Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting From There to Here and Back Again

I’ve lived in a bunch of different places in my many years here on Planet Earth, but the majority of the time has been in and around the Windy City. Chicago is so flat and (thanks to the Chicago Fire – not the soccer team, the other one – and Daniel Burnham) laid out so logically. It would always take me a while in every other place to get my bearings and figure out what’s what.

When I relocated to Minneapolis/St. Paul, I went looking for a place to live and I had what I thought was the standard criteria in mind – price, number of bedrooms, neighborhood, distance from work, schools for the kids, etc. Never, ever did I consider the need to take into consideration which direction on the compass my house was from where my office was situated. When you grow up in Chicago, you don’t have the option of living EAST of the city – Lake Michigan kinda gets in the way.

In the Twin Cities, however, even in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, lakes don’t get in the way – there are interstate highways that actually CIRCLE these two adjacent cities. What a concept!! You can actually live east of where you work AND NEVER AGAIN HAVE TO DRIVE INTO THE BLAZING SUN EITHER GOING TO WORK OR GOING HOME!

No wonder the people up there are so nice.

On the other hand, their public transportation system pales by comparison to Chicago’s. They have some buses and a light rail line or two, but nothing like our CTA and Metra. Most people just drive everywhere. In addition, rush hour traffic seems to double on Friday afternoons because nearly every vehicle is pulling some kind of boat or (most of the year) a trailer with between one and four snowmobiles. But I digress…

With the price of gas, the price of parking, the cost of automotive maintenance, etc., why do people still drive when they work or go to school at UIC? There are bus routes that crisscross the campus. There are three CTA stations. There’s a shuttle bus that goes between two of the commuter train stations and campus during rush hours. There’s a Metra station just south of South Campus. There are also lots of bicycle racks and several places where folks can shower. AND then there’s that pre-tax transit benefit thingie. This is a real Win-Win situation.

The recently released draft UIC Climate Action Plan sets a goal of a 30% reduction in the use of cars for commuting to campus over the next 22 years. This goal is going to be used by the Master Plan consultants when they calculate future campus parking requirements.

But don’t wait for that. This is something we can all do to help now AND NEVER AGAIN HAVE TO DRIVE INTO THE BLAZING SUN EITHER GOING TO WORK/SCHOOL OR GOING HOME!

Please share your own commuting epiphanies and/or horror stories, or even why driving every day makes the most sense. Come on. This is supposed to be interactive and hip, using all this new-fangled technology and stuff.

For more information on our Climate Action Plan and other things you can do to extend the life of Planet Earth, go to www.sustainability.uic.edu.

Until next Friday…

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

In a prior life, I worked at a medical center in New Hampshire. The chief of the medical staff was an anesthesiologist by the name of Harry Bird. (Honest.) He was a great guy and, obviously, an important figure at the medical center. However, there was one day each year that you would not find him there. That was the second Tuesday of March and that was because in addition to his responsibilities at the hospital, the clinic, and the medical school, Dr. Bird was also the moderator of the local Town Hall Meeting.

New England has a great tradition of annual Town Hall Meetings. Once a year (and I believe that the second Tuesday in March was the fairly universal date), each town takes a break from its usual activities and gathers to discuss things of importance to the residents of that township. Usually, the most important things to be discussed and voted on are the town budget, taxes, and fees for the coming year, but the floor is open to anyone who wants to address his or her neighbors and elected officials on just about any topic. Those topics could range from parking problems to the cost of the Fourth of July fireworks to whatever war the nation was involved in at the time. It is the purest form of direct democracy in action.

Following in this hallowed tradition, there were two Town Hall Meetings held last week to present and discuss several alternative visions for the UIC Campus Master Plan. The complete presentation and summaries of the discussions that followed will be posted on the master planning process website at http://www.uic.edu/master_plan/community_forums.htm.

The Master Plan process had already included four such Town Hall Meetings back in the spring, during Phase 1, as well as a community forum in July. Last week’s Phase II meetings sought to combine campus and community inputs. Therefore, announcements were widely circulated across the campus and over 150 invitations were sent out to community leaders and organizations.

The first of last week’s two meetings was held at the Student Services Building at the westernmost part of the East Side at Racine and Harrison. The second was in the auditorium of the Molecular Biology Research Building on the West Side on Ashland between Taylor and Polk. The topics raised by the people who attended these sessions were almost as varied as those in the aforementioned New England Town Halls.

Questions that were raised included the following:

How can UIC become more of a 24/7 campus? Identification of “centers of activity” has already begun. This will help focus efforts toward mixed use development, places for additional lighting, etc.

Would the removal of walls and fences help make the campus more permeable with a better connection to the surrounding communities? Yes, that is certainly one of the desired outcomes of making the edges of campus more penetrable, especially on the East Side.

Will bicycle routes and amenities be an important part of the Master Plan? Yes.

Will the campus be expanding beyond its current boundaries? Not on the East Side – in fact, the plan is to bring those functions that lie east of the Dan Ryan and north of the Eisenhower back onto the main campus. On the West Side, the Medical Center’s Master Plan envisions expanding onto undeveloped Illinois Medical District real estate south of Roosevelt.

Will the Master Plan be recommending the use of planting that retain color (e.g. evergreen trees) through the winter months when the campus is most fully populated? Yes.

What are the plans for parking? All of the alternatives for both sides of campus assume that there will be no surface parking, that all of the on-campus parking will eventually occur in parking structures. There appears to be a deficit of parking on the West Side and a surplus on the East Side. Adding bike lanes and improving the amenities for bike riders and improving the connections to public transportation will hopefully curb the growth in the need for parking spaces overall.

Will the West Side tunnel system remain? The Master Plan assumes that, wherever possible and appropriate, as new buildings are built on the West Side, the tunnel system will be expanded to incorporate them.

How would the proposed narrowing of Halsted between Harrison and Roosevelt help the flow of pedestrians and vehicles? The thinking is that because Halsted is narrower both north and south of this stretch, vehicles have an almost innate tendency to speed up when suddenly there are more lanes. This makes it pretty treacherous for folks trying to walk across. The intersection of Roosevelt and Halsted will certainly require additional study due its proximity to a on-ramp to the southbound Dan Ryan, as well as the Forum with its large event populations.

Is University Hall an irreparable eyesore or an indispensible icon? Yes, depending on who you talk to. The consultants have recommended that the campus make an objective, in-depth study of the costs involved in various approaches to saving the structure versus those involved in providing new location(s) for the functions housed therein and demolishing it. The subjective nature of its iconic value will somehow also need to be evaluated as part of such a study.

Are there any other less controversial buildings being considered for demolition over the 30-40 year horizon of the Master Plan? Yes. On the East Side, the consultants have recommended the removal of Lecture Centers B and E to open up the Quad and the wall and remaining structures on the ComEd site west of the Art and Architecture Building. On the West Side, as other buildings are constructed to house their functions, the following would be targets for demolition: CMS (Laundry) Building on Hermitage, Marshfield Avenue Building, Paulina Street Building, Applied Health Sciences Building, Disability, Health and Social Policy Building, and School of Public Heath and Psychiatric Institute.

Have there been any discussions with the neighboring healthcare facilities on the West Side? Yes, meetings have been held with Cook County and Rush.

Wouldn’t it be more environmentally friendlier and greener if auto traffic was eliminated on the West Side through street closures as was done on the East Side? The presence of a major academic medical center with multitudes of patients and visitors makes the West Side very different in nature from the East Side. Parking needs to be reasonably adjacent and patients need to be able to be dropped off in front of the facilities to which they have come to receive diagnosis and treatment. However, closure of Marshfield Avenue between Taylor and Polk and partial or complete closure of Wood and Wolcott between those same two east-west streets are also being considered.

Why is the relocation of Student Services functions currently located at the westernmost part of the East Side to sites such as Morgan and Taylor being considered? Doesn’t that make it even further away from the students on the West Side? Not really. If there was a direct shuttle connecting the two sides of campus that ran down Taylor, the proposed new location for Student Services would be very accessible to both sides. In addition, its current location on Harrison places it north of any part of the West Side campus making it proposed location at Morgan and Taylor nearly equidistant to the center of the West Side of campus as its current location.

Much more was discussed, but if you are still reading this, I want to give you either a big “Atta Girl” or “Atta Boy” for your interest in the Master Plan process. Dr. Bird would be so proud of you.

Until next Friday…

Friday, September 11, 2009

When is Old, Too Old and When is it Untouchable?

I just had a birthday. It wasn’t one of those milestone birthdays, like 16, 21, or any of those that end in zero or suddenly qualify you for something like an AARP card or other Senior Citizen discounts. It was one of those that you have to make into something special, so I went out for a steak dinner the night before and then to a Cubs game on the day itself. (They won because I was there and it was my birthday.)

The Cubs play in a ball park that’s even older than me. Wrigley Field was built in 1914 and is the second oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, two years younger than Fenway Park in Boston. Fenway has sold out every game since May 15, 2003. Tickets to a game at Wrigley are often re-sold for far more than their face value due to the demand and their real market value. There are often far more empty seats at much newer parks around the two leagues.

Despite their ages, neither Wrigley nor Fenway is on anyone’s list for replacement. Each is on almost every baseball fan’s “bucket list” of places to visit before s/he dies.

Are there any Wrigleys or Fenways on the UIC campus – places that should never be torn down? Are there any buildings that are on alumni “bucket lists” to revisit before they find themselves on the wrong side of the sod?

Just as only a select few ball parks reach “untouchable” status, there may only be a few such campus buildings that should be preserved, no questions asked. To start the discussion, I would advocate for the following handful of buildings to proudly stand on this campus in perpetuity: on the East Side, Hull House and the adjacent Resident Dining Hall and on the West Side, the three conjoined College of Medicine buildings along Polk Street between Wood and Wolcott (College of Medicine East Tower, College of Medicine West, and College of Medicine West Tower). Investments should be continually made to maintain and improve them; that kind of loving touch is necessary and to be applauded.

I would not shed a tear over the intentional dismantling of any other building after its useful life has been reached.

“What?” you may say. No mention of University Hall, BSB, or any of the other Netsch buildings? No second thoughts about the Neuropsychiatric Institute or the Eye and Ear Infirmary?

Nope. New, more modern, more accessible, more energy efficient buildings would be more, I mean, much better over the long term.

As always, we urge your input. What are your untouchable buildings? Remember: this blog is just one aging author’s rambling thoughts on the occasion of his birthday.

Until next Friday…

Friday, September 4, 2009

Neighborhood of Make-Believe

Do King Friday, Queen Sara, and / or Prince Tuesday stir any memories? What about Daniel Tiger, Lady Elaine, Henrietta Pussycat, or X the Owl?

They all populated the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, an important part of Mister Roger’s neighborhood and the PBS series of the same name. Please don’t say you don’t know Fred Rogers. Please don’t tell me he wasn’t a part of your childhood. PBS only stopped airing re-runs last year, for goodness sake. Alas.

And PLEASE do not confuse Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with Eddie Murphy’s hilarious SNL send-up, Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood. But I digress.

The only way to get to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe was by a magical red trolley that started in Mister Roger’s living room and then went into a tunnel. When it emerged on the other side, it (and you!) had been transported into a very different world. This was an ingenious story-telling device that allowed the show to discuss sensitive subjects with its young audience members outside the “real world” as represented by the living room setting.

The other pretty amazing thing about that trolley ride was how fast and direct the route between one side of the “Neighborhood” and the other seemed to be. There didn’t seem to be any need to go every which way to get from Point A to Point B.

The memory of that magical, bright red trolley which connected Mister Rogers’ living room (let’s call that Point A) to King Friday’s castle wall (Point B) made me wonder about whether there was a faster, more fun, and more direct route between UIC Sides A and B, the East and West Sides of campus.

Looking at a map clearly shows that Taylor Street is the shortest distance between Side A and Side B. What if there was a Flame Red and Indigo Blue (the UIC colors) trolley that just went up and down or, if you prefer, back and forth, along Taylor? Maybe it could even stop once or twice along the way to allow faculty and students to get off and on to grab a bite to eat for lunch or dinner. Just a thought…

The only question it leaves is whether King Friday’s castle is on the East Side or the West Side. If we only had a trolley, we’d know for sure.

Until next Friday…

And please do not forget –

Phase II Town Hall Meetings

East Side – Wednesday, September 9, 1:30 – 3:30 PM
Student Services Building, Conference Rooms B & C

West Side – Thursday, September 10, 10 AM – Noon
Molecular Biology Research Building Auditorium