We had driven nearly 900 miles over the past two days, blasting back from Canada after a long road trip. Fun was had, but now we wanted to get home. All that stood in our way was a small, homemade sign along 94.
“The Blueberry Patch,” it read. “Exit 12.”
Michigan goes with blueberries like Chicago and pizza. While I like to have a larger point, lurking somewhere, the blueberries were so sweet and so plump and so delicious, and the experience of cruising onto the Skyway popping big, fat, fresh blueberries was so delightful, that I felt somehow responsible for those who will not, as we did, pause to grab blueberries, if not here then somewhere before the season ends in August.
As with all opinions, there is risk. Maybe you’ve been going to Michigan for years, maybe you always stop at the Blueberry Patch and can’t believe anybody on Earth, such as myself, didn’t know about it. Well, lucky you. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take, in order to spread the world: The blueberries are here! Exit 12. Follow the signs. You won’t regret it.
Rails to trails
There is much to do in New York City, and, having been there many times, I happily let the boys decide where to go. We visited the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Times Square, Central Park — the usual.
To my vast surprise, chance dictated that I pick one activity, and I suggested we walk the High Line. To my even vaster surprise, everyone agreed.
The High Line is a park — a long, thin park, set atop an abandoned elevated rail line, beginning at West 20th Street and running nine blocks south. It has well-tended wildflowers, prairie grasses, bistro tables and chairs, wooden chaises, working water fountains and undestroyed restrooms with soap in the dispensers, cool gray footpaths, slotted at points to allow nature to poke through, the vista of the city all around and sections of the original rails left in place to underscore the whole gritty-transport-gone-to-black-eyed-Susan’s motif.
“This is a beautiful idea!” enthused my wife.
People hiked and jogged and sunned and read — no bikes or dogs allowed. Because block after block of flowers might get old, interspersed along the way are conceptual art pieces. But unlike so much public art, these weren’t jarring or stupid, but subtle and interesting.
For instance, Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell for Every Minute” is exactly what its name suggests. An installation inside a huge train shed where, once a minute, the recording of a bell peals from samples gathered around the city — at 36 minutes past the hour, the Union Square 14th Street subway bell; at 37 minutes past, the Central Park Tennis Center signal bell; and so on, until 59 after, marked with the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
Maybe you had to be there, but it was sweet, almost lovely.
The High Line obviously cost money, both to build and to maintain. The greenery has to be tended, and there’s security to provide — three energetic kids with spray paint cans could wreck the whole park in an hour. The construction tab was $150 million, and, while that’s a lot, I couldn’t help wondering if we could manage something similar here.
Turns out, Chicago has been working on its own version for years — an abandoned rail line from Elston to Central, running midway between North and Armitage. It’s three miles long and will be called the Bloomingdale Trail.
“We’re definitely moving forward,” said Gia Biagi, director of planning for the Chicago Park District, noting that in September the district is breaking ground at Albany and Whipple for one of the small parks that will augment the trail.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “We want to start building these spaces so people can see what’s coming.”
Provided, of course, the money can be found — the project has already cost between $6 million and $10 million, for land purchases and studies, but the total cost could reach $100 million.
“We’re definitely interested in public/private partnerships,” Biagi said.
Beth White, head of the Chicago office of The Trust for Public Land, said that, unlike the High Line, bikes will be allowed on the Bloomingdale Trail, making it helpful to commuters. Even the planning process, she said, has been beneficial.
“It’s so cool; this is twice as long as the High Line — three miles — and connects Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown,” said White. “Where it used to be something that divided these communities, now the process of creating this is bringing them together.”
Biagi would not speculate as to exactly when Chicagoans might be strolling along the trail.
“It’ll develop in segments and take a while,” she said. “We have this very energized group who care very much about the line.”
“I’m an optimist,” said White. “I do think [it’ll be completed] in the next three to five years.”
Me, I’m no optimist, but I do hope they pull it off. As someone sensitive to the gathering fiscal doom, I’m normally against anything that smacks of unnecessary spending. But Millennium Park taught us there is money in delightful urban amenities — 2 million people visited the High Line in its first year.
Besides, all those city workers who will be laid off in years to come will need an attractive public place to stroll in while contemplating our uncertain future.
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