Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

Growing up in the flat-as-a-pancake, street-gridness of Chicago, it was difficult to get lost, difficult to not know where you were or how to get to where you wanted to go. Everything started (and still starts) at State and Madison and goes out from there in all directions (mostly north, west and south, though, because there ain’t much dry ground to the east). State and Madison is 0 north, 0 south, 0 east, and 0 west. In high school, I lived at 1331 W. Granville Avenue. Granville is 6200 North. That’s all you needed to know to find my old house. (Of course, this was LOONNNGG before MapQuest and Google Maps and GPS systems.)

In less level terrain, it’s much more difficult. I lived in Pittsburgh near a street that went around hill in such a way that it ended up being parallel to itself on a map. When I lived in rural Vermont, I returned home one morning rather than proceeding on to work because a semi had tipped over blocking the two lane main road I used to get there. It’s not like you can just go around the block when you live in a bucolic little place like Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. Later that day I calculated it would have been about a 110-mile detour (literally over hill and dale) had I not waited until they had righted that toppled rig to continue that day’s journey to my place of employment.

That’s why “You can’t get there from here” is a New England expression and not one that would have had its roots in a place like Chicago. (To say it correctly, it needs to be said with that strange and wonderful New Englander desecration of the spoken English word where “there” and “here” each has two syllables, as in “ther-ah” and “her-ah”.)

If you’ve been reading the visions for the East and West Sides of this campus in the Phase 2 Report of the Campus Master Planning project, you would agree that even normally nasal, native-speaking Chicagoans might be saying “You can’t get ther-ah from her-ah.” Looking at all the buildings in our consultants’ preferred plans, it would seemingly require Bill and Melinda Gates both taking vows of poverty and bequeathing all of their jointly-held fortune plus all of their future earnings in perpetuity to UIC to implement those plans completely. We should only be so lucky.

The consultant team would rush to their own defense and tell us that there is really no expectation that all or even most of these buildings will ever be built. A Master Plan allows the campus to have a broad vision of the future to utilize when planning or discussing individual major capital projects in the years to come. Or to help put a developer’s proposal into a larger context. Or to show potential donors where their largesse would have the most beneficial long term effect.

Those consultant types would also point to the types of projects they are recommending in the short term which would not require significant capital investment, meaning they might actually be implementable in our lifetimes – projects that would not require Mr. and Mrs. Gates to move to a communal farm and live off the land. As I so eloquently ridiculed in my November 6th blog, these are being called "Immediate Impact Projects", a misnomer indeed in these economic times where even projects only needing relatively little capital can not get funded.

However, by having the “ther-ah” agreed upon now, we will be able to move more confidently from the “her-ah” by implementing, in the next three to five years, small projects that have a positive impact on the look and feel of the campus and begin our journey toward those visions of the future.

Question of the Week: Where could we best invest a few precious dollars in the next few years to improve the campus?

Happy Holidays!!

Until next year…

1 comment:

  1. There's a neat idea in the streets of UIC about reappropriating Lecture Centers B&E as a movie center and activity hub for the quad.

    While I like the idea of making a signature landscape out via demolition of those structures, the former seems much more doable.

    For the master planning teams vision to succeed, UIC would, at the very least, need new monies to build a classroom building (which they could pursue as soon as we finish the already approved ACT Building!), money to demo and clear Lecture Centers A & B, AND money to re-design the quad.

    For the classes idea, you only need some money to install some windows and redesign the interior. (The more daunting task, is that you'll also need to somehow wrest control of the building from academics to campus programs).


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