Photos from Northwest up

Just added two galleries of photographs from Bellingham, Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, and a few points in between: infill development and streets (the big one) and general urban/rural scenery. Some general thoughts (on urban design, mostly) follow…
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The perfect SUV

Speaking of greenwashing, some folks in Savannah have built a “green Hummer.”

“In advertising, cities are lifeless, cars are safe, drivers are happy, gas is clean, and you are not responsible whatsoever for traffic, pollution, your weight, the marring of our landscapes, or war.

“Our SUV is for the real world.”

Oh, and instead of carrying 1/3 of its weight, this Hummer can carry 3/1 of its weight!

[btw, just checked the site traffic reports and West North has passed 100,000 page requests since the launch in December. I have no idea who all these people are, but thanks for reading!]

Make money not so fast

If anyone actually wants to get into these businesses, I’d be happy to write up a business plan — for a commission, of course.

  • Many declining rust belt cities are filled with gorgeous turn-of-the-century buildings: Victorian mansions, of course, but also industrial lofts and sometimes even Deco skyscrapers. These are exactly the same kinds of buildings that have become so scarce in many other cities (notably in booming Sunbelt cities which had little building stock to begin with, but also in economically healthy northern cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, or Toronto) that developers have resorted to building copies of said buildings. Prices may have, in fact, risen so high that it may be economically feasible to barge entire buildings, or at least fa�ades thereof, from one city to another.
  • One downside of having such dense concentrations of ethnic businesses within certain neighborhoods is that the rest of town is strangely bereft of good ethnic restaurants. Sure, Chicago is laden with excellent tacquer�as, and noodle shops (or their South Side counterpart, the circa-1960 chop suey stand) are an entrenched presence on most retail streets. But where are the Indian restaurants? More particularly, where can I get curry in Wicker Park, land of vegetarians and wannabe Brits?
  • Similarly, not all travelers want to stay downtown. B&Bs are a charming option in many neighborhoods, but come with their own constraints: they’re hard to find and don’t offer as much flexibility as many people need. A few strategically placed neighborhood boutique hotels might do a good trade; again, Wicker Park is an excellent option, since it’s between O’Hare and downtown and offers most of the usual hotel services in close proximity. One potential lender might be Corus, which financed The Standard Hotel in a decidedly marginal location south of downtown LA. Of course, lining up an operator is usually the most difficult part. The Northwest Tower is without any real economic use but offers tremendous views. The stupid cell-phone store on the ground floor could be booted, or the adjacent storage building converted to the usual ancillary uses (lobby, restaurant, bar, meeting rooms). Or maybe a striking new “entry pavilion” could be built nearby (next to the tracks, on those short lots on North?) with the “tower” room elevators accessed by keycard only.
  • Needless to say, I’m intruiged by the possibility of densifying under-used sites, like parking lots in urban neighborhoods. A little bit of ingenuity and skill can wedge twenty new townhouses atop a small parking garage on what was a half-acre parking lot. Or, to put it another way, strip malls could accommodate a lot of new residents — all the projected population growth of Orange County, California [PDF] over the next 20 years, for instance. Underused parking lots, both public and private, flank dozens of rail stations citywide, even at some of the busiest stations: Chicago & State, Division & Milwaukee, Fullerton & Sheffield, Chinatown, 95th. Some of the freeway median stations offer great opportunities for decked development, especially as land values rise; Halsted-UIC, 35th (as part of a Comiskey Village entertainment area), and Jefferson Park come to mind.

an update

I’ve been fairly scarce lately, both here and everywhere else. I have a good reason — work is reaching a fever pitch as we prepare for CNU XII, where more than 1,300 urbanists from around the world will gather in Chicago to learn about and talk about the state of the art in new urbanism. It’s all very exciting, but it’s all so much work.

I’ll take a week of vacation in Seattle and Vancouver in the first part of July, and then maybe a little more vacation to ride around northern Illinois or to visit Montr�al. Once that’s all done, there will be exciting new projects to tackle at work (on public housing, green building, rating urbanism, street design, and other emerging CNU projects) and on other fronts — canvassing for the Bloomingdale Trail, the string ensemble, the possible housing co-op (which might involve moving back to the south side and thus changing many political allegiances), etc. So it’s good to be busy.

Comments closed

Unfortunately, I’ve had to set new posts so that comments are closed. A few spam comments have been posted, and they’re a pain to deal with.

Update: I’ve installed MT-Blacklist to block certain text strings. We’ll see how well it works at blocking posts to older entries; eventually, I may open up commenting on newer entries.

back to earth

I’ve just tied up an 80-hour workweek, so maybe I’ll have some more time to do things like blog. Hey, at least we admit we’re understaffed, which is more than past employers would do.

New job

I started a new job two weeks ago, so apologies for not posting in a more timely manner. It might be imprudent to disclose for whom, but suffice to say that I’ll have even more time to think about urban affairs even if I have less time to write about it here.

Also, in case it wasn’t clear before: opining solely for myself (at the bottom of the left nav bar) means that all opinions expressed here are solely mine and do not represent the opinions of any organizations I may be affiliated with. If a particular article republished here was written by me for an organization, I’ll note that.

May be a Real Chicagoan

“Score: 85 points out of a possible 166 points. If you’re under 25, you may still be a Real Chicagoan. If not, you need to get out more.” Well, that’s somewhat reassuring — I am under 25 and have lived here a scant six years. Even the revised, non-geezer Real Chicagoan Quiz from Eric Zorn at the Tribune still rewards people who listen to commercial radio. (Why?)


Only a day after its launch, I’m in at Orkut. Not exactly a fantastic honor, I guess, to join another social networking site that blatantly plays off Google’s failed attempt to buy Friendster (and co-opts questions from Spring Street), but hey — if you want an invite, just ask. And, as the techies point out, Friendster has some serious scalability issues (the database just isn’t up to handling five million users, the search capabilities aren’t capable of generating useful results), whereas Google is excellent at keeping on top of the world without a hitch.

A weekend in Davenport for Dean

I spent most of the weekend in Davenport, Iowa, the heart of the Quad Cities, to knock on doors for the Howard Dean campaign. The campaign actively solicits out-of-state volunteers, counting on its excitable base of young people in cities and college towns to do the legwork in demographically moribund states like Iowa. I went on a lark with Tara, another Wicker Park Green; neither of us were really committed to Dean, but were curious to experience the energy surrounding his campaign and thought it would be fun.

Quick facts about the trip:
Total hours spent in the Quad Cities: 36
Quad Cities I had a drink in: 3 (of 5: Davenport, Moline, and Rock Island, plus recent additions Bettendorf and East Moline)
Doors knocked: about 80 (it was cold!)
Precincts visited: 2, in suburban Bettendorf and in-town Davenport
Dean supporters behind those doors: 7
Candidate rallies attended: 2
Minutes spent waiting for late candidates at said rallies: 95
Bunnies seen: 3
Black squirrels seen: 3
Foreign cars seen: maybe a dozen
Casino billboards seen: maybe a dozen
Ostensibly gay bars visited: 3
Amount I spent on snacks, at a bakery in Chicago and a health food store in Davenport: $30
Photos taken: 32

The daytime photos have a bluish hue, for three reasons: the camera’s light settings were set for yellowish indoor light; Midwestern winters tend to have a grayish blue cast; and it was foggy the first day we were there. I could color correct them, but I won’t.