The cicadas buzzed in the evening. On my mid-summer runs through the Ohio farmlands, skunks, deer, groundhogs, and raccoons often surprised me. Back in Chicago now for two weeks, I’ve been bouncing from one downtown meeting to the next. Perched in a 20th floor conference room during one such session, I gazed out at the crowded city view. Then it hit me. The source of the gently gnawing discontent I’ve experienced since returning: I miss nature. While I’m enthusiastic about new public features like the River Walk, I’m struck by how little emphasis in new developments is being paid to the street-level experience. Density without amenity will be the city’s undoing. In our classroom building at Oberlin, the most popular place to sit and work was in the lobby near the plants and solar-powered fountain, an area flooded with natural light. Humans are biophilic creatures. Yet so often meaningful green features are omitted from our constructed environments, inside and out. My readjustment discontent aside, these compromises will haunt us. Looking out during the meeting, I felt awe and alienation; the hum of the air conditioning no replacement for the loud throb of fecundity that would accompany my end-of-the-day commute home.
Insights, inspiration and opportunities to create a more vibrant and resilient future.
Just yesterday, the City of Chicago and the Metropolitan Planning Council unveiled Our Great Rivers, the first comprehensive vision for the Chicago, Calumet, and Des Plaines Rivers. This is the culmination of more than a year of public engagement, and the diverse and inspiring goals have me looking forward to the future of these crucial waterways.
I freeze. My yoga instructor barks two contradictory statements. The first points out some general fault that everyone is committing; the second berates us for immediately trying to correct it. Learning to endure a misalignment is one of the most difficult aspects of this class.
Today, more complex challenges, beyond just efficiency, are being posed to the great promise of the information revolution in cities. This week, Foresight had the pleasure of speaking with the Urban Institute about the ripe potential for data to drive inclusive community development. I agree, it is time to leverage new data and analytics to "uncover problems, patterns, and solutions in (our) communities."
A Midsummer's Symphony of Lights
I run at dusk. Heat wilts me, so I head out on the cusp of the day's end, following the rail-to-trail path through town, and then across miles of farmland toward the next small rural Ohio outpost. My heart pounds as the sun evaporates, beauty and exertion intermingling. I exercise without a soundtrack; overcoming the tedious silence is part of the discipline. Mind games.
The Demands of Instability
Things will go wrong. Preparing for a summer program involving teenagers is as much about being fortified for when plans go astray as it is insuring they work right. With the last group of students having departed, I’m recalibrating my heightened state of readiness. Our students tended to be able to easily adjust to unforeseen events, whether minor or more significant. The community they formed over the course of their two-week seminars was both a source of occasional tensions as well as significant support.
Though many STEM literacy initiatives seem to be focused on young people, those in their grandparents' age bracket also need training on new technology. I was pleased to read about Microsoft Chicago's new program, DigiSeniors, which provides educational resources for this growing demographic and is currently seeking instructors to kick off the effort.