When did lighted trees become popular in cities? I'm referring to lights on regular trees, not trees put up for the holidays. An online search for lighted trees images results in many, many examples. I wonder if they actually increase the number of visitors (shoppers) to an area, if they increase the time visitors spend in an area, and/or if they increase the morale of visitors and employees in an area. I like lighted trees but they aren't enough to influence my shopping behavior. They do put me in a better mood, though, because they give the area a festive appearance. If they were lit all year, I wouldn't even notice them after a while.
To the extent that crosswalks in Normal are used, they could be made safer. There is new technology to do this: timers that count down the time left to get across, flashing lights on the crosswalk pavement, and imbedded plastic designating the crosswalk area that lasts much longer than reflective paint. There is also the strategy of allowing pedestrians to start crossing before the drivers (going the same direction) are allowed to proceed. This probably helps reduce the number of pedestrians getting hit by drivers making turns. If people are being encouraged to walk rather than drive, we should take more steps (pun intended) to make it safer.
There are plans to use tweets as a public suggestion box. For example, collecting tweets that originated in Chicago and searching for key words that would help city staff identify problems (people tend to tweet about what's not going well).
There probably wouldn't be hundreds of tweets originating in Normal about town-related problems people are experiencing, but there might be some. I wonder how whiny we would sound . . . "There are too many leaves on the grass!" "Why do we have to listen to train whistles at night? I'm trying to sleep." "Why can't all the stoplights be coordinated so I can speed down the street without stopping?" "Who painted these bird heads on the streets? I don't like them." "Why is my water bill now higher than my electric bill?" "Why do they flush the hydrants in the middle of the night?? I'm trying to sleep." "Why do they pick up garbage so early? I'm trying to sleep."
The report "Are We There Yet? Creating Complete Communities for 21st Century America" is about determining how close we are to having communities that provide what people need. In the section about "opportunity areas" -- areas with "moderate density housing or jobs" and "neighborhoods that ...can lead to improved connectivity and increased rates of walking, biking, and transit use at the regional scale" -- Bloomington-Normal ranks 4th in "Growth Opporunity Areas Compared to Region" for regions under 500,000. The report includes a set of goals for becoming a "complete community," categorized under goals for creating homes near transportation providers ("living"), goals for regional economic growth ("working"), goals for reducing dependence on automobiles ("moving"), and goals for supporting healthy lifestyles ("thriving"). As I read through the specific goals in each category, I was pleased to find that Normal shares many of them. For example, having the Uptown Station centrally located relative to ISU and the surrounding neighborhoods, having many college graduates to provide "new talent" and having a wide range of employment opportunities, efforts to making walking and biking safe, and promoting access to healthy food, promoting physical activity, and providing access to arts. Normal isn't quite "there yet" but we're getting there!
The Governor has vetoed a bill that would have required manufacturers to set up programs for recycling plastic bags. This may result in plastic bag bans. I remember the days before plastic bags, when groceries were packed into paper bags and it was difficult to carry more than two bags at a time. I didn't like plastic bags when they first came out because the bag would not sit upright -- items flopped all over the place and even spilled out of the bags. I've gotten used to plastic bags, though, and have come to depend on them for wastebasket liners. (I still don't like the floppiness and the bags usually end up with holes in them, making them risky for transporting trash.)
The hoped for result of banning plastic bags, of course, is everyone carrying reusable cloth bags to stores. It will be interesting to see if this happens if the bags are banned. (Have you ever gotten in line behind someone with reusable bags? It seems to take longer to pack those.)
Now that Normal has a new Amtrak station, I thought it might be interesting to find out about the former station. The "old" Amtrak station opened June 11, 1990, after a delay required to finish the roof, lighting fixtures, the solar energy system, and landscaping. The energy-efficient design was supposed to save $20,000 a year (compared to similar stations without this design). The design included double-pane windows, a solar room to collect heat, dark flooring tiles, and foam insulation, in addition to the solar panels. The building cost $700,000 (too bad there weren't online comments available at that time; I'm sure there would have been many comments criticizing the cost). When this station opened, a round-trip ticket to Chicago cost $31.
The last Amtrak train was scheduled to leave the old Union Station in Bloomington at 9:16 p.m. June 10. Union Station opened in 1913 and cost $84,000. They were selling an average of 4,485 tickets a month when it closed.
Some statistics from the Town of Normal Public Works 2011 Annual Report:
* 520 signs replaced/installed *4,463 cubic yards of dirt and debris swept up *11,205 cubic yards of leaves collected (a record!) *4,259 tons of salt distributed *8,779 tons of household waste collected *4,150 tons of materials (most of it paper) collected from the recycling centers *$670,783 spent on fuel *2,850 gallons of paint to mark roadways
There are 426 lane miles of streets in Normal. Every one of those miles has a story...
Madrid has installed "iPavement" -- pavement that has communications technology embedded in it that provides information to people who are walking on the pavement. Imagine having that in Normal! We could walk around Uptown and use our phones to get coupons to nearby businesses, find out the weather forecast for the area, find out specials on the menus at local restaurants, find out the hours for special events, find out if the train is on time -- get information for just about anything in the area. And we wouldn't have to communicate with other people! (Isn't that the goal of a lot of our technology?)
Instead of (or in addition to) communicating with friends, you would walk around town communicating with the sidewalk. It would do away with paper notices of events, which would be good for the environment. And it would provide up-to-date information, which is something paper copies can never do. But it would provide even more distractions for pedestrians and less face-to-face interaction. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
There was some concern expressed about spending so much money on art for the Uptown Station. I happened to read an article that discusses the benefits of public art, presenting examples of how it can attract attention (and dollars). But the examples focus on art external to buildings -- murals and neon lights. Art inside the Uptown Station will probably not attract that kind of attention. It will, however, provide a nice environment for travellers and give local artists a chance to share their work. Maybe the clock on the corner of the station will attract attention.
This is an interesting article about how people are paying more attention to their smart phones than to what's around them when they are out in public spaces. We already knew that. The immediate effect is a loss of interpersonal contact with people around you and a loss of attention to your immediate surroundings. But what about long-range effects? If people don't attend to their surroundings in public spaces, why care about them? Why support or protest local government making changes to them, such as all of the improvements made to the Uptown Normal area? Why participate in events, such as the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, that take place in them?
I think we're gradually losing a sense of connection with and ownership of our public spaces. This doesn't bode well for the future of those spaces. And if someone creates an "app" that "connects" people to the physical environment when they are out in public spaces, well, that's just silly. Put away the phone and look around you. You don't need an app for that.
Saga City has a cartoon showing how urban planning changed a hypothetical town, "Colvert." The description of how Colvert changes over time sounds eerily familiar: more neighborhoods being built outward from the town on farmland, a busy street around the town attracting more businesses and traffic until they needed a highway around that area to handle the extra traffic, zoning that separated different uses which required everyone to drive places, bigger houses with more stuff and more vehicles, and even a duck persistently seeking water throughout the video (we've got lots of ducks and geese around here, flying from one pond to another). But some of the changes also sound familiar: making streets and neighborhoods more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly (helpful for a bike-riding Mayor!), filling in existing urban spaces instead of always building outward, creating more places to live near businesses, new uses for old buildings, and bringing "main street" back to life. So much of this describes Normal (well, we haven't yet made Veterans Parkway more friendly for people using any means of transportation). I don't think we're anywhere near the utopian ending shown in the video, but it does help to see how each of the changes helps to improve the community while still allowing people to have some choice in lifestyle.
There are quite a few web sites featuring impressive skylines, like this one. Of course, Normal's skyline probably doesn't merit a picture on any of those sites. I think skylines without lots of buildings are worthy of attention. That's why I've posted a picture of one view of (northwest) Normal's skyline. While the foreground isn't much to look at, I like the view across the field and the line of power poles. No tall buildings, no water tower, no church spires. All of those things make for interesting skylines, too, but aren't always necessary. The full moon in this picture is just a nice addition. In just a year or so, this view will be very different, with at least one building being added (and probably more).
I like flat, field-dominated, Illinois skylines. I hope we can keep a few of them around Normal so we can appreciate a view without tall buildings, lots of signs, cell towers, and even wind turbines (which make for some interesting pictures, I admit).
The Normal Town Council approved an ordinance prohibiting camping in the roundabout (aka Uptown Circle) as well as in the Gateway Plaza next to the Uptown Station (currently under construction). The reasons for prohibiting camping, as stated in the Town Council Action Report, are that these spaces were not designed for camping, camping would discourage pedestrian use, and camping might damage the property. People will still be able to use the spaces to "convey a public message" but not to camp/sleep there.
I guess it's for the lawyers to quibble about the definition of "camping." Does it necessarily mean staying overnight? Can't people camp during the day? Does it necessarily refer to sleeping? What if someone sleeps at the location during the day? What if they don't sleep overnight but keep actively conveying their message?
How should Normal balance encouraging people to use these wonderful public spaces while discouraging people from using them in a way that significantly interferes with the right-of-way and/or damages the properties? I like the image of these spaces as lively, popular places for public use but I agree that allowing overnight (non transitory) use does more harm than good. It will be interesting to see how public use of these spaces develops over the coming years.
Chattanooga has its own font: Chatype. What a creative way to "brand" a city! Never mind spending money on new street signs, street lettering, city stationery, etc. It's worth it to have a font unique to your city!
So, how about a font for Normal? Normalingua? Normaletica? Normalinotype? Should it have serifs (Normal has that extra something) or be sans serif (Normal is clean)? Only come in bold (hear Normal roar), lowercase (Normal is humble), or UPPERCASE (Normal demands attention)? Scripty (Normal can be fancy) or angular (Normal is modern and sleek)? Upright (Normal has morals) or slanted (Normal can be hip)?
This article suggests titles cities could compete for, such as "Least Car-Friendly City" and "Most Edible City." Perhaps Normal could make up a few titles and claim ownership:
"Most Traffic Cone-Friendly Town" "Fewest Uncontrolled Intersections Town" "Lamest Town Name Jokes Town" "Smartest Street-Crossing Squirrels Town" "Most Face-Painting-Included Events Town" "Best Half of a 'Twin Cities' Town" "Sexiest Town" (fill-in-the-blank with your own choice/choices)
Kiplinger has named the "10 Best Cities for Singles" and Bloomington (IL) ranks second. Since the photo shows Normal, we'll assume they either meant Normal or included it with Bloomington. If you read the introduction to the rankings, you will see that they refer to the presence of "swinging singles" (where are they??) and their idea of a date is two movie tickets and a bottle of wine. (Does the couple drink it in the car after the movie, or do they take it in with them?) So, if swinging singles are going to movies and drinking wine in Normal (and possibly also in Bloomington), then I guess that makes it a good place for singles. (Watch out, top ranking Ann Arbor! Your movie tickets and wine are a little cheaper but our singles are swingier! They just didn't account for that in the rankings.)
Honda is introducing the Fit EV this year but only in Oregon and California, which Honda considers "ground zero for electric vehicles". Hello!! Normal is an EV Town! Even when Honda officially launches the Fit EV in 2013, it will be on the east coast. Hey, what about Normal? We have charging stations and "early adopters" -- you'll "fit" right in (sorry, couldn't resist that)!!
Walgreens is putting in charging stations for electric cars, and other stores may be adding them soon. If more stores in Normal add the stations, we might actually get used to seeing (and using) them all around town! I wonder how long it took for people to get used to seeing gas stations around town.
This article about the value of having residential neighborhoods with schools, restaurants, convenience stores, and other desired businesses within walking distance is very timely. It's not just rising gas prices that will motivate people to want to be able to walk places, it's also the increase in people working from home, the preference many people now seem to have for making quick trips to purchase nessecities instead of one, extended trip to the store for a week's supply, and the (grudgingly acknowledged) need for exercise.
It would be interesting to take a map of Normal and circle businesses within walking distance (however that's measured) of residential neighborhoods. I think many residents would like to be able to walk to "neighborhood stores" but they also do not want those stores in their "backyards" (too much traffic, too much light at night, too much loitering). What is the solution to establishing these businesses without upsetting residents? There are vacant buildings that could be transformed into businesses based on what nearby residents want/need. That would be one solution. There is also "undeveloped" land (interpretation: farmland) on the outskirts of some neighborhoods that could be acquired for this purpose.
Maybe in the not too distant future, new subdivision plans will have to include "gray space" (for small businesses) as well as green space.