January 27, 2008

Rick Barbrick has Bloomington "in his blood." After attending IU in the early '70s, he returned to his college town in February 1997 to open Dharma Emporium, a "psychedelic museum, gift shop and fashion boutique."

Now, 10 years later, he has decided to close his store. The Kirkwood Avenue building where Dharma Emporium is located changed hands about a year ago, and since then Barbrick's rent has been hiked from $1,200 to $1,600 a month.

"I'm closing in October of next year when my lease expires," Barbrick said. "I'm just convinced my rent would go up again by a considerable amount if I renegotiated with the new landlord."

January 27, 2008

You've no doubt heard of the General Electric Corp.'s plans to shutter its refrigerator plant, located on the far west side of Bloomington. The shutdown would eliminate the remaining 900 or so workers (down from a high of over 3,000 just a few years ago) and mothball the giant factory complex.

It's really no surprise in a community and nation that has seen a steady erosion in its manufacturing base over the past 40 years, and especially since passage of 1994's North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the permanent granting of Most Favored Nation status to China in 2000.

And it's a path that Monroe County has been down a number of times before. Our electrical-industry-based manufacturing sector, once a dominant economic force, has withered away with the closings of the RCA/Thomson television plant (the largest in the world at the time of its 1998 move from Bloomington to Mexico); the eliminating of manufacturing at the Otis Elevator plant; the closing of the giant, and wholly contaminated, Westinghouse/ABB plant; and dozens of others from ATR Coil to Sarkes Tarzian.

January 13, 2008

Sallyann Murphey did not plan on being a teacher. With a degree in politics and modern history, she started her career as a journalist and producer for the BBC. In 1991, she and her family moved to a farm in Brown County. Murphey enrolled her daughter in Harmony School, and her career changed direction.

She questioned her daughter's social studies curriculum and brought her concerns to the school. But instead of being brushed off, she was invited to teach her own class. Seven years later, she finds herself both teaching at Harmony School and working as an advocate on behalf of the school and its mission.

Murphey is passionate about Harmony School's practices. She believes in the school's mission and works to create other schools around the country that accept and support its ideas.

January 13, 2008

"Make getting welfare as hard as getting a building permit" -- bumper sticker seen on a car in downtown Bloomington.

A ridiculous notion, of course. A building permit is obtained in an hour or so with no more than a visit to downtown Bloomington and the county's building department. Welfare, of which the overwhelming portion is dispensed to children, is immeasurably less available.

But the impression left by the bumper sticker is a common and widely held, if wildly inaccurate, one. The impression that, even here in Indiana, a faceless cabal of bureaucrats, liberals and fellow-travelers sit astride a giant machine of development impermission, dictating how and when the built environment can happen, but mostly dictating that it can't.


January 13, 2008

It feels odd to be welcoming readers to the first edition of The Bloomington Alternative in the new year, given that it’s mid-January and all. But we’ve been on a much-deserved break and haven’t been around much since the calendar flipped. So, welcome.

I’ve been doing this too long to call what I’m about to share a “preview” of what’s to come in 2008. Far too much can happen in 12 months to be so presumptuous, and the year is already 1/24th gone. But I will give you some insights into our general bearing, anyway.

In terms of Web presence, I’m pleased to report the Alternative is growing rapidly. In December, we averaged one page being opened somewhere on our site every 20 seconds of every day. And now that folks have settled back into their daily routines, traffic thus far in January is up 35 percent over December.

December 16, 2007

Buff Brown's alarm clock buzzed at 4:30 a.m. the entire week of Sept. 26 to Oct. 2, 2006. He woke up and got dressed each day before he started the task that required him to wake so early, surveying downtown Bloomington's three parking garages.

Brown, the founder and president of Bloomington Transportation Options for People (BTOP), chose the 5 a.m. shift to survey how many cars were parked in the parking garages.

"At 5 a.m. it was pretty dead, and it was dark and cold," said Brown of his survey experience. "There was a cleaning guy the first day at one of the garages who saw me and asked me what I was doing, and after that he didn't bother me for the rest of the week."

What Brown was doing was gathering data that went into BTOP's groundbreaking 2006 Downtown Parking Garage Survey. This survey's results generated a community discussion about downtown parking. But the discussion has not transformed into tangible actions, according to Brown and BTOP.

December 16, 2007

Sitting at a messy desk inside her tiny office enclosed by curtains, Jaime Sweany laughs at the fake Turtle University diploma that hangs on the wall. The diploma says she is a "Master of Turtles."

Sweany, 49, is the master of turtles at Wandering Turtle in downtown Bloomington. She's no stranger to owning a small business and the challenges that go with it. Before opening the Wandering Turtle in 2003, she owned two other small businesses in Bloomington -- Wild Birds Unlimited and Illuminessence Photography.

"I've never had a real big business," says Sweany. "I owned Wild Birds Unlimited for about seven-and-a-half years. It was still a small business, but it was probably a more established business."

December 5, 2007

After an amazingly extended warm period, we finally got the cold temperatures that are expected during the holidays. By now, I hope all gardens have been put to bed, and gardeners take ample time to reflect upon the past year.

As an organic gardener, I have many memories of the year's growing season: the extremes of temperature, the ice storm, the drought, the survival (or demise) of plants, shrubs and trees. All brought lessons with them.

It may seem a distant memory, but spring 2007 was challenging. March suffered a deep freeze on the 4th and then a devastating ice storm on the 13th. Surviving that challenge, plants faced an early warming trend - unseasonably warm. Then, in early April, we had a deep, extended freeze.

December 5, 2007

Even though I know this piece is a farewell to some, it's really an announcement of a new phase in the ongoing experiment in new-media journalism called The Bloomington Alternative.

Yes, the Dec. 5 issue will be the last Alternative print edition. And I've heard from enough loyal readers who crave that newsprint in their hands to know that we're going to lose them if we don't keep a print publication on the street (an eventuality that has not been ruled out).

But while the thought of losing readers is an anathema to any writer -- it sets pinched nerve endings ablaze, actually -- the truth is, for a multitude of reasons, it's time to let go of the old media and more fully embrace the new.

November 21, 2007

Dave Rollo didn't deliver a lot of good news during a recent conversation about the potential impacts of "peak oil" on the Bloomington community.

The evidence is abundant that the world is at or near the point at which petroleum supplies start to decline, the Bloomington city councilman said, bolstering his arguments with charts on his laptop showing trends in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing regions.

And oil isn't the only resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. Rollo just returned from a peak oil conference at which Richard Heinberg, author of a new book called Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, spoke.

"It's not just peak oil," Rollo said. "It's peak water, peak metals, peak food, peak grain, peak soil."

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