Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Preserve Campton website lays out the proposed boundaries of Campton Hills (read the article).
Last week, members of the group Preserve Campton made a splash with new and well-organized plans to push forward with an incorporation effort that would create a 36-square-mile municipality tucked neatly between a growing Elgin, South Elgin, Elburn and Lily Lake.
I recently visited the site of the proposed Stony Creek subdivision, and will have more to say about the annexation in the next few days.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Here's a map that shows where Stony Creek is to be located. How lucky these people will be. Even though they'll be living south of South Elgin, they'll still get to say they live in Elgin.
The links that got away:
  • You can get this in Elgin all over the place, smothered in mayo and queso Cotija. The New York Times has a way of making it look more appetizing than it sounds!
  • NHS wants to subsidize out-of-towners. Why?
  • It's not good when the Fox River looks like a lawn. They can start by taking down the mill dams and banning motorboats.
  • Interesting article about the 16-sided barn on Randall.
  • South Elgin High opens. Great. Now let's start talking about building a new high school on the far west side and transferring the flag of Elgin High School. The current building is in a decrepit state and doesn't deserve to bear the illustrious name.
  • They think the bus station is an eyesore? I can point out far worse offenders. Public enemy number one: Unilever factory. Besides being an eyesore, it's the worst noise polluter in downtown--sounds like a snoring dinosaur.
  • Bertoia chairs for sale.
  • NENA has a website.
City Council has approved Stony Creek. I thought the Daily Herald's coverage seemed to be skewed towards the negatives, in comparison to the Courier's coverage, which seemed more balanced.

What do you think?

Read the Daily Herald article.
Read the Courier article.
Read the Chicago Tribune article.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dinosaurs at the GBL

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Anybody know what this is? It's blooming right now at the fen.

See pictures I took today at the fen.
There's a Southeast Asian Water Festival in Lowell, Mass, which features traditional boat races.
The festival is expected to draw 50,000 to 60,000 visitors to Lowell's Merrimack River each year, a celebration of the river as a God in Southeast Asian culture.
Imagine bringing 50-60,000 people to downtown Elgin for something similar. The Lao community here can be joined by Thai, Cambodian and other communities in Chicagoland to host this event.
This could be a good way to highlight Elgin's diversity and deliver traffic to downtown businesses. It would also highlight the downtown and especially the riverfront's revitalization.

Read the article.
Somebody posted pictures of the installation of the GBL Dinosaur exhibit on Flickr. Check it out.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The thing about Stony Creek is that it doesn't matter whether Elgin annexes it or not. If Elgin doesn't annex it the land will still get developed, whether now or eventually. The only difference is that under Elgin, there will be less sprawl, because the lots are smaller.

Read the article.
Nice to hear it's nearby.
The University of Chicago is at the center of a $148 million effort to expand the world's largest open-access computer network, which helps scientists crunch data for weather forecasting, astronomy and medicine...Only the U.S. Department of Energy's weapons laboratories have larger systems, which are dedicated to classified research, officials said.
Read the article.
It would be neat to have free WiFi/WiMax in Elgin.
Intel has put its weight behind wireless networks rollouts by local authorities with a new "Digital Communities" programme...Cities already working with the Digital Communities technologies are using it to provide widespread wireless Internet access to residents and to give city employees such as water meter readers and housing inspectors instant access to information..
Read the article.
Can you imagine cheetahs in the Kane County Forest Preserves? There was an article about introducing predators to the wild in America.
Their disappearance left glaring gaps in the complex web of interactions, upon which a healthy ecosystem depends. The pronghorn, for example, has lost its natural predator and only its startling speed - of up to about 60mph - hints at its now forgotten foe.
The article neglects to mention that man has replaced the predators. Why have cheetahs when we have hunters? It reminded me of how people can forget the tradeoffs when it comes to protecting predator species. In India alone, tigers have eaten hundreds of thousands of people over the centuries. Individual tigers have been known to kill and eat 200 people. An adult tiger can eat as much as 10,000 lbs of meat a year. One tiger can wipe out an entire endangered species. In many areas of the world, the quantity of meat an average tiger eats in a year can provide a year of food security for an entire village.

Read the article.
There was a Herald article on The Grove development:
“Some elements of the community use that as a standard, like you haven’t made it until you have a Starbucks,” Moller said. “So for those who use that criteria for evaluating the community, we must have made it now.”
We were thinking Starbucks downtown, not on Randall! Save Randall for office space, especially near I-90. There's too much retail already, concentrated just north and south of Elgin. Good luck competing.

Read the article.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Wouldn't this make a great community garden? Imagine a luscious garden of herbs, fruits, vines and greens and beds of cutting flowers, all surrounded by a quaint white picket fence. Neighbors finally meet one another as they touch earth side by side through the seasons of planting, nurture and harvest. Wouldn't that be marvelous?

I dropped some stuff off at the Salvation Army recently, and I noticed that it was a Giving Garden drop-off site. That means if you have produce from your backyard and you want to share it with people who need it, you can drop it off here. A flyer said that the 6-year total for the program was some 300,000 lbs of fresh produce. It got me thinking about community gardens in Elgin. Why aren't there any? One great site is right across from the Salvation Army.

They weren't kidding when they said it was big (read my old post). This carriage house is clearly bigger than the neighbor's house!

This can serve as an office or granny flat. Granny flats feature prominently in many new urban designs. It's ironic isn't it, that the one place you can build them is in historic districts?

See more pictures.
Brice Cooper, the new Design on A Dime host, says tear em down:

But, city planners should be willing to tear down and start over, he said.
"Just because something is old doesn't mean it is great design," he said.
I don't know what buildings he's specifically thinking of, but in general I think the greater problem is architectural timidity. It's constructing buildings in styles that are supposed to "fit in," which is just about the worst mistake that can be made in architecture.

In any case, preservation is important and just as important as preservation is building buildings that will be preserved in the future because they were when they were built a product of the best, most innovative ideas of their time. Buildings must reflect their era (though the greatest seem to magically transcend era and are timeless). This is less important with residential homes, but is critical for civic buildings. Libraries, museums, and concert halls have almost always been built with great care and rightly so, because they represent the aspirations of the community and its highest values.

Read the article.

If you have coffee with Ruth Munson this Saturday, tell her we want a new research university northwest of Chicago. UIUC is awesome, but it's about an hour too far from Chicago and in the wrong direction. The result is that all the wonderful talent it produces gets poached by Silicon Valley.

Also mention a north-south (Elgin-Aurora) highway...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The New York Times continues to take interest in the new art museum building in Davenport, Iowa.
The Figge Art Museum here, the first major American building by the British architect David Chipperfield, is a monument to that notion of good taste. Mr. Chipperfield has a knack for making Minimalism look fresh, and here he has designed a very pretty box.
A minimalist building is beautiful but won't provide much bang for the buck. A box does not translate well into an icon. Spectacle, such as that provided by Gehry's designs in Bilbao and L.A. or Calatrava's in Milwaukee are the key to instant impact. Other buildings that may be more beautiful yet understated can come later. I'm thinking of Columbus, Indiana (read more) here.

I saw a rendering recently of the Art Gallery of Ontario's new Gehry expansion, and it seems to be a "quieter" design than what we are accustomed to getting from Gehry. If we were to erect a new concert hall in Elgin now, perhaps Coop Himmelb(l)au or Daniel Libeskind will provide the most showstopping design. Maybe Zaha Hadid would do something spectacular also. I don't know. I don't think anybody will know until the city announces an international design competition and we can see some entries displayed at the GBL...

Read the article

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Last week's transportation bill signing

Steve Munson sent me some great pictures of last week's transportation bill signing. I've uploaded them to flickr. Click here to see them.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A two-story carriage house being built in the Elgin Historic District has drawn fire from some neighbors for its size...
Carriage houses are neat and sometimes massive. I'm really glad Mr. Harris is making an investment in a historic home (see map). We need more of his kind.

I'll try to take "before" and "after" pictures. It sounds like a good project to keep a tab on. It might inspire others!

Read the article
I wouldn't be surprised if all the discussion about Stony Creek turns out to be academic. If the bubble pops soon, what happens to the far west plan? Mr. Alft had a good editorial on this some time ago, and here's a more recent blog entry from Barry Ritholz.

Friday, August 12, 2005

What a light sentence:
An Elgin woman was sentenced Thursday to two years of probation for a drunken driving crash that killed a man walking home from a bar.

Carrie Liska, 36, also must serve 90 days on electronic home monitoring and pay $1,000 in fines in the death of 66-year-old James Brown Sr., who died two days after he was run over on Dec. 12, 2003.

Read the article.

Stony Creek...I'm with the unions on this one.
Several members of the carpenter’s union in Elgin spoke in favor of the plan. Heimberg also provided a petition with 1,100 signatures in favor of the project.
Read the article.
If the Center City Project Management Team reconvenes, I hope they make moving the Unilever factory a priority.
Among the downtown sites still to be redeveloped is the old salvage yard north of the new Gail Borden Public Library — a prime riverfront spot that is in the midst of an environmental cleanup — and the block bounded by Symphony Way, Kimball and Spring streets and Douglas Avenue, just north of police headquarters.
Read the article.
Guitar Madness is moving to Judson.
Bakes, owner of Bakes Guitars in Elgin and another guitar store in Genoa, said the expo averages 70 vendors and draws a crowd of about 1,500.
Seems like a big loss for the downtown.

Read the article.
Here's a picture of a mantis devouring a hummingbird. When I was growing up in Elgin, I never saw a mantis. Now I occasionally see them just about everywhere--lawns, golf courses, prairie. I even saw a red one once at Bluff Spring Fen. I guess some rotten kid released a breeding pair and they lost no time getting to work. I don't even know the effect that it's had on the local ecology. From what I understand, they eat mostly grasshoppers.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Some numbers were posted for the Grand Victoria:
June's most popular casino was in Elgin, which saw admissions at 221,384 and gross receipts of $32.8 million. The state's share of that revenue was $15.6 million and the local share was $1.8 million.

Calendar year-to-date statistics through June indicate that Elgin typically saw the highest revenues at $204.4 million, followed by Joliet-Harrah's with $153 million, Aurora with $116.7 million, and Joliet-Empress with $114.5 million.

June admission numbers have also increased, with the exception Elgin, which saw casino attendance decline by 3.04%. Admissions at Harrah's in Joliet increased by 21.04% over the past year.
The Grand Victoria is consistently ranked by traffic as one of the top tourist destinations in Illinois. It's too bad we haven't found a way to convert that traffic into support for downtown businesses.

Read more.
Kane County Chronicle has a story on the Stony Creek debate:
Opponents say the development would add more students to schools that already are overcrowded, clog rural roads that were not built to hand the anticipated traffic volume and stress resources already in short supply.
Sounds like growing pains.

Read the story.
The Courier quotes the new director of Fermilab:
"That is the main problem with Fermilab," Oddone said. "After the machine turns on, then the Tevatron is no longer a viable machine."
If that's the case--and everybody in the physics world agrees--let's convert the Fermilab campus to a new University of Illinois at Batavia. We really need a major research university in the Fox Valley. There are powerful externalities associated with research universities in metropolitan areas. With a major research university and a North-South highway, the Fox Valley can become Chicagoland's high-tech corridor.

And as they say in cosa nostra, let's do it while we got the muscle:
The bill includes funding for more than $300 million worth of Fox Valley construction projects favored by U.S House Speaker Dennis Hastert. (read this article)

Read the article
An article in today's Daily Herald described some of the budget woes of the Centre:
Meanwhile, council members will have to decide how much they would like to pay for programs that will not make money — such as teen and senior services — but are community needs, Folarin said.
I think that the spaces that are reserved for things like ceramics, dance, etc. should be eliminated. We should encourage private studios in the downtown. There should be a nice dance studio on the 2nd floor of one of the historic buildings downtown, and the city should have nothing to do with it. We shouldn't compete with them. The space that is freed up can be converted into a Starbucks... :)

Here's an example of what we need downtown. Let's lure them here.

Read the article.
There's an article in today's Daily Herald about the site north of the GBL:

The city identified the site as a potential residential development in its 2000 master plan.

Moller already has fielded at least a dozen calls from developers eager to get their hands on the property.

“I can’t imagine a more beautiful redevelopment site along the Fox River in Illinois,” Moller said. “And residential developers know it.”

Okay fine, but what about the proposed concert hall? Shouldn't we keep our options open as to site selection for that building? Shouldn't we consider a site as far north in the downtown as possible so that traffic traveling between the casino and the concert hall takes people through the whole downtown? Shouldn't we reserve a prime riverside site for an institutional building like the concert hall that can take full advantage of the opportunities for spectacle that the site provides? In other words, think Bilbao.

Read the article.
Congrat's to Elginite Brice Cooper.
The 25-year-old was chosen to be the host for cable’s Home & Garden Television show, “Design on a Dime.”
His Elgin-based company Element Studios (see the website) makes indoor water features.

Read the Daily Herald article.

Monday, August 08, 2005

There was a Daily Herald article about the Downtown Neighborhood Association’s design committee's walks:
For the past three Tuesdays, members have toured certain portions of downtown Elgin, looking for needed improvements and noting what works for the neighborhood.
One thing they might consider is replacing some sections of the downtown's concrete sidewalk with brick paving. They could also tear out the asphalt in some road sections to reveal what surely must be an existing brick road underneath. Click here to see a picture of what brick pavement and roads would look like. I think it may nicely complement some of the historic buildings downtown, not to mention the historic streetlights that the city has put in or is putting in(read more about this in the DNA blog).

Read the Daily Herald article

I visited Milwaukee this weekend and got a chance to see the Milwaukee Museum of Art's Calatrava addition (see pictures). It's a breathtaking design that takes full advantage of the site. I don't know if Calatrava can design something in Elgin that would be as contextually marvelous as in Milwaukee, where his signature style of curving white lines perfectly suited the lakefront site. I think only an international design competition could answer the question of who could come up with the best design for the proposed concert hall. Those who are ultimately responsible for the selection ought to make the primary requirement clear: that we require a building so striking, beautiful and original that it can stand as an icon of our city. Anything less would be another squandered opportunity and a waste of money.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Gifford Park Association has posted photos of the homes (see the homes) to be featured in this year's Historic Elgin House Tour. The GPA does such great work. It would be nice to see them have a permanent home (how about the one above?) and a full-time staff member so they can qualify for grants that require it.

The permanent home of the GPA would also double as a museum and resource center for people who want to learn more about historic house preservation, and more specifically how they could go about the process of rehabbing their own homes or other property they have their eyes on. There could be exhibits and staff or volunteers can act as informal consultants to people looking to restore their historic homes. I think it would be a very important community resource.

One side benefit is that they can reduce neighborhood density by converting one huge house that has a half dozen renters into an office/museum. The house would also be an important standardbearer throughout the neighborhood and city, representing the potential beauty of each historic home.

And imagine how much more inspiring it would be to hold GPA meetings in a grand historic house rather than Elgin High. I hope to see this happen in the coming years.
The Downtown Elgin blog had a post (read it) about the street light program. It reminded me of a web page I came across one time: The Cost of Light Pollution. Here's what it says:
Assuming that the city uses regular cobra-head design lamps, the loss would be "only" 30% = 100,620$ /year. Lost, in vane, for nothing, to illuminate the birds and airplanes. To wash the stars out of the sky... Paid by for the citizens of Elgin, Il.
I don't know if his numbers are correct but they're worth thinking about. I'm not much of an astronomer but I sure do like it when I look up and see Orion.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Elgin's new police chief was sworn in yesterday. The Elgin police and the city in general have done a good job keeping crime down. They're pretty efficient. For example, I was driving by the library one day last year and noticed some graffiti had been sprayed on an outside wall. By the time I returned the next day, it had been removed. I was impressed. I didn't realize the city vigorously applied the Broken Windows Theory. But I guess that's why our crime numbers are second only to Naperville.

See the Downtown Elgin blog for the chief's picture
I think the lesson to be learned from this lawsuit against U-46 is that bilingual education segregates students, and segregation is wrong. We learned that decades ago. Why do we have an extensive bilingual education program when states like California and Arizona have gotten rid of theirs? Immigrant test scores in California have in some cases doubled (read more).
The lawsuit, filed in February, claims the district provides less stability for minority students, illegally segregates bilingual students from mainstream students, and fails to provide ample special education services to bilingual students.
Want to solve the problem? Get rid of the bilingual program.

Read the Herald article.