The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The future of working from home

The Atlantic's Amanda Mull believes that workers will benefit most from choosing when to work from home or in the office themselves, rather than through corporate policies:

[R]umors of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as have those of its triumphal return. Most companies are still deciding exactly what their post-pandemic workspaces look like, which means many office-going Americans are about to enter a few months of relative freedom during phased, attendance-capped reopenings. Employers are trying to figure out what they can get away with down the line, and workers are trying to figure out what they can demand.

What would be best for most office workers—and what’s most likely to happen for many of them—is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. What’s right for you might end up being a little further in either direction, depending on how social or siloed your job is, or if you’re a particularly extreme introvert or extrovert. But I’m here to argue for a particular baseline: three days in the office, and two at home.

In a 2020 survey from Gensler, an architecture and design firm, more than half of respondents said that they’d ideally split their time between home and the office. (Only 19 percent said that full-time remote work was their ideal setup.) Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between, when all I needed to do was let my brain transition into work mode while I listened to a podcast.

I'm with Mull. As soon as my company allowed it (June 22nd), I went back to the office on Mondays and Fridays, leaving my work laptop at work and my home office desk clear over the weekends. This gave me 5 days a week with Parker and did not seem to cause any loss of productivity. I only stopped after November 2nd in order to spend Parker's last few weeks with him full-time. The office closed again the day before he died, so I stayed home until this past March 1st.

This flexibility, along with not having my work computer on my desk from Thursday night until Tuesday morning, seems like the best balance for me. Cassie only goes to daycare twice a week (it's about $45 a day), I eat most of my lunches at home but still get the occasional 65 Chinese BBQ pork on rice downtown, and miraculously my productivity remains about the same.

In fact, my office's closings and reopenings have provided an ongoing natural experiment in productivity. So far, my productivity cycles  about 28-35 days between peaks and appears to have no connection to where I'm working.

Back to Mull's point, though: giving workers control over when they stay home or go in is really the point. And as we won't be having meetings with 15 people crammed into a conference room for a very long time, it really does seem like the best option for everyone.

Flyover territory

The four-year, $40m Navy Pier flyover finally opened this week after 7 years and $64m:

The $64 million flyover, started in 2014, was originally planned for a ribbon-cutting in 2018 but it was repeatedly delayed. The 1,750-foot-long, 16-foot-wide steel and concrete flyover goes from Ohio Street Beach to the south side of the Chicago River.

City officials have blamed prior delays both on issues with the Lake Shore Drive bridge and a delay in getting funding from the state during the budget crisis under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

With the substantial completion of the Flyover, built to keep pedestrians and bicyclists from being in conflict with auto traffic, the Lakefront Trail now runs, uninterrupted, from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street, according to the city.

Block Club Chicago has photos.

The biggest budget increase came when engineers discovered that the original plan to tunnel through the southeast Lake Shore Drive bridge tower would have cut a load-bearing column. But like so much in Chicago, the biggest delay came from our incompetent and ideologically-blinkered former governor refusing to fund the state government for two years.

But hey, it's open now, so bikes and runners no longer take their lives into their hands crossing the off-ramp from Lake Shore Drive to Grand Avenue.

All the news that fits

Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.

How cities will fossilize

University of Edinburgh literature professor David Farrier adapts his book Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils for the BBC:

If cities have a geological character, it begs the question of what they will leave behind in the stratigraphy of the 21st Century. Fossils are a kind of planetary memory of the shapes the world once wore. Just as the landscapes of the deep past are not forgotten, how will the rock record of the deep future remember Shanghai, New York and other great cities?

The main components of a modern city have their origins in geology and are therefore, in their different ways, highly durable. The majority of the world’s iron ore formed nearly two billion years ago. The sand, gravel, and quartz in concrete are among the most resilient substances on Earth. These hard-wearing materials once existed in natural deposits. But where before it was only water, gravity, or tectonic activity that moved them, now it’s a combination of human initiative and hydrocarbon fuels.

At first [a] car will simply rust but, as iron dissolves well in anoxic water, once the oxygen level decreases its metal components will begin to dissolve. Or perhaps a part of the chassis will mineralise, reacting with sulphides to form pyrite. The iron in steel beams or embedded in reinforced concrete, kitchen implements, or even tiny quantities of iron in the speaker of a mobile phone will all acquire a glittering sheen. Even whole rooms – a food court kitchen fitted with stainless steel worktops – might be transformed into fool’s gold.

Of course, if humans continue to live in a technological society far into the future (and why not?), modern cities might vanish by our hands. Won't that confuse future archaeologists.

Lunchtime reading

Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.

Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:

And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.

Meanwhile, in my neighborhood

The Chicago Transit Authority will demolish my local El station starting May 16th, kicking off a 4-year, $2.1 bn project to rebuild the Red and Purple Lines from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr. Good thing we have an alternative only 400 meters away:

Crews will begin the demolition work on the project’s northern end at Ardmore Avenue and work south, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. The construction zone spans from Ardmore Avenue to Leland Avenue.

The Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations will close May 16. Temporary stations at Argyle and Bryn Mawr will open that day, according to the CTA.

Crews will also demolish the northbound Red and Purple line tracks between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. That will include the demolition of 1.5 miles of embankment wall and 11 bridges that span east-west streets in Uptown and Edgewater.

Demolition and the rebuilding of the eastern portion of the tracks is scheduled to wrap up in late 2022, according to the CTA.

From there, work on the western portion of the tracks will commence. This second stage of work will include the construction of the four new stations, which are slated to be opened in 2024.

It's so nice, now that Bruce Rauner has left Springfield, that public works projects can resume. It even looks like we'll have a new Chicago-bound train station at Ravenswood before too long.

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.

Winthrop Cooperative, Monday

The United Winthrop Tower Cooperative started life in the early 1970s as a public housing development. In response to rising crime and costs on the order of $1m a year, the residents bought the building from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993 and turned it into the affordable-housing co-op it remains today.

We had a really cool sunset Tuesday evening, so I snapped this on my walk with Cassie.

Local history

Today is the 29th anniversary of the Great Chicago Flood, in which no one got hurt despite nearly a billion liters of water surging through Loop basements:

On April 13th, 1992, Chicago was struck by a man-made natural disaster. The Great Chicago Flood of 1992 occurred completely underground and, fortunately, nobody was hurt. There were no dramatic rescues from office buildings and there were no canoes paddling Michigan Avenue. Still, the flood was a big deal. It made national news and shut down the Mercantile Exchange, The Sears Tower, and the Art Institute. It damaged records in City Hall, closed businesses in the Loop (some for weeks), and ultimately caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Chicago buildings.

In September of 1991, Great Lakes Dredging, an independent contractor, replaced pilings in the Chicago river. Pilings protect the bridges from runaway barges. One of their new pilings near the Kinzie Street bridge damaged the roof of a freight tunnel, allowing water to slowly leak in.

In January of 1992 a television cable company discovered a leak in the tunnels. They tried to notify James McTigue — who they knew was familiar with the tunnels — but the city had recently re-organized and they couldn’t locate him until February. McTigue tracked down the leak, took photos, and showed them to his supervisors in March, explaining a leaking tunnel under the river could lead to a massive flood. Despite that warning, the city did not expedite repairs.

The city rejected an initial repair bid of $10,000 because it considered the cost too high, and new contractors were scheduled to inspect the tunnels on April 14th. In the early morning of April 13th, that small leak finally gave into the enormous water pressure of the Chicago River above. The tunnel’s ceiling collapsed and water began filling in. As they were in the system’s early days, many of the tunnels were still connected to the basements of many buildings in the Loop.

What followed (and, frankly, what led to the disaster) made this "the most Chicago story ever."

In other news of historic disasters, one of Chicago's oldest shopping malls, Northbrook Court, may soon become a neighborhood instead of a massive car park. As it represents just about everything wrong with the suburbs, good riddance. Maybe they'll even put in some shops people can walk to?

What I'm reading today

A few articles caught my attention this week:

Also, I'm just making a note to myself of Yuriy Ivon's rundown on Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB, because I'm using it a lot more than I have in the past.