Suburban blight

As I mentioned last week, I’ve started biking to work again after the winter layoff. This is the first year it’s been consistently warm enough1 to start bicycle commuting in March, and because the frost is still working its way out of the ground, I’ve been leery of taking my normal route on the crushed limestone paths through the Springbrook Prairie Preserve and along the Southern DuPage County Regional Trail. So my way to work has been mostly on sidewalks adjacent to busy roads in Naperville and Aurora. And it’s unrelentingly ugly.

Much of the ugliness is a winter’s worth of garbage that’s floated down gutters and blown up against fences and shrubs and hasn’t been cleaned up by street sweepers and property owners yet. The sidewalks are filled with broken glass flung out of passing cars. In one spot, I pass a dead woodchuck, recently uncovered by the melting snow.

South of the Fox Valley Shopping Mall is a particularly ugly stretch, where a trenching operation dumped mud over half the sidewalk and left the site without cleaning it up.

Some parts of my route aren’t actually ugly, but are signs of decline, nonetheless. West of the muddy sidewalk, still adjacent to Fox Valley, is a blocklong stripmall that was built two years ago and is absolutely pristine because it hasn’t had a single tenant.

Local kids come to skateboard in the parking lot and do tricks on the concrete planter walls. Police park at the end of the strip, filling out paperwork and pointing their radar guns out into the streets that border the mall. I ride through the parking lot to get a break from the bump-bump-bump of riding on sidewalks. The big glass storefronts make good mirrors.

On my way home this evening, I decided to get off the busy streets and try the path in Springbrook. The trail was mushy in only a few spots; mostly it was bumpy from the solidified footprints of joggers who had run along the trail when it was all soft. It was slow going and hard pedaling, but it was fun to be away from the streets, if only for a couple of miles.

I stopped to take a picture of this tree.

Last year, I took weekly photos of a few places in Springbrook, hoping to create some interesting sequences. The only subject I was happy with was this tree, and unfortunately I didn’t start photographing it until late June, so the sequence doesn’t cover as much of the tree’s seasonal changes as I’d like. This year I’m getting an earlier start.

  1. If the global warming deniers were intellectually honest, they’d be making as big a deal out of the recent warm weather in the upper Midwest as they did about the East Coast snow in February. But if they were intellectually honest, they wouldn’t be global warming deniers, would they?