Illinois State Capitol Photographs WARNING! REAL UGLINESS LURKS.

I have lived in Springfield, Illinois for the past 35 years and, for all its warts, I love it and plan on staying.

Aesthetically, however,  it has its problems – not the least of  which is the area surrounding the Illinois State Capitol Building.  I am not the only one to recognize the visual shortcomings there as well as some adjacent downtown areas.  In the mid-1970’s Springfield’s downtown area went through the same convulsions and dislocations that most all cities experienced when developers started building indoor shopping malls. 

Recognizing the ills that had fallen on central Springfield, there have been an increasing number of merchants, civic leaders, and local governmental people who have made great inroads in revitalizing the heart and soul of downtown.  Their work has not been easy, nor has it necessarily been rewarded.  Nevertheless, a lot of dedicated and stubborn individuals keep trying.  A not-for-profit organization, Downtown Springfield, Incorporated, has also been vitally instrumental in focusing on the central business district of Springfield as the most essential core of our community.  I commend them for their efforts.

Springfield, as the capital city of Illinois, also plays host to much of the State’s government.  As such, the government’s architecture, officials, and employees play an essential part in the day-to-day activities and life of the city.  Its downtown presence and importance cannot be understated.  It is always there, always looming.

The center and seat of State government revolves, of course, around the Capitol Building.  Its stature dwarfs its surroundings, but not overly so.  It represents what it is supposed to represent – the power of the people and their State government.  No problem with that.  Other problems have developed though.

Over time, much of Illinois’ governmental operations have, for political reasons, been shifted away from Springfield.  Much of the work of State government has been transferred to regional offices throughout the State.  Even more work has been permanently relocated to Chicago.  The effect of this decentralization of State government has left much of the infrastructure of the city looking like, in fact being, an abandoned carcass.  This has left the remaindermen of Springfield to clean up the mess.  It’s a pitiful state of affairs, but this is where we are and what we are left with.

I decided to take a half-dozen photographs of the State Capitol Building today to give a sense of what we, as residents, see everyday.  We may not always notice it, or may just overlook it, but there is some big-time ugly surrounding that big-domed building.

I did not try to get artsy with the photos, nor did I try to go overboard to show the worst of things (such as standing aside a dilapidated building or a dumpster and then framing the Capitol building).  However, I have taken the liberty of adding some commentary.  Enjoy!

This picture is from the perspective of the revitalized (?) Capitol promenade, so to speak.  While it may be visually  unappealing because of the overhead railroad structure, it is precisely this overhead track which returns so much affection; it is the only place downtown which enables one to avoid the long waits of Amtrak and other trains rambling through city center.  This underpass is much beloved.

Recently the owner of this track, Union Pacific Railroad, proposed more than doubling the daily number of freight trains rambling through the city  to 45 or so.  It seems that Union Pacific, which is the largest landholder west of the Mississippi River and second largest landholder in the United States (the largest is the United States itself), did not want to be inconvenienced to use its resources to buy new right-of-way landholdings outside of the central city.  Currently, their plan has been shelved while another route through the city is being reviewed by officialdom.

This is on the Illinois State Museum side of the Capitol.  What can I say here that the picture doesn’t?

 Are trees and asphalt mutually exclusive, or do you just have to live with what you get?

Where have all the cars gone?  It’s Monday; it’s a newly surfaced lot; but it’s lonely.

Rough winters require a lot of cold patch, but you do what you have to do.

Even Le Corbusier could not have built an uglier building than the adjacent Stratton Office Building (on right), nicknamed the SOB – the building that is, not the former governor who was nicknamed “Billy the Kid.”

. . .  and the wheels of progress just keeping on spinning.

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_________WIND FARMS_________ Seemed like such a great idea until they showed up near my house

 

Actually, they haven’t shown up near my house — but near enough.  And the place where they have shown up has severely strained my sensibilities.

67 of these monster wind towers have shown up on a beautiful stretch of farmland in Logan County, near Lincoln, Illinois, not far from Springfield, and the view to my eye is sickening.

The best that I can describe them is vexatious to the spirit.

You can see the wind turbines littered along either side of Route I-155 on what has always been a stunning, scenic view.  Ordinarily, there is not much aesthetic value in driving along on the roads of central Illinois.  It is usually so flat and monotonous that  driving any distance at all can be quite tedious.  For example, I have always considered the drive on I-72 from Springfield, Illinois to Champaign, Illinois one of the most boring stretches of land in the Midwest.  The 90 mile trip would put a cup of coffee to sleep.  It is a flat corn-and-soybean-scape that can dull the senses in about 30 minutes. 

The drive from Springfield to Lincoln has always been a little different from the typical road trip around here, and a great deal  more interesting.   For example, there is the fairly dramatic landscape feature of the community of Elkhart, Illinois.   The community is built upon a an unusually large hill that has a distinct visual appeal along with a rich history.  It also sits aside old U.S. Route 66, as most of this section of the newer road does.  The most beautiful part of this 30-mile stretch of road from Springfield to Lincoln, however, is the dramatic fall and rise of the land to a vantage point that is just short of spectacular.  As a child, I always dreamed that someday I would be able to buy a piece of land that would be perched atop this vista and it would enable me to see all the storms and tornadoes approaching for miles.  This description is not to mistake this property for the grandiosity of Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, or Sequoia National Park, but for central Illinois, the horizons don’t get any better than this.

So where is this giant wind farm placed?  It is scattered across the very land that is the most spectacular.  For my money, the sheer number of these wind towers has aesthetically ruined this area.

Surprisingly though, many of the people who actually live in this area, including many that were born and raised on this land, do not share my opinion.  Quite the opposite, it seems that their testimonials are by and large positive.  As described  in a very good February 6, 2010 article http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x655690726/So-far-so-good-for-people-near-Logan-County-wind-farm by Chris Dettro in the State Journal Register, most people living on or near these wind turbines find them soothing, almost hypnotizing.  They describe them as more quiet than the wind itself.  Stress reduction, problem-free, good for the community, good for the tax base, and on and on . . .  are their narratives.

These land owners are also quite well compensated with payments for use of their land.  I am not sure to what degree the compensation factor influences their opinions, but if they are happy about their compensation, it would be hard to expect them to be negative about the turbines.  After all, so long as the towers are innocuous or so long as they just eventually became part of their almost invisible world, much as a new barn or silo might, it is probably to hard to argue with them.   It is hard to say when you don’t actually experience it like they might actually experience it on a day-to-day basis.

American people are inventive, innovative, and problem-solving people.  Deep down, I believe that most of us want to manage our energy needs in a smarter way that lessens damage to the planet.  I think American people want to embrace new ideas, new technology, and other measures which will continue to sustain the scarce resources that we have.  It’s unclear for our society about what to do next, however.  Should it be solar, wind power, nuclear again, a judicious combination of what we now have, or some other admixture of current resources along with attempting the novel?  The world is definitely at a crossroads now as to what is the next, best development, and how to pay for it?  Perhaps wind power is part of the solution.  Or, perhaps, it is too early to tell.

I continue to wonder, “Are we really thinking these things through, or are we in a frantic, semi-contrived survival mode where, not only now but in the future, we risk looking like a decrepit Siberia?  After all the cellphone towers, mega-watt transmission towers, and giant wind turbines have gone by the wayside for improved power-creating and transmission technology, will we be left with nothing but a horrific landscape?

I hope not.  Green needs to be more than that.

                          Montmartre: the Quarry and Windmills
                                           Oil on board, 1886
                               Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Even through the eyes and brush of Van Gogh, windmills are ugly.

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