A round earth and seeing the Chicago skyline from Indiana (or from other angles)

Standing on a beach in Indiana and seeing the Chicago skyline is a unique sight. Does it demonstrate that the earth is flat or round?

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“If the earth was really a globe, the Chicago skyline from Indiana would be hidden by 1,473 ft. of Earth Curve,” reads the text included in one such Nov. 6 Instagram post (direct link, archive link). The post, which garnered more than 2,000 likes in one week, includes an image of the Chicago skyline taken from across Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

But the claim is false.

Scientists say the photo actually proves that the Earth is indeed curved. While the buildings in the Chicago skyline are visible in the photo, parts of the buildings are obscured by the curve in the Earth. A simple trigonometric equation confirms that the buildings of the Chicago skyline are indeed visible from the Indiana Dunes State Park, where the image was taken…

“The image actually demonstrates that the Earth is round,” Oran said. “(The bottom) parts of the buildings are actually obscured because the Earth is curved.”

Oran noted the lower halves of the buildings are not visible in the photo. According to Oran’s calculations, roughly 500 feet of the bottom of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago, would not be visible based on the distance the picture was taken from.

While the flat earther phenomenon is interesting in itself, I am more interested here in how this is based on a unique view of the Chicago skyline. I know that seeing it from a different perspective can be disorienting or reveal new angles. Growing up, I mostly saw the skyline from the west coming into the city. In graduate school, I often saw the skyline from the south and southeast arriving from a different direction. I rarely see it from the north because I have little reason to come from that direction. And the view can be very different from an airplane depending on the approach or takeoff of a particular trip and the flight patterns for the day.

Would any of those views push me to conclude the earth is flat? No, but I have definitely noticed different buildings, different ways the sun or dark frames places, and how the city seems to be a different place when approaching from different directions.

Casinos in the Chicago suburbs did little to improve downtowns

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board suggests casinos that opened several decades ago in multiple suburban downtowns did not help revive the areas:

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Remarkably, Aurora was on board, with city officials calling the new plan “one of the most significant developments in the history of Aurora,” which is exactly what they said when the riverboats came to downtown and were compared by the then-mayor to the coming of the railroads. Penn Entertainment also announced a similar plan for the casino in downtown Joliet, which it also owns.

Better, it said, for the casinos to be near the expressway for easier access. But what about the promises made to downtown Aurora and Joliet?…

Illinois casinos, it seems, have become like NFL franchises, supremely skilled at lobbying and dangling the promise of revenue to cash-strapped cities but on their own ever-changing terms.

Was the Hollywood Casino good for downtown Aurora? It’s debatable. The charming riverwalk got finished and area landscaping improved. The Paramount Theatre came back to life, but on its own merits. And on a recent Sunday night, those new restaurants in downtown Aurora were either closed or mostly empty. The action, it felt, had shifted elsewhere.

Numerous suburban downtowns have struggled for decades as activity moved outward to new neighborhoods and communities plus shopping malls and strip malls. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself, like a casino, many communities would be interested. A new attraction or business or development could help attract visitors, residents, and firms while bringing in new revenues.

Except building thriving downtowns in the suburbs is complicated. The suburban communities highlighted in this editorial are unique industrial suburbs outside of Chicago. Firms and jobs left. Suburban sprawl continued. The riverfront is still there. Other suburban downtowns thrived like Naperville or Arlington Heights, both of which are different kinds of suburbs.

While this is a tale about specific developments, it sounds like a generic development pattern: developer and/or company comes in with grand plans, community agrees to help make it happen, the developed property enriches the property owners, and if another location emerges where more money can be made, the development might move.

As the casino moves from downtown Aurora, what plans does the large suburb have to grow its downtown? What is the new attraction or set of steps to keep the downtown going?

Bringing large cities to the Metaverse

Meta may not have done well in this past week’s news cycle but at least one global city is headed to the Metaverse:

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This month, Seoul plans to launch the first stage of Metaverse Seoul, an ambitious five-year plan to code a digital re-creation of the South Korean capital. When it’s finished, residents will be able to explore historical sites, tour museums, attend virtual events, and even stop by City Hall to hack away at red tape without leaving their couches. Given Governor Jared Polis’ love of all things high-tech—including collecting state taxes in cryptocurrencies—it’s only a matter of time until Colorado follows suit, starting with our own capital city. Which is why we came up with some of Metaverse Denver’s most important points of interest.

There are a lot of possibilities here in addition to what Seoul is pursuing. Should a city aim for a brick for brick recreation? A hint or flavor of the offline city? A new kind of experience? An online site meant for tourists and/or those considering relocating? A place to try out new ideas? A gathering place for current residents?

One quick reminder as cities and communities consider this: the online and offline realms are not separate. What ends up in the Metaverse at the behest of cities will be connected to the offline city and vice versa.

Suburb of Elk Grove Village now turns to NASCAR race car ad

Elk Grove Village has sponsored a college football bowl game. Now, it is sponsoring a NASCAR car:

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The Northwest suburban municipality — of Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl fame — has inked a two-year marketing partnership with the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team that will enable it to affix its business marketing tagline, logo and brand to the No. 6 Ford Mustang stock car during the NASCAR Chicago Street race events next year.

The announcement was made during the ninth Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo at the high school. The daylong exhibition, awards and networking event highlights businesses within the village’s sprawling industrial park — which the village has sought to promote through several unconventional marketing sponsorships. The town sponsored the college football bowl game in 2018 and 2019, plus three USA Olympic teams last year.

“Elk Grove Village is home to the largest industrial park in North America. We’re surrounded by incredible transportation options and our town works hard to make this a destination for businesses,” Johnson said in a statement. “Partnering with RFK for a marquee race allows us to reach a huge audience with a partner that shares a passion in American business and manufacturing.”

Suburbs continue to market themselves in order to stand out from the hundreds of other suburban communities with which they might be competing. Lots of suburbs could say they have industrial space, nearby transportation options, and are business friendly. Fewer might be able to say they have “the largest industrial park,” sit near O’Hare Airport, within such a busy region for railroad traffic, and right next to major highways, and offer exactly what Elk Grove Village can offer businesses. This branding effort will help highlight these distinctive features.

But, the big question is whether this broader exposure translates into increased business and development activity in the community. Will those watching Brad Keselowski zoom around a track visit makerswanted.org in large numbers or relocate their firms to the suburb? Is it enough that the suburb might have an increased status but no change in activity?

Like Wakanda, drop the suburbs so cities and rural areas are closer

Why do we need suburbs between city and rural life? Perhaps the fictional Wakanda offers an answer:

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“One of the things I love about Wakanda, if you notice, if you watch ‘Black Panther’ carefully, there’s the city, the city’s got all this mass transit and all this housing parks and all this stuff,” explained Chakrabarti, who wrote a book called “A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America.” “And the moment you leave the city, you’re in farmland. And there’s this connection between rural life and urban life.”

He added: “I just think that is a really interesting paradigm to think about people, either living in super dense circumstances or really living in true rural hinterland and doing the things that we need everyone to do in farmland, which is grow our food and all of that stuff. And it would mean you would use a lot less land on this planet at the end of the day.”…

Whether major American cities ever transform from where we are today — heavily suburbanized and car-dependent — remains to be seen. But all we have to do is look to Wakanda for an idea of how our cities of the future could work.

I would argue that the American suburbs are popular, in part, because they appear to offer both features of city and rural life. Suburbanites like access to housing, jobs, and cultural amenities but they also want smaller communities and proximity to nature. With cars, they can on their own schedule access these features.

I remember the first time I saw in person this cleaner break between a city and rural areas. I had a chance to spend several days in Tokyo while in college. On one day, we took a train out of the city. As we moved at a high speed away from the city center, we suddenly moved from the denser city to fields. The same break could be seen from the air when flying in and out of the city.

This is not typically the case in the United States where suburbs might stretch for dozens of miles from the city limits before finally dwindling out. Moving more people into denser locations would indeed free up land or freezing development in metropolitan regions within an established boundary would do the same.

I enjoy maps in the ground – and cite three examples

It is one thing to hold a paper map or look at a map in a book; it is another to encounter a map in the ground. In a recent trip to Holland, Michigan, I enjoyed seeing this map in the ground of a park overlooking Lake Michigan:

While the installation highlights the location of Holland, it also shows the size of Lake Michigan, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world.

Here is another in-ground map, this time just southwest of the main library in downtown Naperville, Illinois:

The large map hints at the sprawling nature of the suburb while you can also see some of the details the community feels are important (see some of them in the close-up image of the downtown).

A third in-ground map that made a memorable impression of me as a kid was the Mississippi River installation on Mud Island in Memphis, Tennessee. To walk the vast length of the river, see important points along the way, and even play in the water was much fun.

To make the abstract map more concrete provides an opportunity to share places with a broad range of people passing by and help them better visualize the whole and its parts.

Changes in methodology behind Naperville’s move to #16 best place to live in 2022 from #45 in 2021?

Money recently released their 2022 Best Places to Live in the United States. The Chicago suburb of Naperville is #16 in the country. Last year, it was #45. How did it move so much in one year? Is Naperville that much better in one year, other places that much work, or is something else at work? I wonder if the methodology led to this. Here is what went into the 2022 rankings:

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Chief among those changes included introducing new data related to national heritage, languages spoken at home and religious diversity — in addition to the metrics we already gather on racial diversity. We also weighted these factors highly. While seeking places that are diverse in this more traditional sense of the word, we also prioritized places that gave us more regional diversity and strove to include cities of all sizes by lifting the population limit that we often relied on in previous years. This opened up a new tier of larger (and often more diverse) candidates.

With these goals in mind, we first gathered data on places that:

  • Had a population of at least 20,000 people — and no population maximum
  • Had a population that was at least 85% as racially diverse as the state
  • Had a median household income of at least 85% of the state median

Here is what went into the 2021 rankings:

To create Money’s Best Places to Live ranking for 2021-2022, we considered cities and towns with populations ranging from 25,000 up to 500,000. This range allowed us to surface places large enough to have amenities like grocery stores and a nearby hospital, but kept the focus on somewhat lesser known spots around the United States. The largest place on our list this year has over 457,476 residents and the smallest has 25,260.

We also removed places where:

  • the crime risk is more than 1.5x the national average
  • the median income level is lower than its state’s median
  • the population is declining
  • there is effectively no ethnic diversity

In 2021, the top-ranked communities tend to be suburbs. In 2022, there is a mix of big cities and suburbs with Atlanta at the top of the list and one neighborhood of Chicago, Rogers Park, at #5.

So how will this get reported? Did Naperville make a significant leap? Is it only worth highlighting the #16 ranking in 2022 and ignore the previous year’s lower ranking? Even while Naperville has regularly featured in Money‘s list (and in additional rankings as well), #16 can be viewed as an impressive feat.

Considering Silicon Valley a city in order to compare it to Jerusalem and Athens

Is Silicon Valley a city? Maybe it works in order to compare it to Jerusalem and Athens:

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And this new city is growing in power. Never before have the questions of Athens and the questions of Jerusalem been mediated to us by such a great variety of things that vie for our attention and our desires. Silicon Valley, this third city, has altered the nature of the problem that Tertullian was wrestling with. The questions of what is true and what is good for the soul are now mostly subordinated to technological progress—or, at the very least, the questions of Athens and Jerusalem are now so bound up with this progress that it’s creating confusion…

If Tertullian were alive today, I believe he would ask: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem—and what do either have to do with Silicon Valley?” In other words, how do the domains of reason and religion relate to the domain of technological innovation and its financiers in Silicon Valley? If the Enlightenment champion Steven Pinker (a resident of Athens) walked into a bar with a Trappist monk (Jerusalem) and Elon Musk (Silicon Valley) with the goal of solving a problem, would they ever be able to arrive at a consensus?…

The extent to which people begin clustering in one of the three cities—the extent to which they isolate, fortify the walls, and close the gates—is the extent to which our culture suffers. Nobody can remain isolated in one city for long without losing perspective. Self-styled rationalists hostile to religion close themselves off from millennia of embedded wisdom (or they merely invent their own form of cult or religion, based on reason). Religion that doesn’t respect reason is dangerous because it denies a fundamental part of our humanity, and the detachment can result in extremism that, at its worst, can justify unreasonable or even violent practices in the name of God. And Silicon Valley’s excesses—like the now defunct company Theranos, the cult-building of Adam Neumann, or the technology bubble of the late ’90s—are characterized by a detachment from reason and a failure to recognize the secular forms of religiosity that led to those things happening in the first place…

The most important innovations of the coming decades will happen at the intersection of the three cities—and they will be created by the people who live there.

What makes a city? A denser population center with economic, political, and social activity.

In the discussion excerpted above, Silicon Valley sounds less like a population center and more like the locus of a particular idea or culture revolving around technology and utilitarianism. Can a sprawling area outside a major city truly be a city? Is there a geographic center to Silicon Valley? Are there public spaces used by many? Is there a unified government or social structure?

As hinted at above, for much of human history and still in some places today, cities are religious centers. This is less the case in the United States where downtowns are dominated by commerce and finance, not religious congregations and practices. But, providing religiosity or meaning at work in a deconcentrated Silicon Valley may not work out as well as hoped.

Urban high-rises under construction, Los Angeles edition

In cities across the United States, the development and construction of downtown high-rises is ongoing. This was one of my views of Los Angeles this weekend:

Who is funding such development? Who will purchase the spaces in these new buildings? How does it all fit within a metropolitan landscape marked by uneven development and residential segregation? Located near L.A. Live, Crypto.com Arena, and downtown Los Angeles, this is desirable property.

A positive on-screen depiction of New Jersey

In contrast to the typical depiction of New Jersey on TV and movies, one writer suggests a new show portrays a positive vision of the state:

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I don’t want this attention. Jersey’s bad reputation for being America’s garbage dump has done a great job of keeping people out and our blocks relatively affordable. For years, Jersey City was protected by a forcefield of bad representation. Jersey is by far America’s favorite punchline of a state. Futurama imagined America’s founding fathers dubbing New Jersey “our nation’s official joke state.” Movie after movie refers to Jersey as “the armpit of America.” Even in Marvel’s What If…?, Harold “Happy” Hogan laments the only escape from a zombie apocalypse: “Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, we gotta go to Jersey.” MTV’s Jersey Shore continues to do a fantastic job of finding the best cast to represent the state and all it has to offer folks on the outside. Snookie and J-Wow knew exactly how to lay out the red carpet. The Sopranos also knew exactly how to showcase Jersey’s finest hospitality. Come for the bar fights, stay for the gabagool.

I would argue few places are depicted well on television or in films where the emphasis is usually on character and plots rather than on places, neighborhoods, and communities.

At the same time, certain locations can acquire a particular character through the way they are depicted over the years. Viewers might see only a particular perspective on or a portion of a place.

What would the average American think New Jersey is like based on what they have seen on screen?