The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Then and now

Chicago historian John R. Schmidt frequently has "Then and Now" features where he shows a part of the city as it appeared when he was a kid against how it appears now. I just found a trove of historical photos produced by the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, including a few dozen from my neighborhood, so I can play the same game.

Here's the intersection of Sheridan, Broadway, and Montrose, looking west down Montrose, from March 1936, more than 80 years ago:

Here's this past Tuesday:

Though some of the details have changed, both buildings flanking the north side of Broadway still exist. But the Wilson Yard development, from 2006, has taken over most of the area between Broadway and the El tracks. And past the El, the mature trees have changed the character of Montrose.

Another thing I notice about photos of Chicago and other U.S. cities before about 1990: the haze. Starting in the 1970s in California and the 1980s elsewhere, governments cracked down on air pollution. Chicago in 1936 would have been intolerably polluted to Millennials. The top photo gives a hint of why.

Neither spire nor park shall be

What was to be the tallest building in the hemisphere, the Chicago Spire, now can't seem even to become a proper park because of the bickering:

When plans for the twisting downtown skyscraper known as the Spire died, so, too, did the project to turn a weedy nearby lakefront lot into a park named for Chicago's first non-native settler, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.

And there doesn't seem to be a timeline for developing the 3-acre stretch on the north side of the Chicago River where it feeds into Lake Michigan into DuSable Park, as has been the plan for nearly three decades. The land has been designated as DuSable Park but is waiting to be developed into green space, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman said.

For years the park was linked to the Spire development, which would have used the park site as a temporary construction staging area while the skyscraper was built. But neither the Spire nor the park got developed.

Ah, well. Chicago was great once, and will be again. Just not yet.

Retrenchment; or, remember the 1950s

On this day in 1954, the Supreme Court handed down Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which ended "separate but equal" education after finding that the two concepts are antagonistic. Also on this day in 1954, the City of Chicago announced plans for the Stateway Gardens housing project, which eventually replaced an African-American slum with a high-rise hell-on-earth housing African Americans. As historian John R. Schmidt comments, "Maybe the new public housing projects were an attempt to keep Black people on 'their side of the tracks.'" (They were; he's being sarcastic.)

A similar pattern exists today. Despite historic, unprecedented support for the LGBT community throughout most of the U.S., the right has taken on the non-existent issue of predators in bathrooms to win votes in an election year. The small minority of people who (a) care about this issue and (b) are afraid of gays nevertheless has support from latter-day Sheriff Clark figures like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans.

Progress is never smooth. I just wish people on the wrong side of history would get out of the way sometimes.

Things in my Inbox

Some articles:

Today's other tasks include cleaning my house and writing code for about four hours.

Learning from past successes, city planning edition

Engineer Jeff Speck is dismayed that his home town, Lowell, Mass., is planning to replace an unattractive and un-walkable street with an equally-un-walkable design:

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across an article earlier this month about the city’s plans for its southern gateway, the Lord Overpass. This site is particularly important to Lowell, being an area of major redevelopment as well as the key link from the train station (at right in the image below) to downtown (beyond the canal to the left). This collection of streets—a squared traffic circle floating above a highway—is due for reconstruction, and the city came up with the smart idea of putting the depressed highway back up at grade to create more of an urban boulevard condition.

So, let’s zoom in and describe what we see:

  • Four lanes dedicated to motion straight through, just like the now-submerged highway;
  • Three lanes dedicated to turning motions, two of which swoop around the edges in great curves;
  • Two dedicated bus lanes, each about 17 feet wide, curb-to-curb. (A bus is 8 1/2 feet wide, so perhaps the goal is to squeeze two past each other?);
  • Bike lanes that are partly protected, partly unprotected, and partly merged into the bus lanes;
  • A collection of treeless concrete wedges, medians, and “pork chops” directing the flow of vehicles;
  • No parallel parking on either the main road or any of the roads intersecting it; and
  • Green swales lining the streets, resulting in set-back properties to the one side and open space to the other. (Note that the open space at the bottom of the drawing is too shallow to put a building on.)

The engineering drawings are horrifying. As Speck says, to the engineering firm Lowell hired, everything looks like a nail.

What's wrong with Chicago?

In the wake of last week's news that Chicago lost close to 0.2% of its population last year, Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton says it's not too bad here:

Maybe it's time to face the truth: Chicago has been in a downward spiral lately and our reputation is tarnished. We've slipped in a lot of crucial areas and moved to the top of the heap in several areas where we'd prefer not to compete.

For example, we recently learned that our beloved Willis Tower — or Sears Tower as Chicagoans still insist on calling it — had been kicked off the list of the top 10 tallest buildings in the world. We were barely hanging on to the last spot, when Shanghai Tower came in and knocked us to No. 11.

We conceded a once fierce battle with Atlanta for the nation's busiest airport years ago. And now O'Hare International Airport has slipped from another list — travelers no longer rank it as one of the world's 100 best.

There's a little more good news as well, at least for single people looking for love.

Chicago was named the best city for dating in the U.S. by "The Great Love Debate," a national touring event that unites single men and women in the audience with a panel of relationship experts to discuss dating.

And when it comes to deep-dish pizza, we are way ahead of the game. The smart folks at TripAdvisor listed Chicago as No. 1 on the list of the top 10 U.S. pizza cities.

There really are a lot of areas where Chicago deserves its ranking at the bottom of the barrel. But hockey is one of the few areas where we have consistently risen to the top.

But it takes more than a good sports team to keep people from moving away.

Yeah, but a lot of people are also moving here. Remember, 2015 was the first year in 7 that saw net out-migration from Chicago. Let's see what the next few years look like before we write the obituary.

Also, many people leaving Chicago are heading to warm places in the South and Southwest. This is a mistake, and they may be back, particularly when those places get a few degrees warmer—and so does Chicago.

Haven't escaped my notice today

I've been running around all day and only have a couple of minutes to list some things I've read on my phone while running around. All day.

There were a few other things in there, but these were the ones I paid most attention to.

 

Fun with statistics

Multiple news outlets reported today on preliminary Census Bureau numbers for the last year showing Chicago lost more population than any other city in the U.S.:

Census Bureau figures released today show the five collar counties gaining 5,084 residents, not enough to offset the 10,488 decline in Cook County during the period. The population of DuPage and Lake counties decreased slightly. That left Cook County with 5.2 million residents and the six-county region with 8.4 million.

Let's make fun of that, shall we? Chicago lost a little more than 0.2% of its population, which is like my high school losing two people. Or New York losing 30,000. In other words, it's a pretty small number, and it follows 8 years of growth.

Also, given the exponents involved, the 10,488-person decline in population doesn't even move the needle on the total number when expressed in millions. Yes, it left Cook County with 5.2 million residents, but the county started with 5.2 million residents, so...yeah.

Now if we'd lost 50,000, I'd want a news story about that. But I think I might already know.

New Wrigleyville development to begin

Crains reported today that a 0.93-hectare hunk of Addison Street directly across from Wrigley Field will finally become the nightmarish eyesore in the neighborhood the Ricketts family always wanted:

The deal was completed after two foreclosure suits against the seller of the site, Steven Schultz of Preferred Equities, were resolved, Rossi said.

By gaining control of the 2.3-acre site, the M&R venture is on the verge of starting a development first announced by Schultz in 2007, before a real estate crash and foreclosure suits stalled the project.

The development, formerly known as Addison Park on Clark, will cost more than $150 million and include 148 luxury apartments, 405 parking spaces and 150,000 square feet of retail. The retail space will include a movie theater, fitness club and restaurants...

Yeah, but it's huge, it doesn't look like anything around it, and it barely improves upon the vacant buildings and parking lots that occupy the site right now.

Can't wait.

Reading list for this evening

In between four rehearsals and two performances this week (Monday through Sunday), I'm taking tonight off. So while I have a minute or two between helping new developers understand some old code, I'm jotting down this list of things that looked particularly appealing when they came up on RSS feeds:

OK, the new devs are testing something...and more on that later.