Friday, August 25, 2006

Elgin search terms from the AOL leak lets you peer into the search logs of 658,000 AOL subscribers, data that the giant ISP "inadvertently" leaked earlier this month. It highlights what little existing controls there are for what ought to be private information, guarded with a high level of security.

Fortunately, it's possible to use the data without infringing on anyone's privacy. You can type in a keyword on the site to see how many people used that term. You can do that without actually seeing what else they may have been looking at.

I typed in "elgin," because I was curious to see what Elgin-related search terms are being used. By number of queries, here are some of the top ones:

51 elgin community college
34 elgin watches
29 elgin pocket watches railroad
20 elgin courier
15 elgin crosswind options
14 elgin railroad pocket watches
13 elgin high school
12 elgin illinois
10 elgin il
10 elgin
8 elgin courier news
8 elgin crosswind
8 elgin condo for sale
8 elgin photos
8 elgin street sweeper repair help
8 elgin sweeper
7 elgin pocket watch
7 elgin mental health center
7 elgin sports complex
7 elgin crosswind sweeper
6 elgin casino
6 elgin symphony orchestra
6 elgin world time manual
6 elgin west
6 elginwatches
5 elgin wrist watch
5 elgin sweepers
5 elgin sweeper crosswind
5 elgin watch bands
5 elgin pocket watches
4 elgin crosswind retail prices
4 elgin clocks-7 jewels 8 day
4 elgin pocket watches railroad
4 elgin pocket watch co
4 elgin il police department
4 elgin watch co
3 elgin watch instructions
3 elgin watch manual
3 elgin high school elgin illinois
3 elgin national watch company
3 elgin illinois jobs
3 elgin river boat

So ECC is number one. I wouldn't have guessed it. The other interesting thing is that the Courier is high up on this list, while the Herald makes no appearance...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crocker torn down for nothing?

In late 2004, the developers of River Park Place were expecting to break ground on the eight-story, 60-unit condominium building planned for the northwest corner of Grove Avenue and Prairie Street by spring of the next year.

Twenty months later, the Crocker Theater, which formerly occupied a portion of the site, has been torn down, but construction still hasn't gotten under way. (Elgin Courier News 8/21/06)
Though they need only 5 more buyers to begin construction, it's been a long time since they announced that they needed only 5 more buyers. At this point--with the real estate market as it is--it seems that without major prodding from higher powers, this condo may never get built. If the Crocker was torn down in vain, I think there are going to be some angry voters come next election.

The longer this drags out the less likely it will ever get built, because the real estate market will get worse before it gets better. The council should keep that in mind. Afterall, it was less than three weeks ago that Centex pulled out of the Woodfield Gardens project in Rolling Meadows, citing a softening real estate market and increased building costs.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Eli & Josh at Schuba's

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Gathman recants

I wrote that while, like most recent documentaries, the movie is one-sided and ax-grinding, something stinks here. Mechanical engineer Fred Yeck from Sleepy Hollow, who knew more about the experiment, tells us that what stinks is the movie's propagandistic failure to show the downside of the electric car. - Dave Gathman (Elgin Courier 8/13/06)
I'm glad Dave Gathman had the courage to set the record straight. I'm still waiting for him to do the same with regard to the other documentary he plugged, Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth.

Elgin Fine Arts & Ribs Festival

The Elgin Fine Arts Festival is considering a new name.

The juried art show, which closed Sunday in downtown Elgin, hopes a new name will help draw more people to the event.

The name, said volunteer Jeanne Hebeisen, "should have universal appeal." (Elgin Courier 8/7/06)

Universal appeal? How about Elgin Rib Fest. Oh darn, Naperville got there first....

Actually it's a good idea for them to rename and rebrand it. But asking people to come up with a new name is probably not the best way to go about it. It's a major marketing problem. The question really is what the positioning for the festival should be, and that depends on a decent study of what's out there now and where there's a gap. Naperville's got the ribs, so Elgin has to come up with something else...but it has to be similarly universal in appeal and very specific so that something tantalizing immediately pops into mind.

This is one reason Brewfest has such great potential to be a much larger festival. But the way that it's currently organized keeps it small. The Rock makes money by holding the monopoly on food sales, but they would probably do even better if they rented out stalls to other restaurants and vendors. Brewfest wants to get big and they should let it grow.

But we were talking about the Fine Arts Festival...

Yenerich Farm

After the presentation, Councilman Thomas Sandor suggested the development seemed to go a long way toward creating a second, separate city to the west — long a concern for critics of western growth. East-siders in particular have worried they will be left behind as the city's center of gravity shifts away from them.

"I think I've just seen the genesis of the city of West Elgin," he said, echoing comments made by Figueroa. (Elgin Courier 8/10/06)

I think the Yenerich Farm project is a good idea. Elgin is too large of a city to have just one center. This is how they should have handled the development of the other subdivisions. Master plan it and force the developers to work together. Lay out something that's rational, rather than a haphazard conglomeration of endless subdivisions.

24 hour city

After the meeting, Mayor Ed Schock said he first heard complaints from residents about Tacos La Flor during last week's National Night Out festivities. He said he is taking the issue seriously.

If it chose, Schock said, the city could pass an ordinance that would limit the hours of restaurants such as Tacos La Flor. (Elgin Courier 8/11/06)

There goes the 24 hour city.

Actually, the best thing would probably be to encourage a "24 hour district" in the downtown. This is one of Christopher Alexander's patterns (#33):


Most of the city's activities close down at night; those which stay open won't do much for the night life of the city unless they are together.


Knit together shops, amusements, and services which are open at night, along with hotels, bars and all night diners to form centers of night life: well-lit, safe and lively places that increase the intensity of pedestrian activity at night by drawing all the people who are out at night to the same few spots in the town. Encourage these evening centers to distribute themselves evenly across the town. (source: A Pattern Language website)
Identifying and encouraging such a district in the downtown would also make it appear safer. Many of the people who go to downtown Elgin and think it's unsafe think that because the streets are empty. People everywhere are afraid of empty streets. Fill the streets with people! Designate a "24hr district" or a "nightlife district!"

Smoke-free movement gains some traction

When Elaine Paul’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, doctors asked Stella Paul if she smoked.

When the Elgin woman said no, doctors then asked what she did for a living.

“When my mother said she had been in the restaurant business all her life, they said, ‘Well, you’re a smoker,’ because there is a link between secondhand smoke and breast cancer,” Elaine said. (Daily Herald 8/13/06)

Good work, Daily Herald. Stories like this underline the fact that the smoke-free movement is not about smokers but the workers and other innocent bystanders who are exposed to secondhand smoke, which causes cancer.

“It isn’t as simple as saying, ‘Every public restaurant needs to go smoke-free,’æ” Schock said. “Like every community, we’ll have a list of exceptions.”

Schock said the most likely exception in Elgin would be the Grand Victoria Casino. (Daily Herald 8/13/06)

Exempting the casino would be problematic. The casino is obviously the largest employer of workers who are continually exposed to secondhand smoke. Exempting it would mean that 90% of the workers who suffer from secondhand smoke will receive no relief. If the choice is between money and human lives, we should expect the mayor to choose life.

I can see why he's worried, but I think he's overrating the risk to the casino's revenues. People go there TO GAMBLE, not to smoke. People go to restaurants TO EAT, not to smoke. People go to bars and clubs TO SOCIALIZE not smoke. I saw this first hand in New York City when the smoke free ordinance went into effect there and everybody was predicting a doom and gloom that never arrived.

The city will hold a hearing on August 30th. See the Smoke Free Elgin website for more details.

Elgin podcasts

Check out ECN's podcasts.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Condo will exceed height of Tower Building

Planning Commissioners Bennie Sowers and Bob Siljestrom voiced concerns about having the proposed 16-story Water Street Place building stand about nine feet taller than the 15-story Tower Building.

Sowers was the lone no-vote against the more than $50 million project to create a residential, retail and dining hub where the Gail Borden Library once stood. The city council awarded the design of the project to Ryan Companies and RSC Associates last spring...

As for the argument about keeping the building shorter than the Tower Building, Elgin Mayor Ed Schock said it’s not a good enough argument to hold the project back.

“There is nothing magic about the height of the tower,” he said. (source: Elgin Daily Herald 8/8/06)

I have to agree with the mayor in this case, because the new building will be a distance from the Tower Building. If it were next to it and exceeded its height then I think that would be a problem.

That doesn't mean I'm enthusiastic about tearing down the old GBL and eviscerating the Civic Center, an International Style gem of the suburbs, an AIA award winner, and Elgin's major accomplishment of the 1960's.

The rule of thumb in urban renewal and development is to build on the worst land not the best. Yet it appears we may be doing exactly the opposite.

Another great song

Pretty Pathetic by the Smoking Popes. Live at Lollapalooza.


One of my favorite Smoking Popes songs. Live at Lollapalooza.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Popes at Palooza

I'm sad to have missed the Smoking Popes at Lollapalooza.
Chicagoans prized the reunited Smoking Popes, a local band that in the mid-1990’s came up with tuneful, sweet-natured punk-pop that now sounds like early emo. On Saturday the band had so many wistful postbreakup songs it could have been singing about its career rather than its romances. (New York Times 8/7/06)
Elgin's Josh Caterer is at center in the photo, flanked by his brothers Matt and Eli on left and right.

Picture by 5500.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Elgin survey results

In all, 40 percent of the survey respondents from communities including Algonquin, Bartlett, East Dundee, West Dundee, Geneva, Hoffman Estates, Lake in the Hills and St. Charles gave the city an excellent or good impression.

Another 46 percent gave the city an overall “fair” rating.

In Olafson’s mind, that means indifference, and that’s the group the city must strive to put in the good and excellent categories. (Elgin Daily Herald 8/6/06)

40 + 46 = 86% of respondents viewed Elgin as excellent, good or fair. Yet the Herald runs as its front page headline "Elgin finds reputation impedes it: Survey says many of its neighbors content to see The City to Watch from afar." What's that all about? And did they ever think what the impact of their ill-chosen headline would be on public perception? Ever heard of the marketing adage "Perception is truth?"

In any case, 14% negative reviews is not bad. If they're aiming for a 100% positive impression of Elgin, it's simply unrealistic. Most of their survey respondents come from homogenous communities that don't value the same things we value in Elgin. They drive to the casino and see blacks and Mexicans walking around National Street and that makes them feel unsafe. That's their problem not ours.

Despite the overall fair to positive impression, 81% of survey respondents said they feel downtown Elgin is not safe. I don't think there's any basis for this in crime statistics. I don't have figures for downtown, but look at Elgin's overall crime stats on Wikipedia. After Naperville, Elgin has the best numbers. Elgin's property crime index is at 52. Compare this with Rockford's 155, Joliet's 128, Waukegan's 125, or Peoria's whopping 169. Elgin's personal crime index is at 72. Again compare to Peoria at 174 or Rockford at 140. Only Naperville is safer than Elgin (If you were wondering about Chicago, it comes in at a horrendous 358 for personal crime and 173 for property crime). Elgin is not, as one survey respondent said, "a small city with big city problems." Truth be told, Elgin is among the safest cities for its size in America. In fact, Elgin is among the safest cities PERIOD. That's why our index numbers are below 100, the national average.

My recommendation to city officials: consistently and continually point out that Elgin is the second safest city in Illinois. Obviously the fine print will say "among cities of comparable size." But second is good. If you can't be number one, be number two. There's room in the mind for number two. An occasional full-page ad in area newspapers should get the message across.

Saving and reusing barns

This Mennonite Church in Schaumburg presents a fine example of barn reuse (picture courtesy of Springsun). Check out the July issue of Architectural Record to see some barns that have been converted into homes.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Earn your raise by...blogging

CHIEF executives are inclined to avoid activities generally deemed to be high-risk: Sky diving. Cliff jumping. Motorcycle racing. And blogging...

In an exhortatory piece, “If You Want to Lead, Blog,” published in The Harvard Business Review last year, Mr. Schwartz predicted that “having a blog is not going to be a matter of choice, any more than having e-mail is today.”

“My No. 1 job is to be a communicator,” Mr. Schwartz told me last week. “I don’t understand how a C.E.O. would not blog if committed to open communication.” (New York Times 7/30/06)

Open communication. We can use more of that in Elgin, can't we?

Raises all around

In her Sunday editorial, Chris Bailey slammed the council's decision to issue across the board pay hikes:
But no, governments must buy their employees’ affections, apparently. Though it guarantees no pay will ever be enough, they must assure pay catches up with salaries in surrounding communities. So said Councilman Bob Gilliam as the city council handed City Manager Femi Folarin an 8.8-percent raise last week. That action came just a couple of weeks after it doubled its own pay and just weeks before it will give raises to Service Employees International Union workers. A raise for all non-union employees will follow a study that will undoubtedly show how underpaid they all are compared to somebody else. (Elgin Daily Herald 7/30/06)
Expanding salaries and expanding headcount. Oh lovely.

City slow to clean up

It would seem at first glance a delicious irony that a city that just passed an ordinance allowing residents to be fined without notice for litter and debris cannot seem to pick up its own trash in a timely fashion...

We're talking, of course, about the mounds of dead branches, leaves and debris that has accumulated on the tree banks in Elgin for the past few weeks from the thunderstorm of July 17...

The indifference and ineptitude of the city in the removal of this debris is staggering.

One might remember that Chicago's inability to clear its streets after a great snow in the late 1970s cost Mayor Mike Bilandic his job. History may indeed repeat itself.
(Elgin Courier News 8/1/06)

Picture courtesy of Campemmaus.

Check out some Flickr pools

If you haven't already explored them, you'll find pictures of Elgin in:
One of James Jordan's many great pictures of Elgin: