Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Normal Green Hero

The Governor named Normal Mayor Chris Koos as one of the recipients of the 2009 Environmental Hero Awards. According to the Illinois government website, these awards are "given in recognition of a strong commitment to the health and protection of the environment in Illinois." Also, Normal is listed as an example of "greening" best practices: "The Town of Normal is including cutting-edge environmental standards in the creation of new buildings and other construction uptown. Their approach is to follow the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for Neighborhood Development."

I'd say that this recognition is another feather in Normal's cap, but that kind of implies that a bird has been harmed. I'll have to think of a more environmentally appropriate way to describe it. In any case, it's a reason for taking pride in our community!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Normal Snow

It's snowing, and snowing, and snowing, and Normal. Yes, it's a winter wonderland. And the rabbits can no longer move about unnoticed!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Normal Cinemas Saved

Ok, so I was wrong about housing replacing the University Cinemas. For now, at least, the property will stay as is (sorry, Jeff). As I watched the Council meeting and listened to the discussion about what businesses might locate on that site if it stays B-1, I was thinking about what could go there. A neighborhood hardware store might be nice. Or, of course, it would be a nice new location for the Normal Post Office. Right off of Main St. and enough property for a new facility to be built!! I'm always scouting about for a new, MORE CONVENIENT, location for the Post Office. (The old building has obvious historical value so I'm not suggesting tearing it down. Just move the Postal services to a better location.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Normal University Cinemas

It appears that housing will be built on the site of the University Cinemas on Main Street. I rarely go to movies but I'd say about half of the movies I've seen since I moved to this area have been at the University Cinemas (the other half were at the Parkway). I prefer the "smaller" theaters over the multiplexes, although they aren't as nice as the old one-screen theaters. It just seems like there's more attention to detail when there is only one screen (plex?) for management to handle.

I sympathize with residents in the Main St. area who are upset about multi-family housing being built there. I hope that things work out better than they expect. Change is about the only constant in the town of Normal, but that doesn't make it easy for those impacted by the change.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Normal Barbee

Just in time for Christmas: Normal Barbee! You’ll enjoy getting Normal Barbee ready for her day at State Farm, dressing her in one of her many corporate outfits. Then, get her to work in her new SUV, remembering to stop at her favorite coffee establishment to get a latté. After work, Normal Barbee passes the time in the local rush hour traffic by chatting with friends and family on her new cell phone. She rushes through yellow-to-red traffic lights, weaving from lane to lane. Uh oh, is that the front end of an NPD car sitting at the entrance to a subdivision? Better help Normal Barbee slow down or her nosy coworkers will see her additional speeding ticket listed on the McLean County Government web site.

When Normal Barbee gets home, she takes time to read the Pantagraph and then gets ready for an evening out at the newest local restaurant. A quick check of the Weather Channel to see if there are any weather emergencies (tornado warning, winter weather advisory, etc.) and then she’s out the door!

You’ll have endless hours of fun with Normal Barbee – getting her through all of the construction zones around town, clipping weekly coupons for her to use at local department stores, and keeping her informed about all of the local special events. You can also watch Normal Barbee go from a Normal newby to an experienced town resident, writing letters of complaint to the Pantagraph, expressing her opinions anonymously on web sites, and letting Town Council members know her concerns about proposed developments. For fun, Normal Barbee can occasionally send humorous items to local columnist Bill Flick.

[Clothes, SUV, coffee cup, cell phone, NPD car, Pantagraph, and TV sold separately.]

Coming soon: Normal Ken – a bespectacled ISU Professor, complete with his own razor for shaving off his thinning hair, his own SUV, and a bottle of blue pills.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Normal Carol Parody

Uptown Normal’s Nearly Complete
(To the tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”)

Oh! You better watch out
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Uptown Normal’s nearly complete!

It’s taken a while,
It’s been a real pain,
But now we can smile
And drive through again.
Uptown Normal’s nearly complete!

The Marriott is open,
The curbs are all in place.
And when you use the Parking Deck,
There’s no scowl upon your face.

But there’s no need to drive,
The Trail’s right there.
So hop on a bike
And get some fresh air.
Uptown Normal’s nearly complete!

The residents come.
The students do, too.
They think it’s awesome,
So shiny and new!
Uptown Normal’s nearly complete!

The landscaping is pretty.
The Traffic Circle’s fun.
And we’ll have a great big party
When this project’s finally done.

So, take time this fall!
There’s no more delay!
Come see what Normal
Looks like today!

Uptown Normal’s nearly complete!

From the past two years:

Uptown Wonderland
(To the tune “Winter Wonderland”)

Detour signs do confound us
While the cranes all surround us.
It’s a chaotic sight
That’s got us uptight
Driving through the Uptown Wonderland.

When you come, you’re a-hopin’
That the street will be open
But parking’s alright
Well, just late at night
Driving through the Uptown Wonderland.

In the morning you can come for breakfast
And enjoy the quiet, there’s no doubt.
But if you leave when too much time has passed
Beer trucks will be blocking your way out.

Thank Mayor Koos, when you see him,
That there’s no Coliseum!
Enjoy our town
Even though it’s torn down
Driving through the Uptown Wonderland
(Can you say “work zone”?)
Driving through the Uptown Wonderland!

It’s Beginning to Look Too Much Like Normal
(To the tune “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”)

It’s beginning to look too much like Normal
Everywhere you go.
Try to get to the Garlic Press
Avoiding construction mess
And there’s another detour through the snow.

It’s beginning to look too much like Normal
Traffic cones in stacks.
But the scariest sound you’ll hear
Is the Amtrak’s whistle near
While you’re on the tracks.

A finished circle for cars as they go to the bars
Is the wish that drivers would send.
A bike path that’s clear with pedestrians near
Is the best environment’s friend.
And Chris and Mark can hardly wait for all of this to end!

It’s beginning to look too much like Normal
Traffic lights galore –
Towanda and Shelbourne’s gain;
What a hassle at Raab and Main!
And there’s the one outside the new Shnuck’s store.

It’s beginning to look too much like Normal
When will it be done?
‘Cause our patience is running out
And I’m sure they hear us shout
Down in Bloomington.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Normal Money Crunch

After hearing the discussion about finding new sources of revenue and making cuts in order to maintain general fund reserves in the Normal budget, I thought about how these changes might or might not affect me. Increasing property and sales taxes will have a slight impact on my finances, but increases to towing fees and parking fines will not (hopefully). Ending electronics recycling will affect me when my “old model” TVs die. I guess I’ll have to put them on the curb, unless there won’t be any more bulky waste pick-up. In that case, I’ll have to get creative and find new uses for them (coffee table stands?) or find alternative recycling opportunities.

If there is no more brush or leaf pick-up, I think someone should start a business providing curbside mulching for Normal residents. I can mow over leaves as long as they’re dry, but I don’t know what I would do with all of the branches that I prune off the trees and bushes. I’d rather see a less frequent brush pick-up instead of no brush pick-up.

I don’t apply for Harmon Arts Grants, so suspending that program won’t affect me. And I can read the Newsline newsletter and P&R booklets online. “City Vision” has some information that I don’t usually seek out on my own but if Normal is no longer included in the broadcast, I’ll just have to make more of an effort to locate any information of interest.

Raising summer camp fees and discontinuing preschool programs won’t directly affect me, although there might be an indirect effect if young children in Normal are left to their own devices and wreak havoc in the area.

And I sure hope I won’t have to pay an “auto extrication fee,” although the older I get, the more difficult it has become to climb out of my subcompact car!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Normal is surprisingly scary at Halloween. Large cranes overshadow the Post Office, like giant arms ready to reach down and grab unsuspecting Uptowners. Orange and white barrels form mazes which vehicles enter only to disappear forever. Railroad crossing gates go up-and-down randomly, daring us to try our luck at passing beneath them without getting cut in half. Darkened patches of rough surface on College Avenue yawn ahead like camouflaged tar pits, waiting to swallow and preserve us for future research. Squirrels with sharp little teeth dart about, looking for pedestrians to bite. Budget cuts and increased fees are discussed by Town Council “men and women” (or are they aliens?), frightening all residents. The Marriott Hotel reduces the IQ of those who enter late at night, even putting them into a trance. Some streets (East Beaufort) are opened while other streets (Ft. Jesse) are closed, adding a fun-house like confusion to the driving experience. Stores display Halloween items right next to Christmas items, determined to cast a pall over the yuletide. And the scariest of all: those drivers around you, talking on their cell phones, swerving and running red lights. Self-absorbed dolts or ghouls out to get you? Enjoy a frighteningly Normal Halloween!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Normal Agriculture

This is actually more about McLean County than about Normal, but I wanted to share it since I don't usually write about agricultural information. At the Normal Public Library's sale I purchased the book Five Golden Decades 1914-1964, published by the McLean County Farm Bureau in 1964. It's a history of the Bureau during those years and I found a few interesting items as I looked through it. First, the "McLean County System of Swine Sanitation" was developed in 1919 by Lyle Johnstone as a way to prevent runt pigs (it was thought that runt pigs were caused by round worms) (page 86). Second, a couple of outbreaks in McLean County's history: "One of the worst hog cholera outbreaks McLean County ever had occurred in the Fall and early Winter of 1931. Without doubt the worst grasshopper outbreak occurred in the Spring of 1937" (pages 108-109). (And we complain about aphids and beetles!) And third, from the chapter "Artificial Breeding Program in McLean County," it seems that there was a problem with "poor bulls" in McLean County in the 1930s. The solution was to join a breeding co-op in the 1940s. An exciting breakthrough in this program is described: "One of the great boosts to the artificial insemination program came when frozen semen which could be stored indefinitely became a reality, making possible the availability of any bull at any time" (pages 161-162). Any bull at any time. Oh, there's a joke or two one could make based on that phrase. . .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Normal A to Z

A is for Amtrak -- hopefully soon pulling up to a new multimodal transportation center!

B is for baseball -- next year, take someone out to the ballgame and cheer on the CornBelters!

C is for Constitution Trail -- whether you walk, run, bike, or skate, it's a great way to exercise!

D is for debt --ok, so Normal has some debt; it would be difficult to invest in the future without it

E is for environmentalism --"going green" seems to be a growing (pun intended) trend in Normal

F is for Fell, Jesse Fell -- Normal founder, tree planter, with a park and a street named for him

G is for geese -- it seems like geese are constantly flying around and landing in Normal

H is for Heartland Community College -- it continues to grow and meet community needs

I is for ISU -- it has such an impact on Normal in so many ways

J is for Junction -- one of the former names of Normal

K is for Koos, Chris Koos --Mayor, business owner, bicycling and historic preservation advocate...

L is for Linden -- a major north-south thoroughfare in Normal (with many squirrel crossings)

M is for Marriott -- many, many conferences and special events are in this hotel's future

N is for Normal -- of course!

O is for opinions -- Normal citizens have opinions on everything; just ask!

P is for parks -- Normal has so many wonderful parks

Q is for quad -- a surprisingly pleasant place to temporarily host the Sugar Creek Arts Festival

R is for Redbirds -- ISU teams (represented by a bird's head stenciled on town streets)

S is for Sugar Creek Arts Festival -- a very nice annual event for those around in the summer

T is for traffic circle (aka roundabout) -- better than a 3-way stop? we'll see...

U is for Uptown -- even if you don't like the new title, you'll like the new experience!

V is for vinyl siding -- so many subdivisions, so much vinyl, so few colors

W is for windy -- Normal could become known as the "Windy Town" (that refers to weather, not politicians)

X is for X chromosomes -- too many XX singles in Normal, not enough XY singles!

Y is for yield -- please remember to yield to all pedestrians and bicyclists

Z is for zig-zag -- that's how you'll have to drive to get around all of the construction in Normal

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Normal Signs

At the October 5 Normal Town Council meeting the Council voted to spend money on street signs and "district map" signs for the Uptown area. (District map signs are the you-are-here type of signs.) Originally, there were more types of signs proposed but the bids to do all of the signs came in too high. So, going with a few signs now will save some money and more signs can be added later.

I have to say, I really like the "primary gateway boundary" sign that identifies Uptown, although I don't know the best place for it -- on the east, west, north, or south end of Uptown? I also like the "pedestrian directional" signs that list the major destinations along with arrows pointing the way. All of the signs have a nice style so I hope that more are added in the future. Residents probably think that it's silly to have signs for such a small area but people who come for conferences or to deliver their ISU students to the campus might miss out on some great destinations without signs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Normal's Bicycling Proponent, et al.

There was an article in Sunday's (9/27/09) Parade about the Mayor of Columbia, Missouri, promoting bicycling in that town. He wants to transform it "into one of the nation’s premier cycling cities." The Mayor of Boston also advocates cycling. And, of course, our own Mayor of Normal, Chris Koos, is the quintessential bicycling proponent. Hhhmmmm, what is it with Mayors and bicycles??

Friday, September 18, 2009

Normal Skateboarding Ordinance

At the September 21 meeting, the Normal Town Council will consider approval of an ordinance prohibiting skateboarding in Uptown Normal. I "bing-ed" "skateboarding laws" and found that San Francisco has addressed this issue very thoroughly. They have a Skateboarding Task Force and the San Francisco City and County law regarding skateboarding states that they prohibit skateboarding "on any city street at any time, on any sidewalk in any business district at any time, and on any non-business district sidewalk commencing 30 minutes after sunset and ending 30 minutes before sunrise (Traffic Code, Section 100)."

Is the need for such an ordinance due to: a) an overabundance of skateboarders in or near Uptown; b) a lack of knowledge on the part of "young" people (some are probably not so young) who skateboard regarding where it's inappropriate to do so; or c) unnecessary concern about this potential problem?

Skateboards: Not In Our Uptown!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Normal-See (Normalcy, get it?)

Wouldn't it be great if someone climbed to the top of that stairway and took some pictures?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Normal 9/11 Memorial?

The New York Times has an article about how a local government can acquire a piece of steel collected from the World Trade Center site after September 11, 2001. It's a way for people to create a local memorial out of actual material from "Ground Zero." Many of the pieces are quite large but they also have smaller pieces. No charge for the steel but the recipient has to pay to have the piece transported to their location. I wonder if anyone would be interested in having a 9/11 memorial in Normal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Normal Needs Your Vote!

Less than 2 weeks until the winner of the Toshiba contest between Normal and Boring is announced. Normal is far behind in votes at this point. PLEASE VOTE EACH WEEK!

Go to , wait for the page to load, click on the "Normal" button and fill out your information in the pop-up box. Then vote by clicking on the "Normal" button AGAIN. A thank-you should pop up. (I haven't received any spam as a result of giving my email address.)

Wouldn't it be great to win? PLEASE VOTE!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Normal Joe

Just wanted to say a few things about Joe McCauley, who died on Friday, August 21, 2009. He was a one-of-a-kind, laid-back guy. Always said hello in the hallway and at the start of this semester, after saying hello, he said, "A lovely first day of classes!" Heartland won't be the same without him.

Yeah, Joe, it was a lovely first day of classes. Thanks for pointing that out and brightening my day.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Normal Quotes and Adages

Summer has officially ended and the college students have returned. Here are some famous quotes and adages that, when slightly altered, might be relevant to Normal college students:

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." (Winston Churchill)
Altered: “I have nothing to offer but some leftover take-out and a can of beer.”

"Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light." (Albert Schweitzer)
Altered: “Sometimes our light goes out and we realize that our roommate hasn’t paid the power bill. Pay the bill and rekindle the light already!”

"Half a loaf is better than none." Altered: “Half a pizza is better than half a loaf.”

"He who hesitates is lost." Altered: “He who hesitates to go through a yellow light is late to class.”

"He who laughs last laughs longest." Altered: “He who laughs last shows that he didn’t get the joke.”

"He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword." Altered: “He who lives by Wikipedia, flunks.”

"Rome wasn't built in a day." Altered: “Uptown Normal and campus buildings aren’t completely built until you’ve graduated.”

"Starve a fever, feed a cold." Altered: “Feed a fever and a cold with all of the comfort foods you can afford.”

"Many hands make light work." Altered: “Many hands make plagiarized papers.”

"Misery loves company." Altered: “Misery loves company and watching YouTube videos of public humiliation.”

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Altered: “Beauty is in the bloodshot eyes of the last person to leave a bar or a party.”

"Necessity is the mother of all invention." Altered: “The necessity of passing a test is the mother of creative, rambling essay answers.”

"What goes around comes around." Altered: “What goes around the Uptown traffic circle comes around again as the driver tries to figure out where to exit.”

Welcome back!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Normal Summer Fun?

Actual lines from the 2009 Town of Normal Parks & Recreation Summer Program Guide:

What is your child going to do this summer?
This hitting clinic is designed to teach boys and girls the fundamentals of hitting.
Focus is placed mostly on style and loosely on technique.
Be ready for a sticky mess as soda eruptions will be involved!
Children will be having so much fun they won’t even know they are learning, while caregivers develop tools to use at home.
Everyone will leave tired and ready for bed, ending the night with lullabies by popular artists.
This course does not provide a certification of any type but does give students valuable experience toward future employment.

By registering for a program, the registrant agrees to hold the Town of Normal harmless from any damages caused by participation in the program.

Stop for summer fun!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Normal vs. Normal Heights

There’s a neighborhood in San Diego, California, named Normal Heights. How does it compare to Normal, Illinois?

Similarities include the fact that it was named for a State Normal School, it has a used book store, an authentic Irish pub, and a coffee house (a “hipster hangout” with an adjoining performance space for musical entertainment). Also, it originally had a trolley line, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘Abnormal’, and it has crowded apartment dwellings and single-family homes.

Some of the differences are that it’s a neighborhood (not a town) platted in 1906 (not 1865), it’s described as “funky” and “sometimes rowdy” (probably not how we’d describe Normal), it has a San Diego Cheesecake Company (I wish!) and an “Antique Row” (instead of rows and rows of new houses) and “everything of interest” is located along Adams Avenue (not Beaufort/North St. or Veteran’s Parkway). Also, a carpenter (not a lawyer/tree-planter) was responsible for the main business development.

In spite of the differences, it’s nice to know that there are other, Normal folks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Normal Marriott/Camelot

Normal’s “Marriott” Song:

The site was cleared a distant moon ago here
The building now has grown to fill the lot.
And there’s a fancy sign upon the front here
At Marriott.
The grill is named for founder Jesse Fell, wow!
A name that Normal never has forgot.
Would Jesse drink the beer there, who can tell now?
At Marriott.
Marriott! Marriott!
I know it sounds a bit upscale,
But at Marriott, Marriott
That’s how they tell the tale.
The guests will have their choice of parking spaces.
And swimming makes the stress all disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-hoteling than here
At Marriott.

Marriott! Marriott!
I know it’s quite a sight to see,
But at Marriott, Marriott
It’s where the best will want to be.
The Presidential suites are on the ninth floor.
The Theatre has never been so near.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-hoteling than here
At Marriott.

Normalized Quotes

“Illinois. Normal, Illinois.”

"My Mama always said, 'Normal is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.'"

"I'll be back, Normal."

"Well, it's not the Normal men in your life that count, it's the life in your Normal men."

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into Normal’s."

"It's Normal! It's Normal!"

"I vant to be in Normal."

"I don't know nothin' about Normal."

"As God is my witness, I'll never leave Normal again!"

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Normal anymore."

"...and oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like Normal."

"We'll always have Normal."

"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy Normal night."

"Normal! Nooooorrrrrmaaaaal!"

"...You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Does Normal feel lucky?' Well, does it, punk?"

“It was the best of Normal, it was the worst of Normal.”

“My name is Normal.”

“In the beginning God created the heaven and Normal.”

“It was a dark and stormy Normal night.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Normal Parallel Parking Peril

I drove on North Street this morning. I was curious about the new parallel parking spaces that have replaced the old diagonal spaces. There are two spaces between each of the curb “bump-outs” (not sure what the official term is for those). I was kind of hoping for just one space between them, which would eliminate any worry about clumsy parallel parkers. I’m not a fan of parallel parking. Maybe lots of people are anti-parallel. (Hey, where were you people when the new parking spaces design was being discussed?!)

I searched the internet for information about parallel parking. I couldn’t find any statistics about bumper bumping but there were articles about “dooring,” where someone is exiting or entering a parallel-parked vehicle and a bicyclist hits the door as it is being opened. There were also lots of videos showing how to parallel park, and some articles about new devices to aid in this process. For people who enjoy trying to parallel park without the risks, there are animated games that challenge you to successfully parallel park a cartoon car.

If I have to use one of these PP spaces, I guess I’ll look for one that shares space with an already-parked motorcycle or other small vehicle. Not looking forward to circling and circling and circling the block…

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Normal Marriott Marvel

I just want to say a few things about the new Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal. I think that it was nice to name the grill in the hotel “Jesse’s,” after Jesse Fell. It seems like hotels always have quirky names for their eateries and it would have been easy for this hotel to follow suit. But they chose a name with local significance and I appreciate that. I also think that the two presidential suites are a nice touch. Perhaps local fundraisers could offer a two-night stay in one of the suites as a prize??

Monday, July 20, 2009

Normal Roadway Mix-Up

Time for another word scramble. See if you can unscramble the following names of roadways that are either completely or partially in Normal:


Friday, July 17, 2009

Normal Halcyon Days

Aaahhh, July, the calm before the storm. And by storm, I refer to the back-to-school season with its hordes of people buying school supplies (for the younger students) and room/apartment amenities (for the college students). Who doesn’t enjoy trying to get down the grocery aisle only to be delayed by parents and their college-age offspring trying to decide which brand of peanut butter is best, or by a knot of twenty-somethings stocking up on munchies? And who can resist the excitement of driving behind a vehicle loaded down with people, possessions, and a precariously balanced mattress on the roof?

Another August, another academic calendar begins. My entire life since the age of 6 has been scheduled according to the school season. I even still watch the early news on snowy winter mornings to see which schools are closed! I never thought I’d be doing that this “late” in life. But I don’t think I can ever get out of the academic cycle and, since I looked forward to going back to school as a student (up through college, at least), I guess I still kind of like the anticipation of a new school year and the promise of learning that it presents. I do miss buying a brand new pink eraser and box of watercolor paints, though.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Normal MTC: A Timely Addition

There was a presentation of the design for the Normal Multimodal Transportation Center at the July 6 meeting of the Normal Town Council. It showed a four-story building with the fourth floor set back enough to create a terrace (which I think they said would be “green” but not accessible). The distinguishing exterior feature of the building is a clock, which appeared to be round and analog. I’m wondering if it will be backlit at night.

What is unique about this transportation center is that the third floor will contain offices for Normal staff and the fourth floor will have meeting space (for Council meetings and other gatherings). What would it be like to have an office above a very busy, public place that is never closed? Would it be noisy? Will there be sound-proofing? The issue of security for the office area is being discussed. That’s a big issue in this case, especially with access to each floor from the attached parking garage. The proposed design of the fourth-floor area for Council meetings is a huge improvement over the current meeting space. Someone should make sure that the new chairs for audience members are comfortable.

I hope that there is funding for this building and I am looking forward to seeing what Normal will look like when all of these new buildings and streetscapes are complete. I was starting to feel at home in the “old” Normal but to be honest, it really did look shabby (but not chic). Before we know it – tempus fugit – the “new” Normal will be here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Normal Sugar Creek Arts/Jewelry Festival

This was the third time that I attended the Sugar Creek Arts Festival. The first time I went was the most enjoyable, probably because it was something new. This time, I was kind of disappointed in the lack of variety of types of art. There was a lot of jewelry. I enjoy looking at jewelry and, in fact, I bought a piece of jewelry (fulfilling my quota for the rest of the year, considering what I spent). But there were so many displays of jewelry and paintings/drawings and not as many displays of pottery and other types of art that it felt somewhat repetitive. The quality of everything was very good, though, and I appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of what the artists have created.

I’m not sure what possesses people to take their dogs to the Festival. Do the dogs like art or do the owners want attention? Even without heat from sunshine, the high level of humidity must have been unpleasant for the dogs (it was for me!). And the brief sprinkles were enough to create a wet-dog smell that even the aromas from the few food vendors couldn’t overpower.

Maybe when the Festival moves back into the Uptown area, where there are shops to visit in between viewing the art displays, it will take on a more festive atmosphere and it will at least seem like there is more variety. I’m looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Normal Headlines

Headlines that you will probably never see:

“Normal Town Council Spends Money and Residents are Happy”

“No Road Work in Normal”

“ISU Students Return to Normal and No One Notices”

“Normal Bars Closing Due to Declining Alcohol Sales”

“Normal Town Council Meeting Erupts into Shouts, Punches, and Chair Throwing”

“Gridlock at the Normal Traffic Circle”

“Normal Unit 5 Reduced to Unit 2.5 Due to Population Decline”

“New Commission Addresses the Lack of Geese, Pigeons, and Starlings in Normal”

“Normal Restaurants Empty on Friday Nights”

“Normal Teeming with Single Men Over the Age of 30”

“Spring Arrives in Normal with No Potholes”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Normal Values

If you ask someone what the values are in Normal, the answer would probably include family, education, safety, and environmental responsibility. But one way to find evidence of what the values really are in Normal is to look at what resources and events the town provides that are above and beyond the basic necessities (such as education and safety). For example, I think it’s very clear that Normal highly values the arts, as evidenced by the Connie Link Amphitheatre and the events that take place there, the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, the Normal Theater, and the Harmon Arts Grants. The Constitution Trail, Ironwood Golf Course, many of the Parks and Recreation programs, and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan show that physical activity is also a Normal value. A third Normal value is environmental responsibility, which underlies the creation of the Green Team, LEED certification for Uptown (and other) buildings, plans for the “green” house next to Underwood Park, and the recycling stations around town.

A close examination of Normal’s budget would probably reveal other values. As to how certain values get translated into dollars spent by the town, it is probably a combination of the influence of people (elected officials, town staff members, citizens), availability of resources, and community support for the resulting projects. And community support probably changes over time, so there may have been projects in Normal’s past that declined in popularity over time so the town stopped funding them.

So, if you are planning to move to a new town and want to know what the real values are in that town, examine the budget and the town-sponsored resources and events.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Normal Bicyclists' Bones

[This topic is indirectly related to Normal since there is an effort to encourage more bicycling in the local area.] A New York Times blog describes studies that find lower bone densities among male competitive bicyclists in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. They aren’t sure if the lack of calories consumed or the amount of sweating contributes to the bone density loss. Even though they say that recreational bicyclists probably don’t have to worry about this issue, it’s still a good idea to be aware of this potential problem. So, if you’re a dedicated bicyclist in Normal or elsewhere, keep tabs on your bone density. And please, eat a burger once in a while!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Postnormal Normal

I just happened upon the label “postnormal science.” It’s used in the article “Postnormal Science, Precautionary Principle, and Worst Cases: The Challenge of Twenty-First Century Catastrophes,” by Brent K. Marshall and J. Steven Picou, in the journal Sociological Inquiry (Vol. 78, No. 2, May 2008, 230-247). The label refers to using science to solve problems following catastrophes when “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent” and when everyone affected by the problems needs to join in the discussion about solving the problems [see footnote]. The article refers to the attacks on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Indian Ocean tsunami. These events had sudden, major, and in these cases, negative consequences.

So, can we use a similar approach to addressing issues resulting from major (positive?) changes taking place in Normal? Specifically, the consequences of the construction in Uptown Normal, the changing population, and changes in the Unit 5 school system.

Facts are uncertain: We do not yet know if some investors in Uptown will have the finances to complete their projects. We do not know what consequences redistricting will have on schools and students. We do not know what impact demographic changes will have on the community.

Values in dispute: Because of the economic situation, there is increasing debate about how the town’s money should be spent. Some people want most of it spent on basics (road repair, maintaining and upgrading the water system, police and fire services). Other people support spending money on improving Uptown (the central business district) and providing incentives for businesses to come to Normal.

Stakes high: Any major investment of resources by the town means that the stakes are high. If the new hotel is not successful and if the apartments and condos being built in Uptown aren’t rented and sold, the town will end up with empty buildings and not much new money coming in. If, on the other hand, these projects are successful, and people appreciate the new look of the streets and sidewalks, the town will reap some pretty big rewards.

Decisions urgent: The construction decisions are urgent to the extent that investors want a quick decision about their proposed projects. The decisions about the school system are definitely urgent because the students are here and need schools.

Everyone affected needs to join the discussion: I think this has always been the case but there wasn’t an intentional effort made to include everyone in the past because it wasn’t possible to get everyone the information and because social inequality created barriers that kept some people out of the discussion. Now, it is much easier to get the information out to everyone and because more people are aware of what is going on, those in power feel more obligated (or are more pressured) to include as many stakeholders as possible in the discussions.

Even though my application of the idea of postnormal science probably isn’t what the authors of the article intended, I think there are enough parallels to justify using the label “postnormal.” It will be interesting to see what postnormal Normal looks like.

[Footnote: the specific description of postnormal science comes from the article “Three Types of Risk Assessment and Emergence of Post-Normal Science” by Silvio O. Funtowics and Jerome R. Ravetz, in the journal Social Theories of Risk (pp. 251-74, 1992).]

Monday, June 29, 2009

Normal Attraction

The "Preliminary Report of the McLean County Regional Comprehensive Plan" (subtitled “A Guide to Sensible Growth Through Regional Cooperation”) (November, 1999) has an interesting observation about the lack of a regional landmark: “Although McLean County is fortunate to have many historic features and civic resources . . . major cultural landmarks that add to the Region’s identity are rare” (page 32). The Sears Tower in Chicago and the arch in St. Louis are mentioned as examples of such landmarks. “While the McLean County Museum of History and other area landmarks provide local identities, a more prominent feature could enhance the regional identity of the County and the Twin Cities area. This could be of particular benefit since the area also lacks a prominent natural landmark” (page 33).

This is just the kind of challenge that should get locals brainstorming! Let’s see, there are different kinds of landmarks: impressive practical structures (Sears Tower), impressive structures designed for the sole purpose of attracting tourists (the arch), giant statues designed to get people to leave the highway and at least stop to take a picture (I don’t remember the names of the towns, but I’ve seen a giant bear in a southern Wisconsin town and a giant cow in some town in northeastern Illinois), and places that are just so wonderful that they become destinations for travelers (zoos, water parks, all those venues in Branson). Ok, which type of landmark do we want in Normal?

Impressive practical structure: a very high bridge (with lanes for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists) that spans Normal and Bloomington from north to south with NO STOPS . . .

Impressive tourist-attracting structure: a huge fan that spins in the wind . . .

Giant statue: a giant insurance claim form; a giant drive-through speaker; a giant mortarboard with tassel; a HUGE Asian beetle . . .

Wonderful place: a real, working dairy farm surrounded by shops, restaurants, and residences ("Get Moo for Your Money! Visit the Divine Bovine Sanctuary! Just off Veteran's Parkway!")

Anyone have other ideas? Better hurry because the cost will have to be added to the next budget!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Normal Construction Census

I like construction web cams. I enjoy watching what is currently happening at the site and seeing what progress has been made over time. But in addition to web cams of construction sites, I think it would be interesting to take a count (a census, if you will) of construction-related items that are out there: traffic cones or barrels, barricades, dump trucks, cranes, cement mixers, (portable bathrooms?) etc. That would be a unique way of determining the amount of construction taking place and would allow for comparisons, such as: “Bloomington currently has 25 traffic cones and 11 dump trucks at construction sites, compared to 1527 traffic cones and 605 dump trucks at Normal construction sites.” Of course, the movable objects are more difficult to count, so perhaps cones, barrels, and barricades are the best measure.

I realize that Normal has a list of building permits, which is one way to count construction activity. But it’s not as fun as a chart with little cones or trucks on it, depicting actual numbers of items. What can I say? I spend too much time looking at tables and numbers on the Census Bureau web site.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Normal Well, Well, Well . . .

The "2009 Town of Normal Water Department Water Quality Report" shows that no drinking water violations were recorded during 2008. That’s good news. However, if you look at the last paragraph on page 3 of the report, you will read something that is perhaps not such good news:
“…the Illinois EPA has determined that the Normal Community Water Supply’s source water for wells #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #13 and #14 is susceptible to contamination.”

This does not mean that the water for these wells is contaminated, just that it is susceptible to contamination.

We take clean drinking water for granted and it would be nice to be able to continue to take it for granted. Most people probably don’t read the Water Quality Report but it is a good source of information about an important part of the quality of life in Normal.

Clean wells = living well? Well, in a way.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Normal 3rd Sunday Market

Another June, another trek to the 3rd Sunday Market at the Interstate Center. I decided to go in spite of the rainy weather. Either it’s rainy or it’s extremely hot – take your pick. The rain certainly didn’t reduce the size of the crowd. I threaded my way through the booths inside the main building and then headed outside to one of the “sheds” to see what was out there. I didn’t look at the rest of the outdoor booths because I found what I was looking for within 10 minutes (a new record for fast shopping!) and didn’t have much money left to spend. I’m always drawn to the wooden furniture and the small, unique items. And I enjoy seeing items that my family had when I was a kid, as well as items that I still use (which always makes me wonder whether I’m desecrating some valuable antique or I’m hopelessly stuck in the past). I think one reason that many people go to this market is because some of the stuff brings back memories.

I haven’t tried the food, though. The smell of fried everything kind of puts me off. But lots of people were eating, so I think the food vendors do quite well.

If you’ve never been to 3rd Sunday Market, I encourage you to go. Wear sunscreen and take money. Go early for more selection or go later and hope to get a better price. Just go and soak up the nostalgia (and the grease).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Normal Age-Restricted Housing

There was an item on the Normal Town Council agenda for the May 18, 2009 meeting that addressed including in the development of low-income age-restricted housing a number of units for “grandfamilies.” Specifically, an area designated as an S-2 Public Lands and Institutions zoning district would include multiple-family housing for residents 55+ and up to 20% of the units would be designated for grandfamilies. A “grandfamily” is defined as: “A family unit headed by a person aged 55 or older who is providing primary care and support for a relative aged 18 or younger or up to 22 years old if the individual is a full‐time student.” The East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging supports the development of units for grandfamilies.

What is the purpose of having “age-restricted” housing? Isn’t it to provide residents with the assurance that they will be living among others in their age-range? I imagine that people choose to live in age-restricted housing because they want to live around others with a similar lifestyle. They don’t want the hustle and bustle (a nice way of saying noise) of families with young children and/or teens. If someone 55+ is raising children, why would they choose to live in an age-restricted area? Don’t they want to live somewhere with the ubiquitous jungle-gyms and basketball hoops on every property, with children outside screaming at the top of their lungs and riding plastic tricycles in the streets? Wouldn’t an age-restricted housing development be kind of boring for children?

I hope that Normal supports development of housing that is truly age-restricted.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Normal Slogan?

Should Normal have a slogan? If so, it could refer to Normal being a “twin city”:
“The Smarter Twin”

Or it could refer to the name of the town:
“Surprisingly Superior”
“Above Average, Plays Well With Others” (also a reference to education)

Or it could refer to the building and expansion of the town:
“Never the Same Place Twice”
“Not Your Parents’ Normal”
“Purposefully Progressive”

Or it could refer to Normal’s central location:
“The Middle of Everywhere” (my favorite)

If you like alliteration: “Graduating, Green, Growing”

Do people remember these slogans? Cities pay a lot to have someone create a slogan and put it into a design. There must be some benefit.

[Note: The Normal web site has the phrase "Committed to Service Excellence" but I see this as more of a mission statement than a PR-type slogan.]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Normal Recycling Reduction

The Normal Town Council Report (June 15, 2009) includes information about the local recycling program and mentions that the reduction in the size of the local newspaper, “The Pantagraph,” caused a reduction of 8% in recycled paper. It’s hard to say if the change in the newspaper was the only factor contributing to the reduction of recycled paper because there might have been other factors (also related to the economy): less junk mail, fewer magazine subscriptions as people cut back on expenses, increasing use of electronic documents instead of printed documents, etc. Even so, what other effects might have resulted from the reduced newspaper size? Perhaps people would need more issues of the newspaper to use as packaging in boxes, for lining bird cages (do people still use it for that?), for protecting surfaces during plant repotting/arts and crafts projects/painting, and for puppy paper training. So, in a way, people are recycling newspaper even if they don’t take it to the recycling collection containers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Normal Flower Power

There are small patches of decorative plantings around Normal. Today, I noticed the one on the southeast corner of Raab Rd. and Main St. It’s a wonderful collection of dark purple and pink flowering plants (at least, that’s what I saw from a distance). If I weren’t photographically challenged, I would go around town taking pictures of these plantings. I just wanted to mention them because I do appreciate their beauty and the fact that Normal has people planting and maintaining them. When you are driving around Normal, take time to notice and appreciate these colorful oases (even if you can’t literally stop and smell the flowers).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Normal: Those Wild 60s!

Back in 1963-1964, when ISU was still ISNU (Illinois State Normal University), the female students (especially the younger ones) were evidently regarded as so wild and dangerous that they had to be kept locked in at night. The ISNU “Code of Student Life” handbook from that time describes how this was carried out:

4. Regulations for Women
A. Closing hours for all women’s residences are as follows:
Sunday-Thursday: 10:30 p.m. (Residence hall freshman women 10 p.m.)
Friday-Saturday: 12:30 a.m. (Residence hall freshman women 12 M.)
Exceptions to the above:
For junior and senior students, Wednesday and Sunday, 11:30 p.m.
For nights preceding and closing a vacation, 11:00 p.m.
For functions on the University Calendar requiring later hours: time will be announced on the weekly printed calendar.

B. Undergraduate women are eligible for late leaves each semester on the following basis. Late leaves are not cumulative from semester to semester:
Freshmen: 1 per semester
Sophomores: 2 per semester
Juniors: 3 per semester
Seniors: 4 per semester

C. Termination times for personal late leaves describe above, are as follows:
Sunday-Thursday: 12 midnight
Friday-Saturday: 1 a.m.

Thank goodness the male students and the rest of the community were protected from these women!

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Normal Illinois" Anagrams

Why look for anagrams of "Normal Illinois"? Why not? At, this request resulted in 11,329 anagrams, but only 1,000 were shown. Among them:

Similar Ill Noon

Similar Nil Loon

Liaison Ill Norm

Insomnia Rill Lo

Simian Lion Roll

Simian Loin Roll

Raisin Mill Loon

Raisin Loin Moll

Lanolin Limo Sir

Lanolin Oils Rims

Mail Rill Onions

Monorail Ill Sin

Monorail Ill Ins

Marlin Lion Silo

Snails Million Or

Slain Million Or

Rail Millions No (reference to trains?)

Lair Mill Onions

Rails Million No

Mall Sirloin Ion (reference to restaurants?)

Saloon Mini Rill

A Sirloin in Moll

A Mini Loins Roll (no comment...)

Similar Ill No No (must be referring to state government)

Ail Ill In Morons

Nominal I Rill So

Lain I Limos Lorn (sounds poetic, doesn't it?)

Snail Rill In Moo

Lots of onions, lions or loins, some morons, lanolin, liars, and a saloon. Not sure what that says about Normal, Illinois. Make of it what you will.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Normal Historic Homes

At the Friends of the Bloomington Library sale, I purchased a calendar prepared by the McLean County Bicentennial Arts Festival Committee in 1976. Each page features a picture of an area location with historical significance. Among the homes pictured, there are four from Normal: the Simon B. Malone Home (built 1865), the Taylor-Dillon Home (built 1870), the Jesse Fell Home (built 1855), and the Orson Leroy Manchester Home (built 1916). I admit that I’m only familiar with the names Fell and Dillon, so I am not sure of the significance of the other two homes. But it is clear that a home gets elevated to the status of having historical significance due to the status of the person who lived there and/or the importance of the architectural style.

Is there any possibility that a home built recently in one of the many area subdivisions would ever be considered historically significant? If so, it would undoubtedly be based on the resident, not on the architectural style. It seems kind of funny to think of future residents of Normal placing great significance on a putty-colored, vinyl-sided, single-story ranch house built in the 1990s. The person who lived there would need to have been really important for that to happen!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Normal Web Site Superior to Others

I’ve been looking at web sites for cities and towns in the U.S. and have found that there is a lot of variation in the quality of these sites. Some sites are charming (“Welcome to our state’s hidden treasure!") but do not provide much useful information. Other sites provide some basic information (“We have a police department”) but do not give the visitor to the site any details.

So far, I haven’t seen any web site that is as comprehensive and useful as the Normal web site. I think there should be a ratings guide for city and town web sites, like ratings guides for restaurants and hotels. Instead of forks or stars, this guide could use postcards to indicate the rating based on criteria such as attractive layout and pictures, links to specific departments, the amount of detailed information, links to community resources (attractions, media, churches, etc.), and ease of use. I’d say that Normal has a four-postcard web site!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Normal Not-Quite-So-Amazing Adventure

On the show “Amazing Race,” teams don’t know what to expect on each leg of the race. Will they have to deal with great heights or scary animals? Will they have to be brave or clever? Will they have to eat something disgusting or learn a difficult dance?

Going to the Normal Post Office is also an adventure, although not quite as extreme as AR experiences. Will there be huge construction vehicles blocking the street? Will the parking spaces still exist? Will I get there ahead of other racers -- I mean, customers going to the Post Office? And when I want to leave, will I be able to back out of the space or will they have started removing pavement while I was inside?

I hate to sound lazy, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Post Office had a drive-up window?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Normal Roundabout

While searching for information for another project, I ran across a brochure describing how to use a roundabout in Athens, Alabama. It seems that Normal isn't the only town educating citizens about this new-fangled type of intersection. I would be interested in seeing how many roundabouts are being built or planned for cities and towns in the U.S. If they are becoming more popular, maybe it’s because drivers just don’t want to take the time to actually stop at stop signs (or red lights) any more. Gotta keep moving on!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Normal Limerick

There once was a blogger who dared

Post her thoughts during time that was spared.

So she wrote about Normal

And kept it informal

But it turned out that nobody cared. :(

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Normal Parks Scrambled

There are 11 parks in Normal (areas with titles that include the word “park”). See how many of the park names you can unscramble:


Stumped? Check the inside of the back cover of the Town of Normal Parks & Recreation Summer Program Guide (2009). The above list is in reverse order of the list in the booklet. When you’re finished, go to a park and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Normal Animals: Restrained and Decent

The “Town of Normal Historical Data and Town Charter” lists, under the Legislative Powers of the Council:

“To restrain, regulate or prohibit the running at large of cattle, horses, sheep, swine, goats and other animals, and to authorize the distraining, impounding, and sale of the same, and to prohibit the indecent exhibition of horses and other animals.”

(I had to look up “distraining” in my old, but very useful dictionary. It means “to coerce or punish by levying a distress.”)

Other than twice seeing deer crossing Raab Road, I have not seen animals running “at large” in Normal. So I guess the Council is on top of that issue.

I’m not sure I want to know what “indecent exhibition” refers to. . .

Monday, May 25, 2009

Normal Depersonalization

As the town of Normal grows, it seems that greater emphasis is placed on buildings than on individuals. When people talk about how much the area has grown, they talk about all of the new subdivisions, apartment buildings, and businesses. No one talks about particular individuals (or families) by names – “The John Doe family used to own that property but now, it’s owned by the Smith family.” We don’t know very many people in our own town, so we can’t think in those terms. We can see the buildings going up, so that’s what we focus on.

Similar to the depersonalization of the local phonebook, maps of the local area have become much less personal. The “Official Plat Book and Farm Directory of McLean County Illinois” (1963) has a fairly close-up map of Normal Township showing individual properties labeled with property owners’ names (written by hand, sometimes in very small letters to fit the smaller properties). The focus is on who owns each property (or multiple properties, in some cases). When I look at it, I think of the people who lived around here.

But when I look at the “Physical Features” map from the “Town of Normal Comprehensive Plan” (2006), I see an aerial view with dark shapes (buildings) lining the streets. (In a few areas, there are individual dots lining the streets. I guess those are houses that have larger yards.) Of course, the title “Physical Features” tells me that this map is not about people, so I shouldn’t expect that kind of information. Still, I think the two maps reflect a change in our perception of Normal: from a town where so-and-so lives, to a town with x number of subdivisions and businesses. It’s much less personal, probably because we don’t have the time or the motivation to get to know the people living here. I’m sure that’s true in most urban areas today. It’s normal. How appropriate!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Normal Marriage & Divorce

In the Sunday edition of The Pantagraph there are wedding anniversary announcements, wedding announcements, engagement announcements, and birth announcements. These are all presented in a separate section from the divorce announcements and obituaries. It’s rather silly to keep continuations and new beginnings separate from endings. I think it would be more realistic to have them together in the same section, just like they occur in real life. Wedding anniversaries range from 25 years up to 60 years. As the headline states, those are milestones. But the divorce announcements do not state how many years each couple was married. Revealing those “milestones” might be an eye-opener to those listed in the wedding and engagement sections.

What do marriage and divorce look like locally? Between 2000 and 2005, the number of marriages occurring in McLean County declined a little, starting at 1,010 in 2000, and ending at 907 in 2005. The number of divorces in McLean County over that same period of time started at 549, was at 451 in 2004, and then ended at 501 in 2005. (These statistics come from the Illinois Department of Public Health web site.) Just looking at the town of Normal over the years 2005-2007 (for people 15 and over), 34.3% were married and 6.7% were divorced. 55.1% were never married, which shows the effect of the college student population on local data. (These statistics come from the U.S. Census Bureau web site.)

Only 34.3% married and 6.7% divorced. Kind of contradicts personal observation, doesn’t it? It seems like there are so many married couples and so many people getting divorced (and then remarrying) around here. That’s why it’s good to check the statistics.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Normal Phonebook -- Then and Now

“The new phonebook’s here! The new phonebook’s here!” Do you remember that scene from Steve Martin’s movie “The Jerk”? I don’t think anyone really gets that excited when the new phonebook comes out. I’m not even sure that phonebooks get used that much anymore because so many of us turn to the Internet instead of the Yellow Pages for business information and the phonebook doesn’t list cell phone numbers.

Compared to our current phonebook’s information about residents, information in the local phonebook back in 1962 was amazingly detailed (and intrusive). The first section listed the name of the resident, the spouse’s name in parentheses, their occupation and place of employment (or if they were retired), and their home address. If the spouse was deceased, that was noted with a “w.” The head of the household was indicated by an “h” before the address, while other members of the family (and roomers) were indicated by an “r” before the address. If the person owned a business, that person’s name was noted in parentheses after the name of the business.

The second section was arranged by streets and street addresses, with the occupant’s name and phone number listed after the street address. So, if you wanted to know the person’s phone number, you needed to first look up that person’s street address. It seems kind of odd that finding a phone number – the primary reason for a phonebook – was a two-step process.

Think of the problems of using that system today! People change employers, move frequently, and change spouses once in a while. All of this information would get updated just once a year, so the phonebook would always contain a lot of misinformation. And there would probably be a great deal of resistance to publishing some of the personal information. Would we want our occupation and employer listed? How would the phone company designate “head of household”? And do we want people to know about our marital status?

Gone are the days when people stay put and stay married. And even though lots of people today are willing to share (too much) information about themselves publically, they want to control that information. So the old style of phonebook listing would never work today. And maybe the phonebook itself is on the way out. That’s too bad, because a phonebook is a good source of information about a community and its culture.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


accelogrellow – speeding up when the traffic light has changed from green to yellow (which is only slightly more acceptable than “spedred” – speeding up even though the light has turned to red)

barrelization – the process of blocking off a construction area with orange striped barrels (also, barrelized) (As in "Oh great, now the block that I usually cut through is undergoing barrelization!")

cellears – people who are always holding a cell phone to their ear (As in "Yeah, that guy is a real cellear.")

curb apparel – the furniture placed out by the curb for garbage collection day (As in "Oh honey, look at that lovely curb apparel. Should we stop and check out the couch?")

family hour – the time spent talking to your family members while waiting to be seated at a local restaurant (As in "I spend quality time with my kids. They tell me about stuff during the family hour each Friday at _____." -- fill in name of favorite restaurant)

ilstupeds – ISU pedestrians (As in "Oh &!?$! Now I can't turn right because of all the ilstupeds crossing the street!")

Nupping – changing the name of an area to distinguish it from other, similar areas, a la “Uptown Normal” (As in "I heard that they're Nupping their subdivision; calling it Shining Vinyl Way so no one gets it confused with the other subdivisions.")

Sepchember – the fall month in which to apply lawn chemicals (not to be confused with Spraypril – the spring month in which to apply lawn chemicals)

temporary Starking – the parking of various Stark Excavating vehicles alongside construction projects (As in "I'm going to avoid that street from now on. Too much temporary Starking.")

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Normal Postings

I decided to do a web search for “Normal, Illinois.” I didn’t look through the entire list of 2,900,000 entries because after I got to 600, there was a lot of repetition and my eyes were tired of scanning the list. Among the usual business entries were some interesting finds. One was a link to information about a book coming out this fall called Not Normal, Illinois, edited by Michael Martone. Another link took me to a humorous, sarcastic description of Normal, including comments about where to eat, the local media, and, of course, the name of the town. There was also a snarky comment about the local cable broadcast of Normal Town Council meetings: “as entertaining as watching cheese mould.” What?!!

There were also links to information about singles in Normal. Why someone in their 20s would need to advertise on a dating web site is beyond me. Don’t they go out and socialize and meet people in person anymore? [Investigation of these sites was for research purposes only. No singles were harmed in the process.]

Just looking to see what people out there are saying about us.

Normal Gone By

Have you ever gone somewhere and immediately felt at home? Like you belonged there? That’s how I felt when I came to Normal. Except . . . I wish I had lived here about 30 years ago. I think I would have really liked it at that time, although I realize that the area has always been changing. Going way back in time, here are some excerpts from the 1912 publication, “Views of Normal (Illinois),” published by The Normal Improvement Association:

“In Normal you find all of the advantages of a city of 30,000, with all of the inconveniences of the crowded city removed. Its wide streets are lined with beautiful shade trees which were planted by its founder and his pioneer associates more than half a century ago.” (p.2)

“The public schools of Normal have always compared favorably with those of other cities of a similar size, yet the people of the community recently recognized the fact that to keep up to the standard expected of an educational center, better and larger buildings and equipment were needed and they immediately proceeded to provide the same.” (p.3)

“The city is rapidly coming to the front, enjoying a substantial growth.” (p.6)

I realize that this is a promotional publication, so it probably overstates the positive and ignores the negative. Still, I think I would have felt at home even back then.

Friday, May 15, 2009

TON Newspaper Dispensing Device Czar/Czarina

I always enjoy seeing what the combination of government and bureaucracy produces. Government involves centralized efforts to get things done for citizens, and bureaucracy involves specifically designated positions to handle certain duties. The two combined usually result in a proliferation of positions, each with a very limited list of duties. A perfect example of this is Normal’s proposal for a “Newspaper Dispensing Device Commissioner.”

Ok, if you’re done laughing, I’ll explain. In the past, there have been numerous newspaper vending machines in the Uptown Normal area. With Uptown’s new look, the Town doesn’t want a bunch of individual, ugly newspaper vending machines detracting from the view, but does want to continue to make it convenient for people to buy a newspaper. So, the Town is proposing an ordinance to identify Uptown as a “Modular Newsrack District,” with the Town purchasing and maintaining attractive, modular newspaper dispensing devices that can hold up to 16 publications.

Of course, someone has to maintain the dispensing devices as well as make arrangements with the various publishers who want their papers included in them. Thus, the position of Newspaper Dispensing Device Commissioner was born. If you were hoping to apply for the position so you could put that title on your resume, sorry, but that position automatically goes to the Director of Public Works or someone designated by the Director of Public Works.

And you thought your employer added odd duties to your job description. . .

Thursday, May 14, 2009

TON Commissions and Board

Isn’t the number seven supposed to be considered lucky? If so, the following groups must have good luck because each one consists of seven members appointed by the Mayor and Council.

The Planning Commission hears requests for zoning amendments regarding development. This commission heard 26 cases in 2008, denying two of them (although they were approved by Council). Requests included new businesses at the Constitution Trail Centre (tires and food), apartment complexes, buildings at Heartland Community College, and a school renovation/expansion.

The Uptown Design Review Commission applies the Uptown Design Ordinance to proposed projects in Uptown Normal. Basically, it works to ensure that the central business district looks nice. Based on the list of reviews that this commission performed in 2008, it looks like signage and façades were the main concerns.

The Zoning Board of Appeals hears requests for zoning variances and amended special use permits. In 2008 this commission heard requests for yard setbacks, parking and turn-around “pads” in front yards, amended special use permits for several churches, and a request regarding a sign. A request for construction of a garage larger than the code maximum was denied.

Here’s hoping you have good luck with any request that you take to these groups!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TON Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (Draft) -- Veterans Parkway Crossings

Page 163 of the NBPMP-D lists suggested improvements for Veterans Parkway crossings that would help bicyclists and pedestrians who are traveling east and west across Normal.

Bicyclists and pedestrians crossing Veterans Parkway?

Uh, no. Not a good idea. It's scary enough crossing it in a car!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

TON Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (Draft) -- Pedestrian Stings

There is a recommendation on page 133 of the Normal Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (Draft) (NBPMP-D) that Normal conduct “pedestrian stings.” A pedestrian sting occurs when plainclothes police officers or volunteers try to cross a street at a crosswalk in the middle of the block. If motorists don’t stop for the pedestrian, they are ticketed by a second police officer. It is suggested that Normal have at least three of these stings each year in places with lots of pedestrians crossing streets, such as uptown, near elementary schools, and near ISU. The goal is to encourage drivers to yield to pedestrians because they know that these stings are happening.

I know I wouldn’t want to be one of the volunteers because some motorists aren’t going to stop (maybe volunteers sign a waiver acknowledging the danger). They mention in the description of the stings that the “decoys” (volunteers) might be “notable community members” such as the Mayor or business leaders. Given the critical comments made about the Mayor and other notables before the last election, I would worry about their safety in doing this!!

I’m always glad to stop for a pedestrian who is clearly about to step out into a crosswalk, but those pedestrians who stand on the corner or at the edge of the crosswalk and don’t move really annoy me. Are they going to cross or not? If I’ve stopped and they still don’t start across, is it ok for me to continue? And what if I’ve stopped but drivers coming from the other direction aren’t stopping? Should I continue to just sit there?

So, to all of you “decoys,” please make it clear that you are going to cross the street. Same goes for all of you “real” street-crossers. (And please don’t choose to stand on a corner while you talk on the cellphone.) Thanks. Sting away!

Friday, May 8, 2009

TON Local Liquor Commission

I’m not sure why it’s called the Normal Local Liquor Commission. Is there a Normal National Liquor Commission? In any case, the Mayor and Town Council members serve on this Commission and have regular meetings four times a year but they also have special meetings (six in 2008). As of the end of last year, there were 51 liquor licenses in Normal, most of them being “Class A,” or packaged liquor. The second largest category was “Class D,” or full line liquor on premises. I think it would be interesting to compare number of liquor licenses per person for different communities. Don’t 51 licenses seem like a lot for Normal? Do businesses need to sell liquor to be successful here? Will the golf course attract more players now that liquor is sold there? There were also quite a few non-location specific licenses issued in 2008, including those for catering, outdoor gardens, and wine tasting.

Going back to the Normal Police Department 2008 Report and looking at alcohol-related incidents, there were 18 arrests for furnishing alcohol to a minor, 54 arrests for unlawful sale of alcohol, and 84 arrests for possession of open alcohol in public. There were also 12,606 total traffic tickets with DUIs in 2008 (the average for the past five years was 12,031).

What would Jesse Fell say??

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

TON Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (DRAFT)

I’m attempting to read the Town of Normal Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (DRAFT) but it’s not easy because it’s a lengthy and very detailed plan. That’s good in terms of covering all possible issues but it sure makes it hard for the reader to stay focused. I’ll admit up front that I don’t own a bicycle (never have – there wasn’t much pavement for riding bikes on the family farm) and I had my fill of being a pedestrian during college and graduate school (didn’t get a car until my second year of graduate school and even then, I only used it for long-distance travel because I could walk or take a bus locally). So, I figure that I’m entitled to criticize only a few items from the plan (DRAFT – it’s just a DRAFT) that concern me.

First, the main assumption underlying the plan is that in the future (the plan covers 20 years), lots of people will be walking and riding bikes around Normal. The projections given in the plan take into account current biking and walking statistics, as well as lots of other current and projected statistics. Even so, I think the projections are a little questionable because: the population is getting older (not that “older” people won’t walk or bike, but they will probably do so in fewer numbers than “younger” people); more people will be commuting from suburbs (as stated in the plan); and the assumption that many people who work at home will walk or bike during the day is kind of odd (unless that was a finding of the American Community Survey). And the assumption that demand will increase with better pedestrian and biker access is, well, just a prediction. If it makes driving around town a bigger hassle, then that prediction just might come true!

Second, putting some of our roads on a diet worries me (“road diet” refers to narrowing driving lanes). I was pleased to read that many roads in Normal actually exceed the 11-foot or 10-foot standard for driving lanes. Hooray for Normal! I’m fortunate in not worrying too much about the width of driving lanes because I drive a small car. But there are a lot of SUVs, delivery trucks, and semis being driven around here. Would they fit comfortably in narrower lanes? Do we all get along well enough to be that close to the vehicle in the next lane? Does it leave enough room for avoiding potholes and dead squirrels? Will I be able to swerve out of the way of the driver who is weaving around while talking on a cell phone (or maybe engaging in some other future driver distraction)?

Third, I’m concerned about the suggestion of legally requiring everyone to clear sidewalks when they are covered with snow and/or ice (clearing at least a 5-foot width if the sidewalk is wider than 5 feet; 5 feet -- that’s half of a driving lane!). Yes, it would be nice if everyone could get out there immediately after a significant snowfall and clear the sidewalk for the many, many people who love to walk in winter weather. But when you have to get up early and barely have enough energy to shovel the drive (including the large clumps of snow and ice at the foot of the drive if the plow has come by), it’s extremely difficult to find the time and energy to also do the sidewalk and still make it to work on time (and without back pain) (obviously, I use a shovel, which, I would like to point out, is environmentally friendly). I think that a policy that allows for a reasonable amount of time to get the sidewalk cleared and which relies on peer pressure rather than fines would work.

Those are my concerns at this point (not having read the document cover-to-cover yet). I don’t want to give the impression that I’m against the spirit of the plan (well, the DRAFT of the spirit). I really like the idea of people walking and biking places, with lots of clearly designated paths and safe intersections. It has a nice, small town feel to it. But resources are limited, as always, so the cost of this plan has to be weighed against other Normal needs.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

TON Human Relations Commission

The Normal Human Relations Commission advises the Council on human relations issues, enforces civil rights based on municipal codes, and is a co-sponsor, along with Bloomington, of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award Program. The Normal Human Resources Department serves as staff for this Commission, handling and resolving discrimination complaints, coordinating the award program, and providing support for community outreach. In 2008, the Commission received three formal and 55 informal complaints of unlawful discrimination and conducted five successful conciliation meetings. Community outreach involved booths at Juneteenth and the Culture Festival, sponsoring youth to attend the Diversity Project, sponsoring the YWCA Youth Peace Camp, and participating in various local events.

There were 681 tickets sold for the 2008 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Luncheon (670 people attended). There were 700 tickets sold in each of the previous two years, showing that this is a very important event in the community. At the luncheon, recipients were recognized for the “I Have a Dream” Youth Award and the Adult Human Relations Award.

The Commission’s goals for the future involve education and collaboration: greater education of the Commission, educating the public about their rights, educating the business community about their responsibilities, and collaborating with other organizations to further the goals of the Commission. “Fostering better understanding and relations among our citizens” is certainly an important and very challenging mission and the efforts of those serving on the Human Relations Commission are helping to make a difference in Normal as well as the surrounding area.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

TON Historic Preservation Commission

The Normal Historic Preservation Commission has a relatively short history of 19 years. It consists of seven members who are appointed (for a four-year term) by the Mayor and Council, and it holds open meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall. The main duty of this Commission is to inform the Planning Commission as to which structures or areas are historically significant and to approve or deny requests for changes to those structures or areas. Plans for demolishing structures in Normal must also go before the Historic Preservation Commission. There were 24 requests for changes to historic structures in 2008 and all were approved. One building, Sprague’s Super Service on Pine Street, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places last year. And almost $34,000 from the Robert G. Bone Historic Preservation Grant Program was awarded for various restoration projects in 2008, which was a great way to help people maintain their historic properties.

As part of Historic Preservation Month (May), students at various schools drew or painted pictures of one of three houses specified from each historic district in Normal. The Historic Preservation Commission members judged the artwork and winners were honored at a Council meeting. All of the pictures were displayed at City Hall and they were quite impressive. Another event to celebrate this month began in 2008: the Architectural Treasure Hunt. This competition required entrants to identify properties in the historic districts based on pictures of architectural features from those properties. It’s a nice way to motivate people to visit and appreciate the historic districts.

The Commission also celebrated Jesse Fell’s 200th birthday in 2008. Would Normal have come into existence if not for Jesse Fell? Would ISU (nee ISNU) have been built in this area without his efforts? Would Normal have fewer trees, more bars, and no Fell Ave.? I think that his influence on Normal’s history shows that one person’s efforts can have long-lasting effects. Or maybe he’s just had good PR over the years . . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TON Water Department

The Normal Water Department pumped about 1.6 billion gallons of water in 2008. A lot of work goes into providing a reliable supply of safe water to Normal. The department is divided into three divisions: Treatment, Distribution, and Administration/Billing. Treatment includes sampling and testing of water, maintaining the water sources and storage facilities, and continuous operation of the treatment plant.

Distribution operates and maintains the water mains and meters. With the growth of Normal, it isn’t surprising that 332 new meters were installed in 2008. Other work performed last year included: 1,959 hydrants flushed; 231 hydrants painted; 32 water mains repaired; 1,490 replacement meters installed; and 3,235 final reads of meters. This division handled a total of 14,348 work orders and service requests in 2008.

Administration/billing prepared and mailed over 105,393 bills in 2008. The biggest consumers of Normal water were residents (39.2% by owner occupied residences and 26.9% by rental residences). We are fortunate that not very much water was used for irrigation (just 2.9%). The charts show that in 2008, the highest demand for water was in August through October (for the town as a whole and for the Illinois State University campus).

We take access to safe water for granted but even the limited information provided here shows that this service requires an impressive network of people doing a variety of jobs. Let’s raise our glasses (of water) in a toast to everyone in the Water Department! (Well, at least I didn’t use a “flush” or “drip” reference…)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

TON Uptown Development

It’s interesting to read about the history of the business district in Normal. The layout of the streets seems to have been greatly influenced by the placement of the railroad tracks, and the types of businesses attracted to the area were certainly influenced by the university next door. After so many years, it isn’t easy for residents and people who visit Normal to accept the dramatic changes that are taking place in what is now called Uptown Normal: new businesses and buildings, changes to parking, infrastructure repair, and streetscape changes.

In addition to some new and relocated retailers and restaurants, the larger projects going up in Uptown are the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center (with an attached parking garage), two mixed-use buildings, and a parking deck. The mixed-use buildings (Uptown One and Uptown Crossing) will provide condos and apartments as well as retail and office space. The proximity to the university will undoubtedly bring many conferences to the Marriott and many students, professors, and other university personnel to the new residences. The parking deck is already in use and should prove very convenient for those attending special events in Uptown (e.g., the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, Trailside Markets, and the Sweetcorn Blues Festival).

The main streets through Uptown have been redefined, in a way. There is now a traffic circle at what was once an awkward intersection. The circle was constructed in 2008 and is now open to traffic. Work continues on the water feature and landscaping for the circle. Some façade work was also completed on several businesses in Uptown, with more improvements planned for 2009.

So, it’s a new Normal and maybe the saying “no pain, no gain” is true. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the Uptown changes in terms of attracting students to Illinois State University, but I think that this has to have played a role in the planning. When prospective students and their parents visit Normal to check out ISU, of course they are going to look at the community around the university. The students expect to venture off-campus for entertainment and shopping, so they are looking to see what’s available. And their parents look to see if the area seems inviting and safe. An active business district with new (and newly renovated) retailers should be just what they’re looking for. And, over time, residents will adjust to and appreciate the changes. (Well, this resident will adjust to most of the changes…)

Friday, April 24, 2009

TON Public Works Department

You might say that the Normal Public Works Department is where the rubber (and leaves, and asphalt, and sodium chloride) meets the road(s). Street Maintenance and Waste Removal are the two divisions within Public Works that residents are probably most familiar with (and appreciate the most). Let’s get right to the statistics for 2008: 217 tons of pothole patching was put in place; 10,784 curb miles of streets were swept; 31,670 cubic yards of brush were collected (a personal thanks for that!); there were 26 winter storms requiring snow and ice removal; and 9,167 cubic yards of leaves were collected (a couple thousand less than in the record set in 2002; that must have been a good year for trees). While residents of Normal still throw away lots of stuff (9,347 tons of household waste and 4,656 tons of bulk waste collected in 2008), there was an increase in recycling: 7,377 tons of materials were transferred through Normal’s recycling facility (anyone can drop off items at the recycle containers throughout town, so this number probably includes some non-Normal contributions). For some reason, the Kroger location receives the most tons of materials for recycling. Most of the recycled materials were of the “mixed paper” variety but the town also collected 147 tons of electronics for recycling.

The Equipment Maintenance Division keeps all 299 town vehicles working. In 2008, these vehicles used 213,951 gallons of fuel for a total cost of $690,694. The Engineering Division plans, designs, contracts, and inspects all public works and private development projects, and manages storm water. Their work last year resulted in the improvements at the College Ave. and Towanda Ave. intersection; the traffic signals and second northbound left turn lane at the Towanda Ave. and Shelbourne Drive intersection; replacing the College Ave. bridge; and extending the Constitution Trail along the north side of Northtown Road east of Towanda Ave. They also reviewed and inspected improvement plans for a number of subdivisions, and kept traffic moving by maintaining signals and regulating other traffic control devices. I don’t know what to say about sewer maintenance except that all of the testing and maintenance that they are doing seem to be working just fine.

The Public Works Department also staffed the new position of Storm Water Engineering Technician, worked with other local governments on various projects, including the East Side Highway Corridor, and department staff participated in classes and seminars as part of their continuing education and license renewals. I’ve heard quite a few positive comments about the services provided by the Normal Public Works Department, and I join others in expressing my appreciation for all of the hard work done by those in this department. THANKS!