Game identifying random locations through Google Streetview

Love to see random sites around the world? Check out the game Locatestreet where you are given a picture from Google Streetview and you have to guess (with multiple choice and with the opportunity to utilize a few hints) the correct location.

After playing the version with random US locations, I discovered that context matters – check out the housing styles and the vegetation for some insights into the location. Indeed, you might just see lots of trees and landscape. Also, knowing where population centers are can go a long way in making a closer guess as to where the exact picture was taken…

h/t Atlantic Cities

Conservationists/residents, Will County fight over prairie plantings in the backyard

Here is an intriguing case that pits conservationists versus suburban government: should homeowners be able to have native prairie plantings in their backyard?

Since then, a two-year legal battle has spread like unruly crab grass across state and federal courts with no end in sight. Will County authorities have spent more than $50,000 on an outside lawyer to respond to civil rights claims while prosecuting the Frankfort-area family [includes two U.S. EPA employees] over the plants…

In March, the county offered to dismiss its ordinance violation case if the couple would drop their claims and allow inspectors to take another look at their property. The couple sought, among other things, a written apology, annual payments to care for the plot and for the county to highlight the wetland as a model of suburban native landscaping…

One neighbor says her family now uses more weed-killing chemicals to keep their lawn looking good, and another has stopped speaking with the offending couple, though one neighbor said she’s reluctant to oppose plants that are native to the area…

Will County says the problem isn’t with native landscaping, but with the Frankfort Square couple’s refusal to follow the rules. Mary Tatroe, head of the state’s attorney’s civil division, said the couple failed to live up to two separate agreements and was taken to court over the “noxious weeds” on their property.

In December, the county passed a new ordinance that allows native plantings under certain conditions along with fines and penalties of up to $525 per day for violations. Tatroe said the Frankfort Square couple still would be in violation of the new code, both because of the weeds and the lack of a 5-foot buffer from their neighbor’s property.

Does this sort of thing only happen in America?

If the article has all of the facts correct, this seems like a fairly straightforward case: local governments, whether they are municipalities or counties (which has jurisdiction here because this couple lives in an unincorporated area), can have rules about gardens and plants. If the couple want to change these rules (such as how far native plantings can be from an adjacent property), it may be more productive to do these outside of court. On the other hand, if the couple is trying to make a public statement about native plants and what is allowed, a lawsuit may just get people’s attention. Then again, a lawsuit sounds combative and this whole matter has also apparently set off unpleasantries in the neighborhood (don’t mess up my lawn with those “native weeds”!).

It would be interesting to know in how many places in the United States it is illegal to have native plants. The topography and vegetation in many places (including Illinois) has changed quite a bit…and I assume most people like it that way? (Let’s be honest: most people probably never think about it.)

Seeing the Chicago area’s “pre-European settlement vegetation”

Here is a website that offers a look at the vegetation in the Chicago area before settlers really transformed the land. According to this article, the maps were created by looking at surveyor’s notes:

Nearly 200 years ago, long before global positioning systems, the land was surveyed with little more than a compass, a 66-foot-long metal chain and an ax to mark trees, said McBride. Luckily, surveyors also brought notebooks.

Surveyors’ notes slowly outlined gorgeous, ecologically diverse landscapes now largely lost. “As they divided each township into 36-square-mile sections, surveyors marked up to four ‘bearing’ trees near each section corner. They jotted down the trees’ species and other notes describing the landscape,” said McBride.

From these records, McBride painstakingly reconstructed the landscape: 65 percent prairie, 30 percent wooded, and at least 2.8 percent wetland. Trees flourished in northern townships; prairie dominated southern ones.

Things I think of when looking at this map:

1. Some of the first settlers in the Naperville area settled around the “Big Woods” area which I would guess is the big forested section on the map between Batavia and Aurora and east of the Fox River.

2. In the days before trains (with the first train line running out of Chicago through what is now Wheaton and West Chicago in 1849), the prairie land between southwestern DuPage County and Chicago could turn quite soggy. Hence, there was quite a network of plank roads in the Chicago region so that people could traverse the prairie.

3. There was quite a bit of prairie. How long did it take for most of that prairie land to disappear and be converted into farm land?

4. There was a lot of trees north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. I don’t know how much of that timber was cut down and ended up in Chicago but there were a number of timber/logging communities around Lake Michigan including in western Michigan and in Wisconsin. Perhaps the most famous of these communities is Peshtigo, Wisconsin, which suffered a tragic fire on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

5. In the area I am most familiar with, western DuPage County, it seems like the DuPage County Forest Preserve has grabbed some of the original timber areas. I wonder if these areas were harvested and then grew again.

6. It would be an added bonus if there was an overlay to this map of current development and vegetation. This would provide insights into how much has changed.