The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Busy weekend

Just a few things in the news:

And hey, summer begins in three days.

Very wet May

Yesterday Chicago set a few weather records: wettest Memorial Day ever recorded, tied for most days in May with measurable prediction (18), tied for most days in May that have had more than 7.6 mm of precipitation (10), and up to the 3rd wettest month of May (186 mm). And we have more rain predicted tonight.

Warmer air holds more moisture. The atmosphere worldwide is warmer. QED.

No one wants McMansions

People who thought moving to far suburbs made economic sense in the 1990s and 2000s can't seem to sell their ugly, too-large houses:

"For most of the 1990s, if you looked at the geographic center of jobs in the Chicago area, it was moving steadily northwest, out from the city toward Schaumburg," homebuilding consultant Tracy Cross says. Like the corporate campuses that popped up in that era, the houses were often built big.

A generation later, tastes for both have faded: Corporations have shifted their offices to downtown Chicago in unprecedented numbers, and once-stylish suburban luxury homes are derided as McMansions. Affluent people now show a well-documented preference for living in or near the city, a preference that's fueling the vigor in the high-rise condo market downtown as well as in Bucktown and in Wilmette, among other places.

Phil Chiricotti felt the double-barreled blast when he sold his home in Burr Ridge. Chiricotti, who was a retirement-planning executive, built the four-bedroom, 6,800-square-foot home on 77th Street in 2002, "when Tuscan-style homes were what everybody was doing," he says. The house has arches, columns and balconies made of stone.

"I had murals painted in that house, I had exotic Romanesque stenciling done," Chiricotti says. "Everyone told me my taste was spectacular. But the operating costs to live in that house were $25,000 a year." He put the house on the market in 2009, asking just under $2.7 million, and sold it almost six years later at a real estate auction for $1.47 million.

("Exotic Romanesque stenciling?" Yes, that would qualify as spectacular taste, just not good taste.)

Schaumburg, Ill., is about 50 km northwest of the Loop in western Cook and norther DuPage Counties. It spreads west from I-290 along a spiderweb of ugly strip-mall-encrusted stroads, and contains a giant mall and a huge IKEA. The village adopted, without irony, "Progress Through Thoughtful Planning" as its motto when it incorporated in 1956, and then thoughtfully planned winding residential roads without sidewalks that appeal to people who drive to their mailboxes.

I've joked before that "Schaumburg" is German for "Why would anyone live in this town." (It actually translates to "foam town," which amuses me.) Schaumburg epitomizes Suburbistan to me: a place that tries to take the best parts of rural and urban life and, missing the point entirely, creates something entirely horrific instead. A place where no one really wants to live.

These sad people paid millions for houses so ugly they don't so much rebuke good design as represent the antithesis of design itself, in suburbs so soulless just writing about them makes me want to clap on one and three. So this news fills me with a feeling described by another German word: Schadenfreude.

Newest national park is closest to Chicago

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, just 50 km from downtown Chicago, became Indiana Dunes National Park in February:

Supporters of the switch, who have watched the proposal ebb and flow like Lake Michigan along the shoreline over the past few years, said they are excited by the change and hope the already popular attraction draws even more people, particularly those who make it a point to visit designated national parks.

Operations at the park, other than a change in signs, won’t be any different, said Paul Labovitz, park superintendent.

“There’s no real budget implications but perceptually, the change will probably result in more attention and more investment outside the park,” he said, adding the National Park Service also may invest more in the park’s infrastructure over time.

Also upping its marketing will be the South Shore Line, which is working on plans to encourage more people from Chicago, Michigan and Indiana to come check out the park using commuter rail, Nicole Barker, director of capital investment and implementation, said in an email.

“Thanks to the South Shore Line’s Bikes on Trains program, which allows bicycles on select off-peak trains, it is easier than ever to come visit the dunes by bike,” Barker said.

Trains from Chicago's Millennium Station to the Dune Park station take about 80 minutes and cost $9 each way.

Not Norway's best export

Due to climate change and gentrification, rat sightings in North America have gone up:

New York has always been forced to coexist with the four-legged vermin, but the infestation has expanded exponentially in recent years, spreading to just about every corner of the city.

Rat sightings reported to the city’s 311 hotline have soared nearly 38 percent, to 17,353 last year from 12,617 in 2014, according to an analysis of city data by OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit watchdog group, and The New York Times. In the same period, the number of times that city health inspections found active signs of rats nearly doubled.

Milder winters — the result of climate change — make it easier for rats to survive and reproduce. And New York’s growing population and thriving tourism has brought more trash for rats to feed on.

Chicago — crowned the nation’s rat capital in one study — has more than doubled its work crews dedicated to rats, who set out poison and fill in burrows in parks, alleys and backyards. It also passed ordinances requiring developers and contractors to have a rat-control plan before demolishing buildings or breaking ground on new projects.

Yah, thanks for that "rat capital" thing, New York Times.

Rats don't bother me, despite their urine often containing deadly bacteria. They clean up after us, feed crows and coyotes, and spread disease less than other local rodents. (Rabbits have made Parker sick a lot more often than rats.) And squirrels? Just ask a moose.

Speaking of unexpected rulers...

As interesting as Game of Thrones has been, yesterday's news at City Hall actually has more relevance to the world we live in. Lori Lightfoot took office as our 56th mayor—and our first black, female mayor, and our first openly gay mayor:

Lightfoot bluntly promised to restore integrity to a city government and City Council that has at times been hobbled by allegations against some of its highest-ranking members. Her fiery speech drew numerous standing ovations from a raucous crowd, but also potentially set the stage for future conflict with aldermen as they prepare to jointly tackle some of the city’s other lingering problems — massive budget shortfalls and endemic violent crime.

“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready because reform is here,” Lightfoot said in her inaugural address. “I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government. That means restoring trust in our city’s government and finally bringing some real integrity to the way this city works.”

During an approximately half-hour speech, Lightfoot drew from Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks and called for citywide unity in addressing public safety, education, financial stability and “integrity” — a reference to Chicago’s infamous corruption.

Lightfoot also drew a standing ovation when she noted that the election of Melissa Conyears-Ervin as treasurer and Anna Valencia as clerk marks the first time Chicago’s three citywide positions are held by women of color.

“Children who look like me and come from families like mine shouldn’t have to beat the odds to get an education, pursue their passions, or build a family,” Lightfoot said. “Black and brown kids, low-income kids, every kid in this city should grow up knowing they can pursue anything, they can love anyone — that’s my Chicago dream.”

I'm looking forward to her administration. How will she deal with the Council? Will we get an elected school board? How high will my taxes go? It'll be an interesting four years.

Must be spring

Yesterday evening, I needed to wear earmuffs and gloves when walking Parker because of the 7°C weather. Yes, it's the middle of May, but we've had a really screwy spring this year.

Today I don't need gloves. Our official temperature bloomed from 8°C to 26°C in the past six hours. Even close to the lake, where I live, it's already warmer outside than inside—and I had the heat on briefly this morning!

Today the forecast looks hot and humid, before temperatures plunge again Sunday night. Then hot again next weekend. And maybe seasonally appropriate when meteorological summer begins two weeks from today.

Who knows. Welcome to Chicago in spring.

More news today

Though we'll probably talk about this week's news out of Mauna Loa for many years to come, other stories got to my inbox today:

And finally, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has a new Summer Passport program that entitles people to a free membership after getting stamps at 40 brewpubs and taprooms between now and August 10th. Forty breweries in 87 days? Challenge...accepted!

First, let's kill all the townships

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 divided most of the land west of Pennsylvania into 6-by-6 mile squares called "townships." You can see the physical effects of the Ordinance any time you fly over the Great Plains: uniform squares of roads linking towns about 9½ km apart.

The Ordinance established townships to allow rural residents to get to their centers of government and home in the same day. In the era of travel by horseback, this saved days or weeks of travel for farmers and townsfolk alike.

In the era of travel by car, however, we no longer need the redundancy. Chicago magazine recommends getting rid of them altogether:

It’s not just urban counties that find remnant townships burdensome. Some rural counties want to get rid of their townships, too. Last month, State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, passed a bill that would allow McHenry County townships to dissolve themselves.

“My goal is to reduce the number of governmental bodies — it’s one of the reasons our property taxes are so high,” McSweeney said. “Consolidation, I think, is the key to reducing property taxes and administrative fees.”

Like most Illinois counties, Cook was originally platted with a grid of townships. The townships now contained by Chicago, including Rogers Park, Hyde Park, and Lake View, passed out of existence upon annexation. In the suburbs, townships still exist, even if all their land has been incorporated. In Cook County, remnant unincorporated bits of township could be required to join the nearest municipality, which would then take over township duties, as Evanston did.

There’s a saying that bureaucracy perpetuates itself, and that’s certainly true of townships. They’re so hard to get rid of because they’re a juicy source of jobs, patronage, and double-dipping for elected officials.

The Daily Parker agrees. Time to move on from one of the best ideas of the 1780s.

Illinois' upcoming comprehensive cannabis statute

Crain's outlines how Illinois' statutory approach to legalizing pot will make the state a leader in the country:

Illinois is trying to do something no other state has accomplished, legalizing recreational marijuana by statute instead of coming up with a program on the fly after a ballot initiative.

The bill, outlined Saturday, covers the mechanics of licensing, distribution and taxation, as well as some thorny criminal and social-justice matters that are crucial to lining up support.

The 522-page bill is a lot to digest, and some legislators have proposed legislation to slow down the legalization process. The bill includes language to automatically expunge marijuana-possession convictions, giving State Police two years to come up with the list of people who qualify. 

The legislation also would create a $20 million low-interest loan fund to help “social equity applicants” from communities that have been hit hard by poverty and arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis use to win licenses to grow, produce and sell cannabis for recreational use. The Cannabis Business Development Fund would be seeded with $12 million from the existing medical cannabis fund.

An even trickier balance is trying to put in regulations necessary to keep the industry under control but large and competitive enough to cut into the illegal pot market. That’s been a challenge in California, where the legalized cannabis market opened last year, with seemingly little impact on the black market, the New York Times reported.

State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) plan to introduce the bill today. Fun fact: The Daily Parker resides in Steans' legislative district.