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:

SHAANANV ENREG
TRUEFU
ONWOIDRO
OSILEE NURBRE RIGAC
DRECAN
TRIMAN HRULET NGKI RJ
WEXLMAL
WURDODENO
ELFE
DOARENNS
WAREFIVI

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

Normalisms

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 fa├žades 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 . . .