Friday, May 29, 2009

Up, Up and Away

Today, Pixar releases “Up,” its latest, “best animated movie of all time” (at least until their next one comes out). The film is about an elderly widower who ties thousands of colorful balloons to his house and floats off, house and all (including an accidental stowaway Boy Scout), toward a picturesque jungle location somewhere in South America. The movie reportedly cost $175 MILLION to make (PLUS marketing) -- $175 million to move ONE house!!

This got me thinking. I suspect that every campus and urban planner would love to be able to simply attach balloons to a building or a power plant or a CTA station or whatever was in the way, lift it skyward, and move it to a more suitable location. For example, wouldn’t it be great if we could just lift the Student Services Building up in the air and plop it down nearer the center of one side of the campus or another? (Still connected to all of its utilities, of course.)

What about campus buildings (like the Chemical Engineering Building on Clinton Street on the other side of the Dan Ryan, or Art & Design Hall and CUPPA Hall on the “wrong” side of the Eisenhower) that are, for lack of a better phrase, off-campus islands? What if those wonderful balloons could lift those buildings up and move them more toward the centers of activity on the campus? (Of course, especially in regard to Art & Design and CUPPA, the balloon airlift relocation process would also magically renovate them and make them leak-free, energy efficient, and more friendly to those of us here in the 21st century.)

In addition, there are several UIC buildings, to remain nameless, which could follow the house in “Up” to some distant exotic location and nary a person at UIC would shed a tear.

But moving buildings is very difficult in a live-action, non-animated world. The reason that it’s all about location, location, location in real estate business is because where something is first located is where, in the real world, it will (almost) always be located.

Hence, the importance of a good campus master plan.

The blog will be on summer hiatus until the 4th of July (give or take).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

No sooner had Shawn Johnson been lifted up on the shoulders of another contestant (while, of course, holding that silly disco-ball trophy high above her head) than host Tom Bergeron was inviting viewers to tune in again in the fall for (yet) another season of “Dancing with the Stars” with a whole new slate of contestants.

Kris Allen will barely get a chance to catch his breath after his (“SHOCKING UPSET”) win in the “American Idol” finale before he’s off on a 50-city tour… with the nine singers who lost to him.

Graduation ceremonies are called Commencement exercises because it’s not just the end their collegiate careers, it’s the beginning of the next big thing in the lives of the newest members of the alumni association.

My minister father would be given a different church to serve, on average, every five years while I was growing up. The last Sunday at the church he was leaving and the first Sunday at the new one were the only times he could use the same sermon two weeks in a row. It (They?) had the theme of “Endings and Beginnings” and my mother, my brothers, and I were the only ones who had to listen to it twice. Actually, it would be much more than twice, because, on average, he would preach on that same theme in successive weeks every five years. (I always wondered if my dad was that clever or if that was a tip every seminarian gets and, therefore, each time he would preach that sermon at his new church, the congregants were hearing his take on the same topic the previous pastor used for his or her last sermon the week before.)

But I digress…

This is all to say that at the same time we are wrapping up the end of Phase I of the Master Plan, Phase II is about to commence. This will be the phase where the learnings of Phase 1 are used to form the basis for alternative plan option development.

So, as they say, in all those commercials, “Wait, there’s still more!!”

(I think I watch way too much TV.)

Until next Friday…

Friday, May 15, 2009

Safe or Sorry

I was driving home one afternoon recently, taking a residential side street to avoid a busy intersection. This section of the street is only about three blocks long. There was a young girl standing on the curb waiting to cross the street. I would guess she was give or take nine years old. I was still a block away so she had plenty of time to cross, but there she stood, waiting for me to pass. Just as I passed her, another car turned the corner and started to approach from the opposite direction, again about a block away from the girl. She waited for that car to pass as well before she finally ventured across the street.

It occurred to me that the rule her parents must have had in place was that if she could see a car in motion in either direction, it was not safe for her to cross the street. Not a bad rule, for sure. Overly cautious? Yes. Needlessly overprotective? No. Although this is a pretty safe street and cars generally do not speed, a driver could get distracted and an accident could occur.

What I liked about this rule (granted, I’m still assuming there was such a rule, but hang with me) was its simplicity and clarity. It didn’t need to take into account the child’s depth perception, the speed or size of the vehicle, braking distance – none of that. If she could see the car, the car was too close for her to cross the street. The other thing that was implicit in the girl’s actions was that she obeyed the rule explicitly and her parents allowed her to cross the street by herself because she did.

And because she obeyed the rule, she was safe…at least from an on-coming vehicle…which didn’t jump the curb.

How safe is safe enough? During the Master Planning process, we have heard on numerous occasions the desire to have a safer campus. What does that mean? What would that look like? How would that feel? How should that be measured? How would we know if we achieved that? And, of course, how much would that cost?

Should there be more of those blue light columns? What about more cameras? Should there be more lamp posts? How bright should we make the campus at night? What about leaving lights on in rooms on the first floor of buildings to brighten the exterior space around the building at night? What about motion detectors that would turn on lights when people pass by? Or is that a wasteful use of our energy resources? Is that increasing our carbon footprint?

What about trimming hedges to reduce hiding places and/or cutting off lower tree branches to improve sight lines? Is South Campus “safer” because more people are populating its streets due to the bars and restaurants there or is it less safe because of all the alcohol being consumed those establishments?

How many security personnel and vehicles are required to achieve an appropriate level of “feeling safe”?

There are no easy answers. Let’s find a nice safe place to sit and talk about it.

Until next Friday…

Friday, May 8, 2009

Will the Real Campus Please Stand Up?

Professor Irwin Corey (“The World’s Foremost Authority”) was a stand-up comedian who would often go on stage dressed in a disheveled suit and gym shoes. One of my favorite bits of his went something like this:
People come up to me all the time and ask me “Why do you wear gym shoes?” I tell them that that is not one question, but two. The first question is “Why?”

He would then go into a LONG recitation on how philosophers for centuries, nay millennia, have struggled to answer that question. He would then conclude with:

So far be it for me to even attempt to give you an answer to that ultimate question of questions, “Why?”

“Do I wear gym shoes?” Yes.

It was the parsing of a phrase into two parts that led my easily distracted mind to recall the musings of Prof. Corey. We are working on something called a “Campus Master Plan.” In some of the more recent discussions on the subject, an interesting question has arisen. Even if we understand what a Master Plan is – which may be a stretch for a lot of us – what really is this thing we’ve been calling “Campus”?

Sometimes, when we use the term “the Campus,” we are referring to Campus Administration (which is not to be confused with University Administration which is something completely different.) More often, “Campus” refers to the actual buildings and lands owned by UIC (actually owned by the University of Illinois, but now that’s splitting hairs). That “campus” has specific boundaries – it has a West Side, an East Side and a South Campus (which is always shown on maps as part of the East Side).

One of the issues that has been raised repeatedly has been that it’s tough to know for sure when you are on or off campus and that maybe we need more clarity about that. Much has been made of the perception that the two Sides of campus need to be more unified – that there should be a greater feeling that they’re both parts of a larger whole.

Maybe, just maybe, though, there are two definitions to the physical campus – the legal one and a more practical one. In addition to the students who live in the residence halls, there are thousands of other UIC students, staff and faculty who reside within walking and/or biking distance of the legal boundaries of this campus. Maybe if we just change our semantic frame of reference, the “UIC Campus” or, perhaps, the “UIC Campus Community” could be defined by where a lot of us sleep and eat and spend our money, instead of just where we work and / or go to class.

Is this the “Campus” in “Campus Master Plan”? Perhaps.

Do I wear gym shoes? Sometimes, but never on stage.

Until next Friday…

Friday, May 1, 2009

Never Size a Sanctuary Based on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday

Please excuse the Christian holiday references in the following analogy, but my father was a minister and having that background sometimes helps frame the way I think.

There’s Christmas Eve; there’s Easter Sunday; and then there’s the rest of the year. If a church’s Building Committee chooses the first two as the basis for deciding how big the new sanctuary is going to be, on every other Sunday morning, the hallowed halls will echo and feel pretty empty. It’s much more prudent stewardship of the parish’s scarce resources for the Worship Committee to add services on Christmas and Easter than for the Building Committee to provide permanent, year-round seating to accommodate those additional wayward congregants who return to the flock twice a year.

A utility company, on the other hand, must have sufficient capacity to accommodate the occasional or seasonal surge in electrical demand. Oft-times, this is done by building more power plants. Sometimes, though, the demand can be met through contracts with neighboring utility companies with excess supply. Vermont, for instance, has an agreement with Hydro-Quebec to help it supply power to mountaintop condos owned by “flatlanders” from Boston and elsewhere who come up on weekends in the winter and rev their thermostats way up each morning on their (cheaper to install, but energy hogging) electric baseboard heating systems so they don’t have to bother using their fireplaces to warm up their tender little tootsies in the evening after a day of frolicking on the nearby ski slopes.

This brings me, finally, to this week’s topic – how many parking spaces will UIC need in the years to come and how can that demand be met?

Let’s look at those big parking lots along Harrison Street behind BSB for example. It’s mighty convenient to have them available when family and friends come on graduation day. Likewise, parking there when the Pavilion is being used for a big event makes a lot of sense. Finally, if Chicago gets the Olympics, the demand for parking there will be that much greater for the days the boxing matches are underway.

We need to meet the peak demand, but do we need to have that capacity in that location 365 days a year? Those lots are more of an eye sore than a sight for sore eyes. What about shuttle buses between the underutilized Maxwell Street Parking Structure and the Pavilion when there’s a demand for parking? What about shuttling people to and from the use of severely underutilized United Center parking lots on graduation day or when the Harrison Street Parking Structure is maxed out? Those solutions would be more like the Vermont (the GREEN Mountain State) and Hydro-Quebec approach to meeting a specific seasonal demand surge.

There’s been a lot of discussion during the various Master Planning meetings about the desire for additional green spaces on campus. Surface parking lots are the most obvious locations where such open areas could be created, but we need to creatively think about how we can live with fewer parking spaces. Metra? CTA? Carpools?

What if more courses were blended, meaning a combination of on-line and face-to-face (that’s F2F in current pedagogy-speak) learning? Would fewer spaces be needed because students would not be coming to campus as often?

Do we really have to plan to replace every parking place we take out of service or, to put it a different way – how serious are we about collectively reducing our carbon footprint?

Things for us and those master planner types to think about.

Until next Friday…