The spread of suburban chickens in the Chicago region

Are suburban chickens different than chickens living in other places? Residents of more Chicago area suburbs now have an opportunity to find out:

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Once a novel concept, more and more suburbs are permitting residents to raise backyard chickens. Among the latest is Rolling Meadows, which enacted regulations in 2019 allowing them, after rejecting the idea in 2014 and 2018. Others include Bartlett, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glencoe, Grayslake, Highland Park, Schaumburg and Wheeling,

American suburbs have an interesting relationship with nature, or “nature.” Are chickens part of the natural realm or part of the human transformation of land into sprawling subdivisions dominated by single-family homes and cars?

There are clearly ideas in suburbs about acceptable wildlife and animals that are not as accepted. Dogs and cats are in. Coyotes are present but are viewed as a threat. Canadian geese are generally disliked. Bison are rare so therefore interesting when roaming suburbia. Chickens are somewhere in the middle. Here is how the same article describes the different opinions:

Suburban proponents of backyard hens laud their benefits, such as a source of healthy eggs and an affordable food option.

Opponents, however, worry about the possible impact on neighbors, from the noise and odors to concerns about attracting coyotes.

Are chickens enhancing the suburban experience or detracting from it? More Chicago area communities are coming down on the positive. How long until the majority of suburbs allow chickens or are there significant barriers facing suburban chicken expansion?

Chicago to add money to budget to provide tiny houses to address homelessness

The proposed Chicago budget includes money for tiny houses to fight homelessness:

Photo by Elle Hughes on Pexels.com

Now, under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2023 budget that passed last month, the city will direct $3 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds toward a tiny homes project that she said will be the “first of its kind.”

Though a small fraction of the nine-figure sum the city will spend on affordable housing investments, “we must push ourselves to be creative,” Lightfoot said when she unveiled her budget. “Tiny homes are an interesting innovation that we should embrace as a city.”

Cron said that was a long-sought victory for his organization, which has watched the concept take off elsewhere in the U.S., including several in Midwestern states. He blamed the earlier resistance on “red tape” and “politics” hindering city officials from moving forward…

Upon construction, the 500-square-foot tiny homes will compose a “micro-neighborhood” on two to five city-owned lots, with an average of two to four homes per lot, Department of Housing spokesperson Eugenia Orr said in a statement to the Tribune. The housing will be long term, with heating, plumbing and other required features under the Chicago building code. The structures will not be mobile, unlike the RV homes that make up existing communities in some pockets of the Chicago area. Specific locations for the city pilot program have not been determined.

Though the project is pitched to combat homelessness, the city intends to cater to specific subpopulations such as veterans, new mothers, LGBTQ youth and high school or college students, Orr said. She also listed “nontraditional” students, young professionals and members of a “limited-equity co-op,” a homeownership program where residents buy a share of the complex and resell it in the future.

I would be interested to know how much the pilot program follows practices from other cities and makes changes for the particular program, context, and goals in Chicago.

Additionally, if this shows promise, how might it be scaled up? I imagine finding sites is difficult and these micro-neighborhoods benefit from services. Can a larger version of this put a significant dent in homelessness in Chicago or is this always a viable option among a number that are needed?

Even more broadly, does this hold promise for addressing affordable housing in Chicago? Can tiny houses provide enough units to help people have good permanent housing (and ownership, as suggested above)?

Perhaps programs like these will help unlock the potential of tiny houses. Instead of being luxury items for those who can afford it, they can provide housing for those who really need it but cannot access larger and more expensive housing.

A round earth and seeing the Chicago skyline from Indiana (or from other angles)

Standing on a beach in Indiana and seeing the Chicago skyline is a unique sight. Does it demonstrate that the earth is flat or round?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“If the earth was really a globe, the Chicago skyline from Indiana would be hidden by 1,473 ft. of Earth Curve,” reads the text included in one such Nov. 6 Instagram post (direct link, archive link). The post, which garnered more than 2,000 likes in one week, includes an image of the Chicago skyline taken from across Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

But the claim is false.

Scientists say the photo actually proves that the Earth is indeed curved. While the buildings in the Chicago skyline are visible in the photo, parts of the buildings are obscured by the curve in the Earth. A simple trigonometric equation confirms that the buildings of the Chicago skyline are indeed visible from the Indiana Dunes State Park, where the image was taken…

“The image actually demonstrates that the Earth is round,” Oran said. “(The bottom) parts of the buildings are actually obscured because the Earth is curved.”

Oran noted the lower halves of the buildings are not visible in the photo. According to Oran’s calculations, roughly 500 feet of the bottom of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago, would not be visible based on the distance the picture was taken from.

While the flat earther phenomenon is interesting in itself, I am more interested here in how this is based on a unique view of the Chicago skyline. I know that seeing it from a different perspective can be disorienting or reveal new angles. Growing up, I mostly saw the skyline from the west coming into the city. In graduate school, I often saw the skyline from the south and southeast arriving from a different direction. I rarely see it from the north because I have little reason to come from that direction. And the view can be very different from an airplane depending on the approach or takeoff of a particular trip and the flight patterns for the day.

Would any of those views push me to conclude the earth is flat? No, but I have definitely noticed different buildings, different ways the sun or dark frames places, and how the city seems to be a different place when approaching from different directions.

How the discussion might go regarding 700+ empty acres in the middle of suburbia

A new large plot of land may soon be available in the middle of Lake County, Illinois. What should go there? Here is an early idea:

The family that owns the Chicago Blackhawks wants to turn more than 700 acres of farmland it owns near Mundelein into a housing, commercial and industrial development, village officials confirmed.

If the Wirtz family’s vision becomes reality, the land would be annexed into Mundelein and become the largest development by acreage in Lake County, Village Administrator Eric Guenther said.

“This is a big deal,” Guenther said. “(It) could prove to be a very extraordinary development for Mundelein, the Wirtz family and Lake County as a whole.”…

Guenther declined to detail the family’s specific plans for the land. They will be unveiled to the public at the village board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

Given what I have seen regarding suburban development, here are some of the steps to come and the common responses from involved actors:

  1. The landowners will bring a plan to the municipality that maximizes or at least includes a lot of profit through developing the land.
  2. The Village of Mundelein will receive the proposal and work on it through elected and appointed officials plus professional staff.
  3. There will be public hearings regarding the property and proposed plans.
  4. Community residents will chime in with a variety of concerns, including regarding traffic and noise. The local school district and other actors will wonder how new development will affect local services and amenities. The village will want to consider the tax base on how the tax revenues add up from such a property. Some actor(s) will propose keeping the property or part of it as green space.
  5. There will be some negotiations between the developers and the community. This could go relatively quick or slowly, depending on the changes asked for and the vision of the developers. They could happen behind the scenes or be more visible to the public.
  6. Roughly 1-2 years from now a plan will be in place and development can start.

Each of these steps could proceed differently with the potential for plans to move more quickly or more slowly. There is no guarantee that the proposed project will go forward.

However, given the size of this parcel, there will be a lot of interest from everyone about what happens with this land and how this might affect Mundelein – whether it is the community’s character, revenues, or land use – for decades to comes.

Argument: increase the value of federally-backed mortgages, finance more McMansions

With a headline of “Rising Loan Limits Are a New Federal McMansion Subsidy,” the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal does not approve of recent mortgage changes:

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) said Tuesday it will increase the maximum size of mortgages that Fannie and Freddie will cover—known as the conforming loan limit—to $1,089,300 in high-cost areas from $970,800 this year and $765,600 in 2020. The conforming loan limit in other areas will rise to $726,200, from $510,400 two years ago…

Instead, the Administration wants to prop up housing demand and prices by raising the guarantee limit. This will please the Realtors and affluent, especially in California areas where the median home price exceeds the new limit, such as Orange County ($1.2 million), San Francisco ($1.3 million) and San Jose ($1.7 million).

Sorry to state the obvious, but anyone who can qualify for a million-dollar mortgage doesn’t need the government to subsidize it with a guarantee. The average 30-year interest rate on a jumbo loan is 6.8%, which is similar to a government-backed mortgage.

Borrowers with jumbo loans tend to have higher incomes and credit scores. But these mortgages are getting riskier as borrower monthly payments have risen faster than incomes. Layoffs are increasing in higher-paying fields like tech, and a recession could result in foreclosures. The FHFA is expanding the taxpayer liability at an especially risky time…

The more the government intervenes in the housing market, the more damage it does.

There is a lot here that relates to work I have done. A few thoughts in response:

  1. The final line is interesting. Is the assumption that the federal government should not be very involved or involved at all in the housing market? One journalist reported this quote from a European finance official a few years ago: “Most countries have socialized health care and a free market for mortgages. You in the United States do exactly the opposite.” This government intervention was instrumental in helping to create suburbs and promote homeownership.
  2. This move might help people in more expensive housing markets. Does one have to be rich to access housing in Orange County or San Jose or is this needed because the housing prices are so high there?
  3. The headline mentions McMansions but the word is not used in the editorial. Is the term shorthand for expensive homes? Or, commentary on the kinds of homes people with this level of resources purchase? Is the Wall Street Journal against McMansions? (If I had to guess based on my work looking at the use of McMansion in the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, the WSJ would fit somewhere in between these two sources.)

The World Cup requires the nation state. Or does it?

Watching the World Cup, it is impossible to ignore the organizing logic: countries compete against other countries to be the winning nation for this cycle. On a global scale, this is a common logic in a number of sports, particularly those in the Olympics system. But, does it have to be this way?

Photo by Riccardo on Pexels.com

The nation state is a relatively new development in human history. The idea of a centralized bureaucracy and a political entity spanning many square miles or millions of people is not necessarily new; empires and city-states had this. The modern nation-state is different in numerous ways and was firmly established by the twentieth century. The fervor for the nation-state and the geopolitics that go with it help animate the World Cup.

What other logics could organize a global sports competition? Here are a few other options:

  1. Have club teams compete. There are versions of this already but limited global competition between clubs. This would run into issues regarding money, access to players, level of competition in different national leagues (though there do not have to be national leagues), and more.
  2. Borrowing from video games, have ultimate or fantasy teams. Perhaps fans could pick teams. Or, a global body of experts. Perhaps there could be a global draft.
  3. Have city states compete. Since nations can be so large, why not narrow the geographic scope to have more variation? Imagine Team London playing Team Tokyo or Team Cairo or Team Los Angeles.
  4. Let players be free agents globally and form their own teams. They could select friends, good competitors, players from their clubs or country, or utilize other logics.

In the end, does organizing a sport by country provide the best sport experience and outcome? Does the World Cup do more to reinforce the importance of nations than highlight sports or other values?

What would a lack of water and power from the Colorado River do to sprawl?

The suburban sprawl in the United States depends on the availability of water and power, among other resources. So what happens if the Colorado River, a source of water and power for numerous people, no longer can supply either?

Photo by Cameron Rainey on Pexels.com

Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July.

Worse, officials warn, is the remote possibility of an even more catastrophic event. That is if the water level falls all the way to the lowest holes, so only small amounts could pass through the dam. Such a scenario — called “dead pool” — would transform Glen Canyon Dam from something that regulates an artery of national importance into a hulking concrete plug corking the Colorado River…

As the water has receded, so has the ability to produce power at Glen Canyon, as less pressure from the lake pushes the turbines. The dam already generates about 40 percent less power than what has been committed to customers, which includes dozens of Native American tribes, nonprofit rural electric cooperatives, military bases, and small cities and towns across several southwestern states. These customers would be responsible for buying power on the open market in the event Glen Canyon could not generate, potentially driving up rates dramatically.

The standard rate paid for Glen Canyon’s low-cost power is $30 per megawatt hour. On the open market, these customers last summer faced prices as high as $1,000 per megawatt hour, said Leslie James, executive director of the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association.

The issue of water has already increased concerns about development in the Southwest. A landscape full of single-family homes, lawns, lots of roads, and other suburban features requires a lot of water. Can life in sprawl not require as much water or is there a point where no more sprawl is just not possible? Then add in the issue of power. This includes transmission lines, homes, and other structures. Can the existing sprawl even be maintained with less electricity and water?

It also worth paying attention to how these changes with the Colorado River have ripple effects elsewhere. If as much water is not available, where can water come from? I imagine those around the Great Lakes have thoughts. If not as much power is generated, is there electricity capacity elsewhere? How much can be done short-term to shore things up while also considering long-term consequences?

More broadly, what might stop American sprawl? Not having water or power would be a powerful incentive. Others have speculated about a certain price of gas. Perhaps cultural beliefs about the suburban good life change. Or there might be something unforeseen. The conditions with the Colorado River might just offer a glimpse into what happens when sprawl has to stop.

The disadvantages and advantages to living on a major suburban road

I regularly drive by a single-family home that is located on a busy four lane road. Decades ago, this was a two lane road and traffic was lighter. Now, it is a road with a 50 MPH speed limit and many cars zooming daily between suburbs. In the morning, the school bus stops on the busy road to pick up kids from one house. Most of the housing in this area is located on streets that branch off this main road; this is common in suburban areas as residential neighborhood traffic is routed to arterial roads.

Photo by Caio on Pexels.com

When looking for housing years ago, I remember seeing homes located on such roads. What might be the advantages and disadvantages of such properties?

Advantages:

-Quick access to a major road. Suburban subdivisions can be big and the roads winding. It can take minutes just to leave the neighborhood.

-A reduced price. If the road is busy and noisy, this may mean the property is cheaper than comparable houses and lots.

-A location along a known road.

Disadvantages:

-Noise. The sound of cars and trucks is constant.

-Safety. Many suburbanites might wonder whether kids can safely play.

-Lower property values in comparison to similar properties.

-Less parking. If you have lots of people over, is the driveway big enough for everyone?

I would guess many suburbanites would choose not to live on or even near such a major road if they can help it. At the same time, plenty of suburbs have houses located along busy and fast roads.

Present disparities in homeownership by race and ethnicity help beget future disparities in homeownership by race and ethnicity

Differences in homeownership now contribute to differences later. Article one:

Photo by Thirdman on Pexels.com

American home buyers are older, whiter and wealthier than at any time in recent memory, with first-time buyers accounting for the smallest share of the market in 41 years, the National Association of Realtors found in its annual profile of home buyers and sellers.

White buyers accounted for 88 percent of home sales during the survey period, up from 82 percent during the same period a year earlier, reaching the highest level in 25 years, according to the association’s findings.

The new findings add weight to a hard truth that many young families have experienced as they struggle to save money to buy a home, competing in the most brutally competitive housing market in modern history: They have been elbowed out by buyers who have something they might never have — all cash…

“This is a feedback mechanism that can potentially supercharge wealth inequality in our economy,” said Austin Clemens, the director of economic measurement policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, who studies housing inequities. “It’s hitting younger people, it’s hitting lower income people. And we also find that this is hitting Hispanic and Black households especially hard.”

Article two:

Though loan denials for both Black and white applicants have slowed since the 2008 financial crisis, the gap in denial rates for Black and white people applying for home loans has widened significantly. Today, 15 percent of Black applicants are denied mortgages while 6 percent of white applicants are denied the home loans, according to a report by the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, an advocacy organization for Black real estate professionals.

The housing market remains persistently and disproportionately challenging for Black prospective home buyers, the report’s writers say, although Black homeownership has been inching forward since the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which made it illegal to discriminate based on race or religion in all aspects of home sales and rentals. The full report will be released on Wednesday.

Nearly 45 percent of Black households own their homes, compared with more than 74 percent of white households. But in 1970, the gap in homeownership between Black and white households was about 24 percent. Today, it is 30 percent.

The disparity in homeownership rates, as well as widespread appraisal discrimination, are compounding the massive income gap between Black and white households and thwarting Black Americans’ efforts to create generational wealth, the report notes. In 2020, the average white family held 12 times the wealth of the average Black family, and home equity is the largest source of wealth for both Black and white households, the report says.

If a potential buyer cannot purchase now, this has ramifications for years. And if someone could not purchase decades ago, this has implications right now.

Given the American emphasis on homeownership, even by presidents, I am a little surprised there has been limited public conversation about more assistance for first-time buyers. Are there ways on a broader scale to help people purchase a first home that helps increase equity later? With starter homes in low supply, help is needed. And addressing disparities now could help close gaps later.

Also noting here: good homes are needed even if the primary goal of owning a home is not to generate wealth, a relatively recent shift in how Americans view dwellings. Where people live is tied to all sorts of outcomes and experiences.

Need to conduct a census? Invent house numbers

In Democracy’s Data, historian Dan Bouk explains how the process of counting people led to the development of house numbers:

Photo by Vitaly Kushnir on Pexels.com

Numerical addresses owed their very existence to censuses. House numbers are essentially names state offices assigned to lodgings. According to one historian, the idea of marking houses with consecutive numbers dates to the desire of Enlightenment monarchs – like the Austrian Maria Theresa – to make a better count of men who could be conscripted into the military. Houses were also sometimes numbered to count minority groups, like the Jews of Prague in one of the earliest cases in 1727, or to make it easier for rulers to find places where soldiers could be billeted. (This practice of quartering soldiers in private homes was common enough, and widely enough disliked, to be proscribed during peacetime in the U.S. Bill of Rights, in the Third Amendment.) Odd-numbered houses on one side of the street, even-numbered houses on the other, had to be invented too. Philadelphia, the nation’s temporary capital at the time, alternated odds and evens in order to make it easier to conduct the federal census in 1790. New York City copied its neighbor in 1793, as did Paris in 1805. Though people quickly came to rely on numerical addresses to find one another, send letters, or navigate strange and growing cities, those uses were accidental benefits of an apparatus meant to serve the data makers in imperial or national bureaucracies. (58)

It is hard to imagine a world without numbered street addresses today. Perhaps it is just the scale of communities; how would you differentiate between the thousands of addresses within a small geographic area? Street addresses are not the only way properties are identified. Communities have categorization systems for parcels. The way current addresses are set up requires a zooming in approach: you start with the community or zip code, find the street, and then identify the number. Of course, there could be a system that does not use or need numbers, but it is hard to imagine such a system in the quantified world we inhabit.

More broadly, numbers are helpful with addressing particular social issues. Conducting a census helps with social matters like taxation, resource allotment, and more. Having numbers for addresses helps enable counting but also aids mail delivery and others seeking to find particular addresses.