Saturday, August 16, 2008

The end of the printed phone book?

Unwanted phone books
I've been seeing these orange plastic bags of phone books around town since last week. They certainly do appear to be unwanted, and they're going straight to the recycling bin in many homes and businesses. I wonder how many trees had to be sacrificed to produce this latest unwanted batch.

Is this the beginning of the end of unsolicited printed phone books? I sure hope so.

These are some of my favorite on-line directories.

What are some of yours?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Parade 2008

Ever since I went digital, I've been taking the shotgun approach to events like this. There are nearly 300 photos in this set (once I finish uploading them all), so if and when you get tired of watching the slideshow, you can just click through to MainStreetDanbury's Flickr account.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Opening Night at the 2008 CT Film Festival

Director Rocco DeVilliers's film "The Flyboys" was shown to a very happy, very excited, and very full house last night at the Palace Theater, at the opening night of the CT Film Festival. There are five more days of this extraordinary event still to come, with venues all over downtown Danbury: The Palace, the Library, the WCSU Student Center Theater, Heirloom Arts Theater (formerly the Empress Ballroom), WCSU Ives Concert Hall, and All Nations Baptist Church. There are feature films, documentaries, student shorts, international shorts, American shorts, animated shorts, and Connecticut shorts. Several films will be repeated, and if you weren't at last night's screening, you have another chance to see "The Flyboys" on Saturday at 2 pm at WestConn's Ives Concert Hall on White Street. Don't miss it!

These are some photographs I took last night. The blurry ones were taken using available darkness. (Some photographers refer to this as "available light," but I like to call it what it is.) You'll find more coverage at the News-Times website, and Eugene Driscoll's new blog, Hollywood Chainsaw Blogger, created especially to cover the CT Film Festival. And, of course, at the CT Film Festival website itself. Individual tickets and festival passes can still be purchased at the CityCenter Danbury offices at 186 Main Street, at the corner of Main and West.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

288 Main Street

William Webb Sunderland was a prominent local builder who, along with his son Philip, constructed Mark Twain's home "Stormfield" in Redding. In 1873, Sunderland built the the first structure to house a Danbury newspaper. The building was remodeled and expanded in 1893 and the distinctive clock tower—which unfortunately is obscured by the tree in this photo—was added. Philip Sunderland's son William Webb, named for his grandfather, designed the current News-Times building at 333 Main Street. Today the building at 288 Main Street is the home of DaSilva Real Estate. [1]

288 Main StreetI don't doubt that the newer building is more functional, but esthetically I much prefer the 1893 building, don't you? Here's a closer view of the Main Street entrance.

[1] Danbury Museum and Historical Society, Images of America: Danbury. Charleston (SC): Arcadia Publishing. 2001.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

...and leave the driving to us!

Today's News-Times online edition has good news for everyone who commutes between Danbury and Waterbury. Three buses during peak commuting hours could potentially take 120 cars off the road. That hardly puts a dent in the 7,000 cars that make the trip each day, but it's a start. And it's better than doing nothing.

HART expansion proposal would expand bus service to Waterbury
By Mike Russo Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 03/20/2008 09:38:52 AM EDT

NEWTOWN - The bus stops here, or at least it could.

Two proposed expansions of Housatonic Area Regional Transit, which now operates 14 routes, could add bus service here as early as September and help commuters who would rather ride than drive.

More than 7,000 vehicles travel on Interstate 84 from Danbury and Waterbury each day, according to Richard Shreiner, director of service development at HART. An estimated 900 vehicles travel between Newtown and Danbury alone.

"It is one of the most congested corridors in the state," he said.

Shreiner said there are currently 20 Newtown businesses with employees who commute from the Danbury and Waterbury areas.

Shreiner presented an overview of a December 2007 feasibility study and potential bus routes through Newtown to the Board of Selectmen on Monday night.

Proposed plans for the Danbury to Waterbury line suggest a Newtown bus terminal located off Exit 10. The bus would make three round trips during peak traveling hours in the morning and the evening.

"Bus service during the peak period would allow more options," he said.

Friday, March 14, 2008

265 Main Street

The Main Street post office opened for business on September 2, 1916. The city's four wards met at a point in the middle of the street directly in front of the post office, so it literally was at the center of town.

This week the News-Times reported that the USPS is considering whether to close the downtown post office. This doesn't really come as a surprise, since all mail processing operations were moved to the Backus Avenue facility over a year ago. The Main Street location now serves mostly as a retail facility, selling stamps, accepting packages and letters, and providing over 800 post office boxes. It still serves a useful function, say business owners and residents of the downtown area, who would incur the added expense of driving to the Backus Avenue branch. The possibility of opening a new, smaller facility at an alternate location, still convenient to downtown, has not been ruled out, but the 92-year-old building on Main Street probably won't figure into those plans unless we give the USPS a reason to include it. There's no reason that the newer, smaller facility couldn't be included in a plan for renovating the building for multiple uses. A New England town without a downtown post office is not really a town.

Several people are already putting forth ideas for new uses for the building, which would require extensive interior renovations in any case. I think this might be just the opportunity we've been waiting for to begin a revitalization project similar to Norwalk's efforts in its SoNo district. The building is centrally located, within walking distance of both the HART pulse point and the Metro-North train station. We need a coalition of citizens to start making plans, and if things don't work out with this particular building, then they can also begin looking at other possibilities near the downtown center. Whatever we do, please let's not allow the building to get snapped up by the usual developers who will put it to the usual uses. The last thing downtown Danbury needs is another dormitory.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Metro-North Railroad Celebrates 25 Years

In 1852, when the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad started operation, a one-way trip on the 23.6 mile line took 75 minutes using two Hinkley Steam Engines named "The Danbury" and "The Norwalk." The route was electrified in 1925 and de-electrified in 1961. We've been talking about re-electrifying it for as long as I can remember. You can read the March 2006 Electrification Feasibility Study here in a 2.5MB PDF, and you can get an overview here at the Danbury Branch Electrification Feasibility Study website.

Over the decades, the operation of the line changed hands several times, and you can read more about the history of the Danbury Branch Rail Line here at the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials website.

In 1983, Metro-North Commuter Railroad was formed, and Connecticut's Department of Transportation became the owner of the Danbury-Norwalk Branch Line in 1985, with Metro-North operating the passenger service. In 2007, Metro-North ridership exceeded 80 million passengers, setting a new record. Many of those commuters are on the ten round trips per day between Danbury and Norwalk, and probably at least as many, if not more, drive from the Greater Danbury area to use Metro-North stations in Croton Falls, Katonah, Brewster, and Southeast.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I am a fan of both public transportation and architecture, especially Art Deco. So of course I must also mention that Grand Central Terminal was showing the signs of years of neglect when, in 1988, Metro-North began a $200 million modernization, preservation, and redevelopment program. The building was restored, new retail and dining spaces were added, tracks were updated, and the utility systems were modernized. The Kodak photo marquee was removed to reveal more windows, and the ceiling was cleaned to reveal the constellations. Free tours of Grand Central are offered every Wednesday and Friday, and you can read more about them here at the Grand Central Terminal website.

To celebrate its 25th year of operation, Metro-North Railroad and the New York Transit Museum are presenting an exhibition entitled, "A Railroad Reborn: Metro-North at 25." This free exhibit is located in the New York Transit Museum's Gallery Annex next to the Station Master's office in Grand Central Terminal, and it will be open to the public through July 6, 2008. On Saturday, April 5th, the Transit Museum and MTA Arts for Transit will team up with Metro-North to present a unique tour of artwork at Grand Central Terminal and select stations along the Hudson Line. Arts for Transit staff will be joined by artists who will talk about art and design in transit facilities and discuss details of the transit art projects inspired by each community. You can find more details and learn more about the New York Transit Museum, located in Brooklyn Heights, and its Gallery Annex at Grand Central Station, here at the Museum's webpage.

Photo by David Iliff, for WikiMedia. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Click here to see a larger image of the photo, and click here to see more awesome photos by David Iliff. Many thanks to Roxanne Robertson, Director for Special Projects for the New York Transit Museum, for bringing the 25th anniversary of Metro-North and the exhibit to my attention.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Urban living is making a comeback

In an article for the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly provocatively titled "The Next Slum?", Christopher B. Leinberger asserts that the subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life, he writes, may turn today’s McMansions into tomorrow’s tenements.

"For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay."

The suburbs that he writes about are relatively new developments in the South, MidWest, and West, far from any commercial centers or public transportation. The urban centers that Leinberger mentions are places like White Plains, where a luxury condo sells for $750 per square foot, compared to a luxury single family home in suburban Westchester, which can sell for $375 per square foot. The Greater Danbury region doesn't quite fit either profile, although I recall reading last year that the newest development on the NY state line features homes that sell for over $1 million. But developers are also starting to find ways to bring the city to the suburbs, and provide an alternative to conventional, car-based suburban life. "Lifestyle centers"—walkable developments that create an urban feel with narrow streets, storefronts that come to the sidewalk, and a mix of residential and commercial use, are becoming popular with some builders. In other words, they are trying to recreate the experience of living in a small New England town. Danbury never quite lost that feel, although it was touch-and-go there for a while in the 80s after the Mall was built.

So here we are on the cutting edge of the latest trend. There are already signs, with the new downtown parking garage and the restoration of 238 Main Street, which, by the way, is now accepting applications for the new apartments being created on the upper floors. There is the truly awesome news that the Palace Theatre will be partly re-opened for this year's film festival (and perhaps beyond?). I was not able to attend First Night this year, but I've seen the photos of the interior of the Palace lobby, and all the art deco trim and light fixtures that I remembered are still there. The Warner Theatre in Torrington will have nothing on us once the Palace reopens.

And I think there's still hope for that big empty parking lot that was once the site of the first Danbury Mall, and which is within walking distance of the Metro North train station and the HART pulse point. Leinberger writes that "housing at Belmar, the new "downtown" in Lakewood, Colorado, a middle-income inner suburb of Denver, commands a 60 percent premium per square foot over the single-family homes in the neighborhoods around it. The development covers about 20 small blocks in all. What’s most noteworthy is its history: it was built on the site of a razed mall."

Friday, February 08, 2008

What's the opposite of "smart growth"?

Think you're seeing a lot of these now? You'll be seeing even more of them this year.

On Wednesday night the Danbury Common Council voted 19-2 to allow the Danbury Police Department to be trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to "handle" undocumented immigrants. The exact details of the deal are not known at this time. The Council voted on the proposal with nothing in writing, as I understand it, so we don't really know just yet exactly what we have committed to do.

I'll be the first to admit that Danbury has problems. But undocumented immigrant workers are just a symptom, not a cause. If we had put the brakes on runaway growth 20 years ago, we wouldn't be where we are today. If we hadn't built the mall, which nearly destroyed the downtown, if we didn't allow developers to build on spec, if we had put the brakes on the McMansions and the condos, if we had supported local farmers instead of forcing them to sell to developers, if we had refused to widen the roads or add any new ones... then Danbury might still be a small town where everyone knows each other. The old stores—Howland's, the shoe store Markoff's (took me a few hours to remember the name), Woolworth's...—they might still be around. It might be a little boring, but it would be stable. Maybe the kids wouldn't stay here after high school, but I'm not sure they do now anyway.

But stablity doesn't buy a second house on the Cape. Stability doesn't buy that sports car. Stability doesn't put gas in the SUV. And stability doesn't make anyone a millionaire. No, there must be constant—or even accelerating—growth, sort of like a shark. And so that's where we are.

So what does this have to do with immigrant workers and cheap labor? Just who did we think was going to fill the vacuum created downtown by the Mall? Did we think that Danbury would just quietly roll up the streets and die? Well, it came pretty close. There are still a couple of office buildings that have never been fully occupied, having been built at just the wrong time, but are inexplicably still standing. Who did we think was going to maintain the landscapes for all the new developments? And who was going to clean all the new McMansions? Who did we think was going to shop at Wal*Mart? Have you ever walked around downtown New Canaan, Ridgefield, or Redding? Can you even find Redding Center? Can you imagine any of those towns letting developers put condos anywhere there is a sliver of land? Of course not. But Danbury does.

Without cheap immigrant labor, who's going to clean those condos and maintain those yards and build those stone walls? Are we going to bus in unemployed workers from NYC... having first checked their identity papers, of course? Or are we going to stop, take a deep breath, and look at where we are and how we got here?

That's the picture as I see at the local level. At the national level, Jim Hightower has said it better than I ever could, in this article titled "Immigrants Come Here Because Globalization Took Their Jobs Back There."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

No Impact Man On Community and Smart Growth

No Impact Man and his family just completed a year-long experiment in minimizing their impact on the environment. They shut off the electricity, walked or rode a bicycle everywhere, and ate only food that was grown or raised within 100 miles of their home in New York City. In the course of the year, they rediscovered community, which is something that those of us who spend an hour or more in our cars each day may have thought had been lost forever. One of No Impact Man's messages is that community hasn't been lost, it's just been misplaced. In yesterday's post, he talks about community, and how it relates to "smart growth."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

226 Main Street

Union Savings Bank moved into this building, designed by the New York City firm of Berg & Clark, on Tuesday, March 29, 1887, after the first floor was completed. You can read more about the history of Union Savings Bank here.

"Intuition is not raw feeling. When you turn design over to intuition, you imbue the design with a system of proportions. Proportion, how one shape relates to another, is at the center of the old way of seeing. Mastery of proportion demonstrates a kind of judgment that goes far beyond what your "practical" side knows how to do. In a sense, using intuition is far more practical than any other method of design. Intellect calculates effect, intuition organizes shapes. Effect has its place; function has its place; keeping the rain out has its place. But we are too good at keeping the rain out; it is almost the only thing we do. The goal of design is not to find the correct proportions; the goal is to express life. It is not necessary, it can be counterproductive, to try to be lively, interesting, mysterious. To make a building that comes alive, it is, above all, necessary to play among the patterns.


"When we visit the old towns, when we go into an ancient cathedral, when we see a masterpiece by a twentieth-century architect, we notice something most of our buildings lack. As we look at these places we know something is absent from the everyday buildings of our time—the suburban house, the office building, the mall. And we accept this lack. We may complain about it, but in the end, we don't expect our buildings to have that spark we see in the buildings of the past. Theorists tell us we should accept the "Ugly and Ordinary" building. We assume there must be an unbridgeable gap between what our age builds and what was once produced with a light touch, as a matter of course. But there were once, and there can be again, interesting, even magical, ordinary buildings."

Jonathan Hale, The Old Way Of Seeing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2008

"There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war."

Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam, delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 1967, at Manhattan’s Riverside Church. Click here for the full text and a portion of the audio of the speech.

NOTE: I have replaced the original image with one that I found at the Images of 20th Century African American Activists page at the Library of Congress website. These images are all believed to be in the public domain unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Myers Briggs in 5 Minutes

It's still intersession at school, and instead of all the web programming projects I had lined up, I've been learning the ins and outs of selling on eBay and Amazon in an effort to make ends meet for this one last year of graduate school. (Seller name firstgentrekkie on both, if you're interested.) So I haven't been out taking pictures lately, although I did snap a few photos of Monday morning's snowfall. It almost looks like I had the camera in B&W mode, doesn't it?

I learned about this website from librarian blogger Helene Blowers at LibraryBytes. I took the full-blown Myers Briggs test about 20 or 25 years ago, and as I recall I was much more centered then. It seems that age has made me more introverted, more perceptive, and less judgmental. I'm still pegged as an engineering type, though. I guess some personality aspects are immutable.

Click to view my Personality Profile page