekend visit to Disneyland. I was dreading it. I even wondered whether we should have postponed this trip until both children were old enough to remember our visit. That way, we'd only have to go once.

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed myself. Here's why:

  • The park had a palpable sense of well-being. People weren't crabby and were genuinely friendly to one another without exception.
  • I didn't worry about any items being stolen from my stroller when I parked it and left.
  • The selling of stuff was more subtle than I anticipated.
  • The employees seemed sincerely dedicated to our well-being, but they weren't hovering as I thought they would be (in a weird utopianish kind of way).
  • That Buzz Lightyear ride was a helluva lot of fun.
  • It's impossible to deny the place's history. My son needed explanations about who Goofy and Huey, Dewey & Louie were. There is value in that history and in Disney's longevity as an American institution.

All that being said, they still have a long way to go in some departments. I would appreciate it if they could make a movie where the mother wasn't dead and where women were more than passive and beautiful (princesses) or subserviant cheerleaders (Minnie Mouse).

I also saw one too many depictions of Native Americans as little more than angry-looking drummers and Africans portrayed as savages. When one looks at the beautiful diversity of people percolating through the park, it's inexplicable why Disney hasn't gotten this part right yet.

Okay, off my soap box. Since the place has been well documented, I thought I'd share a peek the park through some of its signage. Enjoy. More soon.

The text at the bottom of the shop window is a quote from Walt Disney. "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."