The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Looking forward to Arsenal v Lincoln Yards

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has announced a joint venture with Sterling Bay, the developer building on the former Finkl Steel site in Lincoln Park (mentioned here last week), to bring professional soccer back to Chicago:

Sterling Bay will develop and own the stadium, and will keep an ownership stake in the USL franchise it bought last year. Ricketts will be the team’s majority owner.

The Tribune in October reported that Sterling Bay was proposing a stadium on the site, as part of its effort to bring Amazon or another large corporation to the mixed-use development as an office tenant.

Chicago’s USL team is expected to begin playing in 2021.

The stadium and training facility will be available to youth and professional athletes, and also will have community and cultural events, according to the news release.

The stadium is planned along the west side of the river.

I'm looking forward to the Lincoln Yards development. The Finkl Steel plant, though an economic powerhouse for decades in Chicago, was also a huge, ugly, and polluting bunion at the foot of the Lincoln Park community area. Like other former industrial areas near to downtown (including, or perhaps especially, the New East Side), almost any mixed-use commercial/residential development is preferable at this stage of Chicago's life.

Also, I think an English Premier League vs. Chicago football match would be loads of fun.

New deal to extend 606 Trail

Sterling Bay, the company developing the Finkl site in Lincoln Park, has reached a deal with the Chicago Terminal Railroad to extend the 606 Trail across the Chicago River:

Sterling Bay, which plans a big development on the former Finkl steel plant site and neighboring parcels, has resolved its dispute with a rail company that owns train tracks that run across riverside land and on to Goose Island.

The rail company, Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings, infuriated Sterling Bay and Goose Island landlords last fall when it rolled a couple dozen empty tanker cars across the Finkl property and onto Goose Island and left them there.

In October, Sterling Bay asked a federal agency to force Iowa Pacific to give up the tracks, arguing that they would derail development in the area. Other landlords complained that Iowa Pacific stored the cars on Goose Island merely to shake them down for money to remove the cars.

But the fight didn't last long: In January, an Iowa Pacific unit, the Chicago Terminal Railroad, gave up, agreeing not to oppose Sterling Bay's application with the federal Surface Transportation Board to force the rail company to abandon the tracks, according to a recent decision by the board.

The proposed extension to the trail would also include moving and modernizing the Metra station at Clybourn Junction.

Three on climate change

Earlier this week, the Post reported on data that one of the scariest predictions of anthropogenic climate change theory seems to be coming true:

The new research, based on ocean measurements off the coast of East Antarctica, shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are indeed freshening the ocean around them. And this, in turn, is blocking a process in which cold and salty ocean water sinks below the sea surface in winter, forming “the densest water on the Earth,” in the words of study lead author Alessandro Silvano, a researcher with the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

In other words, the melting of Antarctica’s glaciers appears to be triggering a “feedback” loop in which that melting, through its effect on the oceans, triggers still more melting. The melting water stratifies the ocean column, with cold fresh water trapped at the surface and warmer water sitting below. Then, the lower layer melts glaciers and creates still more melt water — not to mention rising seas as glaciers lose mass.

"The idea is that this mechanism of rapid melting and warming of the ocean triggered sea level rise at other times, like the last glacial maximum, when we know rapid sea level rise was five meters per century,” Silvano said. “And we think this mechanism was the cause of rapid sea-level rise.”

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine speculates about what these changes will mean to our city in the next half-century:

Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.

Indeed, the Great Lakes could be considered our greatest insurance against climate change. They contain 95 percent of North America’s supply of freshwater—and are protected by the Great Lakes Water Compact, which prohibits cities and towns outside the Great Lakes basin from tapping them. While aquifers elsewhere run dry, Chicago should stay flush for hundreds of years to come.

“We’re going to be like the Saudi Arabia of freshwater,” says David Archer, a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. “This is one of the best places in the world to live out global warming.”

There’s just one problem: Water, which should be our salvation, could also do us in.

The first drops of the impending deluge have already fallen. Every one-degree rise in temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water vapor by almost 4 percent. As a result, rain and snow come down with more force. Historically, there’s been a 4 percent chance of a storm occurring in any given year in Chicago that drops 5.88 inches of rain in 48 hours—a so-called 25-year storm. In the last decade alone, we have had one 25-year storm, plus a 50-year storm and, in 2011, a 100-year storm. In the best-case scenario, where carbon emissions stay relatively under control, we’re looking at a 25 percent increase in the number of days with extreme rainfall by the end of the century. The worst-case scenario sees a surge of 60 percent. Precipitation overall may increase by as much as 30 percent.

And in today's Times, Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey argue that cars are ruining our cities as well as our climate:

[T]he truth is that people who drive into a crowded city are imposing costs on others. They include not just reduced mobility for everyone and degraded public space, but serious health costs. Asthma attacks are set off by the tiny, invisible soot particles that cars emit. Recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children.

The bottom line is that the decision to turn our public streets so completely over to the automobile, as sensible as it might have seemed decades ago, nearly wrecked the quality of life in our cities.

We are revealing no big secrets here. Urban planners have known all these things for decades. They have known that removing lanes to add bike paths and widen sidewalks can calm traffic, make a neighborhood more congenial — and, by the way, increase sales at businesses along that more pleasant street. They have known that imposing tolls with variable pricing can result in highway lanes that are rarely jammed.

We're adapting, slowly, to climate change. Over my lifetime I've seen the air in Chicago and L.A. get so much cleaner I can scarcely remember how bad it was growing up. (Old photos help.) But we're in for some pretty big changes in the next few years. I think Chicago will ultimately do just fine, except for being part of the world that has to adapt more dramatically than any time in the last few thousand years.

Quick links

A couple stories of interest:

OK, back to being really too busy to breathe this week...

Construction complication in Dunning

No, not the Dunning of Kruger fame; Dunning, the community area on the far northwest side of Chicago.

Workers building a new school in the neighborhood discovered that not only was it the former site of a poor house, but also that 38,000 people may be buried there:

“There can be and there have been bodies found all over the place,” said Barry Fleig, a genealogist and cemetery researcher who began investigating the site in 1989. “It’s a spooky, scary place.”

Workers have until April 27 to excavate and clear the site, remediate the soil and relocate an existing sewer line. The school is scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 academic year, though a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools would not say what type of school it will be.

Fleig said he’s “nearly certain” there are no intact caskets buried underneath the proposed school grounds — bodies were primarily buried in two formal cemeteries, though scattered human remains have been discovered during previous construction projects near the campus.

In 1854, the county opened a poorhouse and farm and gradually added an insane asylum, infirmary and tuberculosis hospital to the property. At its peak, a thousand people were buried on the grounds each year.

The state took over in 1912 and changed the official name to Chicago State Hospital. Buildings were shuttered in 1970 and operations moved west of Oak Park Avenue to what is now Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. 

In 1854, the site would have been a few hours' ride from the city. So I'm glad to see that the American tradition of dumping the poor in places where they can't possible thrive was as strong then as now. I'm a little shocked that a pauper's cemetery acquired so many corpses in sixty years, though.

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

Too many apartments?

Crain's reported today that rents in Class-A properties in Chicago's Loop area have remained steady despite 4,500 new units hitting the market in 2017:

Demand for downtown apartments has been especially robust as job growth has picked up: Downtown Chicago added 19,448 workers in 2017, a 3.4 percent increase, the biggest annual gain in at least five years, according to Integra. That's one reason a key measure of apartment demand, absorption—the change in the number of occupied units—rose to 3,385 units in 2007, a record.

Still, developers threatened to ruin the fun. Even though absorption soared last year, it couldn't keep up with the a 4,500-unit increase in supply last year. Last fall, with the leasing season ending, many buildings offered generous concessions—two months of free rent over a 12-month lease wasn't uncommon—to attract renters.

Yes, but the Tribune says another 7,000 apartments will be built before the end of 2019:

While only about 3,000 apartment units are expected to be completed this year, developers next year could challenge the record number of downtown apartments — 4,350 units — built in 2017, Integra Realty Resources executives said Tuesday during the firm’s annual apartment and condominium forecast luncheon.

The firm projects that about 4,200 units will be completed in 2019.

The rate of downtown apartment construction is being closely watched amid concerns of an oversupply. Yet even amid the frenzied pace of construction, 2017 also brought a record for absorption: 3,385 units, a 31 percent increase from 2016. Absorption measures the change in the number of leased apartments compared with the previous year.

So what's going on? Shouldn't rents change one way or the other? The Atlantic suggests an answer:

Airbnb’s great contribution was to allow travelers to live as locals do—in the busy downtown residential areas, near the best restaurants, bars, and other local hangouts. Business travelers might prefer the amenities of a hotel. But what Airbnb offered was a superior simulacra of the local experience for leisure travelers—for an affordable price, which happened to support some local dwellers’ income.

But Airbnb's success also encouraged dubious behavior on the part of “commercial” power users—property owners who listed downtown units (especially second residences) all year long, as if they were hotel rooms. Why would would that be a problem? Open apartments occupied for much of the year by Airbnb-using travelers reduce the number of available homes to people who want to move into that building. High demand, plus lower supply, leads to higher prices. Several studies—including research from Harvard, MIT, UCLA, USC, and the University of Massachusetts Boston—have come to the same conclusion: Airbnb altogether drives up the price of rent in many neighborhoods. 

Increasing supply, not completely accounted for by absorption, should be pushing rents lower in downtown areas. But speculators (i.e., people buying apartments to list on AirBnB) are driving the price up.

As both a landlord and a renter, I'm watching this closely.

Peace in our time, canid edition

Coyotes and red foxes seldom interact in the wild, as foxes tend to give coyotes a wide berth. In urban areas, however, they seem to get along just fine:

Over the years, foxes and coyotes, like so many other wild species, have settled in the city, and they’re inevitably here to stay. It’s not uncommon to see them scampering across their neighborhoods. Some animal species have adapted to thrive amid the human-dominated landscape of high rises, fragmented green space, and heavy traffic. Now, at least in the case of these two wildlife predators, they may be changing their behavioral instincts to coexist with each other—thanks in part to the abundance of food.

[A recent] study has found instances where the two species forage for food at roughly 90 m from one another without incident. And in a rarely seen moment captured in Madison by PBS for their documentary, “Fox Tales,” a vixen remains alert as a pair of coyotes scavenges alarmingly close to a den with her pups inside. Drake said the interaction happened weekly for over a month, and yet there was no attempt for the mother to move her den.

Both species seem to live pretty close to me in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. I've seen more than one coyote on my street. (Fortunately, while foxes may not bother them, they still run away from humans.) I'm also seeing fewer rats. So, hey, foxes and coyotes are both welcome in Chicago, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad they're not competing.

Buy me a ticket

Eurostar will launch London-to-Amsterdam service on April 4th. Airlines are worried:

Currently, a Londoner bound for Amsterdam by train can expect the journey to take a little under five hours, with a change of trains in Brussels. The new service will reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour and cancel the need to change in Brussels, shaving off over an hour.

The prospect has already generated a palpable buzz, and the 900 tickets offered a day (starting at a reasonable $47 one way) are likely to sell out fast. But it’s not clear how the service will fare if it extends beyond two trains a day (as it likely will) on a route where price competition with airlines is already fierce. ... Can a train trip that takes more than than three-and-a-half hours succeed in competing with a flight time of scarcely an hour?

The tentative answer provides an interesting snapshot of just how much European travel has changed: 20 years ago, a train taking more than three hours would struggle to compete with an hour-long flight. Today, however, such as service is at a distinct advantage. It’s not necessarily the case that speed and comfort have necessarily skyrocketed for train travel (though there are indeed more fast routes now on offer). It’s because—especially for shorter distances—flying has become increasingly hellish and time-consuming.

Yep. And seriously, €50 return fares to Amsterdam sound really enticing. Hell, at €100, it's still cheaper than flying and takes less time. St. Pancras is in the center of London; Amsterdam's Centraal station is (you will be surprised to learn) also central. Next time I'm in the UK, I will seriously consider taking a day-trip to the Netherlands.