Monday, November 27, 2006

Auto theft

My housemate's car was stolen off the street in front of our house, presumably by some asshole. It's a white Honda Civic hatchback, 1991, with a trailer hitch, a bunch of plastic toys on the dashboard, and a Russ Feingold sticker on the back. If by chance you've seen it, drop me a line.

Car theft and vandalism is one of the great banes of modern urban living. Cars are incredibly vunerable; it only takes a split second and a heavy rock to inflict several hundred dollars worth of damage -- usually in pursuit of a car stereo that will fetch only a fraction of that when sold.

I personally have become somewhat detached from my car emotionally; I view it as a necessity, but not a source of great personal pride or investment. I can afford to do this, as it's generally more of a convenience than a necessity (though reaching a Target in the winter would be a bitch without it.) My suburban friends are utterly baffled by my relative non-reaction to the times my car has been violated; I can only assume they regard their vehicles as sacrosanct, sacred.

I guess I would too if I had no other way to bring home the groceries.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

East side updates

ITEM: The wreckers have started hitting the old Sentry Foods on Oakland. They're maybe 1/4th of the way through it as of this evening.

And in a brazen affront to the neighborhood, Walgreens will not be constructing a full apartment building, just their own store. The obvious conclusion is that the apartments were always a myth, a lure to get the powers-that-be to go along with tearing down the Sentry.

With the competition of Sentry's removed, Walgreens will be much closer to a lockup on neighborhood grocery foot traffic. Without a full multi-use building going up, it is far more likely that the new Walgreens will be a chain-standard, single-use, single-story building with a large parking lot, degrading the public realm of the Oakland Avenue commercial district. The chain has taken away our neighborhood grocery store, and in return they will give us a worse environment than we had before.

ITEM: I'm pleased to report construction activity at three of the tear-down sites I wrote about earlier. Foundation walls have been poured at the N. Warren site (north of Brady) and the Cambridge & Irving site (also north of Brady, near the North Ave. Dam.) Excavation has begun at the N. Cramer & Greenwich site, near the East Side Library.

ITEM: Signs have appeared around UWM's campus, wanting to "Save 2005 and 2009 Kenwood", referring to a pair of handsome, sturdy-looking single-family homes at Kenwood and Prospect that are in danger of demolition. Their new owner, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, wants to tear them down to construct a new Hillel Center.

The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission has conducted a review of the two buildings, which are part of a lineup of similarly-styled houses all built by the same builder.

The report details the architectural and historic significance of the houses at length, but even disregarding that, their demolition should be opposed on grounds of urban design and planning. The brutal, inhuman segment of UWM's campus that faces the houses is somewhat mitigated by the intimate scale of the residential buildings on the south side of Kenwood, which can also provide badly needed East Side housing. Their integrity should not be degraded.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chicago Subterranian Warren Station

Unlike New York City, which demolished its spectacular Penn Station in the early 1960s and replaced it with a forgettable rat's maze of dimly lit underground passages, Chicago still retains a grand central rail terminal:

Chicago Union Station

My question, then, is: why aren't they using it?

I mean, okay, maybe I don't pass through during peak hours, and maybe it's jammed then. But the times I have been through -- early evening, generally -- are still pretty busy times, but there ain't a soul hanging out in this place. Instead, passengers must wait in the uninspiring confines of a network of bland hallways that doesn't have much on the awful Penn Station that replaced the original.

Maybe it's the complete and utter lack of seating? Why aren't there benches and boarding signage, so you can wait in a place that's digified? Why wasn't the station configured to use this magnificent space as the main entrance and exit, instead of a side door that only a few people come across by chance?

(The answer, of course, is that the original concourse -- a spacious, airy, light-filled place -- was demolished in 1969 so some awful office towers could be built on its site. This was sold to the public as "modernizing" the station.)

Bike Lane surprise

When I bike, I ride fast. I cruise at 15-20mph, and downhill or with the wind behind me, I can sometimes hit 25-30mph. On many city streets, that's comparable to the speed of traffic.

It also means that if something goes wrong, it can potentially go very, very wrong.

Something nearly went wrong Tuesday night as I biked home from work, northbound on Prospect. As I passed the construction site of the Park Lafayette condo tower, the handy bike lane suddenly gave way to a number of rough, irregular black asphalt patches. This being the season of early sunsets, it was dark, of course; I had no idea what I was about to hit. With a wall of cars moving alongside me, going around wasn't an option. I slammed on the brakes ahd held on tight. My U-lock came flying off its mounts on one of the bumps but otherwise I survived.

I hope they'll fix these patches soon -- they're dangerous!