Economic cooperation in the Chicago region; Why now? Can residents be convinced of its need?

Skeptical that regional economic cooperation will succeed given the history of such projects in the Chicago region, the Chicago Tribune nonetheless touts its potential:

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A dynamic, cooperative region that thinks and behaves collectively has a better chance at prosperity than one that functions as an amalgam of fiefdoms.

We know that’s hard for politicians to grasp. They want to be able to tout in news releases that they’ve persuaded a mega-firm to relocate its headquarters to their turf, and it doesn’t matter that those jobs and tax revenue have been lured away from a nearby community.

But it does matter, because it’s not a win for the region. Municipalities that compete among themselves may win some skirmishes, but they’ll win the war if they band together and compete as a region — against other regions in the country and globally…

What’s missing is the will to capitalize on those assets collectively, rather than selfishly.

Perhaps this latest attempt at regional cooperation will gain the traction that previous tries could not. For the sake of Chicagoland’s short-term and long-term outlook, we hope so.

I wonder if this renewed interest has anything to do with concerns about population in the region and companies headed elsewhere. It is one thing to compete when the region compares favorably to many other places in the country. In this situation, there might be plenty of companies, residents, and growth to go around. But, in a region that is struggling or the perception is that it is struggling, can the different communities afford to compete with each other?

While the editorial mentions the need for politicians to change their approach, the public might need some time or convincing to get there as well. One way to define a community is in opposition to or as different from another community. How many suburbanites define their neighborhoods and communities in comparison Chicago and the troubles it faces? Might this also happen for some who live in Chicago and view the suburbs as problematic? (This does not even get to how Chicago area residents might view further-flung locations such as Indiana, Wisconsin, or downstate Illinois.) A robust regional partnership could help residents see the advantages to cooperating and recognizing the advantages numerous communities bring.

A hub-and-spoke highway system in the Chicago region leads to more traffic

In reaction to a new report suggesting Chicago area drivers faced the most traffic of any region, one expert highlights the design of the highway system in the region:

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The design of Chicago’s expressways are also partly to blame, as they funnel traffic into downtown.

“The design of our expressway system has hurt traffic flow for generations,” Schwieterman said.

The Chicago highway system consists of numerous paths leading right to downtown. Several of these highways converge at the Jane Byrne Interchange, leading to traffic and construction issues. Another connects to the lakefront just south of Grant Park. There are several ring highways but they do not necessarily connect all of the relevant parts of the region. One short highway famously went to neither place in its name.

This is not limited just to highways; the railroad system in the region also operates this way. Numerous early railroads ended right in the heart of the city and along the riverfront. The current system has all sorts of congestion issues with the amount of railroad traffic trying to move in and through the region. Railroad passengers in the region cannot travel easily between suburbs because most trips require going into the city first and then going back out on another line.

At one time, this system may have made sense. The Chicago region, as in multiple regions in the Northeast and Midwest, was organized with a dense commercial district at the core. Today, this makes less sense in many US metropolitan regions where the many trips and commutes are suburb to suburb. Throughout a region, suburbs are job centers, entertainment centers, and residential communities.

Reconfiguring infrastructure like highways, railroads, and mass transit to fit these new realities – perhaps now exacerbated by more employees working from home – is a long process with multiple avenues to pursue.

The ongoing process of reparations and housing in Evanston

Evanston, Illinois initiated a reparations program several years ago that would provide money for some Black homeowners. The process of funding, assessing applications, and providing monies is underway, even if it is slow-going:

But outside that ballroom, the program is failing to meet many of its initial promises. So far, the city has only spent $400,000 of the $10 million promised in 2019. Out of hundreds of Black residents who applied, 16 have received money. Another 106 are on a waiting list, with hundreds more behind them. At least five people have died before their promised reparations could be dispersed, the program’s leaders acknowledge.

City officials say these early stumbles don’t diminish their ambitions for the program, which is aimed at addressing decades of housing discrimination rather than slavery. And it’s just a starting point, they say…

The program quickly ran into problems. Instead of the three marijuana dispensaries the city was expecting, only one opened, bringing in a trickle of the tax money initially forecast. A year after the reparations effort launched, few were receiving housing vouchers…

Acknowledging the program’s slow start, the council voted in December to set aside an additional $10 million over ten years, this time from a tax on real estate sales over $1.5 million.

The fate of programs or initiatives can depend on the decisions made – and this article suggests there is ongoing discussion about whether this is the best path to pursue – as well as how they are carried out. A good or helpful decision that then gets bogged down by processes, bureaucracy, and funding is one that may be limited or worse in the end.

The portions cited above plus additional comments in the article also address the funding side of this. Can local governments effectively address the issue of reparations? Depending on the size of the community, budgets, money sources, and more, some communities will have more resources to draw on. What are the advantages to local efforts addressing housing and reparations compared to broader funding sources at higher levels of government that are also removed from the particular circumstances in individual communities?

The Romans’ self-healing concrete

One of the secrets to the success of Rome: self-healing concrete:

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Now, an international team has discovered ancient concrete-manufacturing techniques that incorporated several key “self-healing” properties. For years, researchers believed the key to the ancient concrete’s durability was one ingredient: pozzolanic material, such as volcanic ash from the area of Pozzuoli, on the Bay of Naples…

Historians say this specific kind of ash was shipped all across the Roman empire for use in construction projects, being described as a key ingredient for concrete at the time. After closer examination, these ancient samples also contain small, distinctive, millimeter-scale bright white mineral features. They were common component of Roman concretes. The white chunks — often called “lime clasts” — come from lime, another key ingredient in ancient concrete mix.

Masic adds that, during the hot mixing process, lime clasts develop a characteristically brittle nanoparticulate architecture. This creates an easily fractured and reactive calcium source, which could provide a “critical” self-healing ability for building materials. As soon as tiny cracks start to form within the concrete, they can preferentially travel through the high-surface-area lime clasts.

Prof. Masic explains that the material can then react with water, creating a calcium-saturated solution. It then recrystallizes as calcium carbonate and quickly fills the crack, or reacts with pozzolanic materials to further strengthen the material.

What I often wonder about inventions and techniques of the ancient world is how exactly they came about. How did Romans discover that a particular component – pozzolanic material – made concrete better in the long-term? I would guess there is evidence to suggest when this emerged and how it was dispersed but we may not know exactly how this formula developed.

If this could be incorporated into modern materials, could this make concrete even more important? I remember reading about the importance of concrete in How the World Really Works. Could this mean roads that do not need to be repaired as often, buildings that last longer, and numerous other applications?

This is also a reminder that infrastructure mattered for ancient empires and continues to matter today for modern everyday life. Even small improvements to basic materials or processes could have a tremendous effect given the scale and speed of today’s world.

Can you live the simple life in a McMansion?

Is it possible to live a certain kind of life in any kind of house? Maybe, maybe not:

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The simplify movement that’s been on a low simmer in the United States for years often shows up as a reason for downsizing one’s house. The simple life, after all, can’t take place in a McMansion. Or can it? It depends on what you mean by “simple” and what ultimately makes you happy. After all, homes don’t just have costs. You pay a price for utility, and you must not neglect that side of the equation.

The article provides a number of pros and cons for downsizing one’s residence. The argument here is that the answer is not to simply avoid McMansions and all the square footage they offer; the issue is right-sizing:

Ultimately, whether downsizing is a good idea for any of us is the wrong question. The issue isn’t necessarily moving down in size, but in moving toward the right fit for our values and preferences: right-sizing. It’s possible that a house of the same size, situated elsewhere, is what you need. Or even, conceivably, a larger home.

An emphasis on right-sizing allows individual homeowners to determine what is best for them and allows that some could find that a McMansion is a good choice.

This might not work for those who would argue that McMansions do not work or should not work for anyone with their problems of size, dwarfing neighboring homes, poor architecture or quality, or symbolism of other problems such as sprawl and consumerism. Is is possible that McMansions are the housing answer for some but not for others? Or should they be banned and/or renovated as a whole category of housing?

Are academics just content generators?

In recently hearing a radio discussion regarding how much content different kinds of media personalities generate (regular columnist vs. social media maven vs. radio host and so on), I wondered: are academics also content generators? Here are several of the kinds of content we provide:

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-Classroom lectures and experiences. These are geared toward learning in the moment through discussions, experiences, lectures, and additional pedagogical options. This is often delivered to students in a classroom but it can be done remotely, through video, and through other formats.

-Publishing. The academic articles, books, reports, reviews, and more go through a particular academic publishing process and they come out as packaged content.

-Advising. Academics can answer a lot of questions ranging from what courses students should take to questions about life paths to inquiries about our areas of study. Such responses are not typically captured formally.

-Additional venues including academic presentations, media outlets, community forums, and more.

If content is just information or things that can occupy the attention of people, these may all qualify. There is also competition in all of these areas; could you learn from a textbook or Youtube video or on the job rather than in a classroom?

What, then, might be different about academic content?

-The classroom setting is a unique one with potential for engaging and transformative learning experiences and communities.

-The academic training and processes that informed the work. From the time spent studying to the disciplinary-specific methods and perspectives, an academic approach to a topic is different.

-The particular formats in which academics operate more often are more likely to involve schools and academic publishing processes. This does not mean that academics work outside these systems but their work is recognized and rewarded in specific systems.

If the world today is just about generating content, do we lose something by suggesting academic work needs to fit the broader need? The fate of colleges and universities in the coming decades may depend on academics expressing and living out a satisfying answer to how what they do is valuable in a landscape full of information.

Chicago and the counties in the region agree to compete for businesses as a group and not explicitly against each other

As part of a new Chicago region economic partnership, Chicago and seven counties agreed to this:

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The partnership agreement features a code of professional conduct that prevents members from soliciting businesses from other participants’ jurisdictions, or disparaging those communities when a business considers relocation. The agreement also calls for the participants to share information and produce 150 “pro-Chicagoland” decisions.

This addresses an ongoing issue: in a region with hundreds of communities and multiple joint interests, is it good for the city, suburbs, counties, and other groups to battle for businesses and growth in the region? Is the move of a company in the suburbs to Chicago a loss or gain? What about tax breaks from different communities that companies take advantage of?

This still ensures competition can occur between the Chicago area and other parts of Illinois, between metropolitan regions, and between Illinois and other states. Indeed, this regional partnership can help improve the Chicago region’s chances to compete with other entities:

Michael Fassnacht, president and CEO of World Business Chicago, said that after 23 years, the city’s public‑private economic development agency is becoming a regional operation. The region’s gross domestic product is not only the third-largest in the nation, but the size of some nations’, including Sweden and Poland, he added…

By getting investors to view the region as a whole, it has a better chance of landing valuable projects for the good of all, Conroy said…

Having traveled the world in search of foreign investment, Reynolds said potential partners speak of Chicagoland, not just Chicago. And so he was happy Wednesday to have heard local leaders use that term more in one morning than they had in decades.

It will be interesting to see what the first successful efforts of this partnership yields. Or, conversely, the first conflict where actors and municipalities in the region do not agree.

A large majority of American young adults live near where they grew up

Young adults in the United States often do not live far from home:

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In fact, analysis by the Census Bureau and Harvard University earlier this year found that 80% of young adults now live less than 100 miles from where they grew up.

This statistic could be parsed a few different ways. This includes

-This percentage would include the significant numbers that are living at home with family.

-One hundred miles is not a small distance. This would cover almost all of the largest metropolitan regions. This probably puts people within a two hour distance of home. It does mean that someone could live in a very different setting and still be close to home.

-What does this number mean in the long run? How does it compare to other years and eras? If Americans move less frequently, does that mean they also do not move as far? There is a narrative in the United States that people strike out on their own for new, usually economic, opportunities. Does this data fit that?

Many Chicago area suburbs with significant increases in sales tax revenues

For a number of suburbs in the Chicago region, 2022 was a good year for sales tax revenues:

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A Daily Herald analysis of 95 suburban sales tax receipts during the state’s 2021 and 2022 fiscal years shows the towns combined to average a 28.6% increase in sales tax revenues, resulting in nearly $230 million more…

First, federal and state laws that took effect in January 2021 required companies to assess sales taxes for online purchases at the rate of the buyer’s hometown…

Then, COVID-19 stimulus funds paid directly to Americans reinvigorated purchases on physical products…

And the final catalyst for sales tax revenue growth statewide has been the historic increase in the inflation rate.

The article goes on to discuss two issues I was wondering about: how will these communities spend this money and will this revenue increase last?

My guess is that there will not be too many major changes even with these increases. Because it is not clear whether the money will continue to come in at similar rates (though the online source sounds durable), the money could be limited to particular items or shorter projects.

At the same time, an increase in monies could help address important needs and build a good foundation for the next few years. Could some communities complete a project that they had been waiting on? Or, could they start something rolling for the longer-term that needed resources to get rolling?

These increases could also lead to some interesting conversations about what to prioritize and spend on. (Additionally, communities without bumps might have interesting discussions.)

Americans who leave the country move all over the world

Here is some data on where Americans go when they leave the United States as well as some of the reasons they move:

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While the United States is the top destination for immigrants worldwide, hosting about three times as many immigrants as runners-up Germany and Saudi Arabia, it’s a paltry 26th in terms of sending immigrants abroad. Our analysis of U.N. data finds that just one American emigrates for every six Indians or four Mexicans.

And unlike emigrants from other countries, Americans go everywhere. We’re the most widely distributed people on the planet. No other nation has as few people concentrated in its top 10 (or top 25, or top 50) destinations, a Washington Post analysis shows.

In part, this wide distribution is probably a legacy of America’s immigrant roots. America is the top destination for migrants from about 40 countries, and many Americans remain linked to their ancestral homelands. It also reflects the wide reach of the U.S. military, as well as civilian organizations such as the Peace Corps and Christian missionaries…

Instead, Klekowski von Koppenfels’s research with Helen B. Marrow of Tufts University shows that a large majority of Americans want to move abroad to explore or have an adventure. Emigration almost always has more than one cause, they say, and some especially common ones are the desire to retire abroad, work abroad and get out of a bad situation at home. However, the desire to explore — “to lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies,” as Kerouac wrote — is the American impulse that dominates.

The “nation of immigrants” is sort of a nation of emigrants? It would be interesting to compare these narratives.

Similarly, given the more limited geographic mobility within the United States in recent years plus the difficulty in collecting data on people who leave the United States, is it possible to compare trends over time on mobility within the country versus mobility abroad? Is one growing or slowing more than the other?