I wanted to post this when it came out but life intervened. A couple weeks ago, New Republic reported on the sad tale of exurban town Elwood, Ill., and the "opportunity" they seized on with a giant intermodal freight terminal in 2002:
Fifteen years before Amazon’s HQ2 horserace, Elwood had won the retail lottery. “Nobody envisioned what we have out here,” said Jerry Heinrich, who sat on the board of the planning commission that first apportioned the land for development in the mid-1990s. “It was never anticipated that every major business entity would end up in the area.”
But this corporate valhalla turned out to be hell for the community, which suffered a concentrated dose of the indignities and disappointments of late capitalism in the 21st century. Instead of abundant full-time work, a regime of partial, precarious employment set in. Temp agencies flourished, but no restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores ever came, save for the recent addition of a dollar store. Tens of thousands of semis rumbled through Will County every day, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. And as the town of Elwood scrambled to pave its potholes, its inability to collect taxes from the facilities plunged it into more than $30 million in debt.
And that was before Big Tech rolled in. Just four years ago Amazon didn’t even have one facility in the region; now, with five fulfillment centers, it’s the county’s largest employer. Growth, once arithmetic, became exponential. Plans were made to build a new facility, this one bigger than the original Intermodal, with room for some 35 million additional square feet of industrial space.
It's astounding, but not surprising, that this would happen. And more than just a cautionary story about getting more than you bargained for, it should remind people that voting in local elections matters a lot.
Slate explains how Chicago's Deep Tunnel project has relieved the city of the worst effects of rainstorms—but just isn't adequate for the new, wetter climate:
The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.
“The [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District] designed a system of sewers, tunnels, and reservoirs for a city that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Karen Hobbs, a former deputy environmental commissioner in Chicago who oversaw the creation of the city’s climate plan and now works as a policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council. Metropolitan Chicago is no longer the place it was in 1960. The weather isn’t what it was then either. It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.
“It’s a marvel,” Hobbs adds. “But we have this tendency in this country to think we can build our way out of stuff. And we can’t always build our way out.”
Belatedly, the city has started using porous pavement in alleys and encouraging other ways of keeping water out of the sewers.
The Chicago Tribune's architecture critic does not like the current proposal for the new Lincoln Yards development and its nine 120 m–plus buildings:
It would be dramatically out of scale with its surroundings, piercing the delicate urban fabric of the city’s North Side with a swath of downtown height and bulk. It also would be out of character with its environs, more Anytown than Our Town.
And that’s what the debate over Lincoln Yards is really about — not just the zoning change the developers seek, which would reclassify their land from a manufacturing district to a mixed-use waterfront zone, but urban character.
What kind of city are we building? Who is it for? Does it have room for the small and the granular as well as the muscular and the monumental?
The 180 m towers that line South Wacker Drive barely make an impression because they exist in the shadow of the 442 m Willis Tower. Alongside Armitage and the rest of west Lincoln Park, a tower of that size is a monster.
Cities need to grow and change, but this is the sort of incongruous Dodge City growth you expect in Houston, a city infamous for its lack of zoning.
And it could have lasting consequences, likely worsening the traffic congestion that already plagues streets like Clybourn and North avenues.
I just read The Battle for Lincoln Park while in London this week. That book talked about the period from around 1930 to around 1970, when affluent white rehabbers east of Larrabee battled the less-affluent, mixed-ethnicity residents west of Larrabee for control over the character of the neighborhood. Both lost; large commercial developers won. Note to Blair Kamin: History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.
Just a quick post of articles I want to load up on my Surface at O'Hare:
Off to take Parker to boarding. Thence the Land of UK.
Citylab has a list:
Georges-Eugène, Baron Haussmann, 1809-1891
It’s hard to overstate the urban legacy of Baron Haussmann, prefect of the Seine during the reign of France’s Emperor Napoleon III. Between 1853 and 1870, Haussmann used his authoritarian mandate to transform the medieval Paris into the paragon of a modern city.
He ran broad new boulevards through maze-like old neighborhoods to slow the spread of disease and improve transportation (and, some historians have said, make it easier for troops to put down the armed rebellions that erupted in the French capital). The buildings that replaced the medieval quarters—with five or six stories and mansard roofs—have since become symbols of Paris and his remaking of it. Haussmann placed grand, secular monuments strategically along the sight lines of the new boulevards, and created parks and squares. New sewer and gas lines improved sanitation and, virtually overnight, transformed Paris into the City of Light.
There are 14 others, including Jane Jacobs and her arch-nemesis Robert Moses.
CityLab describes new Daily Parker bait:
When a new rail or bus line gets built in the United States, its mere opening is often cause for celebration among transit advocates. That’s understandable, given the funding gaps and political opposition that often stymie projects.
But not all trains are bound for glory, and it’s often not hard to see why. In the new book, Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit (Island Press, $40), Christof Spieler, a Houston-based transit planner, advocate, and former METRO board member, takes stock of the state of American transit with a tough-love approach. In nearly 250 pages of full-color maps, charts, and encyclopedia-style entries, Spieler profiles the 47 American metropolitan regions that have rail or bus rapid transit to show what works, what doesn’t, and why.
But a dunk-fest this is not. Spieler highlights several examples of cities that are often commonly described as transit failures, but where the data tells another story. “Though Los Angeles’ first rail system was gone by 1963, it left a city that is still friendly to transit,” he writes of the iconically car-oriented city. And who knew that Buffalo, New York, and Fort Collins, Colorado, have transit systems to admire? The former may have the shortest and most oddly configured light-rail system in the country, but as it turns out, “Metro Rail outperforms most of the light-rail lines in the United States,” Spieler writes. (It’s also laden with glorious public art, as CityLab’s Mark Byrnes recently noted.) And Fort Collins has top-quality BRT for its size.
So, do I waive the rule against buying more books until half of this shelf is empty? Or do I hold fast and get this book when it goes paperback in a year or two?
And finally, when can I take a nap?
Another problem with open-plan office spaces, according to comedian JiJi Lee: it's hard to find a place to sob. She suggests some:
By your C.E.O.’s work station: Flatten hierarchies by sobbing in front of your company leader. Open offices were made to foster communication, so introduce yourself and say, “Hi, I'll never make as much money as you!”
The center of the office: The company doesn’t believe in walls, so why build one around your emotions? Let it go and play the “Frozen” soundtrack while you’re at it. Do a cartwheel that turns into a split and then cry onto Colleen’s emotional support dog. You have the space for it! After all, the company wanted to increase productivity and you’ve never been more efficient with your crying in your life.
The restroom: This is where everyone goes to cry. Anticipate long lines.
At least my office has a coat closet. But it's very small.
I didn't have a moment to write any code from 9am until now, so my lunch will include doing the stuff I didn't do in all those meetings. At some point I'll get to these:
Now, back to writing code, as soon as I make yet another vet appointment for my bête noir.
New Republic's Alex Shepherd lays out how the Amazon HQ2 "sweepstakes" is a scam that will not do what Amazon claimed:
The company not only garnered free, widespread publicity, but also drove up its asking price, as some competitors raised their bids by billions. It’s possible that the plan all along was not to open a second headquarters, but to open two, smaller satellites. What’s unlikely, however, is that the deals being offered to Amazon will change significantly, even though the company is effectively halving their investment.
Amazon has already faced backlash for its handling of HQ2. The $1 trillion company is hardly in need of public handouts, and yet it has benefited greatly from taxpayer dollars in recent years. It may have sensed there would be further backlash over its decision, which would explain why the news broke on the eve of the midterm elections, effectively burying it. Unlike other localities, which made their offers public, not much is known about the bids from New York City and Virginia. But the public scrutiny of HQ2 will only intensify as the details—and the social consequences of HQ2—become clear.
Amazon likely chose Washington and New York for obvious reasons, making the pageantry surrounding the yearlong search for an HQ2 site all the more absurd. These are attractive places to work, and, as national hubs of politics and media respectively, they influence the national discussion. But they’re also among just a handful of major cities that could meet Amazon’s needs, in terms of infrastructure and talent. That was always true, and the company cleverly exploited it, using cities that never stood a chance to extract concessions from the few that did.
But all this was obvious from the start. And it does not make anyone look good.