The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Things I don't have time to read right now

But I will take the time as soon as I get it:

Now, I need more tea, and more coding.

A Chicago factory is making 3-flats

This is kind of cool, and could really help the city:

Skender, an established, family-owned builder in Chicago, is making a serious play in a sector associated with young startups: modular construction. The company is building steel-structured three-flats, a quintessential Chicago housing type that consists of three apartments stacked on top of each other in the footprint of a large house. It believes it can deliver them faster and at lower cost at its new factory than by using standard methods of construction.

Even with humans and not robots doing the work, the company is confident that continual refinement will yield efficiency. A three-flat apartment building can now go up in 90 days, Skender claims, instead of nine months. Swanson estimates that the three-flats will cost $335,000 per unit to build, not including land. In time, company leaders hope that economies of scale and increased efficiency will bring down that price.

As well as economies of scale, proponents of modular architecture tout its freedom from weather-related delays, unpredictable site conditions, and fragmented supply chains. Those all stand to benefit Skender. No subcontractors will work in the factory, which will avoiding squabbles between HVAC or plumbing specialists who might blame each other when something goes wrong. But that also means Skender assumes all the risk. That has undone some past experiments in prefab and modular building.

At the factory’s opening, 25 people worked there, and Skender plans on hiring five more per week till it’s fully staffed at 150, all union labor.

I might not want to live in a pre-fab building (I'm partial to 100+-year-old historic buildings), but lots of other people would. At $335k to build, a 3-bedroom apartment could sell for $500k and make some money for the builder. $500k implies rents around $3,200 per month, but that or more is what many landlords already get in affluent parts of the city.

I'll keep my eyes open for the first Skender apartments that open near me.

New taxes in Illinois

Starting today, my state has some new laws:

  • The gasoline tax doubled to the still-too-low 10¢ per litre. Oh my stars. How could they. Ruination. (You will detect more ironic tone if you read my post from yesterday about how much gasoline I use.) For comparison with other OECD countries, the UK adds 57.95p (73.3¢) per litre, Australia gets 41.2¢ (28.6¢ US), and even Canada levies 45¢ (34¢ US). But hey, we doubled the tax, so now we can pay for our state pension deficit fixing our infrastructure.
  • Cigarette taxes went up to $2.98 a pack, and e-cigarettes now have a 15% excise. Also, we raised the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, though you can still have sex and get a drivers license at 17 and sign a contract at 18, so kids still have lots of ways to ruin their lives. (Former governor Bruce Rauner vetoed these measures last year.)
  • Schools now have to provide 5 clock-hours of instruction to count as a "school day." Having gone to Illinois schools as a kid that provided 6 to 7, it's hard for me to grasp that until today, schools only had to provide 4.
  • Finally, our $40 billion budget took effect today, the first time in 5 years that a state budget has taken effect on the first day of the fiscal year.

This is what happens when the party that wants to govern takes power from the party that wants to shower gifts on their rich friends. More on that in my next post.

Not enough time on my hands

I thought the weekend of Canada Day and the weekend before Independence Day wouldn't have much a lot of news. I was wrong:

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford (the brother of Rob Ford) cancelled Canada Day celebrations in Toronto*. (Imagine the Governor of Virginia or the Mayor of DC canceling the 4th of July and you've about got it.) Fortunately for the city, the Ontario legislature reinstated them.
  • You know how I write about how urban planning can make people happier, healthier, and friendlier? Yah, this city in California is my idea of hell. I hope the developers lost all their money.
  • In contrast, I learned of the Lil Yellow House while in Toronto, and the rap video the real-estate agent created to sell it. (It sold quickly, for C$500,000.)
  • Apparently, my drinking gets me a B-. (80% of Americans drink 6.75 drinks per week or less; the top 10% drink 15.28 per week. This is the one B- I'm happy to have.)
  • My alma mater recently published new research linking your email address to your credit score.
  • Alabama prosecutors have brought charges for manslaughter against a woman who miscarried after getting shot. No, really. Because Alabama.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter called out President Trump on the (alleged) illegitimacy of his election.
  • The New Republic adds to the chorus of organizations surprised at what it actually took to get the Supreme Court to call bullshit.
  • Ever wonder how often two bags of Skittles candy have the same proportions of flavors? No, me neither. But this guy did.
  • Windows has a case-insensitive file system; Git is case-sensitive. Do the math.
  • Um. That's not a pet bird.

*Those celebrations will be here, on the right, in this view from my hotel room yesterday:

Lunchtime reading

Articles that piqued my interest this morning:

Back to writing software.

One-third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit?

So says urbanist Pete Saunders on the economic bifurcation in Chicago:

[T]he two economic narratives emerging across two wildly different sets of Chicago neighborhoods are being reflected in changing demographics. The downtown and Near North Side, stretching from the Loop to neighborhoods such as Bucktown and Logan Square, has boomed in ways similar to superstar cities such as New York, D.C., Seattle, and Austin, while large stretches of the rest of the city have suffered from decreasing middle class populations, disinvestment, and in the worst cases, abandoned property and increased crime.

“On its own, the portions of the city that includes the Loop, north lakefront, West Loop, and Logan Square have the population of San Francisco, are about the size of Manhattan and nearly as dense, and have been booming,” he tells Curbed. “It’s as safe, vibrant, and walkable as any of the other cities you’d associate with success.”

[R]ecent economic growth has been unevenly distributed. According to recent UIC research, in 1970, roughly half the city was considered middle income. In 2017, that distinction applied to just 16 percent of Chicago. Income segregation and extreme, concentrated poverty have become more pronounced. Saunders called it Global Chicago versus Rust Belt Chicago.

“A few years ago, I published something on my personal blog that characterized Chicago as one-third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit,” he says. “I caught some flack from Rahm Emanuel for that, and I get it. Nobody wants to be associated with Detroit; it’s my hometown, so I know how that goes.”

Saunders recently pointed out on his blog that we Gen-Xers started the Back-to-the-City movement, ultimately blazing a trail that our Boomer parents and Millennial (and now Gen Z) followers benefited from.

WaPo finds inequality on the Chicago River

The North and South branches of the river have distinct personalities:

Multiple canoe and kayak rental outfitters operate from the river’s north branch, downtown and in Chinatown, just south of downtown. And enthusiasts are even planning a competitive swim in the river. In these areas, people worry not about pollution but rather the risk of collision between water taxis, tour boats, kayakers and pleasure boats.

In the dirtier water downstream, barges filled with limestone, sand or other heavy material dominate the river, and most residents keep their distance.

Both Little Village and the Calumet River corridor are designated industrial zones, and residents would like to see green industrial development such as solar farms and light manufacturing. They’d also love to have riverside cafes or parks, [resident Olga] Bautista said, but that dream feels far off.

Of course, the Potomac is so much cleaner, isn't it? Never mind the Anacostia...

Über alles

What could possibly go wrong with inviting every Über driver in Chicago to one party?

Monday evening, John Morrison saw a convoy of cars with Uber stickers taking over Lake Shore Drive near Hyde Park, all headed to the same place as him: the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Chicago resident had been invited there by a friend who drove for the ride share company, which was hosting an appreciation party for employees at the museum at 6:30 p.m.

But before Morrison could even get near, he had to fight a free-for-all of traffic in the eastern part of Hyde Park. The worst of it was at the 57th Street and Cornell Drive merge, where Morrison said cars were going the wrong way and ended up facing other cars bumper to bumper. A bus drove north in the southbound lanes to bypass the traffic. Police cars scaled sidewalks as officers tried to direct frustrated drivers.

Things didn’t get much better once he made it inside the museum, almost an hour after hitting the congestion on Lake Shore Drive near the 53rd Street exit, he said. Morrison said the museum was “jampacked to the gills” and that caterers and museum employees appeared overwhelmed by the mobs of people heading toward the dinner buffet.

After the event, Morrison Tweeted: "A massive traffic jam filled entirely with @Uber drivers trying to get into a overfilled parking garage to get free stuff is the embodiment of the late-stage capitalist nightmare that is Uber." Yes. And entirely predictable—except, and no surprise here, to Über management.

The mechanical voids that make billionaires' erections bigger

Developers have learned to game New York City's zoning laws to construct buildings far larger than the plain meaning of those laws should allow:

Now, in a Second Gilded Age with magnates looking to park their millions in Manhattan real estate, developers stop at little to deliver the high-status goods, which these days are calculated in height and views.

As a result, New York is facing the “mechanical void” problem. It may sound like an embarrassing medical condition, but the voids are actually just air above floors occupied by equipment (mainly heating, ventilating, and cooling systems). That air becomes extraordinarily valuable when it can boost apartments higher above view-blocking neighbors. Raising the ceiling of mechanical spaces (which usually need only 10- to 15-foot ceilings) to as high as 350 feet becomes not absurd but savvy.

New York City does not generally limit building heights, but instead controls bulk and density by what’s called the floor area ratio (FAR). This means that a residential developer can build nine times the square feet of the lot area in an R-9 district. Depending on how the building bulk is arranged, the usual result is a building of about 15 stories.

Ridiculously tall mechanical spaces, which are not counted toward FAR, are not the only abusive (though ostensibly legal) tactic developers use to push buildings to ever greater heights.

If you think this through, however, these developments still go through the zoning board. So yes, the legal interpretations twist the law into painful shapes for the sake of bragging rights, but also a city agency lets them do it.

This reminds me of one of Chicago's ugliest buildings, at 2314 N. Lincoln Park West, which juts out from the rest of the buildings on the block (some of them historic) and looks like someone measured wrong. I haven't confirmed this, but I think the error was measured in thousands of dollars, and involved an alderman or two.

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...