The Laneways

Good morning, folks. Coming out of this morning’s iGov meeting, I had an idea that I wanted to run past people, something that might help out some of our struggling businesses. (This is mainly aimed at locals, though others with relevant experience are welcome to weigh in!)

In Melbourne, there’s an area called the Laneways. (Also sometimes referred to as the arcades.) This is a vibrant shopping district in the alleys behind buildings. It is utterly charming, full of cute little restaurants and tiny shops, plus lots of great graffiti-style street art. I think sometimes businesses split the back of their space to rent to a separate business that operates out of the alleyway, and sometimes it’s all the same business, street side and alley side.

We’ve had a tough time here with street construction + COVID seriously affecting local businesses. I heard that while some businesses are about to have to close down their sidewalk patios for construction, they may be allowed to set up alleyway options.

I think that’s great, but I’m a little worried that unless there’s a concerted effort to support that, people just won’t even think of venturing into the alley to find their open-air dining (and I know it’s rainy today, but with a canopy, I think you could eat outside for another month at least, maybe more with a patio heater or two?)

I’m wondering whether we could use a local community group to work on a Laneways project here, something that might extend beyond the pandemic time, and add a rich additional bit of cultural bustle to the shopping districts. It would beautify the relevant alleys too. They might have to shut down for winter, but once the pandemic is no longer an issue, hanging walls might also help extend the season.

I’m trying to think about what downsides might be. Would neighbors object? It’d be a little extra noise in the alley, but that might be counteracted by additional safety with more people around. It’d likely feel a bit more urban, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing?

This is just a brainstorming post (cross-posted to Shop Local Oak Park and Oak Park Development Watch, as well as my own wall). I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.

If it seems worth pursuing, I’m envisioning a coalition of business owners and interested consumers coming together to discuss and shape the project, defining parameters of a first test alley or two, to present a plan to the Village Board for their approval, to perhaps raise funds to help businesses who need financial assistance with supplies, but mostly to help get the word out and patronize those businesses once it’s up and running.

(I cannot take on another thing to run, but I’d be happy to be part of the committee, at least for the initial brainstorming, which is my strong suit. :-))

Photos of Melbourne’s Laneways for inspiration.

Zoom Guidelines

I’m sort of glopping together various Zoom guides I see, will keep editing this to make something that works for my classes:

During our optional (but likely very helpful) Zoom calls, it’ll help if you stick to the following guidelines:

1. Log on to Zoom at least 5-10 minutes in advance in case of any technical or logistical issues, and also to enable assignment to breakout groups prior to the beginning of class.

2. Add your pronouns next to your name in your Zoom window

3. You’re encouraged to turn your camera on (when possible / comfortable); it makes for better class interaction if most cameras are turned on. Feel free to use virtual backgrounds if you like.

4. Decide how you will take notes while keeping the Zoom screen open; remember to have the chat window open too, and please feel free to converse with your classmates there.
(Note: All Zoom chat with the host is public and recorded in the transcript, even what appears to be private, and private chats are sent to the host.)

5. If you are having technical difficulties, or know you will be late, make sure to send an e-mail to the professor BEFORE class begins.

6. Mute yourself unless you are speaking. (Your host also has the power to mute you.)

7. You hopefully won’t need to purchase any additional equipment. Your phone or computer’s built-in microphone is typically sufficient. A set of headphones with a microphone offers a slight improvement in microphone quality.

8. Try to not to walk/move from room to room. If you must do so, turn off your video while you relocate. Once you’re settled again, you can turn on your video again.

9. If you arrive mid-discussion, try not to interrupt.

10. If you click participants, you can see a list of who’s there, and that also will let you click ‘raise hand’ or ‘lower hand’. I’ll try to keep watch for that, but you can also raise your actual hand, if you have video on.

11. We’re all responsible for maintaining a functioning video call. No one is criticizing you when reminding you of meeting etiquette – mute your mic, wait your turn etc.

12. Any pets or children that interrupt should be introduced. You are encouraged to call them your coworker.

And I’m Crying Now

Got an e-mail from the Dublin WorldCon of last year, a totally routine sort of thing, updates and reminders to vote on future WorldCons, etc., and I’m crying now.

It is NOT IMPORTANT given everything else, but I was supposed to be heading to New Zealand with Jed Hartman next week for this year’s WorldCon, and I really really really love travel, and this is hard.

Roshani asked me what I was doing for my birthday on Sunday, and I didn’t know what to answer. What I want to do is get on a plane and go somewhere strange and new.

I might take the family camping. But I like camping and they’re not so sure, so it might end up a lot of mama-work with a bunch of complaining on the other end, which doesn’t sound very birthday-ish.

If you know of a very socially distanced B&B or Air B&B or some such, with water where we can kayak, recommendations would be welcome. Within 4-hr drive of Oak Park. Ideally available one of the next three weekends, or during the week of August 9th, when I’m going to try to give myself a break from work for a few days.

Lives Are on the Line

We seem to be holding at around 3 new Covid-19 cases / day in Oak Park right now. (This week. It may go up next week. No promises.)

[Editing to note, per comments elsewhere, that that’s probably underreported, so may well be more like 15-30 new cases / day.]

Oak Park is a town of 52,000, roughly, which means that when I think about risk assessment, it seems like oh, it’s really not that likely that I’m going to catch coronavirus if I go and have coffee with a friend outdoors. I’ve actually just made my first outside restaurant coffee date in 6 months, for next Monday, and I’m kind of stupid excited about it. (Please wear masks when not actively eating / drinking in restaurants, esp. if your server is coming by — try to help reduce the risk to servers.)

And yet at the same time, the only reason we have that low a rate, is because mostly, we have high mask usage, and lots of people sheltering-in-place quite a bit more than IL requires right now. We’re surfing the coronavirus wave, trying to maintain balance, and it’s such a strange process of attempting even equilibrium.

Of course, it would be even better if we could crush the wave completely, but we’re balancing that against the serious damage to the economy, to people keeping their sanity, their jobs, their kids’ schooling and childcare intact. Kev and I are in a fortunate position compared to many.

Our community FB groups are seeing more and more heartbreaking admissions from people that they can’t feed their families and don’t know how they’re going to make rent. (Locals — please look at Oak Park Mutual Aid, Beyond Hunger, and Housing Forward if this applies to you. Don’t let embarrassment hold you back — you didn’t ask for a global disaster. We have to help each other.)

Our kids have friends whose parents are sending them back to school, not wanting to, but because they don’t know how they’d possibly manage childcare otherwise. We thought about whether we could offer to take on some of that childcare, but the idea of trying to manage supervising younger kids on our porch with social distancing and mask wearing just seemed beyond our capabilities — esp. since Kevin and I are actually still working full-time or more, even if from home.

And essential workers are still walking into fire, and now teachers are too, and I honestly don’t know where to draw these lines, how much is the right amount to do to try to flatten that wave, or crush it entirely.

As much as I can bear, is mostly what we’ve been doing so far. How can I deliberately increase the risk, knowing that I have so many friends who are immune-compromised or otherwise at high risk?

But there’s a point where I start asking if particular efforts are actually of much utility — my avoiding having a coffee with a friend outdoors, for example. What does it do, exactly, if we have 3 new cases / day, with 52,000 people in my town? Are those cases clustered anywhere? Without serious contact-tracing and massive testing, it’s so hard to know if any individual effort is effective / worthwhile.

That’s what’s making me most frustrated right now. We have so much guesswork here, because our government isn’t allocating the resources necessary to do this right, and all of us are being crushed under that wave as a result.

No answers, just a lot of frustration.

Please, please, please vote in November. Look at which states have done well with this (Illinois, where I live, has done very well, comparatively). Look at what various governors have done, listen to what candidates are saying about how they plan to handle things going forward, how they’d spend the states’ money, your money.

Now is the time to start paying attention to your local elections, where people are getting ready to become candidates for school board, city council, townships and park districts. All of these structures have parts to play in fighting the pandemic.

Budgets are moral documents. Lives are on the line.

Shopping in My Dreams

I had a dream where I went to the grocery store and only when I was checking out after an hour of shopping did I realize that I had forgotten to wear a mask and no one else in the store was wearing a mask, and I woke partway up, a little panicky, but then I told myself firmly that I would never be that silly, and I went back to sleep.

Feeling lucky that I live in an area with relatively high mask usage. Anand and I are going to put on masks and go for our morning walk now.

Major Negotiations

Cut-and-pasted from a local mom group: “This week the US House and Senate will be in major negotiations about the next phase of COVID relief, and stuff on the table includes funding for school COVID safety expenses, continuing the unemployment insurance expansion (currently due to expire 7/31), increasing food assistance, and expanding some tax credits that particularly help lower income families with kids.

So if this is stuff you’re worried about, call Congress now (they have another break coming up and of course it’s an election year so there’s pressure to get this done fast). Tell your friends and families.”

The Year We Lost to the Pandemic

Another kantha bookmark from mask fabric scraps (on top of a kantha quilt I did not make!).

I’m finding it satisfying, stitching these, making something beautiful and unique out of something that would be otherwise discarded — and also a little sad, a marker of this time.

Years from now, I or someone else will find this and think — oh yes, that was the year we lost to the pandemic.

Small Teaching Online

Hey, parents. I know you’re not teachers, but I also know that a lot of you are super-frustrated at the dearth of information many districts are providing as they scramble to plan and re-plan their fall semesters. You have decisions to make, and it’s very hard with so much uncertainty.

If you’re the kind of person who likes lots of information, and you WANT to know what good online education looks like, I’m finding  “Small Teaching Online” to be very readable, and I think totally something a parent could skim to get a better sense of what good online classes might look like.

Maybe I’ll Have a Breakthrough

I am trying to make my peace with the likely fact that instead of drafting a new novel this summer, my mind will be mostly taken up by thinking about how to do online education better, how to keep the kids engaged and happy and healthy, how to support my community through a pandemic.

I’d planned to start work on it on July 1, and it’s the 18th now, and I haven’t been able to get myself to even open the file.

The novel can wait another year if it must. It’s certainly not the biggest loss, in a season of so much grief, but I have to say, it’s not nothing either.

Well, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough; it’s not quite too late yet. Almost, though.