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I’m working on – or rather, not working on because I’m blogging – a paper about parking policy.  In it I intend to talk a little bit about Columbus’ proposed zoning ordinance changes regarding required off-street parking, which is exciting.  I also pulled a couple images from Google Earth for illustrative purpose, specifically one which shows how much of downtown Columbus is now parking lots.

From what I understand, Columbus underwent a great deal of urban renewal in the 50s and 60s, hence why most of the buildings are not that old and/or became surface parking lots.  The result is that the center of Columbus, the capital of Ohio, one of the largest states in the Union, has a handful of skyscrapers surrounded by a bunch of parking lots.

You can’t really tell this from looking at the skyline from a distance on the ground, but it’s pretty visible in this Google aerial image (had to use the Flight Simulator to get a bird’s eye angle).  Disclaimer:  the 3D buildings, produced by the Planning Department, may not be a complete inventory of all the buildings downtown, so this image may be somewhat misleading in that it does not show all the buildings at their proper height.  Nevertheless, the images of parked cars on so many of the properties makes it pretty clear that it’s almost all parking lot once you go a few streets east (bottom-right) of the river.  I annotated the map with some key landmarks and an approximate outline of all the parking lots I could see (red lines):

Downtown Columbus: Parking Galore (Source: Google Earth, 2010)

And I checked the approximate area of downtown Columbus – the section pictured is roughly a square mile (maybe more to the north and south).  Think how much fits in a square mile in New York.  Or Chicago.  The Loop, strictly speaking (within and immediately surrounding the El tracks), pretty much fits in less than a square mile.

Well, at least Columbus has plenty of parking.

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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

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”

Returned from a whirlwind weekend in New York City… made many mental observations, and I need to translate those to type here.

In the meantime, this little gem from the CTA Tattler:

CTA proposes raising fares in early 2010

If this change goes through – $3.00 for a single train ride and $2.50 for bus – it will officially make Chicago more expensive to travel in (passes aside) than New York, for which I paid $2.25 per ride (Chicago’s current fare for both bus and train).  But, I look on the bright side:  when I was in London, the one-way ticket was 2 pounds; now it’s L4, which at the current exchange rate ($1.58) is $6.32.  Go USA!

Seriously though, it will be rough if this change goes through.  Not only for all the people who, working low-pay jobs and/or supporting families, can barely afford their monthly pass in order to get to work; but also for any hope of convincing people to stop driving in the city.  As it is, many people I know find driving (even with the added irritation of parking) more convenient and economical than taking one or more trains and/or buses to get to where they want to go.  Making it significantly more expensive is a major disincentive for a behavior many don’t consider in the first place.

The costs of public transit, of course, are not easy to meet – and the CTA, like many similar organizations, are legally mandated to balance their budget at the end of each year.  As far as I have heard, however, no transit system can meet its costs “from the farebox,” so I’m not sure a fare hike is the answer here, and might in fact only break even if fewer people choose to ride.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s complicated.  But taking the subway in NYC made me appreciate two things about Chicago:

1) As much as I’ve complained about the bad design of the El(evated) system, it is pretty damn cool to be able to see the streets you’re traveling en route.  The short trip across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn was the best view I had all weekend.

2) The NYC system is definitely more comprehensive, in that you can get to more places via subway (and presumably bus).  It still has annoying construction reroutes, which were pretty confusing to figure out, and several times I ended up waiting a while for a train (longer than I ever remember waiting in London or Paris).  Judging from the impatience of those around me, it was either atypical, or both delay and reaction are typical.

Long story short:  Chicago’s CTA isn’t great, but NYC’s MTA isn’t actually much better!  Except in that people actually use it.

I’m taking the name of my post from the anti-Olympics group that is/was operative in Chicago.

A lot of people are unhappy about this decision, and a lot of others are happy.  I’m in the latter camp.  Chicago needs love and attention in the form of economic development, but this is not the best way.  I really hope they can take some of the plans written up and turn them into non-Olympics-oriented development proposals/guidelines.

As far as the Michael Reese Hospital controversy,  I’m torn, but it sounds like they’re tearing down the Gropius buildings anyway.  If they can do something along the lines of repair and reuse, that’s probably the best solution.

I’m leaving the city.

Coming back from downtown tonight, I had a lot to think about (most of which I’m not going to post here).  At first I resented all the Lollapalooza goers who had taken over “my” city streets for the weekend – milling around on Michigan Avenue, clustering with cigarettes outside hotels, shuffling along El stations, littering and loitering.  I was going to a friend’s place for the day anyway, so I didn’t have time for sight-seeing, but just on principle:  couldn’t I spend some last moments in Chicago with the peaceful, generally empty streets at night?

This, however, is not the point.  Cities, and particularly Chicago, and particularly its public streets and parks, are for everyone.  Just because I am for the moment a city resident, and one who probably walks more than the average resident, my claim to the city as someone who “understands” it isn’t the right attitude to have.  Perhaps I’ve appreciated more of the city’s moods than some of those just in for the Lolla weekend, but for this weekend it really is their city as well as mine.  It’s easy for locals to grumble about the traffic and bother of special events (I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself), but it is these events, along with the everyday activity, that make the city what it is.  It’s okay to avoid the crowds on a summer weekend – but you nevertheless have to appreciate their right to crowd around, and the significance of those crowds for where you live.

And for someone like me, already saying the last parting words to their city, the crowds are a reminder that life goes on.  The city continues to move.  It is the product of its people, but does not rely on any one person to keep it going (okay, exception in Chicago, Mayor Daley).  Maybe I don’t want to remember Michigan Ave with the concert-going throngs; but maybe that’s the best way to remember it.  Vibrant, busy, an exciting place to be.  How many people have been excited about this event all summer, getting to come to a big city like Chicago?  It’s easy to get used to living here, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that it really is a special place.

I also couldn’t help but think about my own mental map of the city – an emotional geography overlaying the grid – and how much I’ll carry with me.  The city and I have grown pretty close.  A lot has happened here in three years.  If and when I come back to visit some of the places on my map, those visits will necessarily be ones of physical place but also temporal place – remembering when I was there and how I felt about it.  Some places I’ll be happy to visit.  Standing under the Bean at Millennium Park or walking over the river at North Avenue.  Other places I’m not so sure.  Will it still hurt to walk along Armitage?  Can I go back to the Museum of Contemporary Art or look at one of the bridges anytime soon?  Probably not.  But they’ll be there waiting, either way.

I’ve always been a strongly place-oriented person, even if I didn’t realize it until pretty recently.  Planning is therefore a good field for me.  History is more about time, which I have much more mixed feelings about, and anyway I think cultural history is more about a particular place (and its people, of course) than it is about the unfolding of time in a chain of causation.  Being place-oriented, however, means it hurts like hell to uproot.  I know very well that it’s a good time for me to go, not least to clear my head in less memory-saturated air.  But it’s not an easy thing.

I’m leaving the city.

But I’m taking a lot of places with me.

Leaving Chicago

… more specifically, the two new pavilions in the park dedicated to the centennial of the Chicago Plan, as envisioned by Burnham and Bennett.  I have not gotten a photo of them yet.

First:  maybe it was just that particular evening, but I noticed as many or more professional (looking) photographers taking photos of the new pavilions as there were actual people milling around and photographing them.  Tripods and such.  I think these might be more exciting to the press and architecture photographers than the average person; or maybe that’s just me who is underwhelmed by them.

Second:  walking around Millennium Park, I overhear a lot of people talking about their childhoods.  Totally supports my idea that the park is a big playground for adults as well as children.

A lot on my mind recently, and I’ve been delinquent in putting these thoughts down in digital form.

For the time being, here are some photos from today’s walk to downtown (I would say “to and from” but the rain made me wuss out and take the bus home).  I headed from Wicker Park to Grand Avenue, saw a movie, and spent a bit of time in Millennium Park until I got somewhat rained out.

A show of color on Grand Avenue

I walked underneath Michigan Avenue for the first time (or at least, first time in that direction) – here’s the stairs to and from the lower level.

Egress to and from Lower Wacker

The “American Gothic” statues at the NBC Plaza, against a backdrop of the Tribune building.  Still working on how to hold the camera vertically.

American Gothic Statues and Tribune Tower

The rain at Millennium Park wasn’t heavy, just enough to make the park-goers huddle together under umbrellas.

Umbrellas in Millennium Park

My favorite photo – I love the floral umbrella.  This might have been the usual number of people at the Bean, but they seemed to be seeking shelter underneath it.

Rainy Day at the Bean

Five sparrows sitting by the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.  They flew away about five seconds later.

Sparrows in Millennium Park

The rainy bus ride home (and messing around with the focus function)

Rain on Bus Window

Three weeks, more or less, until I leave Chicago.  More thoughts on this to come.

I’m still having residual geek-out episodes, and probably will for the rest of the week.  Suffice to say, Brickworld was awesome.  I took lots of photos, and some video.

Click here to see photo album via Facebook

Click here to see video via Youtube (to see all, search for my other photos via username)

What I learned:

1) Lego is an extremely versatile medium.

2) “AFOL” = Adult Fan of Lego; MOC = “My Own Creation,” i.e. a piece built from a creator’s original design, rather than a specific set (though it may use one or more elements of a particular set).

3) “Dark Ages” = the term for the period of time between when one originally played with Legos as a kid, and the time when they rediscover and/or repurchase a set of Legos and get addicted again.  (By this timeline, I would be in the very early Renaissance).

4) There are other conferences around the US, as well as Lego-building clubs which meet regularly and put on displays at conferences and other events.

5) The closest meet-up to Ithaca, NY is the one in Washington DC, and I need to try to make it there next year.

6) Legos really do make the world a more awesome place.

And a final note:  my especial admiration and thanks to everyone who built for the conference – I’m so glad I was able to see so many awesome pieces of artwork and design!  I haven’t added any names to the pieces in the photos but I am definitely not trying to take any credit for their work – only share it with more people.  Please add comments if you want to include more info about this awesome event and the people who build!

My one "artsy" photo - a close-up of the Sears Tower and Chicago Spire, large-scale (7+ foot) models built by Brick Structures of Chicago

My one "artsy" photo - a close-up of the Sears Tower and Chicago Spire, large-scale (7+ foot) models built by Brick Structures of Chicago

The stars have aligned.

Brickworld, described on its site as “an event created by Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOLs),” is in Chicago.  Or rather, out in Wheeling IL, a short drive away.

Thursday and Friday are for registered conference attendees (it looks like a lot of building goes on in those days!) but Saturday and Sunday are also open for the public to view their creations.

I am so. freaking. there.

Check out photos from last year’s conference on Flickr (linked from their site)