Indicators that inspire. That’s what Center for Neighborhood Technology senior vice president Stephen Perkins found at a recent planning meeting in McHenry County (Chicago Wilderness Journal, March). The participants wanted to find indicators of the quality and extent of natural habitats. When they realized that the best areas were home to sandhill cranes, writes Perkins, “the group adopted the number of nesting sandhill cranes as one of their key indicators. Another indicator they chose–this one as a measure of light pollution–was the number of stars that can be seen in the night sky. Both of these indicators are particularly inspired choices because they meet the scientific requirement of verifiability AND have the power to capture the imagination of citizens.”

Are today’s bankers leading a parade back into the Dark Ages? “Today some 12 million U.S. families cannot afford even a simple checking account, which, for those who cannot maintain a minimum balance, costs on average $228 dollars per year,” writes Gustav Peebles in Harper’s (June). “In the nineteenth century, bankers and governments convinced the people to ‘draw the money out of the mattresses’ (where it had been hidden for much of human history) and into the banks with a promise that the money would grow, or at least keep pace with inflation. This win-win covenant was a virtuous circle that helped to build the capitalist system. Now this covenant has, for many, been perverted, in that it is more expensive to keep their money in the bank than out of it.”

“The reduced role of the traditional law library has many large firms creating cafe spaces to make the most of flexible work habits,” reports Molly O’Halloran in Focus (June), published by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “Instead of a basic cafeteria that sits unused for many hours of each day, cafes now have couches and chairs, wireless connections, and a relaxed, warm atmosphere intended to provide a retreat within the workplace.” And if you really need back issues of the Harvard Law Review they’re next to the mustard tray.

Trendspotting. A thesis by William Bouvel, submitted to the University of Chicago geography department in May, argues that what he calls the “historicized urban townhouse” (HUT) represents a “new and powerful challenge to the structure of the urban built environment and the city as we know it.” These new buildings are “historicized” in that they have all the modern conveniences but are made to look old; they’re “urban” in that they’re constructed in multiunit blocks; and they’re “townhouses” because they tend to be tall and narrow. They’re also associated with gentrification, give a bogus impression of rootedness, and add to the suburbanization and privatization of the inner city. “The HUT is caught in a tricky dualism between reinstating traditional urban form that fosters community development and an element of privatization through fences and garages that undermine this community.”

By the numbers. “In Illinois, teachers who don’t have at least a college minor in the class subject are teaching about 15 percent of high school classes in low-poverty schools–and 47 percent of classes in poor schools,” reports the Joyce Foundation’s “Work in Progress” (May). The foundation is funding research by the Education Trust into problems with teacher quality.

“Were Kerry to come out for junking the entire tax code, Karl Rove would have a coronary,” writes Jeff Taylor in the online version of the libertarian magazine Reason (June 21). “Such a Kerry proposal would force Bush to either defend the absurd status quo or counter with a similar overhaul proposal, finally turning the me-tooism tables in Kerry’s favor, for once. Kerry need not even propose a tax overhaul that moves him ‘rightward’ in the conventional sense. Back a consumed-income tax, with all savings exempt from tax, together with an end to all forms of corporate welfare on both the tax and spending side, and Kerry could frame his proposal as a bottom-up reform of Bush’s corporatist leanings.”