Saturday, November 03, 2007

"Dark Light" -- there's more of it coming

There will be a lot more of it starting Sunday, when Daylight Saving Time ends. Enjoy the extra sleep and once again learn to love the dark. Or not. "Spring forward, fall back" -- and watch out out for the cars. Photographed on Madison's South Park Street.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The trees in front of the Old Red Gym are pretty, but they really don't make up for what's missing

The Old Red Gym is one of the best known landmarks of the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. Among other things, it was the place where generations of incoming students stood in long lines to register at the start of each academic year, until registration finally went online. It looks especially picturesque with the late afternoon light of an autumn day filtering through those golden trees between the gym and Lake Mendota. But to long-time Madison residents and members of the university community there will always be something missing -- a void that has existed for some 40 years.

That's the old University Boathouse pictured in this picture at vfm4's 1915, Madison, Wisconsin Flickr set. The boathouse was completed with funding from a student subscription drive in 1893. The tower on the right was the lifesaving station from which rescue boats were dispatched when boaters got in trouble on Lake Mendota. For more than 70 years it served the UW crew as well as recreational needs of the university and, formerly, the community. I was one of them. I used to borrow a friend's boat and winch it down with a block-and-tackle from its overhead storage compartment and go for leisurely paddles on Lake Mendota.

Even for people who never set foot in a boat, the old, weathered wooden structure was a lovely addition to the lakefront. Madison tended to be a bit too quick to tear down historic structures in the sixties. Had it survived until today, it would probably have been renovated as lovingly as the Brittingham Boathouse on Brittingham Bay. Maybe the University would have extended its Lakeshore Preserve to encompass it. But it was not to be. Instead, we have to settle for this web page about the new boat house, along with this link to a PDF file about the old boathouse.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Still from an unreleased and unfinished movie: "Attack of the Giant Mutant Killer Sorghum"

Unmade Movie Still: "Attack of the The Mutant Killer Sorghum"
In honor of Halloween, here's another in our series of stills from movies that were never released, or even finished -- in this case, a low budget horror flic shot here in Madison at the Allen Centennial Gardens on the University of Wisconsin campus with funds that were of dubious provenance until they ran out altogether and shooting stopped.

The film was supposed to be about giant mutant sorghum turned carnivorous as a result of a mad scientist inserting animal genes in an experiment that was deranged to begin with and which went totally out of control when his beautiful young lab assistant used a beaker of experimental liquid DNA to water the garden.

The script for this unfinished wannabe cult classic begins with the sun going down and night approaching. People quake inside their houses as the mutant killer sorghum begins to advance, its razor-sharp leaf blades twitching hungrily in the cool evening air. Horror ensues...

How much more of this can Madison absorb without becoming a place where none of us want to live?

Metropolitan Place
High-density development, we are told, not only fights urban sprawl, but it will also put people back on our downtown streets. Hmm. How many people do you count in this picture? I count one.

Yes, high-density development can be a tool to fight urban sprawl. Then there's hyper-density development like Metropolitan Place, shown here. How much more of this can Madison absorb and still maintain its identity as an attractive, livable medium-size city? Endless high rise developments, looming straight up from the edge of the sidewalk, disrupt neighborhood scale and sightlines. They also make the city less, not more, appealing to foot traffic.

The issue has reared its towering head once again over on Old University Avenue where, the Capital Times reports, the Mullins Development Group hopes to build a high-rise apartment complex at Campus Drive and Highland Avenue that would be aimed at professionals, students, and staff at the nearby hospitals. With the exception of Lombardino's restaurant, the entire 2500 block on the north side of the street would be taken up by the mega-development. The Regent Neighborhood Association has given preliminary approval to a compromise plan that lops two stories off the 14 stories originally proposed by Mullins, but not all neighbors are pleased.
John Jacobs, a UW-Madison engineer who lives on the 2600 block of Kendall Avenue, has been among the most vocal critics. He said the city and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz are pushing high-density development in the name of "New Urbanism" with no concern for existing residents.

"The deck is stacked against those who want to retain the livability and charm of neighborhood," he said. "With the mayor, his pals from 1000 Friends and Progressive Dane marching in lockstep for hyper-density at every opportunity, it would be an uphill battle to scale this back after the Regent Neighborhood Association approves it."

Jacobs maintains the planning committee -- which was funded with $10,000 in city money and $5,000 from the Regent Neighborhood Association -- was "loaded with developers and friends of developers" including Brian Mullins, Jim Bradley of Home Savings and John Koffel of Delta Properties.

"This whole exercise was designed to give Mullins his 12 stories," said Jacobs. "It would look a lot worse if a few neighbors hadn't found out about what they were up to and tried their darnedest to push it back."
In promoting infilling and high-density development, city officials have been trying to encourage things that make a lot of sense in theory, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. It's the details that so often seem wrong and totally out of proportion. Infilling is a great idea if handled sensitively, but with a few exceptions, it hasn't been. It's as if Jane Jacobs and her ideas about how to encourage healthy neighborhoods with a vibrant street life had never existed.

Madison is not Chicago or New York, and the Isthmus isn't the Gold Coast (yet). When you drop a 12-story development into the heart of a residential neighborhood in Madison, chances are you'll make it less neighborly and livable, not more.

11/01/07 UPDATE: I tried to summarize too much in one phrase, "preliminary approval," with misleading results. The Regent Neighborhood Association has not taken a stand on the project yet, and there will be a public meeting November 28 to discuss the draft planning document for the entire Old University Avenue corridor before it is presented to the city. See Robbie's comments for more details.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I heart the Madison Public Library

A Bumper Sticker I Wish I Had
Wish I had one of these window stickers. I'm a taxpayer, and I heart libraries, too. I'd love to see more resources devoted to the Madison Public Library. (Speaking of downtown development, what ever happened to the idea of expanding and modernizing the main library building downtown?) Anybody know where to get one of these decals?

10/29 Update: Wow. The miracle of the Internet -- ask, and your wish is granted. They're FREE. Check out Lisa's link in the comments.

Making a hand motion squiggle graph

Hand Motion Squiggle Graph
Question: What do you get when you shoot a hand-held photograph of Venus through a gap in the trees at ISO 3200 with a slow medium telephoto zoom and heavily crop the result? Answer: An image that says more about the motion of your hand than the object of inquiry, one that projects a sharp white line plotting the motion of your hand over 1.1 seconds onto a murky, blurry representation of the sky and trees. You begin by looking at nature and the heavens, but the result is more an exploration of inner space than external reality. Call it observer's bias. As in so many things.