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This is admittedly petty, and not related to cities, but I was sufficiently enraged to let everyone know not to use MyPhotoAlbum.  I had been using them since 2005, and was actually pretty happy with the service.  You (could) have a free account and easily order photo prints directly through their website.  Their software was easy to use and produced nice-looking albums even with free templates.

Since they changed their policy and instituted some kind of “automatic account suspension if you don’t pay us enough” crap in mid-2009, however, my account has been completely inaccessible for the past year – despite their assertion they would promptly delete the account after a short time.  I still have all the content/IP rights to my photos, luckily, so I was hoping they would just delete, because the pop-up window you see when trying to access your albums (or any part of your account) does not allow you to even go into your account settings to do anything about it.

In old-man-rant fashion, I sent them a strongly-worded Email.  I’m posting here to let everyone know that they should avoid MyPhotoAlbum, for pulling crap like this.  If you do have an account and you enjoy their service, you must be paying for said enjoyment.

<a bit of an overreaction>

Dear MyPhotoAlbum,
I was unpleasantly surprised to find that you had decided to “suspend” my account about a year ago, even though I had made my usual annual photo purchases on your site to keep my account in good standing. This must have been some kind of arbitrary change of policy to get me to give you more money directly.
In any case, I have tried several times to actually delete my account – after a year, I still keep getting the “you need to pay” window, even though your site says it will automatically delete my account for me. Because it does not even let me access my account details (a major software flaw, in my opinion), I am unable to even go into my account and do it myself.
I have not opted for any paid service, and therefore owe you no additional money. Please delete my account and all associated content as soon as possible.
A note on your service: I had found your photo album software pretty easy to use, attractively organized, and have been satisfied with any photo prints I’ve ordered through the site in the past. That satisfaction was far outweighed, however, by the frustrating and completely asinine account suspension system which locks you *completely* out of your own account until you cough up money or sign up for “free” trials which no doubt lock you into further shady agreements.
I am extremely unimpressed with your account policies and will not recommend your site to anyone I know looking to create online photo albums, even if they are willing to pay for membership. The money you generate by printing photos should be sufficient to allow some users free accounts, but apparently that’s not the case. Thank goodness I still own IP rights over my own photos, according to your terms.

Please notify me by Email as soon as my account has been deleted, and verify that the associated content is gone from your servers.


</a bit of an overreaction>

Back on the hill and already hard at work!

Despite my half-hearted intentions, I haven’t gotten around to posting anything new and planny yet.  But after poking around on CSPAN to hear the State of the Union last night, I did find an interesting tag cloud generator called “Wordle.” Along with a link to video of Obama’s speech, they had posted a link to a tag cloud of the transcript.

You paste in a block of text, or a link to a blog or other web page, and it will generate a tag cloud.  You can then play around with font, colors, general text orientation, etc.  It even does other languages, although I didn’t play around with that (presumably it knows not to include words like “the” or “and.”)

To test it out, I used the front-page link to this blog.  The result is embedded below.  Fun stuff!

All this is to say, I will something soon that was not automatically generated from previous text.  But Wordle looks like kind of a fun toy to play with!

Wordle restricts the size of the linked image, so see the full size (hi res) here.

Wordle: CityForward blog

I was driving south toward Indiana this morning, and on a whim decided to detour on I-55 to visit those giant silos on South Damen Avenue.  The ones with the big “STATE AUCTION” sign on them, and all the graffiti.  This summer, I had a very enjoyable afternoon seeing them for the first time (even slipped under the fence, shhhh), and thought I would see how they looked in the snow.  Was not disappointed.

[Editor’s note:  I should really start a photoblog, and save CityForward for mostly text-based posts.  This fixed-width layout is killing me, as it conveniently snips off the right margin of all my landscape-oriented photos.  Straw poll:  Flickr, or a legit photoblog format?]

"State Property, No Trespassing" Sign

Silo through the fence, with AUCTION sign

Fence and Silos

Silo, Graffiti Detail

No Dumping Sign

Graffiti, "RIP AFRO 42"

Graffiti, "RIP EVOL"

Graffiti, Rabbit

Wreath in front of silos

Silos and building through the fence

Building skeleton

Graffiti on brick building

Brick building, with Sears Tower in the distance

Side building, river, and geese

Side building, river, and bench

Side building, river, and silos

Highway ramp toward home

In going through my New York photos, I found a couple other shots worth posting.

The first is from across the tracks at Williamsburg’s Marcy Avenue station.  An old man and a hipster waiting for the train.

Williamsburg, Marcy Avenue Station

The second is a view from the High Line, of new condos going up along the (river? harbor? whatever it’s called there?).

Sunset, from the High Line

Gotten a lot of photo mileage out of those three days … will post photos of other things soon, I promise!

I was skimming a Brookings report on “job sprawl,” the decentralization of job distribution in several metro areas.  The study period was 1998-2006, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the pattern continues today.  According to the report, Chicago was one of the most rapidly decentralizing, with 68.7% of jobs more than 10 miles outside the city center.

In my limited experience with and knowledge of employment in the Chicago area, that sounds about right.  Certainly there are a number of jobs in the city:  financial firms, consulting firms, law firms, city and federal offices, design and architecture firms, etc.  Not to mention the usual laundry list of retail and service jobs.  And while there still are industrial operations in the city, many have either gone out of business or are now centered out in places like Maywood or near O’Hare.

As a result, there is a great deal of reverse commuting from city to suburbs – most of my co-workers chose to live in the city, even if it meant a 15 to 25 mile one-way commute.  There is also a great deal of commuting between suburbs, such as from Evanston to Elmhurst or from Arlington Heights to Libertyville.  And unfortunately, most of the El lines don’t go beyond city limits; the Metra is set up in a hub-and-spoke system which is only useful for those commuting to downtown or along the same train line; and the buses take forever if you’re going 20 miles (assuming, like the El or Metra, they run along the route you need to go).

I’m not sure what the solution to all this is – better transit networks, more incentives for businesses to stay in the city center, or better housing options to convince people to move closer to work.  If the trend continues, it will certainly have an impact not only on things like cities’ commercial tax bases and economic health, but it will also make driving commutes worse and worse.

Read the full report

Elizabeth Kneebone, “Job Sprawl Revisited:  The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment”

I was talking with some friends this morning (and by “morning” I mean 2 PM) about cul-de-sacs and how, for planners, they are a really inefficient and disconnected urban form.  I thought I would reproduce my argument here, since it’s a pretty simple exercise in Google Mappery.

Case in Point:  Going to Target in western Columbus, Ohio

Figure 1:  My parents’ neighborhood in relation to a nearby recent development – the aerial photo is out of date, but in that empty land east of the interstate, there is actually a medical office complex and, on the other side of Trueman, a Home Depot and Target (marked in map).

Figure 1. The cul-de-sac in context, Hilliard, Ohio

There is a cul-de-sac separating the neighborhood from the road.  Trueman was built around 2006 or so, the houses are only a few years older, and the construction of that road had been on the books for years.  In addition, the houses around that cul-de-sac have all put up sturdy metal fences to prevent anyone from cutting through their small yards.  There is luckily a nature trail just south of the neighborhood with an outlet onto Trueman, with a sidewalk on that side for relatively pedestrian friendly access (along a 35-mph, four-lane road).

If you wanted to walk from my parents’ house to Target, with a total distance of about 0.7 miles, you would take the following route (Figure 2):

Figure 2. Route from Scioto Run to Target, Walking

Now, let’s say you wanted to drive to Target instead.  Even if you combine this with other trips down the line, it will add 2 miles to your trip (note:  this is Google’s suggested route):

Figure 3. Driving from Scioto Run to Target, Google's Suggested Route

There is a slightly shorter route if you instead take Hilliard Cemetery Road, but because of an odd U-turn and boulevard situation, you pretty much have to go further out of your way to get home (Figure 4):

Figure 4. Alternate Route, Equally Out of the Way

Now, not all cul-de-sacs are extremely inefficient like this one was, but it pretty much illustrates why they are a bad idea.