Friday, December 30, 2005

I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The High Line is catalyzing real estate development in Manhattan, the New York Times reported recently. If you're unfamiliar with the High Line, it's a section of abandoned elevated rail in Manhattan once destined for demolition, but owing to an amazing grassroots campaign is now set to become one of the most unique open spaces in America and an important landmark for New York City.

You may not have heard of the Chicago & North Western rail line, but surely you've seen it. It's a section of abandoned rail that runs through downtown Elgin. I think of it as Elgin's High Line. Over the past hundred and some years, buildings have gone up around it in unusual shapes to accomodate its path. But recently, buildings such as the Centre have been planted right on top of it. And while the Grand Victoria respected the old line, River Park Place did not. The line has now been broken into three sections, as you can see in the above picture. The upper and the lower sections should at this point, I think, be a low priority for preservation, but the middle section is something we ought to preserve and develop.

A few months ago, I noticed that a Highland Avenue homeowner had blocked up part of the line with a water feature and other landscape elements (pictured in the first three pictures of the top row below). When I asked him about his right to build such features on top of the line, he said he'd purchased the property from the railroad company. It makes me nervous that people could be legally choking up this landmark. I would like to see the city work to preserve and develop the remaining middle section. It can be something really beautiful, a landmark that catalyzes development along its path, just like the High Line in NYC. Nicely paved and landscaped, it would be a perfect way for restaurants, cafes and beer gardens to offer outdoor seating in a space relatively protected from street traffic. It would be a nice way to walk from one end of downtown to the other. And it would be something to behold when you drive by and catch a glimpse of a park that runs through the city.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, everybody. Don't forget to check out the wonderful lights on Foxmoor Lane (map). They've outdone the folks on Juniper Lane in South Elgin. Way to go!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Courier reports that Dupage County Forest Preserves has acquired the "last huge open space" in Dupage County.
The district had just authorized a $25 million purchase of 377 highly-coveted acres in the western DuPage town of Wayne for open space. It took more than seven years to agree on a price and seal the deal, a process which was described by various people Tuesday as "contentious," "cantankerous" and "a long, arduous task."
They stuck to it through seven years. It's hard to imagine Kane doing that. Why? Because the Dupage County Forest Preserve District is independent of the Dupage County Board. That's why they're so good at doing what they do (Read my old article about Dupage County Forest Preserves). The Kane County Forest Preserve District, on the other hand, is run by the County Board. We've got the foxes in charge of the hen house. It' s not an ideal situation by any means. You should read some of the literature that has gone out under their seal. It's totally antithetical to conservation.

Preservation of land around here is important for many reasons I've outlined before. So I won't repeat them. But if you read one of my recent entries where I linked to Richard Florida's article on the "creative class", and followed the link, you might have noticed a couple of paragraphs:
leading creative centers provide a solid mix of high-tech industry, plentiful outdoor amenities, and an older urban center whose rebirth has been fueled in part by a combination of creativity and innovative technology, as well as lifestyle amenities

Creative class people value active outdoor recreation very highly. They are drawn to places and communities where many outdoor activities are prevalent---both because they enjoy these activities and because their presence is seen as a signal that the place is amenable to the broader creative lifestyle. The creative-class people in my studies are into a variety of active sports, from traditional ones like bicycling, jogging, and kayaking to newer, more extreme ones, like trail running and snowboarding.
There you have it. Elgin's renaissance is indissolubly linked to Kane County Forest Preserves. We need to agitate for the independence of the forest preserve district.

Follow Dupage's example:
Since December 2002, when the Commission was restructed, the Forest Preserve District has been governed by a seven-member board. One member is elected from each of the six county districts to a staggered four-year term. The seventh Commissioner, the president, is elected by the county at large by popular vote.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why aren't there more movie theaters on Randall Road? I know movie theatres are having a tough time right now, but you'd think that with all those new subdivisions there would be a healthy market for movies around here. Unfortunately there's no Randall Road equivalent of South Barrington's AMC 30, as far as I know. That means the options are pretty limited. I've avoided Marcus in Elgin because their sound always seemed to be poor in comparison to the Sony/Loews or AMC theaters in the area. But rather than drive to South Barrington last weekend on a freezer cold night, we opted to see Peter Jackson's King Kong on Marcus's UltraScreen. The sound turned out to be outstanding. I could both hear and feel wind, drums, grunts and roars. It was worth the extra 50 cents to see it on the UltraScreen. The only problem is Marcus has only one UltraScreen, but if they're using it to screen a movie you want to see, make sure you give Marcus a chance before you head over to South Barrington or wherever.

If you were thinking about seeing King Kong though, you might want to reconsider. I had high expectations, because I have a high regard for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unfortunately, King Kong didn't meet my expectations. I'm no movie critic, and this is just my opinion, but I didn't think this was a worthy effort from the director of the Lord of the Rings. Length is not in itself something I would complain about. I've seen long movies and enjoyed them. But when a movie is long for no good reason, then I feel resentment at the end of the movie for my time wasted. If you see sections of King Kong, it can be intriguing, visually and stylistically--primarily in the first act. Taken as a whole though, the movie fails on different levels. First of all, there's genre confusion. Was this a comedy, a parody of a Hollywood B movie? Was this a romance, or an action adventure or a horror movie? I mean, what was up with that white girl painted black in some sort of a trance who could call forth rain with a flick of her fingers? It was both bizarre and horrifying, far more horrifying than the picture otherwise justified. When you combine this with the comedy and the other stuff it just doesn't make sense.

Sure, you often want to have elements of comedy in a romance movie or romance in an action adventure movie etc., but in this case, the B-movie comedy was just pervasive to the point that it undermined the film--though I suppose the film was meant to be in the style of a B movie. I would say that it violated audience expectations, except for the fact that Jackson cast Jack Black as Denham, which should have given it away. Then there's the dialogue that was too often deplorable--much of which did nothing to advance or enrich the story and lead to dead ends.

And then the dinosaurs...It's a sad day when I have to complain about dinosaurs. But in using dinosaurs, Jackson sets his movie up for comparison with Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park has oustanding dinosaurs, realistic, terrifying creatures that have personalities. To make up for the fact that his dinosaurs are devoid of character, Jackson uses a large number of them, substituting quantity for quality. Furthermore, in my opinion, Jackson's CG creatures approach but do not equal Jurassic Park's in realism. Realism of the creatures themselves aside, some of the scenes involving them were just too unbelievable. Imagine a dinosaur (brontosaurus?) stampede down an alley-sized canyon that lasts seemingly forever. Would you expect to survive that? In any case, the stampede lasted three times longer than it should have.

And then there's the battle between Kong and the T-Rexes. In the trailer it looks great, but in the movie, it comes only after a very long sequence of fights with yes, other T-Rexes. Why? Why couldn't the T-Rex fight be the ultimate fight? In other words, it would have been better if Kong fought with lesser dinosaurs (but please don't make it last forever) and then finally, the ultimate fight, T-Rex shows up. Who will be king of the jungle? But that's not what Jackson gives us. As a result, the final dinosaur fight lacks excitement. But even then, even if it was done properly, it would have been little more than an Alien vs. Predator spectacle. What's the point?

I thought it was odd that at the end of the second act, the captain of the ship disappears. Where did he go? It's like he doesn't exist any more. It's like he didn't matter to the plot, never mind that his [SPOILER WARNING] two--or was it three?--miraculous rescues of the doomed fools amount to deus ex machina, representing the worse of filmmaking. They could have brought him back and had him kill King Kong. I would have preferred it that way. I would have much preferred that to Driscoll riding around in a cab. What was the point of that? He might as well have picked up passengers and dropped off sandwiches while he was at it.

So Kong rampages through Gotham, and is this supposed to horrify us or are we supposed to fear for his safety? I don't think the audience knows. Which is why they don't feel anything. They just see a cheap spectacle of an ape manhandling blondes and then swatting at biplanes from his Empire perch. They might not even see this though, because at this point the audience is either yawning or fast asleep. And then that silly ending, with Denham declaring, "It was beauty that killed the beast!" That's the kind of line that makes you wish you'd walked out the theater an hour earlier.

In short, there's no meaningful arc, the characters are flat as pancakes, and Jackson thinks he can substitute long monkey gazes for the stuff of real romantic drama. Take a pass on this one.

Monday, December 19, 2005

New details emerging about the concert hall. I suppose including condominiums in the plan is not a bad idea, but what is this about a children's discovery center? This is what they call scope creep. Scrap it.

And still nothing about a design competition. Sad.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I dislike the way Stony Creek is laid out. It squats right on top of the existing forest preserve/open space. Wouldn't it be great if all of that was one large forest preserve?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

One of the bizarre things the city did was to commission an economic impact study for the proposed concert hall before the design of the building--or even the designer--was known. How can the economic impact of an unknown design be ascertained? The consultants can be working with one of two possible assumptions: 1) the design will be ho-hum, in the tradition of recent architecture in Elgin or 2) the design will be architecturally significant.

Depending on which assumption they're working with, the outcome of the study will be entirely different. If they're working on the assumption of a dull design, then the economic impact will certainly be very limited. If they assume on the other hand that the city, the ESO and its partners are willing to make the investment and hire an internationally known architect to commission a masterpiece, the most important building perhaps in Chicagoland outside of Chicago, then the impact would be profound. It would for once and for all transform Elgin's image from an old economy, blue-collar casino town into an important regional city, the cultural heart and center of the northwest suburbs. Such a revaluation of Elgin would attract the creative class and other desirable demographics.

The Atlanta Symphony is "creating a postcard for Georgia." Check it out:
Press release
EIS Executive Summary

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The current issue of Smithsonian features the Indiana town (pop. 39,000) of Columbus. I've mentioned it before as a great model for Elgin. Columbus is considered the 6th most important city in America, in terms of architecture. Quite an achievement. How did it happen?
In 1957, Miller, concerned about the uninspiring school buildings thrown up to meet the postwar baby boom, struck a deal with city officials, agreeing to pay the architect's fee if the city would commission first-rate designers he favored. The plan was so successful for public schools that Miller went on to defray the design costs for fire stations, public housing, hospitals and other community buildings. By the 1970s, great architecture had become part of Columbus' civic DNA; banks, apartment buildings and other private projects also hired top designers.
When will Elgin get its J. Irwin Miller, or should that role be played by the $20M the casino throws off each year?

Also not to be missed is the November issue of Architectural Record which showcases a number of new museums across the country, some of them in cities as small as or smaller than Elgin.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I took this picture of the Menil Collection during a trip to Houston earlier this year. The building has a marvelous way of looking smaller that it actually is. I wonder when Elgin will get its own little art museum, the Elgin Art Museum. It would have a nice acronym: EAM.

The Menil's architect, Renzo Piano, is designing the Art Institute's $200M expansion.

Friday, December 02, 2005

30 years ago on this day, communist forces seized power in Laos. Thousands of civil servants, officials and officers would be arrested in the following days and weeks and sent to reeducation camps in the jungles of Saravane or Viengxay. Some would remain there for months or a few years; others would emerge like ghosts 14 years later. Many died, some from sickness, others from a blow to the head. It was not a killing fields, but it was brutal all the same. Today, despite an encouraging pattern of economic liberalization, watchdog groups consider the Lao People's Democratic Republic one of the most repressive regimes in the world. The communists tolerate no dissent whatsoever, and they persecute Christians.

I note this day, because while it's a bleak day in world history--a day a nation lost its freedom, it also marks the beginning of the migration of hundreds of Lao families into the Elgin area. It marks, in a sense, the birth of thousands of Americans, Elginites among them. But why did they come here? Of all places, why did these people fleeing misery, humiliation, hopelessness and starvation find in Elgin the key to the white city and the promise of America?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sherman hospital put up a new site (I think it's new) that details their planned move to a new west-side campus.

If you want, you can sign the petition to support it here.
Read about the architects here.
And read about the geothermal lake here.