19 March 2010

On Casinos, Aquifers, Bike Infrastructure, World's Fairs & More: Friday Miscellany

Sick at home today, at least it gives me an opportunity to watch March Madness and get some reading done. I came across a lot of interesting stories today that I'd like to share.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting on the new casino in Des Plaines...this has become a hot issue in Illinois, loads of developers and civic officials (our own esteemed Mayor Daley included) are banking on casinos to bring in missing revenues. They've certainly done a fine job revitalizing (insert sarcasm) East St. Louis and Hammond, Indiana. What really strikes me is that the debate seems to be more about the amount of light emitted by the signs than anything else. Not a single casino in Illinois has fulfilled much of it's initial promise. You only need to look to neighboring Rosemont, where the state gaming commission revoked the operator's license over alleged mob ties...construction had just begun, so far the basement has been completed and that's how it sits. The Des Plaines artists' rendering is telling. Normally, architects and urban designers are keen to show vibrant streetscapes full of happy pedestrian activity...this one doesn't even have sidewalks, just a rather uninspired hotel tower (reminds me of the ones they've been busy tearing down at Cabrini-Green) next to a very wide street with unrealistic traffic projections.

Echoes of my remote sensing class in college: Der Spiegel reports on a team of German geologists searching for untapped aquifers in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom's water supply is in such dire circumstances that the government has ended wheat subsidies and ordered all domestic wheat production to cease by 2016.

Dublin City is considering adding contraflow cycle zones. If you're not familiar, contraflow basically translates to a street which is one-way to motorized traffic and used in both directions by cyclists. These are provided to channel cyclists away from heavy traffic areas and are common in cities with a high cycling mode share like Amsterdam. A typical anti-cyclist bias exists on the council though, characterized by the member noting that 97% of commuters are not using bikes. Experience in Denmark and the Netherlands clearly shows that when you improve the infrastructure, you attract more bicycles, not the other way around.

Steve Offutt & Matt Johnson of Greater Greater Washington have posted an excellent four-part series about the transit problems faced by that most edgy of edge cities, Tysons Corner, Virginia (here's part one). I've never visited, and it sounds like I won't want to for another forty years or so. The problems are the same as in exurbs around the country, lack of pedestrian infrastructure, no neighborhood cohesion and long travel distances. DC Metro is currently building a new line to Dulles Airport through here, but the stations are too far from most of the employment centers to entice many workers to leave their cars at home. GGW gives us a few possibilities to improve the planned bus circulator service.

A long-time obsession has been reignited...world's fairs expos. From the Crystal Palace in 1851 (the building, not the woeful London soccer team) to the upcoming Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Honestly, the last one I know anything about is Expo '74 in Spokane, but I still think they're neat, and I have an ever-growing collection of fair souvenirs and postcards to prove it. Next American City has a blog post about a complaint I have about all of them though, the lack of a legacy in Shanghai. Chicagoans know about the two great world's fairs the city hosted in 1893 & 1933, and they also know that remnants of them are rare. Shanghai is following this example, planning to tear down 52 of the 56 expo structures after it closes...though the city did get five new subway lines out of the deal.

Thanks to my old pal Kevin Chan, I have a new obsession as well: a website called OpenFlights. Maps + airlines + travel bragging?
It's practically custom-built to appeal to my nerdiness. I've scanned my memory banks and I think I managed to get most of the flights I've been on in my life up there. I like the way the maps look, it reminds me of Kevin Lynch's nodes & paths. And speaking of Kevin Chan, I've got some serious traveling to do if I ever want to catch up to his map.

And finally! I just couldn't leave this out...Inhabitat is spotlighting a cardboard 45 sleeve that can be turned into a portable turntable. I'm sure the sound quality is horrid, but it's still pretty cool.

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