Chicago’s beautiful Riverwalk…what took so long to put it together?

On a recent beautiful summer afternoon, I had my first chance to walk the full Chicago Riverwalk.

ChicagoRiverwalk1ChicagoRiverwalk2

The city’s website suggests the plans for the Riverwalk started in the late 1990s. Why did it take so long for the idea to come together? For a city that has so much pride in its lakefront parks and protected areas, the river was overlooked for decades. In much earlier decades, economic activity was centered on the riverbanks: rail lines brought goods from throughout the region to ships and counting houses. But, it has been a long time since this activity ended and important buildings have lined this stretch for decades. If a Riverwalk can do much for places like San Antonio and Naperville, what took so long for Chicago to enhance this stretch?

Freeway revolts had a point: evidence from Chicago regarding the problems with highways

Two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia looked at the effects of building highways and found a number of negative effects for Chicago neighborhoods near the highways :

FreewayRevoltsWorkingPaper

The literature criticizing urban renewal and highway construction in major cities after World War II has made a similar point: the construction of highways broke up established neighborhoods and encouraged urban residents to leave for the suburbs since they could easily access the city via highway.

At the same time, it sounds like this working paper suggests highways themselves are not necessarily the issue. The bigger problem may be that the highway is located on the surface and creating negative local effects including acting as barriers. Sometimes, this may be intentional such as when the Dan Ryan Expressway on Chicago’s South Side had the intended side effect of separating black and white neighborhoods. Other times, the highway could bisect what was a connected neighborhood and sever it. But, if the highway was underground, perhaps everyone could win: there would not be a 6-12 lane barrier, local neighborhoods would not see or hear the highway in the same way, and suburbanites could still access the city center. While it is hard to imagine, picture the Eisenhower headed into Chicago underground with parks, surface level streets, social and business activity, and a CTA line above it. Local residents could still have access to the highway without having to live right next to it.

This solution would likely not satisfy everyone. If the goal of countering highways is not just to protect neighborhoods but also to limit driving and promote mass transit, burying the highway is not enough. The eyesore may be gone but the larger problem still looms: Americans like driving and the associated lifestyle and too many cities are subservient to cars rather than to pedestrians and community life.

Processes, events, and decisions add up to significant consequences from Chicago’s 1919 riots

With the 100 year anniversary of the 1919 violence and riots in Chicago approaching, the Chicago Tribune considers some of the long-lasting consequences of a violence-filled summer:

The riots ended after seven days, brought about by the intervention of the Illinois militia — which critics said came too late. The riots changed Chicago in ways it continues to grapple with. Days after the riot, the City Council, for example, proposed formalized segregation on the South Side that remains in place informally today…

Consequently, the trauma of the white assault on the black community left another lasting legacy: the black street gang. “To be sure, the 1919 riot contributed directly to Black gang formation in Chicago as Black males united to confront hostile White gangs who were terrorizing the Black community,” author James C. Howell wrote in his book “The History of Street Gangs in the United States: Their Origins and Transformations.”…

The end of the riots brought swift condemnation, expert groups to examine the cause and criminal charges — though primarily against alleged black rioters — but no real consensus on what to do. On the latter point, in the days after the riot, Cook County State’s Attorney Maclay Hoyne initially charged only black citizens with rioting, leading to a walkout by members of the grand jury hearing the cases…

“In the aftermath, you call it an interracial consensus that the best way to prevent something like this from happening again was to keep the races separate. That was the lesson that was mislearned from the riot,” he said.

This is a reminder that a long legacy of residential segregation, inequality, and racism in the city of Chicago does not just happen: it is the result of specific social processes (some under the control of Chicago leaders and residents and others not), particular events, and reactions to those processes and events. Similarly, it is not easy to simply “turn the page” from past events or reverse the consequences; the same processes, events, and decisions have to be countered with different options.

And if this latter statement is true, Chicago and many other American places have a long way to go regarding countering these legacies. Remembering the past processes, events, and decisions is very important. As the Tribune article notes, how many Chicagoans think the 1919 riots are an important part of the city’s legacy? But, then more work needs to be done. And at this point, it is hard to say that Chicago has done much to reverse these patterns started in the early 1900s.

1859 Chicago gas pipe finally out of service

Infrastructure in American cities can go back a ways. See this recent case in Chicago involving a gas pipe:

A small crowd gathered as a flatbed truck carefully backed into position next to a cavernous hole in the ground that revealed the retiree: a 17-foot-long piece of cast-iron pipe, believed to be the oldest natural gas pipe in the city of Chicago.

The pipe was in operation from 1859 until just last week, when the last customer relying on it officially switched over to a modernized polyethylene natural gas main, said Andy Hesselbach, Peoples Gas vice president of construction.

When the retiree began its work, the streets were paved with dirt and frequented by horse-drawn carriages. The Great Fire of Chicago wouldn’t occur for 12 years…

Replacements are prioritized based on risk, he said. In the last 30 years, the pipe excavated on Friday experienced 30 leaks, making it a prime candidate. Not every pipe that is retired is excavated, he said. Some are left in place while a new main is installed nearby.

Building good infrastructure to support all sorts of positive social and economic activity requires regular attention and maintenance. The cost to replace infrastructure can often seem prohibitive but upgrades are needed for systems that can be improved upon and/or consistently need repairs. Of course, it would be best to build for the long-haul at an efficient price from the beginning but this is not always possible as technology and places change.

Leader who does not like “Mayor 1 percent” label joins Wall Street investment firm

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not like one of the names applied to him during his mayoral tenure:

Dellimore also pressed Emanuel on the “Mayor 1 percent” tag that has dogged him for years, a nickname critics use to tie him to wealthy supporters and downtown development they say he favors at the expense of struggling outlying neighborhoods.

Emanuel first responded by taking a swipe at wealthy Blackhawks and United Center owner Rocky Wirtz, who has publicly ripped Emanuel for raising entertainment taxes at big venues such as the United Center: “Go ask Rocky Wirtz what he thinks about being part of the 1 percent.”

When Dellimore said the criticism comes from poor and working-class neighborhoods that feel like they’ve been left behind while the Loop and adjoining neighborhoods have boomed under Emanuel, the mayor changed tacks. He defended investments downtown.

“You name me one world-class city in the world with a decaying central business district,” Emanuel said. “Name one. They don’t exist. I’m proud that we have a thriving, successful central business district that gives us the revenue to also fund from 14 to 33,000 kids in summer jobs.”

Few local governments would argue that downtown development is a bad thing. After all, growth is good and stagnation or decline is terrible.

Yet, if a leader wanted to counter an image of working for the wealthy or the better-off neighborhoods in a city, would joining a Wall Street investment firm be a good next move?

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is joining the Wall Street investment firm Centerview Partners LLC, whose leaders include long-time friends and campaign donors…

“Rahm’s leadership and vast experience providing strategic advice, coupled with a track record of successful planning and execution, will bring tremendous value to our firm and our clients,” Effron said. “Establishing a presence in Chicago is a logical next step for Centerview as we continue to grow, and it positions us to better serve existing and new clients throughout the Midwest.”…

Emanuel on Wednesday rejected any notion that his work as mayor affected the hiring…

Emanuel previously spent more than two years as a Chicago investment banker at Wasserstein Perella & Co., from 1999 to 2002, a job he took after serving as a top aide to President Bill Clinton.

So perhaps this is little surprise given Emanuel’s track record as mayor and roles prior to becoming mayor. Or, maybe he thinks providing commentary for The Atlantic and ABC News will help balance out or help people forget about the Wall Street work.

Coldwell Banker’s map of Chicago area locations missing parts of Chicago

A Coldwell Banker insert in the Chicago Tribune included a map and listing of all their Chicago area locations (zoomed in portion below):

ColdwellBankerChicagoMap060219.jpg

It is easy to see all of the suburban locations, particularly in the north and west suburbs. In contrast, check out the city map. From my count, there are seven Chicago Coldwell Banker agencies. Five of these are on the north side. Two are not: one in the West Loop and one in Hyde Park.

But, the Chicago map does not just show disparate locations. It is not an accurate map. The city is oddly shaped. Let me count the ways:

  1. It has an oddly drawn western edge that happens to make the south side much smaller.
  2. The west and south sides do not exist in their full form compared to the north side which looks like it has the biggest area.
  3. The West Loop location should be roughly in the center of the city – it is not. The size of the south side is diminished.
  4. The locations in Chicago have a weird relation to each other. Why are the West Loop and Hyde Park locations so close to each other? According to Google Maps, they are an over 8 mile drive away from each other. Yet, Google Maps suggests the West Loop and Lincoln Park locations are roughly 3 miles apart.

Perhaps this is a function of making a map with labels (the text all has to fit). Or, this may be about marketing: Coldwell Banker has particular clients and they want to highlight their proximity to those potential customers.

Yet, the map severely distorts Chicago. As noted above, the west and south sides do not fully exist. Recent Chicago maps aimed at particular audiences have done this before. This map also hints at the relationship between real estate practices and decades-long discrepancies in where people in the region live. Real estate professionals are not passive bystanders in residential segregation; they were active participants working alongside lenders and governments. Homeownership today is still not completely a free market and is more available to some Americans than others. Coldwell Banker does not have locations in certain places and this likely has ties to race, ethnicity, and class as well as practices and patterns developed over decades.

I am not asking that Coldwell Banker open locations in certain places. I am asking for an accurate map that clearly shows where Coldwell Banker is and where it is not.

(And for those who think I am reading too much into this, my starting position is this: I assume race is a causal factor in American social life until shown otherwise, not vice versa.)

Predatory contracts took $3-4 billion from blacks in Chicago

A recent study looked at the financial cost of contract buying for two decades for black homeowners in Chicago:

Black families in Chicago lost between $3 billion and $4 billion in wealth because of predatory housing contracts during the 1950s and 1960s, according to a new report released Thursday.

The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University and the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago sought to calculate the amount of money extracted from black homeowners on the city’s South and West sides from home contract sales. The report is titled “The Plunder of Black Wealth in Chicago: New Findings on the Lasting Toll of Predatory Housing Contracts.”

Contract buying worked like this: A buyer put down a large down payment for a home and made monthly installments at high interest rates. But the buyer never gained ownership until the contract was paid in full and all conditions were met. Meanwhile, the contract seller held the deed and could evict the buyer. Contract buyers also accumulated no equity in their homes. No laws or regulations protected them.

Home contract sales were a ruthlessly exploitive means of extracting capital from African Americans with no better alternatives in their pursuit of homeownership, the report said. Contract loans were rampant all over the West Side — in East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale — but also in Englewood on the South Side.

The key here is that wealth generated through homeownership is the sort of asset that gets passed down over time and helps build intergenerational wealth. Many Americans today rely on this same logic: owning a home is a significant investment to draw on later in life. That wealth then enables other possibilities, such as education or moving or acquiring other goods. This long-term wealth goes far beyond the benefits a homeownership has while living in that home; the wealth enables possibilities for future generations.

As one study puts it:

If public policy successfully eliminated racial disparities in homeownership rates, so that Blacks and Latinos were as likely as white households to own their homes, median Black wealth would grow $32,113 and the wealth gap between Black and white households would shrink 31 percent. Median Latino wealth would grow $29,213 and the wealth gap with white households would shrink 28 percent.

Earlier public policy decisions and social practices can have long-term consequences, even decades later.