Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Normal 2011: What a year!

Shepard Park is on the map!
Masonic Temple leaves a gap.

St. Pat’s Parade big hit Uptown!
“Fool’s Fest” does not get off the ground.

Uptown Station’s looking great!
High speed rail tracks await.

New garbage carts for every home!
Alas, no urban chickens roam.

The Circle occupies first place:
Smart Growth Award, Best Public Space!

Humble town of Normal stars
In ad for little electric cars.

Crutcher and Hill retired -- a pity!
And Fruin left for Iowa City. (Really, Geoff? Iowa??)

2012: Redeveloped Holiday Inn?
And that Uptown One hole may get filled in?

Happy New Year, Normal!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Normal Christmas Wish

Wouldn't life be worth the living
Wouldn't dreams be coming true
If we kept the Christmas spirit
All the whole year through?
           ~Author Unknown

Have a Merry Normal Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Normal Parking Garage Could Be Greener!

Vancouver is building a greenhouse on top of a "parkade" (which is the Canadian version of a parking garage). The greenhouse will produce "tonnes" of vegetables (Canadians spell funny!).  Ok, Normal, we can top that (pun intended)!  We could have a greenhouse on top of the College Ave. parking garage or on top of the new parking structure connected to the Uptown Station.  Get growing!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Normal Circle Wins EPA Award!

The Uptown Normal Circle has won the EPA National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category "Civic Places."  The Circle is recognized for not just its innovative environmentally-friendly design and traffic-friendly transformation of an intersection, but also for its function as a gathering place for people. As the article points out, there wasn't a city center until the Circle was created. Lately, it's even been used for protesting!  You know it's a real gathering spot when that happens!

Driving around it, enjoying the green space, or gathering for civic/social events -- embrace the Circle!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Normal Uptown Thanksgiving

Hhhmmm, maybe a song says it best...

Said the Pantagraph to the local folk,
Do you see what I see?
In the town of Normal, local folk,
Do you see what I see?
Uptown, Uptown, not to be outdone,
With a Circle that’s ranked Number 1.
With a Circle that’s ranked Number 1.

Said the local folk to the nearby towns,
Do you hear what I hear?
Every day, listen nearby towns,
Do you hear what I hear?
A boom, some clangs, coming down like rain
With a noise as loud as a train.
With a noise as loud as a train.

Said the nearby towns to the Governor,
Do you know what I know?
In your Springfield home, Governor,
Do you know what I know?
Uptown, Uptown, rising like the sun
Come and visit, join in the fun!
Come and visit, join in the fun!

Said the Governor in a press release,
“Listen to what I say!
Come to Normal, people, if you please.
Listen to what I say!
Uptown, Uptown, it’s becoming great
It will bring new life to this state!
It will bring new life to this state!”

Let us give thanks for our community.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Normal: Repurposing Old Buildings

Here's a nice idea for repurposing old buildings: turning old elementary schools into apartments. What a nice alternative to tearing them down or closing and abandoning them! How many local unused buildings are there? Maybe developers need to be more creative in coming up with ideas for using for old buildings in new ways.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Normal Masonic Lodge

As the Normal Masonic Lodge is torn down, it would be interesting to know more about its history. One site describes a box (time capsule) located under the cornerstone. It was placed there when the building was built in 1925 but was opened in 1971, added to, and then replaced. Lodge members hope to find a new home for the box. Seeing old buildings demolished and replaced by new buildings makes me feel like an old-timer, even though I didn't grow up in Normal. Some day, I'll tell people about how I used to park in front of that Lodge when I needed to stop at the Post Office, which used to have a very nice old church next to it. Speaking of old churches, there used to be another one in that area . . .

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Normal Circle Wins Top Public Space!

Planetizen has announced the "winners" of their "Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S. and Canada" campaign.  Normal's Uptown Circle won the top place!  It's interesting that the authors of the article make a point of stating that the findings are not "objective."  If Central Park had won the top spot, would they have made that same point?  Isn't it true that all online surveys/campaigns are not objective? They certainly don't use random sampling.

It's good to have some recognition and appreciation, even if winning the top spot was the result of local "passion" for the Circle. It's our Circle and we like it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Normal Civic Involvement

It looks like voting for the "Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S." has closed. The Circle in Uptown had a commanding lead the last time I checked, so it should come out on top. That's great! Of course, it's just one of those internet popularity contests but it does show that there is a lot of enthusiastic support from area residents. Showing support for your community is great, but what about actual civic involvement?

What does it take for you to do something for your community? Does it take a disaster like hurricane Katrina or the Joplin tornado? Do local elections motivate you to participate in discussions of issues? Or are you more proactive in your civic involvement: initiating neighborhood projects, volunteering to serve on local commissions, joining clean-up efforts, etc.?

From a quick internet search, it looks like there was a National Civic Engagement Week in 2003. Maybe that needs to be revived. It would be nice to encourage everyone to get involved in their community any time, instead of just encouraging people to vote when it's election time (which is also important). Everyone, get involved for Normal! Or should it be Normall?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Normal: Vote for the Circle!

There is a campaign for the "Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S." and someone has written a very nice nomination for the Uptown Normal (Traffic) Circle.  It's actually in the "Hot 90" nominations at this point!

All you need to do to vote is register (email address and password), respond to the verification email that you will receive right after registering, and vote by giving "The Circle: Uptown Normal, Illinois" your chips.

It's a great way to share this wonderful space with the world! Please vote by October 20 15!

Update (10/11): The Circle moved up to first and now, second in the list. The voting goes until Oct. 15, so please encourage everyone to vote!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Normal Subdivision Farming

Now, you can have your vinyl-sided house, three-car garage, deck, and your own home-grown produce without messing up your manicured lawn!

Some subdivisions are being built around farms or are including a community green space for farming/gardening.  This is an idea worth considering!  Forget the space for kids to play or for people to walk their dogs. Now, we want space to grow our own produce! (I guess kids could play there in the winter.  Or it could be used for a community snow sculpture display, perhaps.)

If there are vacant lots in newer subdivisions, maybe developers would be open to this idea (if only for short-term use). A community garden/farm area might fit the green space requirement for subdivision development. Start digging! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Normal: New Urbanism Needed

This is an article about how to keep developing urban areas without losing valuable farmland or conservation areas.  The "new urbanism," as I understand it, proposes densely populated areas that combine residences with schools, stores, and other amenities in areas that are not favorable for farming or conservation. Keeping everything close together is supposed to encourage residents to walk or bike to their destinations. And the areas are near small, family farms, which could provide locally grown foods to the residents. It's a win-win-win situation for residents, farmers, and the environment! 

It sounds ideal but is probably a zoning nightmare. And you would have to have all of the developers, businesses, and local school districts on-board before ground could be broken. That's no small accomplishment!  But it does give us something to consider if we want to preserve the nearby farms while still allowing Normal to grow.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Normal's Walkscore

According to the Walkscore website, Normal has a score of 48. That's only slightly better than the largest cities in Illinois, which have an average score of 46. A score of 48 is considered "car-dependent" (although it is close to the next category, "somewhat walkable").  The score is calculated using an algorithm that gives points for amenities within one mile (I guess that's how far they think someone is willing to walk to an amenity). So I guess the only way to improve the score is to build more amenities. Aren't we supposed to be encouraging people to walk more by making streets more pedestrian-friendly?

Normal Coops? (No, not for chickens!)

This is an article about local cooperatives (coops) designed to provide goods and services to local businesses, thus reducing the impact on the environment that comes from transportation across long distances.  One example in the article is a Cleveland coop formed to provide laundry services to area hospitals.

Normal cooperatives would be successful if they provided goods and services that local businesses need.  One way to determine these needs is to find out what goods and services local businesses are currently purchasing from non-local providers. Then, the people who are interested in starting a particular coop would find out how to get started by researching other coops (Cleveland's Evergreen Cooperatives, for example).

Depending on the resources needed, forming cooperatives might also help unemployed people start a new career.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Normal: Local Farmers Market Glut?

Farmers markets have been increasing across the country, resulting in fewer profits for the sellers in some locations.  I don't know if anyone keeps track of how well sellers are doing at the local farmers markets. It seems that with at least three markets -- downtown Bloomington on Saturdays, Uptown Normal on Tuesdays, and College Ave. on Saturdays -- we don't yet have too many markets. The local demand for fresh produce has probably kept up with if not outpaced the local farmers markets, which should keep the growers happy. In my opinion, if people are willing to go to those markets in some of the extreme weather conditions that we have around here, there must be a strong commitment to buying locally!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Normal Corn

It's not as high as an elephant's eye, but I think the corn in Normal is looking pretty good!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Normal Electric Cars for Microtransit

The idea of using electric cars for microtransit -- short trips -- would work well around Normal. Of course, off-campus ISU students might like to use it to get to classes from their apartment and back again, and Heartland students might be willing to use it to get from distant parking lots to their classroom building (mainly on days with lousy weather). But what about other uses? Perhaps older residents would appreciate a quick trip to the mall or to a restaurant. Yes, there are taxi services in town, but e-rides could probably be offered at a lower cost because the cost of gas would not have to be included in the fare. (Slow-moving electric vehicles would not be able to travel on most town streets so would not work for around-town trips.)

Restrictions on the distance traveled per ride could eliminate the e-rides as competition for the local bus system. And many people who do not want to ride a bus for whatever reason but who only want to travel relatively short distances are a potential source of customers.

Something to consider.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Normal Needs Some Transfer Accelerators

I like this idea: a slide (called a "transfer accelerator") next to a stairway at a train station.  Something that's fun as well as useful. We could use fun ideas like this for transitioning the Constitution Trail over roads (or maybe railroad tracks?): a cool, tube-like structure that slopes gently up from one side of the road and down the other side. Walkways and stairs don't have to be boring and standardized. We are so restricted from creating fun alternatives because of the possibility of people taking unnecessary risks and suing others when those risks result in injuries. That's a shame.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Normal: Ads Underfoot?

New York City has decided to ban ads on sidewalks.  Not only is it illegal to stick decal ads on sidewalks, businesses are not allowed to project their logo onto the sidewalk at night!

Maybe Normal could make some money by allowing ads on sidewalks in the business district. And, if it could bring in even more money, there could be ads on the Constitution Trail [insert moaning or rage here]. The ads could be stickers designed to last no more than one season (automatically worn off by weather), so residents would not have to see the same ads for very long (and the town would get more money for new ads).

Is the commercialism worth it? Would businesses benefit? Does anyone really look down much while walking?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Normal: We Need a Video!

There are wonderfully creative videos of daily life in various cities. This video of Berlin is amazing! Maybe someone could videotape life in Normal in a similar way. What kind of background music would be appropriate for such a video?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Normal PRTS: If only . . .

Imagine an elevated track with smallish cars (each holding 20 people) that zip from point to point without stopping. Now, imagine that track up and around Normal (and Bloomington, if they say "please"), moving people easily from place to place. There is actually such a system at West Virginia University: the only U.S. personal rapid transit system.  It was developed and built by Boeing with federal money and is still being used.

Ok, so this area isn't quite so sprawling and rural (not as rural as it used to be, anyway). But it would still be a great way to transport people (not just ISU students) without using streets. The West Virginia system has a way to keep the cars moving in ice and snow, so that's no problem. But it's probably too late to integrate an elevated track around here because of all the buildings in the way (not that we have many tall ones).

It's odd that we've come back to thinking about rails again after concentrating on streets for so long. I guess everyone has given up on those flying cars of the "future."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Normal: A Happy Community?

The Declaration of Independence states that we have the right to pursue happiness. An article about how communities make us happy discusses different ways of measuring how our communities make us happy: through architectural beauty, environmental sustainability, education, good government, healthy food, transportation, etc.

On this 4th of July it is interesting to reflect on whether or not our local community has facilitated our pursuit (and capture?) of happiness.  Is Normal a happy community?

Happy 4th of July! :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Normal Very, Very High Speed Rail? Probably not.

Japan is building the ultimate high speed rail system. The train uses magnetic force and actually floats above the track when running, practically eliminating the kind of wear-and-tear of traditional trains that scrape along metal tracks. So the trains last longer. The speed? Over 300 mph. Think about that.

The cost? Billions of dollars. (A 320-mile route would cost Japan around $112 billion.) The time to build the infrastructure? Years. (The 225-mile route that Japan is building is going to take 16 years.)

Do we have the money or the patience for this? No.

Like lots of innovations, though, perhaps the cost and building time will go down eventually. For now, it's fun to think about how quickly we could travel going that fast!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

ISSCS: Can Someone Save this Building?

One of the main buildings on the old Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home property is in bad shape. Other parts of the property have been repurposed but the once impressive main building (that is very visible because it's on a fairly busy street) sits vacant.  There is a similar site in Milwaukee that has its own foundation which is raising funds to restore the chapel on the property. There is the ISSCS Historical Preservation Society, which raised money for a statue on the property, but since this particular building is privately owned, that society would not be able to take action.

The local building is privately owned but most likely a victim to the recession. Every time I see that building, I try to think of possible uses: an art gallery, a museum, condos, a central location for a rapidly growing local organization that currently has no site, a unique-use building for one of the local institutions of higher learning. . .

The list of expenses involved in preparing this building for use is probably long and intimidating. But the longer it sits unused, the longer that list will become until everyone will agree that 'it's just not cost-effective to do work on it' and 'it's such a shame that nothing was done sooner'.

It's "sooner" right now.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Normal Wireless Access Impact on Social Interaction

This is an article discussing the impact that wireless internet access has on people in public spaces, especially in parks.  Uptown Normal has wireless access. Has it reduced social interactions? Are more people focused on their electronic gadgets instead of talking to others? People who work in the Uptown businesses would probably be the ones to notice any change from how it used to be. Maybe students and others always brought projects to work on while eating lunch or having coffee, which would mean that wireless access really hasn't had much of an impact on social interaction. On the other hand, perhaps people are less likely to start a conversation with someone who is working on a digital device instead of reading or doing paperwork.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Normal Ski Slopes?

Here's a great idea: Copenhagen is building a new waste-to-energy plant that will have ski slopes on it. People will take an elevator to the top of the building and ski down one of three slopes.  As the article says, they have the snow but not the hills.

I wonder if that would work in Normal. If there were a tall building that also had a large enough circumference, it might. We don't have snow all winter but we have a few good snowstorms that would do the job. The Copenhagen project is actually going to "mist rainwater" on the slopes to coat them, so that's their solution to keeping an even amount of snow on the slopes, I guess.

Ski Normal!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Normal Steak 'n Shake

Not surprisingly, Steak 'n Shake has a website. They do mention that the restaurant was founded in Normal in 1934.  The posters that they sell show old Steak 'n Shake locations (at least, they look old) but there are no dates or locations given for the pictures. It'd be great if one was the original, Normal location!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Normal Photographer

Did you know that a famous photographer with an unusual name was born in Normal? His name was Ralph Eugene Meatyard. He was born here in 1925. He moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and worked for a company that sold photographic equipment. He bought a camera to take pictures of his son and seemed to really get into photography, eventually exhibiting his photographs. There are quite a few internet links to information about his work, if you are interested in learning more about him and viewing some of his photographs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Normal Urban Chickens (NUCS): Phase I and Beyond

The Normal Town Council has passed the proposal for an urban chicken ordinance to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and discussion. If the proposal is recommended and approved, I wonder what effects this will have on Normal in the future. . .
1 year
The town of Normal welcomed hens. EIEIO
Across the town they live in pens. EIEIO
With a cluck, cluck here and a squawk, squawk there.
Here a cluck, there a squawk, everywhere a cluck squawk!
Urban chickens are our friends. EIEIO

7 years
"Redbirds" now replaced by "NUCS." EIEIO
But "NUCS" rhymes really well with "sucks." EIEIO
With a "NUCS sucks!" here and a "NUCS sucks!" there.
Here a "NUCS," there a "sucks" everywhere a "NUCS sucks!"
Mascot name is now in flux. EIEIO

12 years
Feral chickens roam the town. EIEIO
In Normal parks across the ground. EIEIO
With a rotten egg here and a rotten egg there.
Here an egg, there an egg, everywhere a rotten egg.
Watch your step, there's quite a mound! EIEIO

15 years
NUCS and Normal pigeons met. EIEIO
Soon little pigkens they beget. EIEIO
With a cloo cuck here and a cloo cuck there.
Here a cloo, there a cuck, everywhere a cloo cuck.
Designer pests -- the latest yet! EIEIO

20 years
"Foxy Normal" now it's known. EIEIO
Fox population overgrown. EIEIO
With a red fox here and a grey fox there.
Here a fox, there a fox, everywhere a foxy fox.
Normal fowl the coop have flown. EIEIO

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Normal Chickens: Ruling the Roost or Dumb Clucks?

Normal is considering a proposal to allow residents to raise chickens. This seems to be a popular topic in other parts of the U.S. -- Washington, California, and Missouri, for example. Headlines take advantage of the humorous poultry-related expressions, such as "one cluck closer," and "opponents squawk."

I have to say I am in favor of allowing residents to have one or two chickens (let's not go crazy and have dozens of them running around). They do create somewhat of a mess and can be temperamental, so I doubt that everyone will want to have them. They're a lot quieter than dogs, though, and they don't require walking! We raised a couple of chickens (one pictured above) when I was a kid. I remember Tweety (not pictured) proudly "crowing" after laying an egg in the barn every morning and how she would come running to me when I swatted flies for her. She held her own against the barn cats, too. I was surprised at how much fun a chicken could be as a pet.

If anyone is interested in furthering the cause, here is a pro-chicken petition from the fine folks of Brunswick, Maryland:

To: The Mayor & City Council of Brunswick, MD

Whereas, cities across America are realizing the many benefits of urban chicken ownership and changing their ordinances accordingly;

Whereas, during a time of severe economic crisis and world-wide oil shortages, backyard urban chicken rearing provides an economical source of healthy protein for citizens;

Whereas, the keeping of backyard chickens makes a highly positive impact on the solid waste stream, county-wide recycling efforts, and the unnecessary use of chemical fertilizers in urban gardens;

Whereas, a well-kept coop regulated by ordinances poses no threat to city sanitation or the health of our citizens;

Whereas, a well-crafted town ordinance can adequately address all concerns such as noise, number, setbacks and registration; banning roosters and ensuring that specific guidelines are in place to protect all;

We, the undersigned citizens of Brunswick, MD hereby request that the city council amend the current ordinance, Section 3-1202, to allow for the ownership of 4-6 laying hens within Brunswick limits.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Normal: What Can We Say?

There's a website that lists city mottos and nicknames. Some of them are clever, some mention local landmarks, and some lend themselves to jokes.  Here are a few that I think are worth mentioning (you'll have to look up the corresponding cities):

An Oasis of Recreation
A Place to Watch
A Slice of Heaven on Earth
Beauty and Progress
Capital of the Cow Country
City of Colleges
The City Different
City of Homes
City of Medicine
Cow Chip Capital
Dear Hearts and Gentle People
Everywhere Should Be Like This
Easy Living, Where Good People Count
The Friendly City 
Ghost Town
Giant Hog
Giant Cow
Giant Pirate
The Heartbeat of Agriculture
Home of the Corn Fest
It’ll Take You By Surprise!
It’s not the end of the earth, but you can see it from here
It’s the Climate
It’s the People
Little But Proud
Living With a Mystery
Old Town, New Spirit
On the Road to a Better Future
Something for Everyone
Timeless Beauty . . . Ageless Fun
The Town Too Tough to Die
The Town Without a Frown
To the Stars Through Difficulties
We are Here to Grow
We’re On Our Way
What a Hometown Should Be
You Couldn’t Pick a Better Place

I think these are the two mottos that would work for Normal:

It's All the Name Implies

Where the Name Just Says it All

Friday, April 22, 2011

Normal: Earth Day 2011

Happy Earth Day, Normal!
It's been 41 years since the first Earth Day. What could you do to observe this occasion?
*Visit a park.
*Plant a tree, flower, bush, or some grass seed.
*Unplug (as much as possible) today.
*Walk or bike.
*Plan to celebrate the earth every day!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Normal: Your Ad Here!

Cash-strapped states have started selling ad space on school buses, in school cafeterias, on campus parking lots, on school web sites, in prison holding areas, and in the waiting area at the DMV. It's one way to generate revenue.

Ah, I can see it now: at Normal Town Council meetings, the Council member who gives the introduction to the meeting (for the cable broadcast) will announce who is sponsoring that meeting ("This meeting brought to you by Hank's Barbershop -- we're hair for you!"), there will be advertising signs posted on the front of the table where the meeting members sit, and ads will scroll across the bottom of the screen. There could even be product placement at the meetings (cans of soft drinks sitting with their logos facing the camera with occasional close-ups of the cans).

Local parks could have ads on or inside the bathrooms, town vehicles could have ads on them, and the town's website (soon to be updated) could have ads on it. It's not so far-fetched when you realize that we already have bird heads stenciled on the streets and an ISU redbird painted on a water tower. Those are government properties that are being used to promote ISU. Advertising is everywhere and we've come to accept it.

This blog is brought to you by blogger.com.  The blogger's hair styling and wardrobe are brought to you by a local hair salon and various local department stores.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Normal: Cool College Town!

There are many, many ways to rank colleges and college towns. One article lists the "coolest" college towns, citing their restaurants with "authentic cuisines," the scenery, the sports, the museums, etc. I guess their definition of a cool college town is a place that offers something for everyone.

Normal wasn't on this particular list but we could argue that it has its own cool quotient. There are the obvious features, such as the festivals, museums and historical sites, parks/trail, sports, and the wide variety of eating establishments. But there are also features that make Normal uniquely cool.  For example, there is always construction taking place, which should appeal to engineering and architectural design types (and to those who built stuff with Legos when they were kids). City Hall is centrally located so anyone who enjoys democracy-in-action, animated NIMBY debates can get their fill. Bicycle vs. vehicle showdowns occur daily on local streets. And for avian entertainment, there are geese not only on local ponds, but also in parking lots, on sidewalks, and out in the streets. If Normal has an official bird, it should be the goose (which would leave us vulnerable to jokes but with a name like Normal, we can take it).

And there are the features of Normal's ambiance which also add to its coolness, such as the mixture of a rather conservative residential population and local government with what one would assume to be a somewhat liberal college population -- guaranteed to provide entertaining clashes on occasion! And Normal's weather provides challenges unmatched by climbing a mountain trail (take that, University of Virginia!) or looking at bats in a cave (big deal, University of Texas!): the wind in Normal whips your hair and clothes in seven directions at once; the bitter cold of January requires seriously heavy outerwear while the humid 90-degree days in August require the lightest clothing possible as well as a variety of sandals, and the frequent severe storms require the need for a basement, a reliable sump pump, and the ability to quickly change plans.

Still not cool enough? How about the Camelback bridge and the Corn Crib ballpark? Or how about the amazing feats of negotiating the streets around ISU during move-in day?

Normal? Way cool.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Normal: Cold Pavement (Warm Hearts)

I went to Hope College in Holland, Michigan, so this article about Holland's heated sidewalks and streets caught my attention. The heating feature was not in place when I was there, so I remember well what "lake effect snow" did to the sidewalks and streets. Can you imagine having clear pavement to walk and drive on even when it's snowing? The store owners don't have to spend time and money clearing the sidewalks and the city saves money by not having to plow and salt the main street through the business district. It's too bad that this feature wasn't added during the recent Uptown renovations. Retrofitting this kind of feature into existing pavement is probably so expensive that it would take many, many years to make up for the cost in what would be saved (the cost of salt, labor, and fixing potholes). Too bad. It would have been great.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Normal Park Ping Pong?

New York City is experimenting with an outdoor ping pong table. It's a fancy one so it cost quite a bit -- $3,490 to be exact. But what a great idea! Make the table and "net" from durable materials and rent out paddles and balls (or people can bring their own). It would bring people together in a public space, provide some exercise for young and old, and be a new form of entertainment that doesn't require much cost other than the initial purchase. I'd love to see one on in a local park or on a local college campus (hint, hint).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Normal College Town: A Good Place for Retirement?

This is an article about a trend of more retired people moving to retirement communities in college towns. It's a great idea because there is such a wide variety of events taking place on college campuses: plays, music, sports, celebrations, talks, etc. College towns also tend to have good public transportation, which helps the students and the retirees.

The article specifically mentions partnerships between colleges/universities and retirement communities. I think there are some efforts along these lines locally and I would like to see more of them. Both the colleges and the retirees can contribute and benefit from such partnerships.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Normal in McLean County: Who was John McLean?

I seem to always find a couple of books of local interest at the Normal Public Library Book Sale, and this time was no exception. I bought the book Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society 1930, published by the Illinois State Historical Library in 1930. There is an entry by Mrs. Florence Fifer Bohrer, Member Illinois State Senate, about how McLean County got its name: "John McLean and the County that Bears His Name" (pages 150-156).

John McLean was born in North Carolina (a slave state) in 1791 and moved to Kentucky when he was four. His father was a minister and was related to the Ewing family. John moved to Shawneetown in southern Illinois and was admitted to the bar. In 1818 he was elected to Congress as a Democrat and he was pro-slavery. He served until 1824 and then was elected to complete the term of a United States Senator. In 1829 he was serving in the Senate but his health was failing so he returned to Shawneetown where he died at the age of 39.

It sounds like he was very healthy in his younger days, because a neighbor of his said that he would "go to log-rollings, corn-huskings, house-raisings and country frolics" and "he could beat all comers at running, jumping and lifting" (page 153)! It's surprising that he died so young. I guess serving as an elected official takes it toll.

He never came to the area that is now McLean County but it was named in honor of him as suggested by Mr. William Ewing, who happened to be the Speaker of the House when a committee presented him with a petition to create a new county. The county was officially created in December, 1830,  just two months after McLean's death.

At the end, Mrs. Bohrer writes that if John McLean could visit McLean County "today" (1930), he would "be moved by the outward changes which the new industrial and economic order has wrought, the automobile, air-ship, the fine roads and splendid institutions" (page 156). Of course, we take these things for granted, especially the air-ships.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Normal (and other local) Street Name Origins

There is a document, courtesy of the McLean County Genealogical Society, posted on the internet that lists names of streets in Normal, Bloomington, and McLean County, and also lists the origins of those names.  Some of the streets were named for types of trees (Elm, Oak, Pine, etc.). Many of the streets were named for local people, although the list does not include information about those people. Some streets were named with Abe Lincoln in mind (Lincoln, Lincolnwood, Todd), one street was named for General Douglas MacArthur (MacArthur), and two streets were named for General Winfield Scott (Scott, Scott Street). A couple of streets were named for stores (Ward Drive for Montgomery Ward, and Carson Drive for Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co.).

A few streets have local historical significance: Butcher's Alley and Butcher's Lane were near slaughter houses; Circle Ave. was a former racetrack; Division St. divides Normal from Bloomington, of course; Fairview St. was near the fairgrounds (I never made that connection!); and Lumber St. was where lumber was unloaded from the train.  Two streets were named for cars: Continental Court was named for the Lincoln Continental, and Fleetwood was name for the Cadillac Fleetwood. London Way (as in England), Orlando (as in Florida), and Orleans Drive (as in New Orleans, Louisiana) were named for places.

Center, East, and North streets were so named because they represented the outer boundaries of the city/town at that time. The way this area keeps growing, that was definitely a mistake!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Normal HSR Promotion?

Clever video using "Mad Men" style to promote high speed rail.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Normal Nut Park

Planters -- the purveyor of peanuts -- is going to build small, peanut-shaped parks (called Planters Parks) on pockets of unused land in select cities. Each park will have its own Mr. Peanut statue! Ok, so it's like a living advertisement for their product. But if it provides a bit of green space and doesn't involve much upkeep (maybe volunteer groups could handle that), why not?

Of course, if Beer Nuts would like to offer their own version of green spaces (Beer Nuts Niches?), that would be nice.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Normal's Circle as a Square?

There is an article that discusses the importance of "public squares" in current (and past) citizen uprisings. The idea is that we need these (real, not virtual) public spaces to gather, share, and voice our concerns, especially regarding the need for political change. I think that, aside from the section criticizing the role of the U.S. in world politics, the article makes a good point about the significance of public squares.

Would Normal's traffic circle (or do you call it the roundabout?) serve as such a public square? (I can see someone with a megaphone, getting people riled up as they march around the circle, carrying signs!) Or would citizens be more likely to gather on the ISU campus? I'm not suggesting that there is any current need for a gathering to seek political change in Normal! Just wondering if the lack of an obvious central public gathering place in the business district (as opposed to public parks, for example) would inhibit efforts of residents to publicly join together to express their concerns about some issue.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Normal Population

Census data show that Normal's population is now at 52,497.  The U.S. (resident) population is 308,745,538. The world's population is at 6,900,417,038 (as of this posting).

And I'm just 1.

Kind of puts it into perspective, doesn't it?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Normal Mayor's Whereabouts

New York City's Mayor Bloomberg is facing questions about his whereabouts when not in town. In fact, the Council is considering passing a bill requiring the Mayor to provide notification of his whereabouts. (Isn't 'whereabouts' an odd word?) This issue might be unique to New York City because (a) the Mayor is very wealthy and can afford to jet off to places, including his many vacation homes, and (b) it's a BIG city so when there is a crisis (such as a major snowstorm), city leaders need to know who is in charge, for how long, and where to contact the Mayor in case there are questions.

Do Normal citizens need to know where Normal's Mayor is when he's not in town?  And since this is a part-time position, do we need to know only part of the time? Aren't public officials entitled to some privacy?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Normal Normal Snow?

Everyone agrees that we've had a lot of snow recently. According to one site, the average early February snowfall in Normal is around 6 inches. Regardless of the actual amount of snow that we receive, what is considered normal snow in Normal? Is it determined by how often people have to clear their drives? Is it determined by the number of snow days that the local public schools take? Or is it determined by the number of newspaper articles focused on how people in the area are dealing with the snow? Maybe there is never a "normal" amount of snow, just a "normal" amount of grumbling about winter weather!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Normal Sounds (and Smells?) of Happiness

There is a mayor who has suggested broadcasting around town the sound of birds singing because it's supposed to make people happier. Who wouldn't enjoy the sound of repetitive chirping, warbling, and squawking?  We could try broadcasting that throughout the streets of Normal. But why stop with sounds? Why not scents?  The smell of hot tar used to fill potholes should make people happy. The smell of freshly cut grass without fertilizer or weed killer would be a nice change. And the smell of creosote (or whatever train smell you prefer) would reassure folks that we do need to invest in train travel. (I've lived next to railroad tracks and, trust me, there is a distinct aroma.)

The one problem with broadcasting sounds is that it is somewhat reminiscent of the Soviet Union's attempt to "cheer up" the area around Chernobyl (after the nuclear disaster) by playing music over loudspeakers. I'm always reminded of that when I visit the local outdoor shopping mall. Gives me the creeps (but doesn't stop me from spending money).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Normal Promotional Video?

Should one ever be completely honest with someone who wants to move to Normal? What would you tell that person? Here is an example.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Normal Mayor Deep in Thought?

Mayor Koos was photographed at this year's United States Council of Mayors meeting in D.C.  The speaker he's listening to must be very interesting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Normal Links

I was looking for interesting links from "normal" (using bing.com) and found a few. One is a company called Normal (located in Chicago) that sells environmentally-friendly items. Their mission is "to deliver quality products that promote a healthy future."

On Matchmaker.com you can find information about "thousands of Normal men in your area." Thousands? Really?

My favorite is the Free Dictionary's listing for "Normal" because, in addition to describing where Normal is located and the fact that ISU is in Normal, it includes a pronunciation of the word "normal" that you can actually listen to. So, if you're unsure how to pronounce the name of this town, you can listen to it repeatedly and practice saying it. (Hint: it's not nor-mall, nor-male, nur-mal, nor nor-mel. It's nor-mle.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Normal Small Steps?

This is an article about the increasing number of small improvement projects in cities, given today's tight budgets. Parks are being developed in vacant lots, for example. Urban planners/designers refer to this kind of development as "infill," which I guess refers to filling in various undeveloped sites with new developments. Maybe this is the kind of development that Normal will experience for a while, now that almost all of the big improvements are in place (the Marriott, traffic circle, JSM building, Multimodal Transportation Center). There's still the "hole in the Uptown ground" that needs to be infilled with something, but that's more of a big development (maybe a vertical theme park!).

Here and there around Normal are "blank spots" that could use small developments. There's a small building on Beech St. (across from Casey's) that's been vacant for some time. It's in a nice location for an ice cream shop or some other residential-friendly business (that doesn't directly compete with Casey's, of course). A nice example of a small development is Java Jo'z, the little coffee place on Ft. Jesse. It's very small but is conveniently located and fills a bit of space in an otherwise unattractive vacant lot between businesses. Since Normal already has quite a few full-sized parks, maybe small green spaces (mini-parks) would be appropriate uses of other available spaces. Let's get small!! (old Steve Martin joke)