In Other News

I am proud to say that this little endeavor of mine is starting to grow. In the past week I have had something published or a mention in two local planning/development news sources.

I made my Streetsblog Chicago debut with an article about the planned parking lot to be built at the Whole Foods in Sauganash on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

And AJ LaTrace linked to my piece calling for better planning at the redesigned intersection of Elston/Fullerton/Diversey on Curbed Chicago.

I think that deserves a pat on the back.

And on a final note: the Illiana Tollroad project is still news. Although it’s been on hold since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office early this spring it isn’t dead. The petition I’m hosting via this blog is still up and running and is just shy of the 500 signature goal with only 34 more needed.

If you want better transportation planning and more fiscal responsibility in Illinois and Indiana, SIGN THE PETITION NOW and help get those last signatures in.

Schaumburg and the City: Proposal Calls for a Giant Parking Lot at Elston/Fullerton/Damen with a Commerial Element

Travel east-west along Fullerton Ave. in Chicago and you go from Lincoln Park to Logan Sqaure, two incredibly walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. The same can be said for Damen Avenue; if you begin in Roscoe Village and go straight south you hit Bucktown/Wicker Park. But, right in the middle of this urbanism you find yourself in what appears to be Schaumburg. The intersection of Elston, Fullerton, and Damen is a cluster of strip malls, big box stores, and parking lots that is conspicuously suburban. Despite a redesign of the intersection to improve traffic flow there is no sign it’s going to get better. Indeed, a proposal for the site may make it much, much worse… farewell Schaumburg, hello Hoffmann Estates?

Whether traveling by car, bus, or bike getting through this intersection is no easy nor pleasant experience. Everybody slows down here and that is the whole purpose of a cut n’ dry redesign and rebuild of the intersection: move traffic through the area more efficiently than ever before and relieve the unbearable congestion that currently results from the awkward ‘almost, but not quite’ six-way intersection.

The only problem is what’s being proposed so far for the site. Announced yesterday by Curbed Chicago, the plan brought forth by Mid-America Real Estate and under consideration by Ald. Scott Waguespack’s (32nd Ward) office, calls for over 100,000 square feet of disconnected commercial space surrounded by 437 parking spaces (covering much of the project area). The project includes no multi-use components and spreads over almost six city blocks. The only dense component would be a three-story commercial building at the new intersection of Damen and Elston.

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This is a conceptual plan for the site showing the re-designed intersection and the location of parking lots and commercial developments. Image from Curbed Chicago.

Cue le sigh! As I’ve already made clear on Twitter, this whole proposal is utter insanity and quite frankly it’s hard to take it seriously. But considering Ald. Waguespack is holding a public meeting about it there must be some serious thought being put into it (at least within his office). This is troubling, because the site presents nothing but fantastic potential, yet the whole proposal is so regressive in its current form.

While certain big box stores still need to find an urban home, it is amazing to me that this style of development is the immediate go-to when it comes to the redesigned intersection. Building more car-oriented developments here will do nothing to help relieve congestion. Congestion is the result of an over-reliance on car use and development patterns that encourage car use and a lack of alternatives. Regardless of whether the intersection is redesigned or not, car use and congestion won’t mitigate until infrastructure is developed that decreases the need for car use all together or discourages people from uses cars unnecessarily.

By falling into a trap of a building more big boxes and strip malls, developers and the Alderman are reinforcing a trend recognized by planners and sociologists citywide that might be hurting us more than we thing: fewer housing units being built in desirable neighborhoods and related population losses. Unlike Ald. Pawar (47th) who recognized the need to increase the amount of housing in his ward, Ald. Waguespack has shown no indication there is a recognition for the need to increase and diversify housing units in this part of the city. With population loses citywide more housing units need to be built to recover from this and a diverse set of housing types need to be built to increase the social diversification that results in economic diversification and retain existing residents as their lives and needs change. And this site is ideal for such kinds of mixed-use development with massive residential components.

Condos and apartments can be built above grocery stores and parking without looking like a row of strip malls and big box stores in Anywhere Suburb USA. And Anywhere Suburb USA is exactly what should be avoided at this intersection. Why more big box style developments are needed is questionable, but fail not to realize even at their most unreasonable they still get built in the city.

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SoNo East and SoNo West were built along the North/Clybourn corridor in Lincoln Park, which was once dominated almost exclusively by strip malls and big box stores. These two towers and the under construction New City apartment tower will add hundreds of new units to the intersection in just three buildings and dramatically change the character of the area. A similar result could be produced at Elston/Fullerton/Damen with one or two well-planned multi-use developments.

A more (aggressive) progressive planning approach must (MUST!) be taken towards this intersection. Located within easy access of a number of desirable neighborhoods it could easily support a massive program of densification without taking away from the character of the surrounding communities.

In many ways, this intersection is the Roscoe Village/Bucktown answer to the intersection of North/Clybourn and Halsted in Lincoln Park. Yes, it’s surrounded by strip malls and rather mundane commercial developments, but packing in density is totally possible here and really rather appropriate. Between the SoNo East, SoNo West, and New City towers almost 900 units have been built in only three buildings in an area formerly dominated by strip malls transforming the neighborhood. On the new lots being created by the street redesign similar densification could occur without displacing a single business or residential structure nor overwhelming surrounding buildings. It would provide housing for multiple neighborhoods, and hopefully breathe some life into Elston Avenue.

Moving forward with the plan as proposed or even similar to the current proposal would be a huge mistake, but is all too within the realm of reality. Alderman play a big role in how developments in their wards turn out and right now Ald. Waguespack is giving no indication he is ready to embrace a dramatic physical change for this corner of the Chicago that embraces densification and people first infrastructure. This is especially frustrating considering the ripple effect a good development here could have on surrounding communities.

This isn’t an issue of terribly innovative urban planning. It’s practically a case study in logical urban planning. All the arguments against this parking lot development are perfectly available. The question is will that logic prevail, or that of a confused need for more parking?

Sounds of the City: Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin

220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-14627,_Marlene_DietrichAm 6. Mai 1992 ist die deutsche Sängerin Marlene Dietrich in Paris vom Leben umgekommen. Obwohl sie viele Jahren von ihrem Erwachsensein weg von Berlin–ihre Heimat–verbracht hatte, wurde sie nach ihren Wünschen in Berlin begraben. Dietrichs Verhältnis zu Berlin und ihre Liebe für die Stadt empfindet man nirgends besser zu hören abgesehen von dem Lied “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin.”

Wann man hört das Lied, hat man so viel Lieb für Berlin wie Marlene. Aber kann man auch eher einfach den Namen Berlin mit dem einer anderen Stadt ersetzen. Das Lied drückt ein Gefühl von liebevoller Heimweh aus, das wir alle uns irgendwo, irgendwann gefühlt haben, also dazu eine Beziehung haben können. Diese Qualität macht “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin” so ein großartiges Stadtlied. Es ist universell. Wie kein anderes äußert das Lied den Macht Heimwehs.

Oft bleiben unsere Erfahrungen angenehm in unseren Erinnerungen. Wir erinnern uns Orte von der Kindheit oder von eindrucksvollen Momenten unseres Lebens und sie sind immer für uns wichtig. Wir halten diese Erinnerungen nah. Die Städte, die wir erfuhren, die wir geliebt haben und immer noch lieben, sind selten die Gleichen als die wir in der Realität erfahren. Das Heimweh fallt wegen Distanz und wegen Frist vor.

Und manchmal wird Heimweh nie völlig behandelt.

Marlene singt ein Lied von Traurigkeit und Liebe, Heimweh und Trost. Sie singt für Verlorenheit und die ewige Seligkeiten von Erinnerungen. Sie singt für ihre Stadt, ihre Heimat, Berlin.

Und noch ein Berliner Lied von Dietrich ist “Das ist Berlin”. Nach meiner Meinung ist es auf keiner Weise so tief wie “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin”, trotzdem das Lied in derselben Art als “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin” ertönt. Also finde ich es passend dabei zu posten.

Und so Marlene, ich danke Dir für ihre Musik und die schöne unendlichen Verbindung zu Berlin.


On May 6, 1992 the German singer Marlene Dietrich passed from this world while living in Paris. Although she spent much of her adult life in other places, she was interred according to her wishes in Berlin–her hometown. Dietrichs love for her hometown and her relationship to it can’t be experienced better than by listening to the song “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin”. 

When you listen to the song, you love Berlin as much as Dietrich. But, you can really replace the name Berlin with the name of most any city. The songs expresses a sense of homesickness that we’ve all experienced sometime, somewhere. That’s what makes this song so great. It’s universal. Like no other is shows the power of homesickness. 

Often our experiences stay in the comfort of our memories. We remember places from our childhood or impressive moments in our lives that always remain important to us. We hold these memories close. The cities, those we’ve experienced, the ones we loved and still love, are rarely the ones we actually experience in reality. Homesickness is the result of distance and time. 

And sometimes it’s never quite cured. 

Marlene sings about love and sadness, homesickness and solace. She sings for lose and the eternal bliss of memories. She’s singing for her city, her home, Berlin. 

Sounds of the City: Youngstown

De-industrialization since the 1970s has radically transformed cities in North America and Europe turning the tides on decades of prosperity for scores of cities. Regions like the American Midwest, the Ruhgebiet in Germany, and Northeast England have transformed in the matter of a few decades. Some cities, like Chicago and Düsseldorf, have fared better than others. Others have seen bursts of renewal like Pittsburgh and then there are the cities like Detroit, which have experienced great loss are beginning to have glimmers of hope for the future.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” epitomizes the rise and fall of the industrial city and the industrial era. De-industrialization represents a tidal cultural shift in these parts of the world and a change from the modern period to the post-modern period. This changing world affected more than just cities, but also the cultural systems that defined gender and sexual norms, the structure of family and community, and entire economic systems. Changes we’re struggling with in many ways still.

The world that build Youngstown, Ohio is gone and won’t return. The pain that causes is crushing for the people and communities that prospered. It’s a mournful piece that speaks to the loss of an era when cities all over these industrial regions exploded in the wealth of industrial output.

Springteen offers no solutions though. In one regard that’s how it should be perhaps. This song is like a hymn to what is no longer. But it also acts as a reminder that this world is in the past and there are many places and communities still struggling as a result of the changes caused by decades of de-industrialization and economic loses.

The question becomes how can cities and communities in de-industrialized regions move forward in a future that’s radically different from the world they prospered during?

Chicago International: The region needs an aviation Master Plan (and here are some ideas to go with it)

The O’Hare Modernization Plan (OMP) has been the cause of great excitement over the future of one of the most important airports in America and of a great PR disaster once residents began experiencing the resultant jet noise. Planning for the future of O’Hare will never be an easy feat; it has to remain competitive, but grow in highly constrained conditions. Planning O’Hare’s future occurs in an irresponsible vacuum though. Any future planning must be fashioned in relation to external elements at Midway Airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side and increasingly in relation to a potential third airport in the region. At this point an aviation master plan for Chicago is needed. The development of one would be a huge boon for the city as it would probably coalesce a number of transportation and economic planning projects into one more cohesive vision of future transportation in the region.

Earlier this spring, the Chicago Tribune ran a multi-page feature by transportation columnist Jon Hilkevitch comparing O’Hare with Shanghai’s Changi Airport--a tale of two airports–and it wasn’t a pretty picture of O’Hare. It ate away at the brief joy that followed O’Hare’s renewed position as the busiest airport in the world based on take-offs and landings and did a lot to remind Chicagoans that while we may be home to a great and important airport, we’re also home to one that needs a lot of work to catch up with international rivals in terms of quality customer experience. Indeed, the article opened the flood gates for renewed debates about the airport’s multimodal connections as well. One of the worst problems facing O’Hare’s future and ability to perform doesn’t even seem to be O’Hare’s problem per se, rather a fundamental lack of regionalized planning in relation to aviation.

Much of the problem lies in the competition for tax dollars between the states of Illinois and Indiana. The obvious, although oft ignored, site for a third airport in Chicagoland is Gary. Located just southeast of the Loop, Gary/Chicago airport could easily be transformed into a commercial airport. A soon to be completed extension of its main runway (one of two) will push that potential future. Tax dollars generated from this plan (which a city like Gary could use) wouldn’t benefit Illinois as directly though, and so the proposal for an airport in far south suburban Peotone was born. It will never be built. If anything it has merely diverted attention away from actually achieving anything like a functional third airport serving Chicago.

A bi-state, region-wide master plan for how to grow and support Chicagoland’s aviation industry has to be the next step. And it can’t ignore Gary.

Granted, the funding for such a project might be hard to come by considering the current fiscal and political situation in Illinois, it is nonetheless well within the realm of possibility and could be absorbed into the work of existing organizations, both public and private. Ideally, such a plan will scrap pie in the sky ideas like the Peotone airport, which will probably die alongside the Illiana Tollroad, which is failing to get the support former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn may have hoped for (you can sign a petition here against it), and focus on reasonable alternatives. (Like Gary/Chicago.) The plan can’t focus just on the distribution of air traffic at regional airports though. In reality it would probably be wiser to look at such a master plan more as an intermodal transportation plan aiming to improve how people get in and out of the region.

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Gary/Chicago Airport seen from the air with the Chicago skyline in the background. The airport is extending its main runway west. The terminal facilities are on the north end of the airport and the South Shore Line runs just to its south.

Wisely, proposals to turn Gary/Chicago airport into a functioning commercial airport includes the development of a multi-modal transit center adjacent to the airport where connections could be made to coach buses, Amtrak intercity trains, and the South Shore line (an interurban running between Chicago and South Bend, IN). Future growth in this area would have to include high-speed rail and the potential for new services offered by the South Shore Line or Metra. Indeed, future development of a regional rail systems around the proposed CrossRail Chicago may include a modern airport rail link similar to ones in London, Beijing, and soon Toronto, that connects regional airports to Chicago’s Loop central business district and the three main airports themselves.

Such a plan would likely woo the support of multiple organizations and communities looking to improve transportation options in the region and multimodal connectivity. Gary/Chicago has also already won the support of the City of Chicago, which according to a summary produced to assess the viability of commercial operations at Gary/Chicago included fiscal support from Chicago. Investing in a viable third airport is certainly in the city’s interests too and something that plays into recently re-elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for growth in tourism in the city and maintenance of the city’s strong convention industry. Much of that of course revolves around how well O’Hare can perform. How a third airport would affect O’Hare needs to be seriously considered too, because this could vastly change how the facility functions and brings the airlines O’Hare into the conversation much more.

One upshot of a third Chicago airport is that it increases air traffic capacity in Chicago. Again, the reason why Gary remains such a strong contender is proximity to Chicago and the potential for strong transportation connections. A master plan though could help do more than just make a plan to increase capacity, but change air traffic movements in a masterful way. O’Hare would regardless remain Chicagoland’s primary airport and international gateway.

With growing interest from large international air service providers such as Air New Zealand and Philippine Air too how travels move through the airport is going to be as important if not more important than how many enter and leave. Codeshare agreements play a big role in this, because they make it incredibly easy to connect between flights on different airlines. A master plan might work to guiding a future reconfiguration of O’Hare that includes organization of airlines based on their airline alliance and in the current three domestic* terminals and international terminal, much like Miami International. For example one could be given over to the Star Alliance, one to SkyTeam and to Oneworld. In the latter case that would put American Airlines (AA) in the same terminal as Air Berlin, BA, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, JAL, Qatar Airways, and Royal Jordanian, or the easy movement of passengers from international flights to domestic connecting flights on AA without the need to change terminals.

This would likely be best achieved by moving operations of one or more smaller airlines to Gary/Chicago from O’Hare not only giving it commercial viability, but allowing it to support itself beyond use as a center of charter and infrequently scheduled services, as recommended in the summary mentioned above from 2010. What that means for O’Hare though is fewer passengers, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Increasingly in-airport comforts are drivers of an airports success and fewer passengers means more room to expand food and shopping options as well as entertainment and relaxation options.

It’s normal to hear news cycles about O’Hare’s ranking as an airport in the United States. And it’s great to be able to boast that the busiest airport in America is here, but quantity and quality are vastly different things. Great as it is that O’Hare is busy, the quality of the experience increasingly is a big a player in an airport’s desirability factor. But, it should also be considered that O’Hare and Midway collectively account for more than 90 million passenger movements a year and taken together would mean Chicago is the world’s second busiest airport. Improving transportation options and intermodal connections across the board and the region could become one of the busiest transportation centers anywhere in the world, if it isn’t already. A master plan is essential to guide that growth and development though. Smart decisions shouldn’t be held back by political boosterism, truly conceivable plans are there (they just need a push), and at the end of the day sometimes quality trumps quantity and by leaps and bounds.